I love that heavy, black pumpernickel bread that you can buy. It has a slightly aniseed/licorice flavour. What is pumpernickel? I have read American recipes that use black flour or black rice, but I gather that is something different. What other things can you do with it in baking, other than that dense bread? Can it go in lighter breads, or is it too heavy?
Thank you, Margaret
Pumpernickel bread is delicious, as you say, partly because it has a great texture but also because of its slightly sour-sweet flavour. Because of this it goes incredibly well with salty foods (caviar for those who like it), pickles (herring and gherkins), and hard cheese. The key to its flavour is the grain it’s made from — rye. Rye is closely related to wheat and barley, it contains gluten (but in smaller quantities than regular flour, so it makes sense to bake dough made from it in tins to support the dough) and has been around for absolutely ages, originating, in all likelihood, in eastern Turkey. It’s incredibly hardy, doesn’t need soil as healthy as wheat and many other grains, and can survive snowfall, which would kill wheat. It’s popularly grown along the French German border, north of Hungary and elsewhere in Central and Eastern Europe: places that are often cold from late autumn and often have nutrient-poor soils.
Pumpernickel the bread originates in the Westphalia region of North West Germany where they have perfected the art of this wonderful moist, almost doughy (but not too doughy) loaf. The key to perfect pumpernickel is that it must be made using sourdough as the raising agent, and is proven and cooked in loaf tins covered with a lid (which keeps the moisture in). It needs to be cooked at a relatively low heat (for bread) for a very long time: it can be cooked for up to 24 hours and is the only bread I know of that is cooked for such a long time. Because of all of this the resulting loaf is slightly sour, moist and dark. The colour comes primarily from a complex chemical reaction caused by the long slow baking, but also from the dark rye grains and rye flour used to make it in the first place.
As to the black flour that you mention I’ve not heard of it. There are black rice flours which aren’t that great when used in breadmaking as they tend to be quite starchy but with little “strength’’ in them (because they have no gluten, the protein that gives flour its strength). I’ve also tried baking with black-bean flour but it gives a distinct “bean’’ flavour to the finished dish — not so bad when used in something like a spicy, herby, chillied fritter, but when used in a bread dough (along with strong flour) it’s just too beany. However, mixing several flours together to make bread is a lovely way to add character to a dough, in the same way that adding seeds or spices can. I often add polenta grains to dough along with wholemeal flour, or wheat berries that I’ve simmered in hot water for an hour, mainly for texture but also for a lovely background flavour.
As for alternate uses for pumpernickel bread, I used to make a fabulous frozen parfait from it years ago at The Sugar Club restaurant in Wellington. The restaurant was in “dodgy’’ Vivian St, and was where I first made a name for myself in New Zealand restaurants. I’d slice the bread very thin and toast it in a low oven until super-crispy. Then I’d crush it, half in a food processor to a fine-medium crumb, and half in a paper bag that I’d bash with a rolling pin to give larger crumbs. Mixed into an egg yolk and cream-based parfait base (much like a zabaglione) and frozen in a terrine mould, it sliced beautifully, and was a gorgeous dark colour. It went really well with whipped cream and orange segments. I must bring that one back!
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