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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.

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  • 1.2 litres/2 pints water at 50°C/147°F
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon each of ground aniseed, coriander, fennel and caraway
  • 600 g/1 ¼ lb wholemeal rye flour, coarsely ground
  • 450 g/1 lb wholemeal wheat flour, coarsely ground
  • 225 g/8 oz barley flour
  • 15 g/½ oz honey (not heat-treated)


  1. Mix all the ingredients, except the honey, in a bowl. Add the honey and continue to mix until it is combined in a dough. Divide between two non-stick baking tins, measuring 11 × 22 × 6 cm/4½ × 8½ × 2½ inches, or one larger tin, measuring 13 × 30 × 10 cm/5½ × 12 × 4 inches.
  2. Press the moist dough into the corners and flatten the top with a wetted palette knife. Cover the tin(s) and leave in a warm place (29°C/85°F) for 16-20 hours. There will be a spontaneous fermentation and the bread will be seen to rise in the tin. It will also smell quite unusual, but do not be discouraged by this!
  3. Heat the oven to 110°C/225°F/gas ¼ and place a roasting pan of boiling water in the oven and place a rack in the pan. Cover the baking tins tightly with aluminium foil, place them on the rack and bake for 5-6 hours. The loaf should feel firm. Increase the oven temperature to 180°C/350°F/gas 4, remove the foil and bake for another 30-60 minutes to make the top crusty.
  4. Leave the bread to stand in the tins for a few minutes, then the loaves should come out easily. Cool completely on a wire rack. Store them wrapped in clingfilm or foil.

At the beginning of the fermentation time, the dough will come halfway up the tin (see right). By the end of the rising time it will reach the top of the tin.