Cranberry-Walnut Braid

No doubt about it, turkey is the star of the Thanksgiving feast. Following close on its heels (do turkeys have heels?) comes dressing. Farther down the hierachy of Thanksgiving essentials fall cranberries. However, this bread could change all that. Studded with cranberries and walnuts, scented with orange, and sporting a double-decker braid, this bread is centerpiece worthy.

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Cranberry-Walnut Braid

adapted from Peter Reinhart in Bon Appetit, Nov. 1999

makes 1 large braided loaf

  • 3 cups (12¾ ounces) bread flour
  • ¼ cup (1¾ ounces) sugar
  • 2 envelopes (4½ teaspoons) instant yeast
  • 1¼ teaspoons salt
  • ½ cup (4 ounces) buttermilk, room temperature
  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 2 tablespoons (¼ stick) unsalted butter, melted, hot
  • 1 ½ tablespoons vanilla extract
  • zest of one orange
  • up to 1/3 cup (2 5/8 ounces) freshly squeezed orange juice, heated to 120°F to 130°F
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) dried cranberries
  • ½ cup (2½ ounces) coarsely chopped walnuts, toasted
  • 1 large egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)

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Whisk flour, sugar, yeast, and salt in large mixing bowl to blend. Add buttermilk, 2 eggs, melted butter, vanilla, and orange zest; mix well.

Gradually stir in enough hot OJ to form soft, slightly sticky dough. With electric mixer or by hand, knead dough until smooth and slightly tacky but not sticky, adding more flour if necessary, about 5 minutes.

Knead in dried cranberries 1/3 cup at a time; then knead in walnuts. Form dough into ball.

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Lightly oil large bowl. Add dough to bowl, turning to coat with oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, then towel. Let dough rise in warm draft-free area until doubled in volume, about 1½ hours.

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Line a large baking sheet with a Silpat or lightly oil it. Gently deflate dough and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces.

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Then divide 1 dough piece into 3 equal pieces and reserve. Using palms of hands, roll out each of remaining 3 large pieces on work surface to 13-inch-long ropes.

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Braid ropes together. Don’t worry – it’s the same as braiding hair! When finished, tuck ends under and pinch together. Transfer braid to prepared baking sheet. Roll out each of reserved 3 small dough pieces to 10-inch-long ropes. Braid ropes together. Tuck ends under and pinch together.

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Brush large braid with some of egg glaze. Place small braid atop center of large braid and press gently to adhere. Brush small braid with some of egg glaze. Let rise uncovered in warm area until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

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Preheat oven to 325°F. Lightly brush loaf again with egg glaze. Bake until loaf is deep golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 45 minutes. The internal temperature of the center of the loaf should register between 185°F and 190°F when done. Tent with foil last 15-20 minutes if bread is becoming too brown. Transfer loaf to rack and cool at least 45 minutes before slicing.

Can be prepared ahead. Cool completely. Wrap tightly in foil and freeze up to 2 weeks. Uncover and thaw at room temperature.

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