Sourdough Pumpernickel Bread

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Sourdough Pumpernickel Bread

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Published prior to 2008

This bread, made without the help of commercial yeast, is a great accompaniment to Borscht or any other hearty soup. It is made with a coarse rye meal called pumpernickel, which is ground from the whole rye berry, meaning it contains both the bran (the outer covering of the rye berry) and the germ (the oil-rich embryo which would have produced a new seedling had the rye berry been planted).

Pumpernickel is an affectionate German name given in fun, both to the meal and the hearty breads made with it, to describe their effect on the digestive system. ("Pumpern" is the German word for "intestinal wind" and "nickel" is a word for demon or sprite.) We've combined it with our King Arthur Unbleached Flour to minimize this effect (!) and to create a light and tasty loaf.

The Sponge

Put this together the night before you want to serve your bread.

    1 1/3 cups sourdough starter
    1 cup black coffee (or water if you don't have any coffee around; water you've boiled potatoes in is also a good option)
    2 cups pumpernickel flour
    1/2 cup chopped onion
The Dough

After you've put the dough together and shaped it, it will need to rise for 2 or 3 hours (or more or less depending on conditions). If you make one loaf, it will need to bake for about 45 minutes. Two loaves will take about 35 minutes. Take this timing into consideration before you start.
    2 tablespoons vegetable oil
    2 teaspoons salt
    1/4 cup dark, unsulphured molasses
    about 4 (more or less) cups of King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (you can substitute some whole wheat flour for some all-purpose for a heartier loaf if you wish)

    The Sponge: Put your starter in a glass or ceramic bowl. Feed the remainder with equal amounts of flour and water, cover it and let it sit out at room temperature for 12 or so hours to give the wild yeast a chance to start working on its new meal. Then refrigerate it until you want to use it again.

    To the starter in the bowl, add the coffee (not hot), pumpernickel and onion. Stir this brew together, cover it and let it bubble away overnight.

    The Dough: Stir the oil, salt and molasses into the sponge. Stir in the flour a cup at a time until you have a dough that you can knead. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding only enough more flour to keep it from being actually sticky (when the dough actually sticks to your hands). When you knead a dough that contains rye flour, it will never completely lose its tacky feel. You want to knead it enough so you can take your hands away from it without bits of dough sticking to them. Don't keep adding flour to try to eliminate the "tacky" feel because you'll end up with something to feed the birds (which might be all right at this time of year anyway!)

    You can shape this dough a number of ways. Make one large round loaf which you'll place on a pumpernickel-sprinkled baking sheet. Or make two smaller versions of the same thing. Or place it in a large (10 x 5-inch) bread pan or 2 smaller 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch pans.

    Cover the loaves with either a damp towel or a piece of lightly greased (so it won't stick to the surface of the dough) plastic wrap. Place them somewhere out of a draft to rise. You can control the rate of rise somewhat by the temperature in which you put them. 55°F to 60°F will mean 3 to 5 hours of rising; 65°F to 70°F will mean 2 to 4 hours. Just keep an eye on them. You want to put them in a preheated 350°F oven before they've doubled in bulk, as they'll continue to rise during the first 15 minutes of baking. Bake 2 smaller loaves for about 35 minutes, 1 large loaf about 45 minutes. Makes 1 or 2 loaves.

    Tip: Need some sourdough starter to get started? See our step-by-step directions for creating your own sourdough starter from scratch. Or, if you’re looking for a head-start, check out our classic fresh sourdough starter, a simpler path to fresh, ready-to-use sourdough starter.

    This recipe reprinted from The Baking Sheet Newsletter, Vol. III, No. 3, January-February 1992 issue.


