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Food Sunday – Sourdough Pumpernickel

Happy Sunday Bread Heads!

This week we’re going to handle a request and keep going on the sourdough breads. Sourdough Pumpernickel is one of the great sandwich breads of all time. The dense crumb and complex flavors make this bread more than just the base for some meat and cheese, it makes it part of the overall meal.

As with all the sourdough breads it begins with a starter. If you have not made your sourdough starter yet, now is the time! I have posted it twice, so I am just going to skip it this time, you can find it in the links at the bottom of this post if you are looking for it.

My wife is not a huge fan of rye bread, she does not like the licorice (in fact hate is so much she even thinks the word is stupid) so this recipe is pretty mild. However if you want to pump up the licorice flavor, you can add caraway seeds (I’ll provide the instructions) .

This bread starts with a sponge that has to develop for 8 -12 hours so you will want to start the night before and let it grow while you sleep.

Sourdough Pumpernickel

Ingredients for the Sponge:

1 cup starter
¼ cup molasses
¾ cup potato water (from making the mashed potato for the dough)
2 cups whole wheat flour (stone ground is preferred but if you just have regular in the house, you can use that without too much difference in the final product)

Ingredients for the Dough:

1 cup boiling water (yeah, boiling, we’re not pouring it on the yeast so don’t panic)
¼ cup corn meal
1 cup mashed potatoes
1 package (2 ¼ teaspoons) dry yeast
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoon cooking oil
2 tablespoons caraway seeds (optional)
1 cup whole wheat flour
3 cups rye flour
½ cup (approximately) white flour
1 egg beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

Baking pans: 1 sheet pan, greased or covered in parchment paper


Start by making you potato. Peel and cut up one medium sized potato. Boil for 10 minutes in 3 cups of water. Reserve ¾ cup for the sponge. Drain the rest of the water and mash the potato thoroughly. Place the mashed potato in an air tight container and refrigerate until you make the dough.

In your large mixing bowl or the bowl of your stand mixer combing the starter, molasses, potato water and whole wheat flour. Mix thoroughly. Cover will plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature for 8 to 12 hours or until the sponge has doubled in volume.

Dough Method:

In a small bowl pour the boiling water over the corn meal (I told you it wouldn’t be a problem!) and using a whisk stir them together. Add the mashed potatoes and stir to combine. Allow to cool for about 10 minutes.

Add the yeast, salt, cooking oil and caraway seed (if you’re using it) to the sponge. Then add the corn meal mixture. Using a wooden spoon or the flat paddle attachment of your mixer stir until the ingredients are well mixed.

Add the rye and whole wheat flours a ¼ at a time, stirring the whole while. This dough is pretty big and heavy. If you have a 4 quart stand mixer like I do, you are going to just barely be able to make this dough in the mixer. You will have to watch it carefully. If the dough is already pulling away from the sides of the bowl, you can skip the white flour, but test it to be sure. If it is sticky, just add sprinkles until it is tacky but not like glue.

You will not be able to knead this dough in a mixer, it is just too heavy. So, this is going to be a workout, but not too much of one. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead with the push-turn-fold method. This dough is a great example of “coming alive” the dough will start out stiff and thick but as you work it the developing gluten will start to make it more elastic and smooth. You really will be able to tell when it “wakes up” and becomes a real dough. Knead for 8 minutes or so.

Place the dough in a large greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for 3 hours (you read that right, even with the new faster rising yeast this one takes a long time) or until it has doubled in volume.

When the dough is risen turn it out onto a very lightly floured work surface and punch it down. Divide the dough into two halves and form into balls. Set each ball on the baking sheet with at least 5 inches between them. Flatten the top, slightly by, by pressing down on it with your palm. Using a sharp knife cut a tic-tac-toe pattern in the top of each loaf. Cover with a tea towel and allow to rise until the loaves have doubled in size, at least 1 hour.

Twenty minutes before baking, set a rack in the lower third of your oven and preheat it to 375 degrees.

Immediately prior to baking, paint the loaves with the egg wash. If you are using the caraway seeds, sprinkle the rest of them over the loaves. Slip them into the hot oven to bake for 1 hour.

The loaves should be dark brown and shiny when done. Test for doneness by turning one over and thumping it with a forefinger. It should be hard and sound hollow. If it is not done, return to the oven for five more minutes.

Cool on a wire rack. Don’t slice into this bread until it has had a chance to completely cool.


So there you have it, Sourdough Pumpernickel, rich in texture, with a slightly sweet and slightly sour flavor. Absolute heaven as the base for a ham and Swiss cheese sandwich.

Next week we’ll be baking a Whole Wheat sourdough, so if you have not made the starter, now is the time! Oh! If you have made your starter be sure replenish is with ½ a cup of flour and ½ cup of milk. Just stir it in and then set the starter on the counter or under the oven light for 24 hours. This will assure that you have enough starter and that it is still sour when you go to use it next week.

The flour is yours.

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Bill Egnor

Bill Egnor

I am a life long Democrat from a political family. Work wise I am a Six Sigma Black Belt (process improvement project manager) and Freelance reporter for