Michael London, a Brooklyn boy who now has a bakery in Saratoga Springs, New York, demonstrates the correct way to make the perfect pumpernickel.
Yield: 2 2 1/2-pound loaves
- 2 medium onions coarsely chopped
- 1 tablespoon caraway seeds
- 1 scant tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast*
- 4 cups water
- 5 cups medium rye flour plus 1 tablespoon for sprinkling
- 5 slices day-old rye bread crusts removed (about 2 1/2 cups)
- 3 cups water
- 2 cups sour
- 4 teaspoons blackstrap molasses or caramel coloring
- 2 tablespoons sea salt
- 2 tablespoons caraway seeds coarsely ground (optional)
- 1 cup cracked rye or pumpernickel flour plus additional for sprinkling
- 8 cups good bread flour plus additional as needed
- 1 scant tablespoon (1 package) active dry yeast
- 4 tablespoons raisins
- 6 ice cubes
- Tie the onion and caraway seeds in a knotted cheesecloth bag.
- Dissolve the yeast in 3 1/2 cups of the water in a small bowl and pour it over 4 cups of the flour in a large bowl. Stir to mix until it attains the consistency of wet cement. Submerge the cheesecloth bag of chopped onions an caraway seeds down into the center of what will become "the sour." Sprinkle the tablespoon of rye flour over the surface. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set aside overnight, unrefrigerated. The sour needs air to breathe, but not too much, or it will dry out.
- The next day, remove the onion-caraway bag and discard. The sour should smell somewhat acidic but not rotten after about 15 hours. At this point, feed it (mix it) with the remaining 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, or enough to maintain the thick consistency. Cover again and let the sour sit until the area between "cracks" in the dough spreads. You want to capture as much of its strenght as possible.
- After it rises again, in about 4 hours, you will have about 6 cups. You can begin to use it or continue to build it up (which increases the amount of sour). Use it in the bread now or refrigerate it. You should feed the sour once every 24 hours with at least 1 cup flour and 1/2 cup water. The sour can stay several days in the refrigerator without being fed, but, as Michael says, never take a sour for granted. It needs to be nourished.
- In a bowl, crumble the day-old rye bread into 1 cup of the water until the water is absorbed. Crumble it up with your hands; this is what the old-time bakers did. It carries the character of yesterday's bread to today. Remove the excess water.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the dough hook, put the rye bread mixture, the remaining 2 cups water, 2 cups of the sour, and the molasses or caramel color. Stir together at low speed until mixed, about 1 minute.
- Add the sea salt and caraway seeds. Gradually add the cracked rye or pumpernickel flour and the bread flour. Sprinkle the yeast in and stir about 5 minutes, until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl. Knead by hand for a few minutes, incorporating the raisins into the dough. Place in a greased bowl, brush with oil, and cover, letting the dough rise 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in volume.
- Punch the dough down, and if it is still sticky, incorporate more flour as needed. Divide the dough in half, gently form 2 flattened round or oblong loaves, brush with oil, and let them rest 10 to 15 minutes on a floured work surface. Remove the loaves to a cornmeal-dusted cookie sheet, cover very loosely with plastic wrap, and let them rise for another 40 minutes, until doubled in bulk.
- Preheat the oven to 400 degrees, set a rack in the middle, and put 6 ice cubes in a pan on the floor of the oven.
- Since rye and pumpernickel love steam, brush or spray the loaves with water. Sprinkle some of the rye flour on top and then, with a single-edged razor or very sharp knife, make 5 cuts in each loaf, shorter ones on the outside, longer in the center. Bake the loaves for 45 to 50 minutes, or until they sound hollow when tapped with a spatula. To keep a shine, brush them afterward with water.