Quest for Pumpernickel

Wow, we'd forgotten how good real German pumpernickel was till Nadia sent us a cylindrical package of it from Germany last week!

As we were marvelling at the sweet/sour flavor & moistness in so dense a bread (when most of our whole grain breads turn out like hockey pucks if we don't add gluten & an egg), I noted how short the ingredient list was: only rye meal, water, salt, and barley extract. So of course I had to look it up. How can you bake a bread like that?

Turns out, real pumpernickel is not so much a bread as it is a fermented, steamed grain pudding-like substance. The most authentic recipes call for a rye sourdough, and baking in a steam oven for 12-16 hours. The dark black color comes from something called the Maillard Reaction which occurs during the lengthy "baking" process, not from any ingredients such as molasses or cocoa which are usually called for in Americanized "pumpernickel bread" recipes. Sounds like something I must attempt!

One of the keys seems to be to get rye ground to something between whole rye and rye flour — the rye "meal". I'll have to check with Frankferd Farms on that one — I should be able to get it organic there too, in addition to being freshly ground.

The other key will be the sourdough. Since I don't have a starter, nor do I know anyone with a rye sourdough going, I'll have to try to make one myself (a first attempt at that). My Dr Oetker's "Backen Kostlich wie noch nie" cookbook shows how to create a rye sourdough from scratch using freshly ground rye meal and buttermilk, so that should be a good method. I imagine though that I'll need to find real cultured buttermilk like one would probably get in Germany, as opposed to the powdered mix I usually substitute in recipes. But first, again, the fresh rye meal. And the biggest trick I'm sure will be doing the steps at the proper times, and not forgetting to babysit it (something I'm afraid I know I'm not good at).

Also, I need to find a definitive pumpernickel recipe. I found one at a website called Samartha, but it seems a little experimental and not necessarily a finished procedure. On the other hand, he also has a recipe for rye starter from scratch which does not involve buttermilk. My Oetker's cookbook has a recipe for a whole grain rye-wheat bread, which looks similar, uses the rye sourdough, and involves about 13 hours, so I think I might start with that. Thing is, it also calls for something called Backferment, which I can't find either at Baldinger's (our local "Food from all Nations" store), nor at GDH, which is where I get my German coffee fix. So I have a plea out to Karsten to ask his mother about it. It apparently comes in either powdered or granulated form, and is some sort of enzyme derived from honey.

So we'll see how this goes …

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