An Epically Overthought Post / or / Ruminations on a Loaf


Relevant reading:
Josey Baker Bread Book
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
Artisan Bread in Five Minutes Per Day
Tartine Bread Book Number Three
The Bread Bible

Sometimes I have a very specific vision of how I want something to be and I run all over town overturning every stone to make it happen. The snack table for an arts integration workshop I was leading for fifty K-12 teachers got caught up in one of these visions. I have a soft spot for teachers. They work hard. I like to make ’em feel special.


I decided it would be adorable to make an assortment of tiny tea sandwiches on homemade pumpernickel. It WAS adorable! But also a remarkably elaborate process because pumpernickel is a somewhat finicky and specific bread recipe. I’ve now read every pumpernickel recipe out there (please see bread nerd section below). Plus, preparing sandwiches for fifty is a task best left to caterers with prep staff, sous chefs, multiple ovens and time to wake up at 4am on the day of the event to slice all the produce and assemble the treats right before serving to avoid sogginess etc. Oh yeah, and caterers also transport their goods in giant food grade tubs via automobile instead of 479752 individually wrapped precious bundles via bicycle.

Bread nerd notes:
I’ve given the bread nerds among us a special section today. The scientific minutiae of bread making is endlessly interesting to me and folk who’ve been swept up by the bread spirit, but others’ eyelids get a little heavy with all of this.

Pumpernickel is one of those recipes that can be more ‘traditional’ or more…..’cheater.’ The real way really requires days to weeks of nurturing a starter and I could not find a recipe anywhere that seemed to allow me to get this done in the two days I had available before the event. I used the pumpernickel recipe in Artisan Bread in 5 minutes Per Day. The deal here is that the method in this book specifically requires a wetter dough that is more forgiving and you can’t really get the dense, old-world brick of rye I was dreaming of. Additionally, the ideal method for baking a wet loaf is directly on a piping hot baking stone that absorbs much of the moisture. In this case, was using a loaf pan to achieve sliceable sandwich bread, but it kind of traps all of the moisture.

Comparing my two pumpernickel loaves:
Since I ran out of bread and had to whip up a second loaf, I wound up with an interesting comparison. In the first attempt, I made the mistake of using reconstituted stale rye bread crumbs (a common, but optional ingredient in pumpernickel) and this made my dough even more wet. I also had more time to let the dough rise a couple of times- which seemed like a good thing. This first loaf was fluffier, crumblier, and harder to work with and slice thinly. The second loaf that had less time to be worked and to ripen and that was less wet gave me a smaller, more even crumb and I was able to get thin slices. All photos displayed here are from the second loaf. Here’s my question about this: if working the dough and multiple risings strengthens those gluten bonds, shouldn’t my outcome be the reverse? Is the moisture to blame here? Someone?

Oh, Michigan. This summer I find myself constantly tinkering with my bread recipes to figure out how to deal with this humidity beast. In The Josey Baker Bread Book, my new crush Josey assures me that ‘killing’ a sourdough starter is difficult to do. Ha! Josey Baker does not live in Mid-Michigan where the warm, moist air has taken my starter from happy-fermenty-gurgly to rancid three times in three days. Now I know why San Francisco is the sourdough city.

Notes on equipment:
Mandolin slicer:
This kind of undertaking seemed like the PERFECT excuse to use my mandolin. The mandolin lets you slice a bunch of cukes, apples and salami to a pleasing and even thickness. Unless your mandolin is kind of sub-par and pretty much leaves your hands and ingredients mutilated. This is a tool that can have huge variation in price and I think I’m learning why. Time to upgrade!

Bread knife:
Time to upgrade this one too. I spend way to much time and energy crafting these loaves to ruin it all at the end with a cruddy knife. Actually, after suffering through two loaves of pumpernickel with a furrowed brow as I tried not to hack the whole operation to bits, I got a Henckles.

Pumpernickel recipe courtesy of Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes Per Day

Vegan cream cheese, thinly sliced Persian cukes, fresh dill and sea salt
Prosciutto, apple and goat cheese
Olli Salami, goat cheese and apple
Goat cheese and apple


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