Traditionally, I bake cookies and bread in the days before Christmas and share them with family, friends and at school where I work part-time. Cookies were baked and taken to school, but family and friends may receive their deliveries a little late or so late they might consider them an early gift for next Christmas.
You see, on December 21st an ice storm hit the area of Michigan where we live and knocked power out for thousands of homes. Fortunately, the day before those rain crystals began pitter pattering on roofs and roads, I had baked Pumpernickel bread and put two loaves in the freezer. There would be no more baking before Christmas. Electricity would not be restored until Christmas night and then lost again for the duration of the next day. Power was fully restored to our home the evening of December 26th, thanks to tree trimmers and lineman from Michigan and other states that surround us.
Grateful does not seem a strong enough word to express our feelings for the hard work that the employees of these power companies have performed. As I finished writing that last sentence, five tree-trimming trucks rumbled by the house on their way to another destination hard hit by the storm. Hmmm … does that last sentence sound a little like a line from the song “The Twelve Days of Christmas 2013”?
For the Love of Bread-Baking
In writing all of that, the whole experience revealed how important baking bread is to me. It is my contentment. It is an important part of my life. Being able to retrieve the pumpernickel bread from the freezer when my daughters were home for Christmas breakfast was such a gift. It nurtured the bodies and souls of my family. This bread is rich and a little sweet. Its denseness makes it filling and even though the taste is very satisfying, each slice still welcomes a bit of jam or cinnamon honey.
My love for pumpernickel bread started when visiting one of my favorite restaurants. The little loaves were served warm, with a few grains of oatmeal sprinkled on top. To say my senses went a little crazy is putting it mildly. It wouldn’t be long before I was searching for a recipe and beginning my love affair with this unforgettable goodness. As with all relationships, you are enamored in the beginning, but then you find things that well, need to be modified. This bread is soft, sweet and dark brown. The sweetness comes from molasses and brown sugar and the darkness is derived from cocoa. Changing this sweet love of mine was not about overhauling its personality completely. It was more about encouraging its good points with a different sweetener and making sure to use the best ingredients possible. Being a beekeeper, my main sweetener is honey, but I don’t leave the molasses behind. Dutch-processed is my cocoa of choice for this bread. It deepens the flavor of the bread and gets along well with the other ingredients.
Kneading this bread becomes quite a project because there is bread flour, whole-wheat flour and rye flour in the list of dry ingredients. Mixing the flours together in a separate bowl before adding them to your yeast mixture makes for a well-blended bread. Adding all the dry ingredients to the yeast mixture slowly will ensure a nice consistency throughout the dough. As you begin kneading and pressing the heels of your hands into the dough, you experience its substance and the grain that defines it.
Although I would not describe this bread as complicated, I might describe it as complex. Maybe a bit mysterious? That may be one of the reasons this bread is such a pleasure and so alluring to some people. It’s a bit mysterious. The mystery has been solved as to why Pumpernickel bread is so delicious to me. It is because it contains so many of my favorite ingredients. Could it be time for you to discover the deliciousness of Pumpernickel bread?