A question recently came up on Serious Eats about dark rye breads, with a bit of discussion on how to get the really dark color and flavor of pumpernickel.
So what's the truth? Was caramel coloring the key? Are there darker rye flours? What is pumpernickel, anyway?
I searched the Internet and browsed my cookbooks and found a lot of recipes that required ingredients like expresso powder, caramel coloring, molasses, and chocolate. All those would make the bread darker, but I wondered if any were traditional or if they were just shortcuts to recreate the look of the old style bread.
Finally, I found a recipe for a traditional pumpernickel without the coloring agents. The key was that the bread baked for 12-16 hours. And the story that went along with it said that the traditional bread was made at the end of the baking day. Bread was put into the hot oven and left there overnight while the oven gradually cooled off, and the bread was done by morning.
Since a home oven is probably going to lose heat a lot faster, there was an adapted recipe that called for starting at one temp, turning the oven down after a certain amount of time, then turning it off later and letting the bread coast along for the rest of the time.
So...that's a project for another day.
Coincidentally,I had an interesting ingredient that I found at a new store that opened in town - The Bald Brewer - a brewing supply store for people who want to make their own beer and wine. Friendly little place, with an array of grains used to make beer. Hmmmm...wheat, barley, rye...in varieties I'd never seen sold for baking.
Of course I had to take home some samples, and among them was a dark roasted barley called Pearl Black. It was dark. It smelled like roasted coffee with a hint of chocolate.
I pulled out my rye sourdough starter and let it brew and bubble for a while until my jar was full, feeding and watering as needed. Then I scooped most of it out of the jar and into the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, where I kept feeding until it looked like I had about as much as I wanted. Sorry, no measurements, I was just eyeballing and experimenting.
I added a cup of bread flour and enough water to make a reasonable dough, then added a tablespoon of the Black Pearl barley that I had ground to a fine powder, and kneaded it with the dough hook. I added a shy teaspoon of salt and kept kneading until I had sufficient gluten development.
I put it in a bowl, drizzled a little olive oil over, and let it sit. When it had risen, I punched it down and realized I wasn't going to have time to bake, so it went back into the bowl and into the fridge.
Next day, I took it out of the fridge, punched down again, formed it into a nice ball and plopped it into my rising basket that was liberally sprinkled with rice flour. I covered it and let it rise, but then realized that I wasn't going to have time for the full rise and bake, so I put the basket in the fridge...until the next day.
I pulled it out of the fridge and let it warm up and finish rising while I preheated the oven to 350 degrees. When it was fully risen (a poke with a finger left an indent) I turned it out onto a piece of parchment paper on my peel, then slid the bread, with parchment, onto my baking stone in the oven.
It was a small loaf, so it baked for about 40 minutes. Pulled it out and let it cool completely on a rack.
The bread was dark and the flavor had a nice tang from the long fermentation and a nice malty-roasty flavor from the barley. It wasn't as deep brown as some dark breads I've seen, but the addition of molasses or one of the other coloring agents surely would have put it over that edge. Also, I was using a standard rye rather than a dark rye, so that would have made a difference as well.
Obviously, it's not a true pumpernickel. It's not even an American pumpernickel. But it's a nice dark rye with an interesting flavor. Next time I'll do some measuring. Meanwhile, if there's a brewing store near you, check out the available grains. You might find something that would be an interesting addition to bread.
Cookbook author and food writer for Serious Eats, Whisk Magazine, and the Left Hand Valley Courier, among others. Columnist at American Recycler. Blogger at www.cookistry.com and reviews.cookistry.com.