Pumpernickel Bread– how to make your own caramel coloring


I’ve been getting a lot of questions about the caramel color, a brown and slightly bitter powder made by over-caramelizing sugar) that we call for in the pumpernickel bread recipe on page 67 of the book.  It’s hard to find in local stores, and it’s not an absolute requirement for the bread, but most U.S. consumers will miss it if it’s left out.

Yes, caramel color can be made at home, but not as a powder– what you make will be a liquid that is added to recipes; you should decrease the liquid a bit to account for the extra. Here’s what I’ve done at home (it won’t be quite as dark a result as powdered caramel color): Put 3 tablespoons sugar and 1 tablespoon water into a saucepan. Melt the sugar over a low flame, then increase heat to medium-high, cover, and bring to a boil for 2 minutes. Add a pinch of cream of tartar and continue to boil uncovered until the mixture becomes very dark. Remove from heat and allow to cool partially. Very carefully, add a quarter cup of boiling water to the pan (it may sputter and water may jump out of the pan so wear gloves and keep your face away from it). Dissolve the caramelized sugar and cool to room temp. Use about a quarter-cup of this mixture in place of commercial caramel color powder in our Pumpernickel recipe on page 67.

If you use liquid caramel coloring like this, you need to add extra flour to make up for it– about twice the volume of flour as liquid.  Otherwise the dough will be too loose.

59 thoughts to “Pumpernickel Bread– how to make your own caramel coloring”

  1. Thank you so much for the caramel color recipe. I have another question. I am getting some requests for Anadama bread. I can find traditional recipes but hoped you could help me convert one to your method. I like the quantity that your recipes make in general which suits my family well. Thanks again.

  2. Kathy: Anadama Bread makes its appearance in our second book, tentatively titled “Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day.” There’ll be more whole grains, nuts, seeds, and even a chapter on gluten-free bread. The manuscript is due in about 65 days but it takes nearly a year to bring a manuscript to publication. Our tentative release date is 12/09.

    Our Anadama will be rich in whole grains and corn, but since it’s in the upcoming book, I’d prefer not to say much about the recipe! My guess is that if you’re familiar with our approach, you can probably make the conversion yourself.


  3. There is a product out called Kitchen Bouquet. It is a liquid. My grandmother has used it for years to add color when making gravy. Have have no idea what else it could be used for. Would/ could this be an appropriate fill in for caramel color? As far as I can tell, it is sold in all our local grocery stores.
    By the way, I have been using the book for about three months after discovering it at the library. It is fantastic. I always made bread on the weekends and now I can fit it into my schedule whenever I want. Thanks!

  4. Hi Joseph, welcome to the site. Thanks for the kind words.

    The product you’re describing sounds like it would add color, but would it add that bitterness that we’re looking for as well? If so, try it and let us know how it works out. Jeff

  5. I can’t wait for the second edition. I did experiment with the anadama recipe and it is now one of my best sellers. It is fantastic toasted and freezed very well. I had to fool around with the cooking times because the bread is so dense that it has to be cooked a little longer or it comes our doughy in the middle. Because the dough is dark to begin with, it is hard to judge from the color and almost looks burnt on top when done (very dark).
    I continue to use your book and tell everyone about the concept. I am going to try the wreath bread this weekend for our tree trimming gathering.

  6. Thanks Kathy! When you say “best seller” do you mean in your family, or are you the person who’s selling breads at a Farmer’s Market? Someone had told me that story and there are so many posts, and so much connection to make on the Web, that I’m getting confused who told me what, and where!!

    If it’s turning into a business for people, all to the better. Jeff

  7. I’ve tried the King Arthur’s, and I have to say that it’s really easy to use and seems to make a great product. One jar can last a long time and it is a lot easier than trying to make it on your own. Plus it’s darker than the product you can make at home. Just my two cents!

    1. Thank you! This was a lifesaver today. My little jar of caramel color from King Arthur’s was hard as a brick (it’s been very wet and humid here) and I couldn’t figure out how to soften it up or pulverize it. This has happened before more than once, and I finally decided to look for another idea for my dark rye bread. Thanks to you, my beautiful bread dough is rising as I type. Just as an afterthought, I’m wondering if the chunk of stale bread I keep in my canister of brown sugar to keep it soft would also work for caramel color. Any thoughts?
      I love your books!! They have changed my life, and I recommend them to everyone I know. I don’t yet have the pizza and flat bread dough book, but it’s definitely on my list. I’m now known in my small town as “the bread lady,” and it’s a title I wear with pride.

      1. Hi Marsha,

        Does that caramel come in a glass jar? Is it a liquid or a powder? If it is in a glass jar you can try microwaving it for just a few seconds at a time until it softens enough to use. It won’t work if it is in plastic, since it may melt.

