Cranberry Walnut Celebration Bread

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With three days before Christmas, while the southern plains are pummeled with snow storms, Chicago enjoys a strange mild winter with temperatures in the mid 40s with no precipitations! As much as I enjoy a white Christmas, and believe me, we have quite a bit of those in Chicago, I also appreciate spending time in the kitchen, baking, instead of shoveling snow.

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Due to popular demand by my family, I thought it might be worth re-visiting an already baked, tasted and liked celebration bread baked for Thanksgiving from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice book by Peter Reinhart and as part of another BBA Challenge. This bread involves heaps of dried cranberry (9 ounces to be precise), that paired with walnuts, scream “Christmas”, and tastes pretty darn close to Panettone (texture & taste) which we usually associate this holiday .ย  It’s a fairly easy bread to bake (started in the morning, finished it in the afternoon), so this can be a great candidate for a glorious Christmas Eve dinner table centerpiece.

Cranberry-Walnut Celebration Bread

(makes one humongous loaf)

3 cups (13.5 oz) unbleached flour (high gluten if possible)
3 tablespoons (1.5 oz) granulated sugar
3/4 teaspoon (.19 oz) salt
3 1/2 teaspoons (.39 oz) instant yeast
1 1/2 tablespoons (.75 oz) orange or lemon extract
2 large eggs slightly beaten
1/2 cup (4 oz) milk at room temp
2 tablespoons (1 oz) unsalted butter, melted
1/4 to 1/2 cup (2-4 oz) water at room temp
1 1/2 cups (9 oz) dry cranberries sweetened
3/4 cup (3 oz) coarsely chopped walnuts
1 egg whisked until frothy, for egg wash

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Start by stirring together the dry ingredients (flour, sugar, salt and yeast) in a mixer bowl. Follow by adding the wet ingredients (orange extract, eggs, milk and melted butter) and add enough water slowly until you get a nice soft dough.

Place the dough on a well floured counter and keep knead by hand for about 5 min until the dough gets some gluten development so it becomes medium-soft, tacky but it would not stick to your hands if you quickly touch it and pull away. The dough should not be hard at all. That’s why I recommend making this bread using a stand up mixer of sorts like the KitchenAid. I used my Breadmaker’s paddle to mix the ingredients. Once you feel you have a good workable dough, knead in the cranberries and the walnuts until they are evenly distributed for about 2 – 3 minutes. Place dough in a well oiled bowl and ferment (rise) for 2 hours or until doubled in size.

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Divide and Conquer

If any skills are helpful to have in making this bread it might be hair braiding. I didn’t have that (braid skills, not hair!) so it took me a while to figure out the turns an tricks. The whole bread is basically made of two separate braids — the bottom one made of 10 oz.ย  strands and the top one made ofย  4 ounces each. Division is key here. Start by dividing your dough into 3 pieces at 10 ounces/each and 3 pieces weighing 4 ounces/each. If you don’t have a scale, don’t you think it might be time to get one? Here is the Escali kitchen scale I am using, it has precise readings and I use it all the time when baking.

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Roll your 10 oz pieces into 12″ strands and the 4 oz pieces into 9″ strands. Start with the big braid from the middle and once you are done, place it into a parchment lined pan. Do the same with the smaller strands and place finished braid on top of the bottom braid in the pan.

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Brush the whole contraption with half of the egg wash and let it proof for about 90 min. Brush with the other remaining half of the egg wash and place into a preheated 325F degrees oven. Bake the bread for about 30 minutes then rotate the pan 180 degrees for an even baking, then bake again for 30 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches something between 185-190 F degrees.

Refrain from slicing the bread before 30 minutes are up or you’ll end up either with not so attractive slices or with a burned tongue. Please leave a comment if you tried this recipe – curious to know how yours turns out!

Merry Christmas!


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