These soft rolls have a secret ingredient: potatoes. Bread bakers have been using potato water or adding mashed potatoes to their breads since at least the 19th century, when it was often added to make up for a shortage of grain. This modern version uses either potato flour (available from King Arthur, Bob’s Red Mill and others) or dried potato flakes (used for making mashed potatoes). The starch from the potatoes makes for a tender crumb, and also helps keep the leftover bread moist and light.
As I tried different recipes, I discovered there are several different ways to give pumpernickel and other dark rye breads a dark color. Whole grain rye flour adds some color, but a combination of coffee, molasses, cocoa powder or caramel coloring is usually added to darken the dough further. I settled on using molasses and cocoa powder in this recipe. Any cocoa powder will work here, either natural of Dutch-processed. But I found out very quickly that not all molasses is created alike!
I started out using up an old bottle of Brer Rabbit molasses I had in the pantry. That worked well, until I used it all and had to buy some more. I bought a bottle of Wholesome Sweeteners organic, unsulphured molasses, but that gave the rolls a strong molasses flavor that dominated the bread. I wound up going to back to my old standby, this time using Brer Rabbit Mild Flavor molasses. I also tried some good old Tennessee sorghum, which also works quite well in this recipe.
Somewhere along the way I also discovered that this recipe can be used to make some wonderful dark rye buns. They are great for things like salmon burgers and BBQ sandwiches. I’ve included a couple of tips for other variations in case you want a sweeter roll, or don’t like the taste of caraway.