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  • star rating 04/24/2015
  • lauramh from KAF Community
  • OUTSTANDING!!! Difficult not to eat half the loaf in a sitting. More tender crumb than most pure sourdoughs. I used 2 cups of white whole wheat and 2 cups white flour for the dough. It is time-consuming, because the sponge must rise overnight, but I went directly from kneading to shaping a single large loaf, so there is little handling. Not a fussy bread at all. I don't have a proofing box (YET), so I let it rise in a barely warm oven, with a pan of boiling water underneath to provide warmth and humidity. Good enough to give as a gift.
  • star rating 02/13/2015
  • Kay from Durand, Wi.
  • I had Pumpernickle Meal and no Pumpernickle Flour....I made sponge per instructions, only using the meal instead of flour. In the morning = Sponge was very dense and thick - so I added (1 C. warm water, 1 cake yeast + 1 tsp. sugar) and then the rest of the ingredients (using 1C. wheat and 4C. AP Flour). Kneaded with mixer and then by hand a bit. Put into 2 pans and it raised in 1 hour! Baked 350 for 35-40 minutes. Brushed tops with butter to soften crusts. Great bread this way! Next time I will make round loaves instead and will leave the crusty tops alone -(not buttering the tops). Nice dense texture. Wonderful flavor. I made the alterations to see if Pumpernickle meal could be used if I added the extra Yeast and water to the sponge in morning. Yes - it worked for me.
  • star rating 12/21/2014
  • bkramer947 from KAF Community
  • Interesting recipe. A few comments: The recipe is not written as clearly and as well as the typical KAF recipes found here. It could be written in a more organized fashion with some better clarity. I used my rye starter for this recipe. The smell of the sponge was VERY strong and unpleasant....and I usually love the smell of onions, coffee and even starter. Something about the ferment here...the combo made for a bubbly, active sponge but the smell....yucko! The dough was indeed very sticky as described in the recipe. I was careful not to over-stuff it with flour in an attempt to make it less sticky. I baked it at 400 on a stone after having done a shaping-rise in a towel lined banneton. Baked for 42 minutes, measured at 208 degrees or so (so perhaps I slightly overbooked it, though it was not dry at all in taste), Taste and texture - very crunchy crust, very soft center. Texture was very likable. Flavor is VERY strong, robust and rather bitter, despite the molasses. It reminds me in flavor of a strong, dark beer. Very complex, rich flavor. We like the bread but I think it's the kind of thing I will only make once in a long while. Would be great sliced very thin and topped with goodies....egg salad, or cream cheese with lox and dill. Good with soft butter on top. This was my first pumpernickel, let alone my first sourdough pumpernickel! I'm glad I tried it and added it to my repertoire. Not my fave but nice to have in the rotation on an occasional basis. Taste is not for everyone - it's for people who like a more complex, deep and bitter flavor profile.
  • star rating 12/30/2012
  • from
  • We wanted cocktail pumpernickel to serve with gravlox. I made half a recipe and baked it in mini loaf pans. Everyone enjoyed it, including my mom who isn't always a dark bread fan. Really delicious. Thanks!
  • star rating 12/05/2011
  • claricef from KAF Community
  • This seemed an awful lot of work for a bread that is okay but not as good as the much easier no knead breads I have been working with. I'll use the rest of my starter for your rustic sourdough bread and see if I like that better. In the meantime I have the rest of the KAF pumpernickel flour. I suppose I can use that in place of dark rye in my other recipes.
  • star rating 04/21/2011
  • pammyowl from KAF Community
  • I let this rise an extra time to develop more flavor, and because I was afraid there was a typo! I couldn't believe I was supposed to go right to shaping after kneading! Anyway, It was delicious. It took six hours from kneading to oven, but worth it. There was a definite tang, crunchy crust and a moist crumb. I used a stone and at 450, it took 35 min. to reach 190. I cut the recipe in half.
  • star rating 02/13/2011
  • dwighttsharpe from KAF Community
  • In spite of all the boldly flavored ingredients, and all the wonderful aromas they produce, I find in still somewhat lacking in taste. Have made this three times with great high rises. Next time I will increase the salt. I think that may be my issue. Is the average of one teaspoon of salt per loaf used here for these somewhat large loaves enough? Otherwise a fantastic recipe for those wary about their starter's ability to make a high rising, fluffy, whole grain loaf of bread, if so desired.
  • star rating 11/12/2010
  • avidbirder from KAF Community
  • I made the sponge Sunday and started it proofing. I ended up getting so busy that I didn't make the bread until last night. I was nervous it wouldn't rise, but it turned out delicious! Very good rye flavor with the added caraway seeds, and the sourdough tang was quite noticeable. I added about a teaspoon of commercial yeast when I put the ingredients in for the bread, and the rise was appreciable.
  • star rating 10/31/2010
  • Scottk from KAF Community
  • I had no trouble getting a good, bubbly sponge going with the onions, coffee, and pumpernickel and my starter (homemade via KAF directions). However, after I shaped my two loaves I got no appreciable rise after 3 hours in a warm environment. I kneaded into teach loaf a "rescue" dough (small amount of flour, water, and instant yeast equivalent to 1/2 teaspoon for each l;oaf) and after re-shaping the loaves got a a NICE rise after 2 hours. Very rounded oval loaves that did indeed "jump" the first 15 minutes of baking. Excellent flavor to this bread! My wife was so skeptical of Pumpernickel (she is not a fan of caraway) but was very happy with the texture and flavor of the onions, pumpernickel, and sourdough together. In the future I will probably add a kicker of 1 teaspoon instant yeast in the dough to give the bread some "umph" and improve the rise, as does many of the other sourdough recipes on this site. I find that does not detract from the flavor, since the sourdough starter develops so much flavor during the overnight sponge activity. I will make this again!
  • star rating 05/27/2010
  • Summer from Salt Lake City, UT
  • I used this recipe as sort of a starting point for an even heartier loaf, but it turned out so good I had to say something. I didn't have the pumpernickel flour so I used 1 1/2 c dark rye flour and 1/2 c wheat bran instead, then substituted mashed sweet potato for the onion called in the sponge to make it a little sweeter. I also used all whole wheat flour and about a TBS and a half of gluten in the remainder of the recipe. The rise was perfect and the bread was dense (but not too dense), moist and subtly sweet. It made perfect sandwiches and toast. This is definitely a go-to recipe.
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