Pumpernickel (the Devil’s wind, a reference to its causing flatulence) originated in Westphalia on the banks of the Rhine. It is a dark and dense rye bread, cooked extremely slowly, which has no obvious leavening, though it does ferment spontaneously during a long rest in the tin before baking. It is steamed rather than baked, and the slow cooking ensures that it keeps very well. A fact of life is that breads that cook fast are never long keepers, and the giant loaves that once were baked over a matter of hours in a cooling oven would keep for a number of days if not weeks. Pumpernickel, which would keep for months, could be viewed as some form of insurance against a rainy day when the corn ran out and no more bread was to be had - not so unrealistic a possibility when a peasant’s life was turned upside down by invasion, pestilence or famine. It was also a way of using the rejects from the corn mill as the best flour for this bread is a really coarse grind, almost a meal. Nowadays, however, it is valued for its intense flavour, a natural foil to foods like smoked hams or strong cheese.
When the cooking is finished, cool it on a rack, and delay slicing the loaf for a day or two, then cut it into the thinnest of slices.
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.