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Hearty black pumpernickel bread for a freezing winter’s day.

February 24, 2015

It was so cold, that there was ice caked on the storm windows. It hadn’t snowed (although there was plenty of snow on the ground already), there was just ice. So cold that the heating system couldn’t keep up and the house temperature was about 10 degrees lower than what we set it on. In other words, IT SUCKS.

And here’s the deal: I know cold. I’ve gotten up and gone to school in knee socks and a skirt in cold weather (for 6 years). I’ve walked in cold weather (and in snow) with a portfolio and box of paints, from the train to school and back. I’ve dealt with it. I’ve waited in it. I’ve stood in it. I’ve shoveled snow in it. I know I live in NY and cold weather is part of the deal. But -8° is NOT normal NY weather. That’s some Minnesota/Wisconsin/ mid-western shit. So before anyone says, “OMG Northerner stop bitching, it gets cold up there” just remember that. This is abnormal. We haven’t had temps this low since 1994. Usually we have 30° temps, sometimes 20°, and occasionally- maybe a few days every winter- in the teens. But in the negatives? Uh, no. Understand? Good. Moving on…

Delicious pumpernickel bread.

Anyway Jay had to get up at 5:30 a.m. and be at work by 7, so I of course was awake early. No matter how quiet you are, you will always disturb your significant other when you wake up before them. So despite my efforts to go back to sleep in my warm, cozy bed piled with down comforters and Irish wool blankets with the blinds tightly shut, by 6:45 a.m. I was up, browsing Facebook on my phone, thinking about warming the place up. And by 7:30 I had opened the blinds to see… ice. Remember when I said that sometimes all I did was creep out of bed to bake (or eat) and then I crawled back in? Uh huh.

But I don’t give up easily and so I stayed in bed until almost 9, when I realized I was not falling back to sleep and it hadn’t gotten any warmer out. That’s when I decided to bake.

Baking is awesome in this weather because you can “preheat” your oven a long time in advance. Leave that shit on and have some coffee, watch TV, lazily make your way in to get the flour, the eggs, etc, etc. No rush. And because I have a gas oven, it gets so hot so quick it can warm pretty much the kitchen, dining room and living room (and some of the hallway) immediately. Which is a blessing now, in the summer it’s a different story.

Making some pumpernickel bread!

I had already decided I was making pumpernickel bread at some point because Jay got some new cookbooks and, while poring over them late at night, I found a recipe that grabbed me. It also seemed like a lengthy process, one that required an early start & a very warm kitchen for that double rise *cough*oven preheating for longer*cough* And not only that, but it seemed interesting. And delicious.

It does take a long time, though, so you really don’t want to start it at midnight. It needs to rise twice and then bake, plus the prep. Give yourself a nice amount of allotted time to make it. It’s worth it.

Pumpernickel bread.

About an hour for the making of the dough, three hours for the first rise, one for the second and baking time of an hour = SIX (6) hours.

Basically, take a whole morning for this, like I did. You can take your time and be leisurely about it. You cannot rush a yeast-based bread that needs to rise twice.

And on that note, I give you:

Pumpernickel bread!

PUMPERNICKEL BREAD, AKA SCHWARZEBROIT * (adapted ever so very slightly from Yiddish Cuisine: A Gourmet’s Approach to Jewish Cooking by Robert Sternberg)

Ingredients: 

  • 3 1/2 to 4 cups unbleached bread flour
  • 2 cups whole wheat bread flour
  • 4 cups rye flour
  • 2 packages active-dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup lukewarm water
  • 2 cups strong black coffee
  • 1 tablespoon Kosher salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 1/3 cup corn or vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup dark unsweetened cocoa (I like Hershey’s Special Dark)
  • 1 very small onion, grated finely
  • 1 – 2 tablespoons caraway seeds *optional OR
  • 2 tablespoons oats *optional
  • cornmeal for dusting
  • 1 egg white + 1 tablespoon cold water (for egg wash)

Directions:

  1. First things first: prep. Get a few bowls out in varying sizes, get your stand mixer ready with the dough hook, and brew up some coffee.
  2. Mix the water and one tablespoon of the sugar together with the yeast and stir. Set aside in a warm spot.
  3. In a large bowl of a stand mixer, mix the rye flour with the whole wheat flour and half of the regular bread flour (1 1/2 – 2 cups). Add the coffee mixture, and mix by hand. Then add the yeast mixture, and continue to knead. Mixing the dough through a combination of hand and dough hook is the best way, adding more bread flour as needed (the dough can get sticky). The end result is a heavy dough that isn’t completely “dry”; meaning it does stick to things. You don’t want to lose that, nor do you want to add too much flour  (it will make for a heavy, dry bread). At the same time, you don’t want a very loose, very sticky dough that can’t be handled.
  4. This bread needs about a half hour of kneading time before moving it to a greased bowl to rise. Once you’re ready, add it to a glass or steel bowl thats been greased (I used vegetable oil). Roll it once in the bowl to coat all sides, then cover with a damp tea towel. As with any yeast-bread, place it in a warm spot with no drafts and let it rise for 3 hours.
  5. After 3 hours, it should be ready to be formed. It won’t rise as high as some other breads, so don’t be alarmed. Punch it down and cut it in half to form two loaves. Shape them as desired. Place loaves on a greased baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal. Cover them again with the damp tea towel and let them rise for 1 hour.
  6. Preheat your oven to 350º F. If you wish, slash the tops of the loaves with a serrated knife. Then brush with the egg white wash, and sprinkle with caraway seeds and/or oats, or more cornmeal. Bake for 45 minutes and check for doneness- if you pick up a loaf and tap the bottom, it should sound hollow. If not, bake for 15 more minutes for a total baking time of one hour (approx).
  7. Cool on a wire rack before slicing. Enjoy!
*Note: I halved this recipe to make two smaller loaves.

Oat-topped pumpernickel rising.

Some fun facts: original Westphalian German pumpernickel does not include coffee, molasses, etc. It instead relies on a reaction called the Maillard reaction which is “is a chemical reaction between amino acids and reducing sugars that gives browned foods their desirable flavor. Seared steaks, pan-fried dumplings, breads, and many other foods make use of the effect. It is named after French chemist Louis-Camille Maillard, who first described it in 1912 while attempting to reproduce biological protein synthesis.”  Therefore, most American pumpernickel (including this one!) is actually just more of a dark rye than it is a true pumpernickel.

But hey- it’s damn good no matter what it is or what you call it.

Loaves of pumpernickel rising.

I will tell you that pumpernickel bread is tough to get right. Even mine is a bit off; the photos are just super flattering. It tasted amazing, and had a great consistency and texture after baking, but before baking was nowhere near as “sticky” of a dough as it ought to have been. Does that matter? No not really. The end product was excellent. But it is something that can be tricky on your first try. Take heart! It’ll get better!

Also, you’ll notice I made two small loaves. You might be wondering, “Why not just make one loaf?” Well, let’s put it this way… Jay does not like caraway seeds. My mother is indifferent but prefers without. So I made two loaves. One topped with caraway seeds, one with oats. That way everyone is happy. You don’t have to top it with anything if you don’t want to.

SUGGESTIONS FOR USE: Smear it with butter, toast it and smear it with butter, smear it with some schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) and a sliced red onion, have it with liverwurst, have it with marmalade, use it to make a sandwich, make into croutons once it goes stale.
SOUNDTRACK: The Mamas & the Papas – “California Dreamin”
SOURCES & CREDITS: Enoch Wedgwood Staffordshire Ironstone “Liberty Blue” plates; vintage, tea towels;  Ikeaclear mixing bowls; Williams-Sonoma.
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