322: Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread

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.

brained cranberry walnut celebration bread
Braided Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread
slices of cranberry walnut celebration bread
Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread

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.

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