Every time I come back from abroad, the kitchen starts travelling wherever I have been so having been in Cologne, the kitchen is having a German phase. Not Wurst, I am afraid, as I do not like sausages of any kind apart from "very little young ones occasionally, when other food was really scarce" as Tommy Brock said of his occasional baby rabbit-eating tendencies in Beatrix Potter's Tale of Mr Tod!
But cheesecake of course, which is never out of season in this house. And German-influenced rye and mixed grain bread. The Germans make the most fantastic bread - much of it based on a sour-dough leaven and with a multitude of different grains and seeds. They range from lighter, crusty, nutty rolls, Mehrkornbrötchen, I think they're called, sprinkled with toasted pumpkin seeds, to heavier, denser pumpernickel, dark, damp and brooding, either plain or dotted with hazelnuts in the dough, like in these packets of pumpernickel in a Bäckerei in Bonn.
Last year, I had a phase of trying to replicate Mehrkornbrötchen using a mixed grain dough (rye, wholewheat and white flours) with added sunflower and pumpkin seeds in it and the requisite pumpkin seed topping, glued in place with a glaze of beaten egg. They were good but they lacked the deliciously crisp crust of those I had eaten every morning for a week in Berlin. I fear, even my fierce oven is no match for the blast furnace of a professional Bäckerei.
This year it's pumpernickel I have been turning my hand to. I love pumpernickel, the black bread or "schwarz Bröt" that sustained the peasantry of Europe for centuries. At its best, it is dense, but not concrete-like; chewy but not rubber-like; aromatic and flavoursome. Cut very thin with a good, sharp, serrated bread knife, it makes the perfect accompaniment to all sorts of cheeses, ham, smoked salmon (if you're feeling extravagant), pickles, hard boiled eggs, salami etc. I like it best actually, plain with thick shavings of very cold unsalted butter laid on top.
I'd never made pumpernickel before although I had read about it and I'd got it into my head that it was complicated and difficult. I was wrong; it's simple and very easy although it takes time so it's not something you can rustle up for lunch in half an hour.
The recipe I used is one I've adapted from Tom Jaine's book, "Making Bread at Home" and it's very good. It also has the virtue of authenticity using traditional ingredients and a traditional method. The characteristic dark colour of the bread comes, I understand, from the chemical reaction that takes place during the long, slow, fermenting rise but many alternative recipes you'll find on the Internet cut the corners on this part of the process and get the dark colour by adding cocoa powder, molasses or instant coffee and using a shorter rising time. I prefer the "echt", chemical reaction, long rising time version myself, without the additives. It is low in fat and sugar, full of vitamins and each thin slice contains only a modest number of calories. It's also meant to keep very well, once cold and wrapped in foil. The only tricky part is accommodating the long cooking time into your day so that you will be around when you need to take it out of the oven. The long rising time the previous day is more forgiving - it won't hurt if you leave it an hour or so longer or cut it back by half an hour, here or there. Try it! Here is my adapted version of Tom Jaine's recipe:
What you need: (for two small loaves):
600 g wholewheat rye flour (stoneground if possible)
225 g white bread-making flour
450 g wholewheat bread-making flour
1 tbsp honey (not heat-treated)
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1/2 tsp caraway seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
1/2 tsp ground aniseed
1 tbsp salt
1.2 l warm water
What you do:
Grind the spices to a fine powder in a pestle and mortar.
Tip the flours, ground spices and salt into a large mixing bowl. Mix the dry ingredients together well with a spoon.
Dissolve the honey in the warm water and add to the bowl. Mix to a sticky dough that you'll find is more reminiscent of a cake mix than a bread dough.
Pack the mixture into two small non-stick loaf tins or one larger one. As you can see, I lined my tins but I think the pumpernickel loaves would have turned out quite easily without bothering. As you can't see, I got nervous about filling the tins too full and had a third spill-over tin, rather too large but shortened by the expedient of inserting a clean empty tin can in one end, but again I needn't have worried. The dough does rise a little in the tins but not to overflowing so next time I shall pack it all into these two.
Cover with a piece of cling film and then a clean tea towel and place in a warm place for twenty four hours. The temperature needs to be warmer than just average room temperature - I put mine on a trivet on top of the boiler but a warm airing cupboard would work well or anywhere near a gentle source of heat. The temperature should be around 29 ℃ / 85 ℉. During this time the dough will begin spontaneously to ferment and become aerated even though it looks as though nothing is happening.
After twenty four hours, preheat the oven to 110 ℃ and boil a kettle. Remove the cling film and tea towel drapery from the tins and cover the tops tightly instead with tin foil. Place the loaf tins on a rack that will sit in a roasting tin. Pour boiling water into the roasting tin and bake in the oven for five - six hours. You may need to top up the water during that time. At the end of the five - six hours you can remove the foil hats and bake for a further hour at 180 ℃ to crisp up the crust. I like the dampness - it's part of the attraction of pumpernickel so next time I will cut short that final hour but see how you like it.
Remove from the oven and allow to cool on a rack.
Once cold, wrap tightly in foil - it keeps well for several weeks apparently. And although no kneading has taken place nor does the bread contain any yeast other than the natural yeasts attendant in the flours, the texture is miraculously aerated and bread-like. Not as light and airy of course as an ordinary yeasted, kneaded dough but not a brick either. Although it's supposed to keep well, I am not going to be in a position to attest to this properly as I notice that the loaves are shrinking daily as slivers are cut off by other members of the household to keep the wolf from the door, less literally than for many of our ancestors but still answering the same need. I haven't pushed this on anyone, in fact I thought it might not be that popular but clearly it is!
While the pumpernickel is diminishing I have been growing a new sourdough starter in a jar on the window sill. It's doing nicely and tomorrow will be ready for using hopefully - gives me a thrill every time to make bread with no yeast in it! This is not strictly true of course - there is yeast in it just not the commercial variety but the complex and unique bouquet of yeasts that cling to natural products and that are afloat in the air around us. Which is why sourdough bread is always slightly different made in different places because the yeasts that abound here in South Oxfordshire in the UK will be quite different from those elsewhere in the UK let alone Europe or the US or Australia. Exciting and unpredictable! Always good news in the kitchen! Tempted? I'll give you a peek in the next day or so and you can have a go yourselves either by hand or using a bread machine. Both work well.
In the meantime...
Happy Pumpernickel-making (and eating!)