Pumpernickel, poems and party season


Pumpernickel. The stuff of life and the stuff of dreams.

Philip Schulz wrote a poem about it. Please have a read, if only for the image of the steam curling off the black crust like a strip of pure sunlight, and of holding up a slice of bread in all its absurd splendour:

Monday mornings Grandma rose an hour early to make rye,
onion & challah, but it was pumpernickel she broke her hands for,
pumpernickel that demanded cornmeal, ripe caraway, mashed potatoes
& several Old Testament stories about patience & fortitude & for
which she cursed in five languages if it didn’t pop out fat
as an apple-cheeked peasant bride. But bread, after all,
is only bread & who has time to fuss all day & end up
with a dead heart if it flops? Why bother? I’ll tell you why.
For the moment when the steam curls off the black crust like a strip
of pure sunlight & the hard oily flesh breaks open like a poem
pulling out of its own stubborn complexity a single glistening truth
& who can help but wonder at the mystery of the human heart when you
hold a slice up to the light in all its absurd splendor & I tell you
we must risk everything for the raw recipe of our passion.

With this encouragement and warning, I pulled pumpernickel out of the oven on Sunday afternoon.

The recipe didn’t require several Old Testament stories about patience and fortitude, for which I was thankful. Sadly, it didn’t quite have the ‘absurd splendour’ of Schultz’s idealised pumpernickel. But then, can any pumpernickel be better than Grandma’s, especially a Grandma that can talk bread in five languages?


Don’t get me wrong. The loaves had the dense, even crumb, and rye and caraway flavour, and was a good rye bread. The dough was fine to knead by hand, and everything went smoothly (almost exactly) according to the recipe. The finished loaves formed a good foil for a slather of fresh ricotta, crumbled goat’s milk fetta, walnuts, and honey. The goat cheese and walnut strong enough to stand up to the rye and caraway, while the milder ricotta and honey helped to turn it into an easy crowd pleaser.

In fact, I’ve learned this bread just in time for party season in Australia, with Melbourne Cup Day or the race that stops the nation (first Tuesday of November), summer afternoon picnics, summer evening parties, and never ending Christmas get-togethers.

It’s just … I like the pumpernickel that can break the baker’s hands, is black from up to 24 hours of slow baking, barely risen, and heavy with whole rye berries. In other words, the romantic idea of Grandma’s black pumpernickel.

Wordsworth and Coleridge would be proud.


In the meantime, here is a good loaf of rye bread or modern pumpernickel. Don’t be put off by my impractical ramblings, it’s a tasty loaf. As for the long list of slightly strange ingredients, they look pretty similar to the ingredients for Russian black bread and other rye breads. And it’s a handy bread for dinner party canapes.

Too much bread? Rye bread crumbs make an interesting change from white bread crumbs. And, old rye bread can be used to make altus – old bread soaked in water and added to dough, to intensify the flavour, though not sure if wheat-rye bread can be used?

Changes from the recipe: I could only find fine rye flour, not medium or coarse rye flour. Also, instead of the novel method of proofing the dough inside hanging tea towels, I used a couple of baskets. Lastly, I ran out of eggs (what kind of baker runs out of eggs?), so instead of an egg white glaze I artistically sprinkled flour onto the loaves.

Lastly, I found the video of the episode useful.

Tuesdays with Dorie: Pumpernickel is this week’s TWD assignment. We are baking from the book, Baking with Julia, by Dorie Greenspan. Please go to the TWD blog and see what other TWD bakers have done.


(Available in Baking with Julia. Also available on contributing baker Lauren Groveman’s website. The version that appears on Lauren’s website is reproduced below.)

Special Equipment

8-quart mixing bowl, to rise dough
Wooden surface for kneading
Pastry scraper
Quarry tiles or a pizza stone (use dark steel shallow baking sheet as a substitute)
Baker’s peel, to transfer loaves to oven (use a flat cookie sheet as a substitute)
Oven sweep, to brush meal off tiles after baking, optional


3 to 4 tablespoons melted butter, for greasing
2 cups plain yogurt, at room temperature or, as a substitute, use tepid water (warm to the touch)
1 stick (approx 113 grams) unsalted butter, softened and cut into small cubes
1/4 cup solid vegetable shortening, at room temperature
1/2 cup prune lekvar (also called prune butter. See here for a prune lekvar recipe)
1/4 cup molasses
1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
1 cup boiling water
2 1/2 squares (2 1/2 ounces) unsweetened chocolate, broken (note I used 85% cocoa chocolate and only used a tiny, tiny pinch of sugar to compensate)
2 tablespoons ground caraway seeds
1 1/2 tablespoon whole caraway seeds
1 tablespoon fine table salt
2 1/2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
Pinch of sugar
3 1/2 cups coarse rye meal (if unavailable, substitute medium rye flour)
Up to 6 cups (approx 800 grams) high gluten bread flour, including flour for dusting and shaping
Glaze: 1 egg white beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Topping: sesame seeds and/or caraway seeds (optional)
Cornmeal (medium ground), for bakers peel


1. To set up: Brush an 8-quart bowl (I used a large mixing bowl) with melted butter and set aside to rise dough. Take out your pastry scraper, another large mixing bowl and a wooden spoon.

