Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Midweek Roundup: The Elusive Pumpernickel

Photograph by Mendy (Greenstein's Bakery)

I was pleased with myself when I came up with this title, but then I thought, Marie, not everyone is 100 years old, and no one is going to get your stupid pun.  The Elusive Pimpernel?  As in The Scarlet Pimpernel?  You know, the series of swashbuckling novels written by Baroness Orczy?  You may not have wanted that information, but you should never turn down free knowledge, and, besides, the pumpernickel (flour) really was elusive.

For Vicki, the recipe "was a lesson in rye flour vs. pumpernickel flour, the disappearance of flour mills in California, what happened to the hippy health food grind your own flour shops, and now a field trip to historic Napa Bale Grist Mill is top of the list because they stone ground real pumpernickel flour."  Since she  found the answers to all these questions, the pumpernickel is no longer elusive to Vicki.  In fact, the meaning of life is a bit clearer.

Nor was it a problem for Kristina, because she grinds her own flour anyway.  And, since she "was able to adjust the granularity on [her] mill," she produced "something that (probably) closely resembles pumpernickel flour."  There is no way that I'm jealous of people who know how to grind their own flour.  Or to adjust the granularity on their own mill.  Or to know what granularity is.  Kim found a coarse dark rye flour (which was probably pumpernickel, even though not labeled as such), and she found that she could "really taste the ripening of the biga and the depth of flavour.  It had developed a slight tang, which was beautifully balanced by the sweetness of the apricot."

Jenn used Arrowhead Mills Organic Rye Flour.  Hanaa used a coarse-ground organic rye flour because that's what she had on hand (it's amazing what people have on hand, isn't it?)  Orin used pumpernickel flour (even though no one else could seem to find it).  By the way, in case this happens again, King Arthur offers pumpernickel artisan bread flavor (a mix of pumpernickel flour, sourdough, and caraway); organic pumpernickel bread flour; and dark pumpernickel yeast bread mix.  I don't know why we don't have these all on hand, especially the pumpernickel bread flour.

Lest that you think that I'm being paid to plug King Arthur flours, I'll have to add Faithy's experience with her King Arthur flour, recounted in all too vivid detail:  "I found a worm (translucent orangey worm) wiggling in my sifter after sifting the KA bread flour....  And I opened another new packet and found strings of eggs sitting at the sides of the paper packaging."  Faithy is just beset by wildlife!  First she has to protect her food from her lizards and then she finds large orange worms in her flour sifter.  Remind me not to complain too much about living in Minnesota, where at least nasty little creatures die over the winter and a translucent orange worm has never been seen in a flour sifter. 

More than the pumpernickel, the walnuts were a sticking point for some of us.  Let's start with Glori. Glori doesn't like dried fruit, and she's not counting or anything, but this is the fourth recipe in ten that's used dried fruit.  Just sayin.  (Actually, I'm not wild about dried fruit either, so maybe I was subconsciously trying to get rid of all the dried fruit recipes.  If so, I think I failed).  And she hates walnuts!  With a passion.  But did our dedicated Alpha Baker let that stop her from baking a bread that's rife with fruit and walnuts?  It did not.  I wish that I could say it transformed her into a walnut-loving girl, but no such luck.  "It looked like some deep sea creature with one eye and bumps over its body," and it tasted like walnuts.  And she may not have mentioned that she despises walnuts.

Patricia didn't use walnuts because she was baking for a person who has allergies.  (By the way, if you want to see a neat, well-stocked baking kitchen, go no farther than the wonderful kitchen that Patricia's photos reveal.)   Hanaa also omitted the walnuts because she's allergic to all nuts except almonds, and substituted dried cranberries.  Because she's Hanaa, she made some other changes, including adding olive oil and dried milk, and substituting dates for apricots.  But she LOVED the bread!  (And those are her caps, not mine).

Although this bread was not a uniform favorite with everyone, the people who liked it really liked it.  In addition to Hanaa, Michele was "crazy about this bread."  She thought that the "contrasts between the crisp crust, the sweet apricots and rains and the crunchy walnuts" was "addictive."  And she loved the way the bread paired with  baked brie--"pure poetry."

Jenn made the bread for her husband, as the substitute for the no-knead bread that she bakes for him once a month.  She thought he'd like a change.  Jenn, how long have you been married?  Men do not like change.  There may be exceptions to this rule, but we won't even think about them since this is a family blog.  But if you've been making the same bread every month for three years, or five, or ten, there is no reason for you to think that he would like a change!  Fortunately, Jenn promised him that she'd make his bread if he didn't like the new kind, and even more fortunately, he liked it.  But remember the incident of the Swedish Apricot Bread the next time you think he'd like a change.

On the other hand, to Monica, who had high hopes for the bread, it turned out to be "tasteless," or with an aftertaste she didn't like.  The crunch of the walnuts was the only thing that saved the bread from boredom.  (Maybe Monica and Glori would both like the bread if they each ate the parts they liked:  between the two of them, they could lick the platter clean).

Like Monica, Raymond also complained that the bread had a bitter aftertaste, so he did what an Alpha Baker does--he made it a second time.  He deduced that the problem was with the rye flour and the length of the ferment, so his remake had a biga ferment of one day instead of three, and it had no overnight rise.  Since a biga is supposed to add depth of flavor without a yeasty taste, minimizing it should not, in theory, make the  bread taste better.  But at some point (the point of the bitter aftertaste), you have to throw away the theory and go for the flavor.

