Black Bread (Pumpernickel) Recipe

This recipe, for a very dark Polish and/or Lithuanian-style rye, diverges from most in that it uses neither espresso powder nor cocoa for color. That’s the upside. The downside is that you have to special order both dark rye flour and rye meal to execute it. Happily both are available on Amazon via Bob’s Red Mill.

Notice that this recipe, while very “Old World” in that it uses starter and is built in several stages, is still “spiked” with commercial yeast at the end to prevent it from becoming a complete brick. God love the modern world and neo-traditionalist bakers! This recipe is adapted from Inside the Jewish Bakery by Stanley Ginsberg and Norman Berg. It makes one large free-form loaf or two smaller 11″ x 4″ sandwich loaves. I may well adapt this to fit a pullman pan at some point in the coming week.

For the Sponge

1 ounce (2 tablespoons) rye starter
3 ounces (scant 1/3 cup) water
2 ounces (1/2 cup) dark rye flour

Combine the ingredients and allow them to sit about 4 hours or until it’s about 50% larger in size and bubbly.

For the Dough

18 ounces (2 1/4 cups) boiling water
6 ounces (1 1/2 cups) dark rye flour
5 ounces (generous 3/4 cup) rye (pumpernickel) meal
the sponge from above

Next, combine the first three ingredients in a bowl (do NOT add the sponge right away, as the boiling water will kill it) and set aside to cool until just warm. Add the sponge to it and allow it to ferment about 4 hours until it’s about 50% larger and bubbly, then refrigerate it overnight.

For the Finished Dough

cold dough from above
5 ounces (1 1/2 cups) dark rye flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

Combine the dough, flour and salt in a bowl or the bowl of a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Knead for about three minutes, then sprinkle in the yeast and knead about three minutes more.

Shape the dough as you prefer, into an oblong round shape is the classic, and place it on the back of a sheet of sheet pan on a piece of parchment paper. Cover the loaf with a cloth and let it proof about 90 minutes. Meanwhile, place a baking stone in the oven as put a pan on the very bottom (or very top) rack that you’ll use to generate steam, and preheat your oven to about 475 degrees Fahrenheit.

When the loaf is about 30% larger and a few cracks appear on it, brush it with boiling water and slash the top. Slide it onto the stone, still on the parchment paper. Carefully pour a cup of water into your steam pan and close the door. Add another cup at 3 minutes, then another at 6 minutes. After the steam fest is over (about 10 minutes) turn the oven down to 275 degrees and bake another 2-2 1/2 hours.

Remove the finished loaf from the oven and brush it again with boiling water (this helps give it a shine). Let the finished loaves sit for a full two days before cutting.

12 thoughts on “Black Bread (Pumpernickel) Recipe”

  1. It will be interesting to see if the second baking phase of 2-2 1/2 hours at 225 degrees will be enough to produce the Maillard reaction that gives traditional pumpernickels their dark color and distinctive flavor.

  2. I love your blog!

    What’s the science behind letting the loaves sit for 2 days? I saw a few other places mentioning that online for rye breads.


    1. Hey John!

      The waiting allows the pentosan gums to set up so the bread doesn’t crumble. See today’s post on the subject!


      – Joe

  3. “Let the finished loaves sit for a full two days before cutting. ”

    Uh, no. Not gonna fly in my house. I’ll skip this one if that’s a necessary part. (What happens if you eat it too early? I’m getting visions of ‘Gremlins’…)

    1. It explodes!

      Oh no wait, what’s the opposite of that?

      Ah yes, it crumbles. That’s all that happens.

      I think.

      – Joe

  4. This might be a ridiculous question, but what exactly is rye starter?

    And how does one create/acquire it??

      1. Perfect!! Thanks 🙂

        I can’t wait to be able to make my own pumpernickel! (it’s literally my absolute favourite bread, and I can’t really have too much coffee in my diet, so most recipes aren’t feasible for me. . . so this one looks perfect!)

  5. I’m too am curious about resting the baked loaf for two days. There is an industrial Jewish bakery in downtown Toronto (Silverstein’s) that allows people to walk in off the street and buy their bread directly. The loaves are lined up on massive multi-tiered racks and I always assumed that they had just come out of the ovens (and given enough time to cool off), because their crusts were fabulously crisp – a revelation to me after a lifetime of only buying rye breads with soft crusts. But come to think if it, I suppose it’s the plastic bags used by bakeries and grocery stores that softens the crust, rather than the age, isn’t it?

    1. Hey Jen!

      The thing about these dark breads is that there really is no one way to do them. Old World Jewish bakeries all had their own secret methods for doing things back in their heyday — it kept their products unique! So maybe they have a different system…the crunchy crusts would certainly suggest that.


      – Joe

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