2. To assemble dough: In a large mixing bowl, combine the yogurt, cubed butter, shortening, lekvar and molasses. Dissolve instant espresso in 1 cup boiling water and pour into a small, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Add broken chocolate and melt chocolate in espresso over very low heat until smooth, stirring frequently. Add to mixing bowl with powdered and whole caraway seeds and salt.

3. Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water with a pinch of sugar until creamy and pour into mixing bowl along with the rye meal. Stir to combine well. Using a wooden spoon, briskly stir in enough bread flour, 1/2 to 1 cup (up to approx 130 grams) at a time, until you create a mass that’s not easily stirred, but not dry.

4. Turn the mass out onto a floured wooden board and knead until smooth and elastic, adding only as much flour as necessary to prevent dough from sticking to your work surface and hands. In the beginning of the kneading process, this dough will feel quite “pasty” because of the rye flour. As always, use a pastry scraper while kneading to scrape dough off the board cleanly as you continue to knead in a sufficient amount of flour.

5. To rise dough twice: When dough is smooth and elastic, place it in the buttered rising bowl. Cover bowl with buttered plastic wrap and a clean kitchen towel. Let rise in a draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours. Punch down dough with several swift swats from the back of your hand to deflate dough totally. Turn over dough, cover and let rise again for 1 1/2 hours.

6. To shape oblong loaves: Turn out fully risen dough onto a lightly floured board and use the blade of your pastry scraper to divide dough in half. Work with half the dough at a time, keeping the other half covered.

7. Lay two clean kitchen towels on your counter and sprinkle them with bread flour. Roll dough half into a 7×10-inch rectangle. Starting at the short end farthest from you, roll dough toward you, pinching to seal as you go. Pinch to seal the ends and tuck under to attach to the bottom seam. Rotate and plump dough to finish shaping and place shaped loaf (seam side up) diagonally on a prepared towel. Form a sling by joining the corners of the towel farthest from the loaf. Secure the joined towel points within a closed drawer (in a quiet area) so the loaves hang undisturbed in their slings for 45 minutes.

8. To set up for baking loaves: While bread is rising, position the rack in the second or third lowest shelf in the oven and, if using a sheet of quarry tiles or a pizza stone, place it on the rack. On the rack below this, place a heavy-bottomed, oven-proof pan, which will preheat along with the tiles. Sprinkle a baker’s peel or a flat cookie sheet with cornmeal. Thirty minutes before the end of the rise, preheat oven to 450F / about 230C.

9. If not using tiles or a stone, brush or spray 1 or 2 large (preferably dark steel) shallow baking sheets with vegetable oil and sprinkle interior with cornmeal. After mixing egg white and water, pour into a small medium-mesh sieve into another bowl to remove excess coagulation and any bubbles created while mixing. Place glaze next to your work surface.

10. To slash and glaze loaves: Working with one loaf at a time, carefully release slings and gently turn out loaves from towels (smooth side up) onto the prepared baker’s peel or baking sheet at least 3 inches apart. Use your hands gently to plump loaf into a neat shape. Using a sharp serrated knife or a razor, slash tops of each loaf three times horizontally, going 1/3 inch deep into the dough. Using a pastry brush, paint tops and sides of loaves (excluding slashes) generously with glaze.

11. To bake loaves: Just before inserting the dough into the hot oven, carefully pour ¾ cup warm water into the pan beneath the rack used to bake the loaves, then shut the door while you go get the loaves. If baking with tiles, insert the peel all the way to the back of the oven and with one swift jerk pull out the peel, leaving loaves on the hot tiles (preferably with three inches between them). If not using tiles or a stone, place loaves into the hot oven on their baking sheets as directed.

12. Bake loaves at 450o F / 230C for 10 minutes.

13. Reduce heat to 350F / 175C and bake for 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and place on wire racks to cool thoroughly before slicing, 2 to 3 hours.


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34 thoughts on “Pumpernickel, poems and party season

  1. Liz 5 November 2013 at 8:52 am Reply

    love pumpernickel bread!!! Yours looks good, even if you weren’t 100% pleased. Didn’t know there was poetry out there about such a specific type of bread. so lovely that there is. And huge thumbs-up on your toppings. Inspired.

    • saucygander 5 November 2013 at 10:27 pm Reply

      I didn’t know there was poetry about pumpernickel until a random Google search! Amazing what one can find on the interwebs.
      Still have rye flour left, so will try a couple of recipes for similar black bread / pumpernickel, and see how I go.

  2. Ada ~ More Food, Please 5 November 2013 at 9:55 am Reply

    Your bread looks beautiful! I love pumpernickel! I always ask for free basket refills at restaurants haha. Bookmarking this recipe. Thanks for sharing!

