Six months ago i had a bread roll in a restaurant which has haunted me ever since. Normally I might eat something and figure out right away what is in it and how it’s made and if I enjoyed it, recreate it at home and enjoy it again, but this bread roll eluded me.
The restaurant in question was Roganic and the roll was their very special soft pumpernickel roll, served warm with whipped butter and Maldon salt; heaven, and technically impossible to make.
The pumpernickel rolls at Roganic (at the front)
What makes pumpernickel bread so unique and impossible to turn into a soft roll is the cooking process involved and the chemical reactions that take place; Pumpernickel is a 100% rye bread, leavened partly with a sour starter. It’s baked for anything up to 24 hours at a low temperature, this converts much of the starch into sugars which turn dark, dark brown. The resulting loaf is dense and sweet and satisfying, but in no way small or soft.
I initially tried two methods to recreate them; the first was to blitz actual pumpernickel and add this to the rolls at the dough stage together with sugar for sweetness. Terrible. The second was to make a rye roll and cook it for a very long time but this ended up like brown concrete.
I kind of gave up on the whole idea but recently found a new windmill selling flour that I wanted to try out. On their website they mentioned that they sell malt rye powder… I know malt from beer brewing, but imagine my surprise when I looked it up in McGee’s On Food and Cooking, to find that it was processed grain husks, roasted and ground to a fine powder. This process released all of the same flavours and most importantly the colour of pumpernickel. According to McGee, malt comes from barley but the windmill was selling rye malt; it was like a lightbulb went off.
Anyway. I bought the malt, but with no idea how much to add I started slowly with some simple wheat and rye rolls and a tiny amount of malt, it was clear right away that a tiny amount wasn’t going to do it.
By the time I got to version 4 of the rolls, I was adding 6g of malt to 400 of flour (3:1 wheat to rye) and a good spoon of dark sugar to help the colour and sweetness. These rolls came very close in flavour but were not dark enough inside, this was confirmed by Ben Spalding (Roganic chef), who said they should be much darker. I checked my own pictures and I asked Twitter, but of all the thousands of people who’ve been to Roganic, no one photographed the inside of a pumpernickel roll, so I was a bit in the dark. So to speak.
With version 5 I upped the malt and the sugar, I also switched out half the rye for wholemeal spelt but left it as a mostly white roll. I still don’t know if I have the internal colour right, nor if my recipe comes close but Ben will check and let me know how close I got, so without further ado, version 5 of my Roganic soft pumpernickel rolls:
- 300g Stoneground organic white flour
- 50g course rye flour
- 50g wholemeal spelt
- 12g of rye malt
- 30g dark muscovado sugar
- 8g salt
- 7g dried yeast
- 300g lucwarm water
Use a handwhisk to mix all of the dry ingredients together, then add the water and combine with a spoon handle into a messy dough, scrape down the sides of the bowl and rest for 10 minutes. Tip onto an oiled surface and press out to an oblong of about 50x40cm. fold the top third down, the bottom third up, the left and right thirds inwards. Place in a clean bowl for 30 minutes. Repeat this step after 30 minutes.
Next, on a floured surface cut the dough into about 16 pieces of 45-50g. Pat these down gently and form them into rolls by folding the outer edges in repeatedly. Cup your hands around the base of the dough and pull one side towards and the other away from you. This closes the roll and leaves a small nipple. Place the rolls nipple side down on a baking tray lined with baking paper, cover with plastic and leave to rise for around an hour or until nearly doubled. Meanwhile heat the oven to 230 degrees with a metal tray in the bottom.
When ready to bake, dust the rolls with flour and make a small 45 degree cut in the top with a pair of scissors. Pour around 300ml of water into the tray at the bottom of the oven and put the rolls in to bake for 16 minutes. Drop the temperature to 170 and bake for a further 5 minutes or until they are very dark in colour. Cool before eating.