Now Catherine may have gotten a little more theory than she bargained for.  She noticed that her bread had a bluish tinge, which she likened to the rather awful blue rinses that ladies of a certain age used to get at the local beauty parlor.

Rose noticed the blue cast (of the bread, not of anyone's hair) and asked her if she'd toasted the walnuts.  Not toasting them, Rose said, might account for the blue cast; in fact,  she said, food scientist Shirley Corriher used to give a lecture entitled, "How to Keep Your Nuts from Turning Blue."

Now here's a first for the Alpha Bakers!  Tony was so taken with this bread and the many possible food and wine combinations with it, he decided to make the bread and market it as a romantic gift basket, paired with merlot and/or pinot noir, a triple creme cheese and a jar of preserves (apricot? cherry?)

It made me very happy to see that in several households this bread really was used as a part of a Tu be'Shvat celebration (or the New Year of the Trees, as Mendy called it).  I love the idea of a holiday that you celebrate by eating fruit and nuts and also by marking a new year for "delineating this year's tithe from last year's."  So it was celebrated in Mendy's beautiful family and so the bread was enjoyed.  ("I should have doubled the recipe.")

And Orin is adding this bread to his family's traditional Tu be'Shvat fruit plate.  He explained the meaning of the holiday in a better way than I did:  "It is a minor festival that has gained importance in the last decade as an environmental holiday.  It ... reminds us about the return to the land after wandering in the desert for 40 years.  God instructed the Jews to revive the land and plant trees, fruits, vegetables and grain.

If you've read all the way to here, you may be asking who Orin is.  Since one of the original Alpha Bakers never baked anything, I asked Orin if he would be interested in having a spot.  He formed a blog and started baking.  Please check out his blog ("Orin's Goodies") and welcome him to the group.

Next week is our first Catch-up Date, and I'm looking forward to seeing what you're going to do for this week.  The following week:  Chocolate Pavarotti with Wicked Good Ganache.  This was one of the Beta testing recipes, so a few of you have made this before.  Those who aren't are in for a pleasant surprise.  It will make a great Valentine's Day dessert, but if you're not interested, it will also make a great Any Day of the Week dessert.


  1. Dame Edna! The best/worst example of a blue rinse! So funny again Marie. Even though I'm not quite 100, I love the Scarlet Pimpernel - they seek him here, they seek him there...

    Hello Orin and welcome. I really enjoyed reading about your experiences and the holiday.

    1. ...those Frenchies seek him everywhere. Is he in heaven or is he in hell? That damned elusive Pimpernel!

    2. Ha! Ha! (said in a melodramatic pimpernel way)

  2. Welcome Orin! And Marie as always very funny and full of information, how is it that I visited everyone blog during the week and when I read your recaps notice that I missed someone! You keep us in check.

  3. I don't know what Scarlet Pimpernel is but I understood your post title Marie, since I can't find any coarse rye. Yes men does not like change. But I make new recipes all the time and my husband loves it! And... he already made a request for this bread again. But (and I'm quoting here) - "with less walnuts and please chop up the apricots."

  4. Oh and I made his favorite bread a couple of days after this bread because he wants more bread hahaha.

  5. I am not fully awake yet - keep forgetting comments. Congrats Mendy on the being the featured photographer!!!!

  6. Great recap, Marie! Ah, the memories of the blue-haired ladies who retired to sunny south Florida where I grew up. Their husbands all wore double knit leisure suits! Glad to see Orin coming into the group. Great job, everyone, on this week's baking!

  7. Congrat's Mendy! Hello Orin! Judy from Outside the Bottle is back from her wine studies, as well. Marie, L-O-V-E The Scarlet Pimpernel with Jane Seymour and Anthony Andrews. Forgot all about it, another Netflix movie to watch. Dame Edna I didn't see much but Mrs. Slocombe from Are You Being Served was well rinsed!

  8. My sophomore high school world history teacher made us watch the Scarlet Pimpernel after we studied the French Revolution!
    Congrats Mendy on photo of the week!
    Welcome, Orin!
    Hopefully I'll write my Swedish bread post before next week...

  9. One of your best recaps so far! Dame Edna - I'm still laughing. Welcome to the group Orin.

  10. ב''ה

    I didn't even realize it was my picture until I read these comments. Thanks Marie.

    This is definitely the kind of bread I would imagine the Scarlet Pimpernel eating after a hard day of swashbuckling.

    Welcome Orin!

  11. Sorry for my late comments! Hello Orin! Great round up as always Marie. I don't know scarlett pumpernickel except for the Daffy Duck's version..hahaha..

  12. Hi Marie, you're a master at these summaries. I grew up eating roast beef sandwiches on pumpernickel bread. For some reason, I thought it tasted sweet. So rye is a familiar flavour to me and I really enjoyed tasting it again. I wish I had better access to King Arthur flour and other products, but I make due with what is available here in Canada. Amazon is always there for me in a pinch.

  13. Thank you everyone for the warm welcoming.

  14. Well well well--looks like i almost missed another terrific roundup. Woody and i were in Dallas and now i'm trying to catch up while he's away in MN though he's coming home tonight and it's dinner time here. so i just have to say that Marie: i think you need to publish the roundups as the book behind the book. They are that terrific and informative. And: the Scarlett Pimpernel was one of my fav books. i read it in high school.