I wanted to make bread to take with me to my in-laws for Thanksgiving. I recently bought The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which I’d seen referenced a lot. It seemed like it would be a fantastic reference if I wanted to understand more about the bread baking process. I had wanted to wait to try making any recipes in the book until I’d read all of the ingredient and technique descriptions, but I flipped through it anyway to see if there was a good recipe that I’d have time to make to take with me.
If nothing had jumped out at me I probably wouldn’t have made anything, but I came across Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread. Cranberry bread just screamed Thanksgiving, and it looked very festive. I had the time to make it that evening, so I was set.
I used the bread flour that the recipe called for. I didn’t have instant yeast, so I soaked dry active yeast in the 1/4 cup water that I added after the rest of the dough ingredients were mixed. I didn’t have orange or lemon extract so I used the zest of a small lemon instead. I used buttermilk. I substituted margarine for the butter. I used 1 1/2 cups dried cranberries and 3/4 cup walnuts, exactly what the recipe called for.
I used my stand mixer to mix together and knead the dough. The 1/4 cup water that I soaked the yeast in was just the right amount for the dough. I added the cranberries to the stand mixer and let it knead it for 2 minutes, and then did the same with the walnuts. The mixer didn’t really distribute them evenly throughout the dough, so I folded the dough over a few times to try to redistribute the fruit and nuts.
I put the dough in an oiled bowl, covered it, and let it rest at room temperature for about 30 minutes. My kitchen was cold, so I preheated the oven for 1 minute, turned it off, and put the dough in the oven to rise for a couple of hours. I think it was in there for 2.5 hours (until we got back from dinner).
I divided the dough into 6 pieces – 3 that were 8 ounces each, and 3 that were 4 ounces each. I rolled the larger pieces into 10-inch strands, and the smaller ones to 7-inch strands. I braided the longer strands first and set the braid on a parchment-lined sheet pan. I braided the shorter strands and set the small braid on top of the larger braid. [See the link to the recipe for an explanation of how to braid dough.]
I beat a whole egg and brushed the braid with about half of the egg wash. After 90 minutes, I brushed the loaf with more egg wash and preheated the oven to 325F. I baked the bread for 25 minutes, rotated the loaf, and baked another 25 minutes. I was pretty sure it was done, but I took its temperature to be sure, and the bread was already a little above the target temperature of 185-190F.
I took the loaf from the sheet and set it on a rack to cool overnight. I wrapped it in foil to travel, and we had it a day and a half later.
The bread was delicious. It was tender and had a great browned crust. The lemon zest really added a bright flavor and went well with the cranberries. The bites with walnuts were delicious too. The presentation of the bread was great – the braid looked pretty dramatic, I think. The bread was pretty good with dinner as a somewhat sweet accompaniment, but it was also really good for breakfast as well. I would definitely make this again.