Westphalian Rye Bread

Recipe by PJ Hamel

Germany is famous for its rye breads, and Westphalian Rye is one of its best-known. This dense, dark pumpernickel, traditionally baked for many hours in a slow oven, is sliced ultra-thin and typically served with sweet butter, perhaps some smoked sausage, and a stein of beer. Our version of Westphalian rye is prepared in a less time-consuming manner — but still hits all the right flavor and texture notes.  

30 mins
5 hrs
19 hrs 30 mins
two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaves
Westphalian Rye Bread - select to zoom
Westphalian Rye Bread - select to zoom
Westphalian Rye Bread - select to zoom
Westphalian Rye Bread - select to zoom


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  1. Note: Don't be discouraged while preparing the dough; it's very heavy and sticky, more like mortar than bread dough. For that reason, we suggest you mix the dough in a stand mixer, food processor or bread machine, rather than by hand.  

  2. Put the cracked wheat and malted wheat flakes or oats in a large mixing bowl, and pour in the boiling water. Stir in the burnt sugar or black cocoa. Allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.

  3. Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess. Stir in the pumpernickel flour, whole wheat flour, yeast, salt and vegetable oil. If you're looking for a typical yeast dough here, forget it; the mixture will be sticky and have about as much life as a lump of clay.

  4. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a damp towel, and let it sit in a warm place (70-75°F) for at least 12 hours, and up to 24 hours.

  5. After 6 to 8 hours, fold the mixture over once or twice, then cover it again and allow it to continue to mellow. (We hesitate to use the word "rise" here; though there is in fact a bit of yeast in the dough, it'll rise very little.)

  6. After the mellowing period is complete, grease two 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" pans. The dough will look "cracked" or "broken" at this point; that's OK.

  7. Turn it out onto a floured or lightly greased work surface, knead until it holds together, then divide it in half.

  8. Press each half into a loaf pan, smoothing the surface with wet hands.

  9. Let the loaves sit, covered, for 1 1/2 hours; they'll rise just slightly.

  10. Preheat the oven to 225°F.

  11. Grease two pieces of aluminum foil, then cover the pans tightly with the foil, greased-side down.

  12. Place the covered pans in the oven. Bake the bread for 5 hours.

  13. After 5 hours, remove the foil from the pans, and check to see that the bread is firm and looks set — it should register 195°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of a loaf.

  14. Remove the bread from the oven. Let it cool in the pans for 15 minutes to firm.

  15. Remove it from the pans and allow to cool to lukewarm before wrapping in plastic wrap or a dishtowel. Cool for 8 hours or more before slicing.

  16. Store, covered, at room temperature for a week. Freeze for up to 3 months.

Tips from our Bakers

  • Notice the difference in color between the dough and the finished loaf; the long bake promotes caramelization of the flour's natural sugars, and this deepens the loaf's color to a rich chocolate brown. Serve this bread sliced extra-thin; prosciutto is probably the ham that most clearly mimics Westphalian, if you can't obtain the authentic article.
  • To make burnt sugar: Place 1/3 cup sugar in a small saucepan. Heat over medium heat until the sugar melts. Continue cooking the sugar until it turns dark brown and begins to smoke. Remove it from the heat and allow it to cool for 5 minutes. Add 1 cup boiling water and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Use this water for 1 cup of the boiling water called for in the recipe.
  • To make this bread as one loaf, use a 13" loaf pan; we like our 13" pain de mie (pullman loaf) pan. Prepare and bake the bread as instructed, covering it with a greased piece of aluminum foil or with the lid of your pain de mie loaf pan.