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How Do I Choose the Best Pumpernickel?

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  • Written By: Eugene P.
  • Edited By: Angela B.
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2016
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Choosing the best pumpernickel bread is largely a matter of personal taste. There are a few distinct types of the bread that can be purchased or made, so the choice sometimes is based on the type with the most familiar flavors. Another consideration is how the bread will be used, because it can range in taste from sweet and light to dense and mildly spicy. The texture of the bread also can be very different, depending on what type is purchased, with the authentic German variety having a very crumbly, dry texture as opposed to a more bakery-friendly bread with a more sponge-like feeling. The extra flavoring ingredients in a pumpernickel loaf also can help to decide which tastes the best, because some contain caraway seeds or fennel while others have coffee or roasted bread crumbs inside.

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One distinct version of pumpernickel bread is known as German pumpernickel and is potentially one of the earliest types of the bread known. It is formed from rye flour that has whole or cracked rye berries included in the mixture along with molasses. The leavening agent used is a sourdough starter, giving the bread a more fermented taste. The dough is placed in a square baking pan and baked in an oven for nearly a full day in some instances, giving it a dense, tight crumb and a slight dryness. This bread is best chosen when a base is needed for moist ingredients such as spreads or cured seafood such as smoked salmon.

A different version of pumpernickel bread can be made in a way that is more similar to a standard rye loaf, with rye flour being mixed with wheat or all-purpose flour so there are longer, more resilient gluten strands in the dough. The deep brown color of the bread is not achieved through long baking but through the use of dark staining ingredients such as cocoa powder, molasses, coffee or chocolate. These loaves are formed into round loaves instead of the square German-style ones and baked much like regular bread. This type of pumpernickel is best for sandwiches or toast, because it contains more moisture and a softer texture than the German variety.

In both instances, pumpernickel bread should feel heavier than other types of bread, meaning it contains more rye than wheat flour. The addition of caraway or fennel seeds is traditional, but plain loaves can be found for those who find the taste of the seeds disagreeable. Other ingredients can include dried fruits and nuts, accenting the sweetness of the bread. Some types of commercially produced pumpernickel bread actually contain a large amount of artificial colorings and sweeteners, giving them a taste that is distinctly different from breads that use more conventional ingredients.

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