AskDefine | Define pumpernickel

Dictionary Definition

pumpernickel n : bread made of coarse rye flour [syn: black bread]

User Contributed Dictionary




  1. A German sourdough bread made from rye

Extensive Definition

Pumpernickel is a type of German bread traditionally made with rye meal. It is now often made with a combination of rye flour and whole rye berries. It has been long associated with the Westphalia region of Germany. The first written mention of the black bread of Westphalia was in 1450. While it is not known whether this, and other early references, refer to precisely the bread that came to be known as pumpernickel, there has long been something different about Westphalian rye bread that elicited comment. The defining characteristics of Westphalian pumpernickel are coarse rye flour—rye meal—and an exceedingly long baking period. The long slow baking is what gives pumpernickel its characteristic dark color. The bread can emerge from the oven deep brown, even black. Like most all-rye breads, pumpernickel is traditionally made with a sourdough starter; the acid preserves the bread structure by inactivating the highly active rye amylases. The process is sometimes short-circuited in commercial baking by adding citric acid or lactic acid along with commercial yeast.

Types of pumpernickel

200px|thumb|right|A slice of German-style pumpernickel Broadly speaking, there are two different pumpernickel traditions -- the Westphalian pumpernickel, made almost completely from rye and a sourdough starter, and the American Jewish tradition, in which the bread is closer to a basic American rye bread with rye flour for flavor and wheat flour for structure.


Traditional German pumpernickel contains no coloring agents, instead relying on the Maillard reaction to produce its characteristic deep brown color, sweet dark chocolate coffee flavor, and earthy aroma (however, it is not uncommon to use darkly toasted bread from a previous batch as a coloring agent). Loaves produced in this manner require 16 to 24 hours of baking in a low temperature (about 250°F or 120°C) steam-filled oven. The bread is usually baked in long narrow pans that include a lid. Like the French pain de mie Westphalian pumpernickel has little or no crust. It is very similar to rye Vollkornbrot, a dense rye bread with large amounts of whole grains added.
True German pumpernickel is produced primarily in Germany, though versions of it are sometimes made by specialty bakers outside its homeland. It is difficult to find in the United States at supermarkets and smaller groceries. German pumpernickel is often sold in small packets of pre-sliced bread. It is usually found in markets aimed at an upscale clientelle because German pumpernickel is often paired with caviar, smoked salmon, sturgeon, and other expensive products of the hors d'oeuvres tray. Because of its association with expensive hors d'oeuvres it can be found throughout Europe and the United Kingdom in upscale groceries, as it is in the United States and Canada.

American pumpernickel

A separate pumpernickel bread tradition has developed in America. The American pumpernickel loaf approximates the dark color of traditional German pumpernickel by adding molasses, coffee, cocoa powder, or other darkening agents. In addition to coloring and flavor agents, American bakers often add wheat flour (to provide gluten structure and increase rising) and commercial yeast (to quicken the rise compared to a traditional sourdough). Because of the ways in which American bakers have changed the original German recipe, and for economic reasons, they tend to eschew the long slow baking that is characteristic of German pumpernickel. The result is a loaf that resembles commercial American rye bread -- a bread made with a mix of wheat and rye flour -- but with darker coloring. Many bakers also add a significant amount of caraway seeds, providing an alternate flavor that is now characteristic of many American commercial pumpernickel (and light rye) breads.
American pumpernickel loaves are almost always baked without a baking pan, resulting in a rounded loaf. These breads do not have the dense crumb of a traditional German pumpernickel, and have a rather different flavor profile derived from the added darkening agents and the faster baking process.
American pumpernickel bread is associated with Jewish cuisine and can often be found in stores that sell "Jewish rye" and other Jewish deli foods. In addition, American pumpernickel dough is sometimes combined with light rye dough to produce a type of bicolored rye bread known as "marble rye", as well as being made into bagels.


The Philologist Johann Christoph Adelung states about the Germanic origin of the word, in the vernacular, Pumpen was a New High German synonym for being flatulent, a word similar in meaning to the English "fart", and "Nickel" was a form of the name Nicholas, an appellation commonly associated with a goblin or devil (e.g., "Old Nick", a familiar name for Satan). Hence, pumpernickel is described as the "devil's fart", a definition accepted by the Stopes International Language Database, the publisher Random House, and by some English language dictionaries, including Webster's Dictionary. The American Heritage Dictionary adds "so named from being hard to digest."
The OED, however, does not commit to any particular etymology for the word. It suggests it may mean a lout or booby, but also says, "origin uncertain". The OED currently states the first use in English is from 1756. However, there is an earlier use. An 8 page drinking song titled "Beef and Butt Beer, against Mum and Pumpernickel" was published in London in 1743.
In less scholarly contexts, including numerous internet web sites, the invention of the word is credited to a nameless eighteenth-century Frenchman, or sometimes Napoleon himself, who, offered the bread at an inn, rejects it for himself with the words, "C'est bon pour Nicole," his horse. (Others quote as "C'est pain pour Nicole.") The origin of this story in English can be traced to Thomas Nugent (1700? - 1772), the first author in English to associate name pumpernickel with an extended description of a coarse black rye bread. Regarding the derivation of the name, in the second volume of his Travels through Germany,published in London in 1768, he wrote, "The name is said to have been given to it by a Frenchman traveling this way [in Westphalia], who, when this coarse bread was brought to table, said, Qu'il étoit bon pour Nicole, which was the name of his horse." This story, however, seems to have been current for a long time and did not originate with Nugent. Without mentioning the term "pumpernickel," Thomas Salmon (1739), mentions a regional German bread that is "a black coarse sort of rye-bread fitter for horses than men, as the French traveler expressed himself."


pumpernickel in German: Pumpernickel
pumpernickel in Spanish: Pumpernickel
pumpernickel in Hebrew: פומפרניקל
pumpernickel in Norwegian: Pumpernickel
pumpernickel in Polish: Pumpernikiel
pumpernickel in Swedish: Pumpernickel
pumpernickel in Icelandic: Rúgbrauð
pumpernickel in Dutch: Roggebrood
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