Thursday, May 6, 2010

BBA Challenge #34: Pumpernickel Bread

If, for a moment, we could compare common supermarket bread here in Germany versus common supermarket bread found in the States, we would find that bread here is darker, denser, usually laden with seeds and rye, and, on occasion, nearly black. Sometimes I wish I could start a blog made up only of supermarket breads to show the huge difference between bread culture here in Germany, and in the States.

The biggest difference is in the usage of rye flour. It is simply inescapable, and for the longest time after I moved here, I bought the cheapest bread I could find, which was a loaf of rye bread, 1250g, which cost about 0,79€ four years ago. Later, I switched to Pumpkin Seed Bread, and then, when I began baking my own bread, went on such a wheat run that I shunned rye in all its forms. I would even ask which bread had the lowest percentage of rye, then buy that one.

One of the other major differences is in the use of preservatives. I was more than mildly surprised at the supermarket when I picked up a loaf, and splashed across the front of the plastic bag, were the words "Ohne Konservierungsstoffe!" Okay, so I added the extra exclamation point, but it might have really had one on there. Such was my surprise. The thing is that bread here does not go as moldy as fast as some bread that I have encountered in the US.

While most breads in the US have some sort of preservative, the Germans have really got it down. Some bread here lasts three weeks before turning blue. One day, out of curiosity, I picked up a loaf and started reading the ingredients. While some breads may have lists of ingredients as long as your arm, it's often because they have oils and seeds and- get this- sourdough, which has to have its own list of ingredients as well. The content of rye also helps keep the bread fresh and feeds the natural yeasts found in sourdough.

So while the States may have the market on pillow-soft white bread, Germany has cornered the market on bread with sourdough in it. The sourdough, however, is usually used for flavor, but not for leavening. It's not uncommon to see yeast as well as sourdough in the ingredient list. Even asking at some bakeries which bread is made without commercial yeast will give you strange looks. There was one where they told me that any bread produced with less than 50% rye flour gets bread yeast thrown in to speed up the process. The bakeries do have to produce bread relatively fast, but with some flavor, no?

So while some might balk at Peter Reinhart's instruction to add commercial yeast to sourdough bread, I know it is rooted in the need to make bread that is flavorful, but can also be produced quick enough so that the baker can still make a profit.

Here's the mixer with everything but the rye sourdough starter and the breadcrumbs.

For this bread, there was the option to use bread crumbs from a previous bread. Not really understanding how the breadcrumbs would affect the texture, I sort of just blitzed them in the food processor attachment to my hand blender. The crumbs were from a left over miche as well as from some Poilâne bread that had dried out.

The bread crumbs go in. It's still relatively dry.

But once the rye starter goes in, the dough gets into this moist almost batter-like texture. The kind you get when you're making really fudgy brownies. Well, except, without chocolate, and not fudgy.

When I was shaping the loaf I sort of realized that I hadn't chopped the breadcrumbs small enough. There were bits of old bread inside the dough.

But in the end, the shape worked to the dough's advantage.

I did forget the whole slashing bit, though, so the bread looks like it was breaking out of itself. Plus it looked much darker than what this picture shows. The bread was dark, the crust was chewy, and the texture was amazing. Though it was occasionally interrupted by very chewy bits of old bread.

Oddly enough, German Pumpernickel Bread is nearly dark, pretty moist, very flavorful, and comes either in a can, or wrapped in pretty tight plastic.

Other Pumpernicklers include:

Cindy from Salt and Serenity

Anne Marie from Rosemary and Garlic

Paul from Yumarama

Sally from Bewitching Kitchen


  1. I liked this one. Your loaves look lovely.

    What does the German on the bread translate to?Ohne Konservierungsstoffe??

    Anne Marie

  2. Had the same question about the German . . . We were really surprised to like this one. Your boules look great!

  3. I'm a pumpernickel fan and excited to make this one, but the rest of the family refers to pumpernickel bread as "stinky sock" bread so I'm guessing I'll be eating this one all by myself. Your boules do look lovely!

  4. Sorry, I meant to put that in: "Ohne Konservierungsstoffe" literally means "without conserving materials" which is basically "no preservatives". I see this a lot on German products in the Supermarket. Of course, the products don't last as long, but I guess they're not supposed to anyways.

    My boules looked lumpy! But I loved them anyways. Thanks everyone for all the nice comments.

  5. Yes, many Germans have started to set a high value on food without preserving agents - so have I! Nice boules, Daniel! So you liked the flavor, huh? I wasn't too thrilled because I was expecting something totally different from a pumpernickel bread. Oddly enough, I don't even like German pumpernickel bread! Just out of curiosity: what do you mean by the food processor attachment to your hand blender? I don't have a food processor and don't intend to buy one, but every once in a while a food processor would come in handy! So an attachment would be great! Do you have a picture posted somewhere? Or a website of the company that produces it? Just so that I have an idea what it looks like?

  6. Fantastic. Thanks for the information.

  7. Interesting post. Per Andrea's observation on her post, did you find this more like a us style pumpernickel? The Hamelman book has an interesting discussion on that dense pumpernickel Andrea describes; seems it was a way to use the residual oven heat when the bakery oven was shut off!

  8. Those loaves look beautiful. And very interesting about the German vs. US sourdough. Which one do you like better? For example.... San Francisco Sourdough? :)

  9. Thanks for the comments!

    Andrea- I have a Braun Multiquick hand blender- The "Sauce" package with the whisk- which I've never used, the mini food chopper which works great as a small food processor- and the mixing cup. Here's a link on This one is probably the US equivalent:

    Sara- I found this more like a US style pumpernickel, with elements of German Bread, so sort of like a hybrid. German pumpernickel is usually almost like a cake, with the moistness but none of the sweetness. And, yes, the Hamelman description is what would normally be considered pumpernickel- a slow bake at lower temperatures would make the bread much darker and much more flavorful.

    figsetc- German sourdough is usually not sour! I don't know it it's a matter of preference, but you'd be hard pressed to find a pucker-your-lips kind of sour bread here like the SF Sourdough. However, there are various degrees of semi-sour breads, but mostly they have a large amount of rye. I'd have to go with German Sourdough, though, since the bread is darker, often packed with seeds and the occasional sourness. I don't like sour bread for the sake of sourness. Though sometimes I *do* want sour bread, and so I have to bake it myself!

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