Russian Pumpernickel

by Laurel on April 6, 2011

This is exactly the kind of bread I miss finding in bakeries over here. Hearty, flavorful, and full of crazy combinations like espresso, shallots and fennel, this robust rye loaf does not exactly conform to the Italian canons of simple and delicate breads. It’s not for the faint of heart, but whoever likes it tends to really love it. Eaten warm out of the oven, alone or with butter, smoked salmon and a sprinkling of fresh dill, it’s a meal in itself. I also used it to add another layer of flavor to this eggs benedict recipe. The following recipe makes two loaves, and believe me, you’ll want to eat both!

Russian Pumpernickel (from Smitten Kitchen, here)

  • 2 packages (1 1/2 tablespoons) active dry yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
  • 2 cups water
  • 1/4 cup molasses
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour
  • 3 cups medium rye flour
  • 3 cups unbleached, all-purpose or bread flour
  • 1 cup bran
  • 2 tablespoons caraway seeds (I couldn’t find these, so I substituted cumin)
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso powder
  • 1 tablespoon minced shallots
  • 1/4 cup cornmeal (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon unbleached all-purpose flour (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds (optional)

In a small bowl, combine yeast and sugar with warm water. Stir to dissolve and let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Combine two cups water, molasses, vinegar, butter and chocolate in a small pot over medium low heat (or in microwave) until the butter and chocolate are melted. Set aside.

Stir together whole-wheat, rye and white flours in a large bowl. Set aside.

Combine two cups mixed flours, bran, 2 tablespoons caraway seeds, fennel seeds, salt, espresso and shallots in a large bowl (or in the bowl of a heavy mixer fitted with a paddle attachment). Add yeast and chocolate mixtures and continue to stir with a wooden spoon (at low speed if using a mixer). Mix until smooth and beat (at medium speed) for three minutes. (If you don’t like whole seeds in your bread, grind them in a spice grinder before adding to the dough.)

Add half cup of remaining mixed flours at a time, and continue to mix until the dough forms a ball (mixer: at low speed, until dough clears sides of bowl and begins to work its way up paddle). It will be very sticky but firm.

Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and knead to make a springy yet dense dough. You might not use all of the flour mixture.

Form into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Turn once to grease top. cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Combine cornmeal, flour and remaining caraway seeds, and set aside.

Gently deflate dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half and form into two rounds. Place loaves seam down on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Sprinkle loaves with cornmeal mixture, and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled and puffy, about 45 minutes to one hour. Slash an X into the top of each round before baking it.

Bake in a preheated 350°F (180°C) oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until loaves are well-browned, or register an internal temperature of 200-210°F (95-100°C) on an instant-read thermometer. Watch closely after 30 minutes, since baking time in your oven may vary. Remove from baking sheet and let cool completely on a rack, if you can wait that long.

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