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What is Pumpernickel Bread?


The question is a good one… not sure how many varying answers I would get… but I’m willing to bet… more than a few.

So just what is Pumpernickel Bread?…. it’s a dense, dark, rye bread… but unlike a rye bread as we know it.. the rye flavor in pumpernickel bread is light… almost sweet.

The bread is almost crust-less… a good thing for those that don’t care for crusts…

Pumpernickel bread dates back to the mid 1400’s in Germany…. the Westphalia region of Germany… and for many of you that know about German foods… the region is also associated with Westphalian Ham…. a fine quality smoked ham from pigs that are fed acorns. I mention this because this brings back memories of sandwiches made of Westphalian Ham on pumpernickel… a true German delight.

The pumpernickel from Germany is different from that of pumpernickel breads made in North America.

The German version is made of course rye flour and baked slowly for a long period of time… which gives it its dark color. It is traditionally made with sourdough starter. They are baked in loaf pans, and the resulting breads are very dense. I always found the German version a bit dryer in texture.

The North American version…(pictured above) is made by combining wheat and rye flours …. and often is made with cocoa, molasses and/or coffee. This version is almost always made without a loaf pan and is rounded and not as dense as the German version.

Pumpernickel is used in many traditional deli sandwiches. Growing up in the ethnic neighborhoods of New York with its abundance of German delis, I never gave it a thought .. to me it was just another bread to make a sandwich with. It wasn’t until I moved to regions where the ethnic neighborhoods were different that I came to appreciate its availability in New York…

With that said … the American version of the bread can be found in most supermarkets, albeit usually only one brand to choose from… but well worth the purchase just the same… it makes for a delicious ingredient in a host of fabulous sandwiches.

The true German version can sometimes be found in the gourmet sections of the grocery store. It is often paired with steak tartar,smoked salmon, sturgeon, caviar or herring to make hors d’oeuvres.

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