Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Cheater's Pumpernickel

People seem to either love or hate pumpernickel bread. For those who love it, it isn't always the easiest thing to make at home. Traditionally, pumpernickel gets its characteristic deep brown color and complex flavor from a long, slow, steamy cooking process and requires a full 24 hours just to bake. The more updated version uses a sourdough starter for flavor and some rather unexpected ingredients to achieve the dark color.

An even more updated - or streamlined, if you will - version eschews the starter and instead relies on an extra rise and a few other changes to get the taste and color we pumpernickel lovers love. After all the hustle and stress of Christmas, I wanted bread and I wanted it tonight.

So I cheated. I mean...I streamlined the process.

Cheater's Pumpernickel Bread
Based on a recipe from Southern Living
Makes 2 loaves

1 T + 2 t active dry yeast
1 1/2 cup warm water
1 t sugar
Combine the above in your mixing bowl and allow to sit at room temperature until the mixture froths and bubbles - about 10 minutes.

1/3 cup blackstrap molasses
1 T caraway seeds
1 T salt
2 T shortening
2 1/2 cups rye flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

Mix well until incorporated.
Add 1 1/2 cups of bread flour and mix until combined. Add 1/2 - 1 cup additional bread flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough is stiff, slightly sticky, and cohesive.

Knead 10 minutes in a mixer or 15-20 minutes by hand, until dough is supple and springy.

Form the dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased large bowl, turning to coat. Cover with plastic wrap or a clean cotton towel and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
Gently deflate the dough and knead it once or twice. Form it into a ball again and return to your bowl. Cover and let it rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Deflate the dough one last time and divide it in half. Form into two loaves - either freeform rounds or ovals, or into loaf pans. Cover the loaves and let them proof - away from the oven - once more until doubled, about 1 hour.

While the formed loaves proof, preheat your oven to 375*. Once the loaves have doubled, mist them with water and then bake for 25-30 minutes, until they sound hollow when tapped.

Cool and enjoy!!

A note about bread flour

In most bread recipes, bread flour and all purpose flour can be interchanged. Be aware that the two produce different results, though. AP flour will give you a more delicate structure and slightly less height, but your breads will definitely hold up. Meanwhile, bread flour contains the highest percentage of protein which will give your breads that airy, lofty lift we all think of when we think of bread.

If you're just going to make a loaf or two of bread, don't worry about buying an extra bag of bread flour; just use the AP flour you probably already have in your pantry. If you plan to turn out loaves more frequently, though, it would be a good idea to get yourself some bread flour.

When looking at bread flour, get the best you possibly can. Both Pillsbury and Gold Medal make fine bread flours, but if you want to go all-out, get you some King Arthur flour. I swear by King Arthur's Sir Lancelot hi-gluten flour to the degree that I have a 50lb bag of it in my kitchen, however SL isn't always easy to find. If you can get your hands on some Sir Lancelot, grab it up and guard your source. I have to get mine through the restaurant Kevin works at; they special order it for me through a food distributor. I'll never use a different brand, though, because the results I get from KASL are absolutely unparalleled.

By the way...
never use cake (or soft) flour when baking bread. It doesn't have enough protein to support the structure of the bread and you'll find yourself with sad, fallen loaves.

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