Westphalian Rye Bread

Germany is known for its rye breads. Raisin rye represents the sweet end of the spectrum, while sour rye, made with a tart starter, will pucker your mouth like a dill pickle.

Westphalia, a northwestern German state, is famous for both its unctuous, lightly smoked ham, and its dense, dark pumpernickel. Both are sliced ultra-thin, then served with one another in a perfect marriage of bread and meat. Accompanied by sweet butter, perhaps some smoked sausage, and a stein of beer or glass of schnapps, this is a standard Westphalian repast.

The following rye bread mimics Westphalian rye, but is prepared in a less time-consuming manner. Don't be discouraged while preparing the dough; it's very heavy and sticky, more like mortar than bread dough, and it's therefore most easily mixed in a stand mixer, food processor or bread machine.

Prep
30 mins
Bake
5 hrs
Total
19 hrs 30 mins
Yield
two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaves
Westphalian Rye Bread

Instructions

  1. Put the cracked wheat and malted wheat flakes or oats in a large mixing bowl, and pour in the boiling water.
  2. Stir in the burnt sugar, caramel color, or black cocoa. Allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.
  3. Stir in the pumpernickel flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, salt and vegetable oil. If you're looking for a typical yeast dough here, forget it; the mixture will be sticky and have about as much life as a lump of clay.
  4. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let it sit in a warm place (70-75°F) for at least 12 hours, and up to 24 hours.
  5. After 6 to 8 hours, fold the mixture over once or twice, then cover it again and allow it to continue to mellow. (We hesitate to use the word "rise" here; though there is in fact a bit of yeast in the dough, it'll rise very little.)
  6. After the mellowing period is complete, grease two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" pans. The dough will look "cracked" or "broken" at this point; that's OK.
  7. Turn it out onto a floured or lightly greased work surface, knead until it holds together, then divide it in half.
  8. Press each half into a loaf pan, smoothing the surface with wet hands.
  9. Let the loaves sit, covered, for 1 1/2 hours; they'll rise just slightly.
  10. Preheat the oven to 225°F.
  11. Grease two pieces of aluminum foil, then cover the pans tightly with the foil, greased-side down.
  12. Place the covered pans in the oven. Bake the bread for 5 hours.
  13. After 5 hours, remove the foil from the pans, and check to see that the bread is firm and looks set — it should register 195°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf.
  14. Remove the bread from the oven. Let it cool in the pans for 15 minutes to firm.
  15. Remove it from the pans and allow to cool to lukewarm before wrapping in plastic wrap or a dishtowel. Cool for 8 hours or more before slicing.
  16. Store, covered, at room temperature for a week. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Tips from our Bakers

  • Notice the difference in color between the dough and the finished loaf; the long bake promotes caramelization of the flour's natural sugars, and this deepens the loaf's color to a rich chocolate brown. Serve this bread sliced extra-thin; prosciutto is probably the ham that most clearly mimics Westphalian, if you can't obtain the authentic article.
  • To make burnt sugar: Place 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the sugar melts. Continue cooking the sugar until it turns dark brown and begins to smoke. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup boiling water and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Use this water for 1 cup of the boiling water called for in the recipe.
  • To make this bread as one loaf, use a 13" loaf pan; we like our 13" pain de mie (pullman loaf) pan. Prepare and bake the bread as instructed, covering it with a greased piece of aluminum foil or with the lid of your pain de mie loaf pan.