        Thanks, Zoë

  8. Jeff – I have a local spice and flour supply house that usually has everything I need, but only had liquid caramel color. I made my first batch of Pumpernickel dough using it so we’ll see. I haven’t baked any yet. I’ll let you know…

  9. My wife, the teetotaler, reminded me, the brewer, that homebrew supply shops would likely have caramel coloring. Sure enough, we found (liquid) caramel coloring in our local homebrew supply store. Just made a batch of pumpernickel dough today, expect to bake tomorrow. Great to have a smart woman with a good memory at one’s side.

    There are more fermentable sugars in this dough than in some of the basic doughs. The first rise of the dough was a bit…aggressive compared to the other recipes I’ve tried.

    Great book. Thanks. Enjoying fresh bread twice a week now.

  10. In my experience, Asian grocery stores often have liquid caramel color. Perhaps it’s not ideal, but that’s one non-mail-order option for the liquid version, at least. I used to find the caramel color at Grand Mart and Super H (Han au Reum) stores whenever I baked copycat versions of Outback’s brown bread.

    1. Wow Jen,

      I shop at an Asian market all the time and it never occurred to me to look for caramel coloring there. I’ll be there tomorrow and will check it out. Thank you for the suggestion!


  11. My wonderful son-in-law Chris, bought me your first book…and we both share joy in making your recipes. I have a question…I’m noticing that my breads are wonderful in texture and taste HOWEVER, I’m noticing that my breads are a bit too SALTY tasting! Question, could I use less salt…say only 1 TBS. and have the same success with the rising etc.? I’m using Sea Salt Crystals. Thank you for your reply….you have brought joy to many households!!!

  12. Thanks for posting this, I’m in Belgium and King Arthur products aren’t available here. Merci! Bedankt!

  13. My mum, used this carmel liquid recipe (which stores in the fridge for eons in a sealed glass jar) to add to gravies to make them darker in colour, when necessary, and so do I. Now I have another use for it, thanks

    1. Debbie– also, to my surprise, it does change the flavor, adding an edgy slight bitterness to the bread, which balances sweeteners or the dull taste that wheat can sometimes have. Assume it does something similar to gravies. Jeff

  14. Thanks for this. Will we need to adjust the liquid volume for the recipe when we use this for the pumpernickel?

  15. First off I love your books! This is the second recipe I have made (first was the Master Recipe) I was pretty sure I was going to make something nasty but when I first tried that amazing bread I was stunned I was able to make it from scratch. This time I was following the Bavarian-Style pumpernickel recipe from your Healthy Bread book. When I was cooking I didn’t have the caramel color powder and didn’t want to make it from scratch, as I decided to cook late at night. The bread with out it came out tasting amazing, however like many have said before… its just missing something and it looks like wheat bread. Am I able to add this in to a small batch of the already risen dough? or will that ruin the gluten structure if I attempt to knead it in and get the bread darker? Thanks for any help!

    1. Halle: You can try adding, maybe with a little flour, then give it a couple hours at room temperature to re-ferment the new flour. Should be OK if the dough isn’t too old (less than 5 to 7 days). Jeff

  16. I have a friend who tried his hand at a German Black Bread he remembers from his time in the military. He tried to replicate it at home with a bread machine and recipe. He was so disappointed in the texture (not dense enough) that I have all his ingredients here – he wants me to try it! The recipe calls for molasses, coffee, cocoa powder, buttermilk. Do you have something close to what he’s looking for? Thanks for the help! Love the recipes! I can’t believe I can make bread!

    1. Nellie: I’m guessing that the Vollkornbrot in Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day might be close— click on its image above. That recipe’s not on the website. Jeff

  17. Just tasted my first slice of Pumpernickel from your first book…I make 1/2 recipes as I am a 1 person household. I didn’t bother with the carmel coloring. I’m using KA Perfect Rye blend so I went with 1 cup of that to 2 1/4 cups of AP white – everything else exactly 1/2 your recipe. I did use a French Roast cold brew for 1/2 the liquid instead of instant espresso.

    Bottom line – WONDERFUL! The BEST pumpernickel I’ve had since I moved from Los Angeles in 1994!

  18. I just made this recipe for caramel color, and I couldn’t get all the sugar to dissolve. It just turned into a big lump when I added the water. I put it back over the heat and was able to get more of it to dissolve. Although I think my color is still usable, I was wondering if you have any advice for me, the next time I make it.

    Thank you for this recipe and for your wonderful books. I love them!

    1. Hi Mrs. Mordecai,

      It is normal for the sugar to seize when you add the water to it. If you add hot water, it will be less dramatic. Just let it cook until all of the caramelized sugar has dissolved again.

      Thanks, Zoë

  19. Is caramel color the same as browning/burnt sugar sold in stores? I’m making a Caribbean black cake which is a fruit cake made with macerated fruits. It gets its dark color from the browning added to the batter.

    The instructions look very similar. This can be purchased for around $2.50 at ethnic grocers.

