Cranberry Orange Holiday Bread

November 14, 2014

in Breads and Pastries, Cook What You Like

Cranberry Bread Braid

Looks complicated, huh?

It’s not!  If you haven’t baked bread before, start with this recipe for it will encourage you to keep going.  The barely sweet dough, enriched with eggs and butter, is forgiving and cooperative making it easy to knead and shape.

As this bread bakes, your kitchen fills with the heavenly aromas of vanilla, orange and cranberry.  And when you pull the loaf out of the oven – even you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to make something looking this good.  Let’s get started!

Cranberry Bread BakedBegin the night before you plan to bake.  Make a starter from yeast, water and flour and ripen it overnight.  The following day, mix together remaining dough ingredients and ripened starter, knead, bulk proof in bowl, shape, second proof, bake.  That simple.

Cranberry Bread Unbaked

Now, for the fun part that only looks tricky.  After the first proof, tip the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide dough into equal thirds if you’re planning to plait, or equal halves if you’re planning to twist.  Roll each piece into a rectangle, sprinkle with dried cranberries and optional nuts and roll rectangle into a tight log.

Then, pinch one end of each log together.  For the plait, start braiding from the pinched end.  (If you haven’t braided before, go easy on yourself and do the twist.)  For the twist, starting with the pinched end, alternate crossing one log over the other.  After braiding or twisting, pinch together unsecured ends and tuck both pinched ends under the shaped loaf.

No worries that your loaf is a little this way or that – it’s the artisan in you coming through!

Cranberry Orange Bread SlicedBrushing on an egg white wash gives the surface a shine.  Sprinkle with pearl or sparkling sugar if desired.

This recipe is lightly adapted from King Arthur Flour.

Recipe: Cranberry Orange Holiday Bread

Summary: Start this recipe the night before you plan to bake it. One envelope active dry yeast contains 2 1/4 teaspoons.


  • Starter
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 1 cup all-purpose unbleached flour
  • Dough
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 large egg yolk
  • generous 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • few drops orange oil
  • finely grated zest from 1 orange
  • Vegetable oil to for oiling proofing bowl
  • Filling and Finish
  • 1 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup pecans, walnuts or almonds, toasted and rough chopped (optional)
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 Tablespoon water
  • 2 Tablespoons pearl or sparkling sugar


  1. Make starter the night before baking: in medium mixing bowl in the microwave, heat 1/2 cup water to 100-110ª F. Sprinkle with 1/4 teaspoon yeast and leave to dissolve, about 5 minutes, then mix in flour. Cover loosely with thin towel and proof overnight at 75-80º F.
  2. Make dough the next day: in a small bowl, warm 1/2 cup water to 100-110º F and sprinkle in 2 teaspoons yeast. Let dissolve until foamy while adding the remaining dough ingredients and starter into a large mixing bowl or a stand mixer bowl. Add dissolved yeast and mix all together by hand or using the paddle of a stand mixer.
  3. Knead dough using a dough hook or by hand until dough is smooth and elastic. Oil a large mixing bowl and place dough into the bowl turning to cover all sides. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place bowl in a warm place (75-85º F) until one and a half times the original size, 1-2 hours.
  4. Shape loaf: cover an inverted 15″ x 10″ baking sheet with parchment paper; set aside. Lightly flour a dry, clean working surface and dump dough onto surface.
  5. To make a 3-strand braided loaf, divide dough into three equal pieces. Roll each piece of dough into a 6″ x 12″ rectangle and sprinkle 1/3 of dried cranberries and nuts on each. Starting with the 12″ side, tightly roll up dough to make a long roll shaped like a log; pinch long edge to seal. Repeat with remaining two pieces. Place logs onto a sheet of parchment paper, begin the braid by pinching together one end of each of the three rolls and braid. Tuck ends under the loaf securely.
  6. To make a twisted loaf, divide dough into two equal pieces and use the same steps as above for the braided loaf. After placing the two logs onto parchment paper, pinch together one end of each roll and cross the rolls over each other. Tuck ends under the loaf securely.
  7. Cover with a dry tea towel and let proof in a warm place until the loaf is one and a half times its original size.
  8. Combine 1 tablespoon water and egg white, lightly beat to loosen. Paint the egg wash on top of the proofed loaf to give it a shiny finish and sprinkle with pearl sugar if desired.
  9. Bake at 350º F:  bake loaf on the baking sheet in the middle of a preheated oven for 30-35 minutes until loaf is medium brown on top and sounds hollow when tapped. Halfway through baking, rotate pan front to back.  Remove from oven when done and cool on wire racks.

Makes one large loaf. Keeps for 3 days at room temperature if cool. Place in 2 layers of reclosable plastic freezer bags if freezing.

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