And of course, with soup one must have bread.
This particular loaf started with a kitchen disaster. I had planned out my mushroom-barley soup, and set my little heart on pumpernickel bread to go alongside. I’ve had Deb Perelman’s Russian black bread bookmarked for years now, and the moment was ripe for seizing. So I measured out some warm water in a measuring cup, stirred in a packet of yeast, and set it on the counter while I went about collecting ingredients.
I needed molasses, which was hiding on a high shelf behind several bottles of vinegar. Thinking about it now, I should have realized that the rice vinegar was way too precariously perched. But I didn’t. I reached up for the molasses. There was a crash, a thud, a shriek–mine, I suppose–and a rumblerumblerumble as the rice vinegar bottle rolled away across the floor. I looked down; my pants were covered with yeasty water, and the kitchen was covered with shattered Pyrex. The measuring cup was no more.
It took the better part of an hour to clean up the mess. By the time we picked the last shards out of the sink, it was less than two hours to dinnertime. We had friends coming over. There was no way I could make, knead, rise, shape, rise, and bake another loaf in that amount of time–and, even if I could, I didn’t have enough yeast to do it. But I wanted bread. I needed bread. Fast.
I thought of my go-to quick soup bread recipe, the Irish soda bread. What if I fiddled with that recipe, adding flavors that mimicked the pumpernickel I could no longer make? Would that even work?
Yes. Yes, it would. And what a relief. The dough turned out a little stickier than in the original version, but it baked beautifully, coming out of the oven with the same rough, shaggy crust and pillowy interior. It tasted just the way I wanted it to, with the familiar ping of rye and the sweet bite of molasses and shallot. The slices stood up beautifully to a long dunk in a bowl of soup, sponging up just enough to make a satisfying bite. The entire loaf disappeared in 10 minutes, maybe less. I was too busy nibbling to notice.
One of these days I’ll get around to making that black bread. But knowing that I can churn out a mighty tasty pumpernickel-like loaf in under an hour is mighty seductive. This one will be happening again–no broken glass this time.
Pumpernickel Quick Bread (makes 1 round or rectangular loaf)
2 cups (1 pint) buttermilk
2 tbsp molasses
2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups light rye flour
1/4 cup cornmeal
1 tbsp natural (unsweetened) cocoa powder
1 medium shallot, minced
1 tbsp caraway seeds
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tbsp (1 oz) unsalted butter, cut into cubes (optional)
Preheat oven to 425º F, and place a rack in the middle of the oven. For a round loaf, grease or parchment-line a baking sheet; for a rectangular loaf, grease a 9×5 loaf pan.
In a measuring cup, whisk together buttermilk and molasses. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, rye flour, cornmeal, cocoa powder, shallot, caraway seeds, baking soda, and salt. Add butter (if using) and use a pastry cutter, a pair of forks, or your fingertips to mix the butter into the dry ingredients until it’s completely incorporated and crumbly. Add buttermilk-molasses mixture and mix just until a sticky dough comes together.
For a round loaf, turn the dough out onto the baking sheet, form it into a round, and use a sharp knife to slash an X in the top. For a rectangular loaf, transfer the dough to the loaf pan and even out the top. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until the bread is browned on top and a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Remove the bread from the oven and let cool for about 15 minutes before transferring to a cutting board.
Slice the bread and serve warm; once it’s cooled, toast slices before serving. Leftover bread can be wrapped in plastic wrap, then in aluminum foil, and frozen for up to 3 months.