  20. I found a bulk flour co-op for San Diego and got a bunch of great flours this week, so I made my first pumpernickel loaf from your healthy breads book (fantastic!). I successfully made my own caramel coloring, but it took a while. I was wondering if I could make a bunch of caramel coloring at once and then use it as needed in recipes? Would it work to just quadruple the recipe and use 1/4th of it in each batch of pumpernickel? I don’t see why it would go bad, but maybe the browned sugar would need to be redissolved every time? Any advice?

    1. Agree– definitely worth a try, I can’t see why it’d go bad, just store the extra in the fridge.

  21. I’ve been trying for a long time to perfect a pumpernickel bread that reminds me of my youth, and of one my father used to make. Here, we called what we knew as pumpernickel “Russian Black Bread”. I think they were sweeter than your recipe, and really dark in colour. I haven’t been able to find the caramel coloring so I may try to make my own but, as an alternative, I’ve tried to adapt your recipe, and some others that I’ve found online.

    Essentially it’s half of your recipe (since that’s all I can fit in my dough container) but there’s some more liquid so I was going to just reduce the amount of water to compensate. I’ve gotten pretty good at just visually knowing if the dough is the right consistency.

    Maybe it’s too complicated but what do you think about what I’ve written below?

    From your recipe (halved):
    1 ¼ cups whole wheat flour
    Just under 1 ½ cups rye flour
    1 ¼ cups AP flour
    ½ tbsp salt
    ¾ tbsp yeast
    1/8 cup vital wheat gluten
    ½ tbsp. caraway seeds

    Additional Ingredients:
    1 tbsp cocoa
    3 tbsp melted butter or oil
    ¼ cup strong coffee
    1/3 cup molasses

    Then I would just adjust what would be 2 cups of water, for the extra liquid from the butter/coffee/molasses.

    Does that make sense? I will be thrilled if I can duplicate the black bread of my youth!

    1. Basically, if you can match the consistency of our rye or pumpernickel dough with this, it’ll work like our other recipes. It needs to be about the same liquid proportion as our usual stuff in order to be store-able. Without mixing it up, I can’t tell, but I’m sure you’ll be able to create one that’ll work.

      1. Thanks! I didn’t want to mess with the science of your breads but, as I said, I think I have a good grasp of the expected consistency. I will be making a tester loaf soon, and I’ll keep you posted.

  22. I thought I should follow up to tell you that this recipe was a huge success….at least for the kind of pumpernickel that I was hoping for, and assuming that you can’t find caramel colour. This one is a keeper!

    Thanks again!

      1. One follow up question, after I made my last batch of this dough. The crust is softer than I would like, and absolutely softer than what I am used to from the Master Recipe.

        Would this just be because of the extra liquid and can I add more flour? For this recipe, I did not measure the water, I had all of the liquids total approximately 2 cups, but it I really relied on what I expected the texture to be.

        I did bake the bread on a preheated stone, with steam, as usual.

        Any thoughts or tips would be appreciated.

        And Happy Thanksgiving from your neighbours to the north!

      2. Thanks Elisa– Hey, we’re about to be in a magazine based in Ontario, though I’m guessing you mean immediately North. Manitoba?

        Anyway, you can always add a little more flour, yes. But maybe what I’d have you do is mix the next batch exactly as written, measuring the water.

        But I have to tell you– this crust is a little softer than the basic white loaf.

  23. I guess I wasn’t clear on the “northern neighbour” because no, not directly north! Toronto, to be exact so please let me know which magazine.

    I will adjust slightly, and measure more carefully, but thanks for confirming that this crust will likely always be a bit softer than the basic white.

    1. Oh, fantastic, you might even see it because it’s B City Magazine, which is out of Burlington–is that close enough to Toronto to be considered a suburb?

      1. Technically, no, it’s not a suburb. But practically yes, in that people certainly commute each day. I think it’s about 50 km.

        I will definitely see if I can find the magazine!

        You two, and your books, are the best. And your willingness to answer all of our questions is amazing. I am so appreciative!!

  24. Where do I buy the carmel color in powder form as you spoke of in your article? and you refer to page 67 of the book? what book and where can I get it,is there more than one book of yours? thanks. Wally

  25. I didn’t read all the comments above but;
    You could add a few tablespoons of molasses to achieve that affect. Honey is used a lot in breads and it would make sense black-strap molasses could be used to achieve a rich, dark-colored bread without changing your sourdough formulae.

  26. So, wouldn’t it work to just caramelize the sugar, pour it out onto a piece of parchment, then pulverize the resulting brittle in a blender? KAF doesn’t seem to sell caramel color anymore …

  27. is the Carmel coloring in the pumpernickel just for coloring, or does it contribute to the flavor also? I was wondering if I could just leave it out without affecting the flavor.

    1. Hi Hillary,

      The caramel is for both, but mostly adds to the rich color of the bread. It does add a bitter note that is traditional for this loaf.

      Thanks, Zoë

  28. Hi! So since I was unable to find the caramel color powder on the King Arthur site, I used your directions for the liquid version. I’ve seen other pumpernickel bread recipes (my dad made one in fact) that uses coffee. I’m wondering if I could substitute a .25 cup of cold coffee instead?

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