    • saucygander 5 November 2013 at 10:29 pm Reply

      I’m always the one taking bread from the bread basket! (Sorry fellow diners) This recipe takes a while, but produces a good result. Have fun with it, if you try the recipe!

  3. Johnnysenough Hepburn 5 November 2013 at 12:04 pm Reply

    Well, my heart sank as I read through the ingredients list. Seriously, it would take me a couple of weeks just to find some of those. Except for the organic wholegrain rye flour in my cupboard. That I’ve only used once. Love the idea of making pumpernickel!

    • saucygander 5 November 2013 at 10:39 pm Reply

      It took me a while tom find the ingrrdients too, and I gave up on finding the prune paste and did a bastardised version from scratch.
      Wholemeal rye flour would have been really good with this recipe!

  4. Gather and Graze 5 November 2013 at 1:21 pm Reply

    Your bread looks wonderful! and as you say, perfect as a base for party season canapés!

    • saucygander 6 November 2013 at 9:27 pm Reply

      Thank you so much! Yay party season!

  5. Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella 5 November 2013 at 9:19 pm Reply

    I haven’t had pumpernickel bread in so long but I do love it! 😀 I can imagine that it would hold up other flavours and toppings beautifully 🙂

    • saucygander 6 November 2013 at 9:34 pm Reply

      It’s such a flavoursome bread, full of character, we also love dark rye with gravlax and other good things! 😀

  6. thatskinnychickcanbake 5 November 2013 at 9:57 pm Reply

    I would love to have sampled your grandmother’s bread…what a treat! And I love your toppings 🙂

  7. garethhevans 6 November 2013 at 5:32 am Reply

    Looks well worth the effort. The list of ingredients reads like a poem in itself! 🙂

    • saucygander 6 November 2013 at 9:37 pm Reply

      Haha, a Sisyphyan epic poem? 😀

    • saucygander 6 November 2013 at 9:39 pm Reply

      Oops, Sisyphean. Darn tablets!

      • garethhevans 7 November 2013 at 2:38 am

        It’s only like that when the dough doesn’t rise. Tell me about tablet fumbling!

  8. Dawn 6 November 2013 at 9:29 am Reply

    Lovely post! Your toppings look perfect. 🙂

  9. oven chaos 6 November 2013 at 9:56 am Reply

    Love the slashes! I am still working on mastering mine 🙂 Pumpernickel with goat cheese and walnuts – mmm!

    • saucygander 6 November 2013 at 9:42 pm Reply

      My slashes need work too, I tend to deflate the dough a bit when I slash it, oops! 🙂 The strong flavours of the toppings go so well together! 😀

  10. SandraM 6 November 2013 at 10:24 am Reply

    Great post. I really enjoyed it. This was a good bread. The video definitely helped, as I don’t think it would have gone as well without seeing exactly what she did.

    • saucygander 6 November 2013 at 9:43 pm Reply

      I think the video would have helped too, I need a bigger/faster internet data connection! 🙂

  11. Karen @ Karen's Kitchen Stories 6 November 2013 at 3:20 pm Reply

    Nicely done, beautifully photographed, and lovely writing!

  12. Karen 6 November 2013 at 11:01 pm Reply

    I love pumpernickel bread and your spread must have taken it over the top.

  13. Coffee and Crumpets 9 November 2013 at 2:14 am Reply

    Unfortunately my grandma never made pumpernickel so it sounds like I missed out! However, your sounds great and I think can make up for all my lost time with pumpernickel 🙂


  14. steph (whisk/spoon) 9 November 2013 at 4:14 am Reply

    a “modern pumpernickel”–I like that. looks good to me. have fun during party season!

  15. Cathleen 9 November 2013 at 12:13 pm Reply

    Beautiful photos. I wish I had some goat cheese to spread on the bread – looks delicious!

  16. Emanuelle 9 November 2013 at 11:31 pm Reply

    I LOVE pumpernickel! Never thought to make it at home for some silly reason! Looks delicious!

  17. tammy 11 November 2013 at 11:26 pm Reply

    Agree that this bread makes a great base for so many strong flavors. It’s worth the effort to repeat, I think.

    And I’m totally inspired by the poem. Thanks for including it. It’s interesting that this bread inspires Grandma stories. My post is about my Grandmother too, if I ever get around to posting it on the blog. Maybe today. But I assure you my comments will only be in one language.

  18. Ckay 18 November 2013 at 10:32 am Reply

    Many thanks for sharing the poem. I loved it…
    and I loved this “modern” (as you’ve called it) versions of the pumpernickel bread.
    Glad I did not break my hands or burned my stand mixer (LOL).
    Lovely photos.

    • saucygander 21 November 2013 at 8:14 am Reply

      I found the poem a while ago, and this was the perfect chance to share it. 🙂 Thanks for visiting!

  19. […] to our fabulous other bakers. For a perfect poem about Grandmas and their pumpernickel, check out this post. For the recipe, I hope you’ll buy the […]

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