Karaway Bakery's eastern European adaptation of a traditional rye bread
Let’s be honest, there aren’t many words in the German language that are particularly pleasing on the ear—with the exception of schadenfreude, perhaps, for which a satisfactory English equivalent is yet to be found. But pumpernickel is one of them. Can you think of an English bread with a name quite so satisfying? Neither can we. And its etymology makes it all the more likeable.
As is often the case with these things, the folk tales that surround the coining of the term vary. Quite why it elicits such connotations is uncertain, but the general consensus—and the explanation we’re choosing to believe—is that ‘pumper’ derives from the German slang word for flatulence, and ‘nickel’ is a spin-off of Nicolas, a common term for ‘devil’ or ‘troll’. Farting devil it is.
Whatever the origin of its name, pumpernickel bread has been around for centuries, originally developed by Westphalian peasants who call it ‘schwarzbrot’ or ‘black bread’. But at Karaway, the eastern European bakery found in Borough’s Green Market, you’ll find a uniquely-shaped, Lithuanian version of the traditional dense, dark, rye bread.
Our own recipe
“Pumpernickel bread isn’t really eastern European, so we’ve adapted it to our own recipe,” says Izabella from behind the stall. “German and Austrian pumpernickel is much denser, typically made with 100 per cent rye. Ours is a bit easier.”
Lovingly handmade by three professional bakers at Karaway’s east London bakery, the bread is made each morning “so when I get to the stall it’s fresh, ready and waiting,” smiles Izabella. “The bakers experiment; at the moment it’s 51 per cent rye flour, 49 per cent wheat flour. It’s made with sunflower seeds, rye grain, wheat grain and a touch of sugar and salt to balance the flavour.”
Everything at the stall is made with ingredients sourced from eastern Europe, or here at Borough Market, where possible. “Some of our breads are very simple, but we always use nice, good quality ingredients,” Izabella explains.
“All the ingredients are natural; there are no added preservatives so it doesn’t have a long shelf life like shop-bought bread, but when you get something from here you want to eat it fresh.”
Sweet or savoury treat
Soft enough for an open sandwich but equally delicious toasted, pumpernickel can be served as a sweet or savoury treat. “I personally like mine toasted, so the seeds are nice and crunchy,” Izabella continues.
“I have it with a little bit of butter so it melts nicely on the bread, roasted pickled peppers, and some baby tomatoes—the little, sweeter ones. But it doesn’t need to be toasted. A lot of our customers don’t because they like its softness.”
The bread’s distinctive shape also means that you can create lovely round slices if you cut through it horizontally. Serve as canapes, piled with smoked ham or fish with cream cheese. “Or equally you can have it with sweet jams or chocolate spread. Pickles and cheese is also a nice combination”—just about anything, then.