Starting Early

November 14, 2008

Remember when I said I wasn’t going to bully you into making something? Well, in that post I strongly suggested. In this post, I’m going to have to insist. You have to make this bread for Thanksgiving.

Yes, I said the T-word. Friends, Thanksgiving is less than two weeks away and, at least at my house, it is never too soon to start preparing. Seeing as this is a non-client cooking day for me, I am going to spend some time finalizing my menu and start the shopping list.

Thanksgiving is huge this year because the torch has officially been passed. Ever since I was a baby, my mom has hosted Thanksgiving. The guest list more or less stayed the same, the menu more or less stayed the same and very occasionally the setting shifted as we moved a couple of times. Certain traditions were established. Every year my mom worried that the power was going to go out (it did one year). Every year my brother Michael and my parents’ friend Tom whipped the cream in a copper bowl with a whisk (because of the year the power went out – no Kitchen Aid). Every year Tom said the turkey was dry (it never was). And so on and so on.

Last year my mom decided she was done with making Thanksgiving dinner and gave me the gift of creating new traditions in our home. Already things are going to be different. We are having many more people (21 adults, at least 8 children) and we are going to – you might want to sit down for this – deep fry a turkey. Yes, – not one but two turkeys are going to cross the threshold of my vegetarian home. Here is how I see it. Of the 21 adults coming, only 3 are vegetarian. Of the 18 carnivores, I know that at least half of them LOVE turkey. This is not a group that eats turkey because it’s what you are supposed to do, they eat it because they love it. How can I, someone who loves to feed people, deny them the thing that they love?

The answer is I can’t. So, turkey it is. After talking to some friends who have always done the deep-fried thing, Randy has it in his head that we have to deep fry. Because we are having so many people, I figure we should have two turkeys anyway, so we will roast one and deep fry the other. People can decide which one they like best. Here is the catch – aside from carrying them home from the grocery store, my goal is to not touch the turkeys at all. Randy assures me he has the deep frying one and Deb (who has moved – sob!), promised she would come help me with the other one. Other invited guests have offered to come help as well (I think they are nervous that I am going to try and slip a Tofurkey by them) so I think I can get away with not touching any bird.

I digress. Back to my bullying ways. I have been making this bread for Thanksgiving for about 15 years. In my family, it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without it. If you are nervous about making bread, this is a great one to start with because it is extremely forgiving and easy to work with. It also looks beautiful and has the perfect sweetness to balance what is a very savory meal. If that isn’t enough to convince you, it can be made up to 2 weeks in advance and stored in the freezer. I take it out the morning of and let it thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.

Let’s talk about bread for a minute. I make mine in a Kitchen Aid mixer using first the regular blade and switching to the dough hook when it is time to knead. Of course, people have been making bread for millenia without this tool, so don’t let not having a stand mixer stop you from trying it. One of the most helpful pieces of advice I have ever read came from Mollie Katzen in her Enchanted Broccoli Forest cookbook. She said that when dough has been kneaded enough – either by hand or machine – it should feel like your ear lobe.

I’m sending this to Wild Yeast’s weekly Yeastspotting showcase.

Cranberry-Walnut Braid

Adapted from
Bon Appetit Magazine
Makes 1 Loaf

I have had trouble finding orange extract so I use Simply Organic’s Orange Flavor which is essentially orange flavored oil.

3 cups (or more) bread flour
cup sugar
2 envelopes quick-rising yeast

1/2 tsp. salt
cup buttermilk
2 large eggs

2 tbsp. (
1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1/2 tbsp. orange extract
cup (about) hot water (120-130 degrees F)
1 cup dried cranberries

cup coarsely chopped walnuts
1 large egg, beaten to blend (for glaze)

Stir 3 cups flour, the sugar, yeast and salt in large bowl to blend. Add buttermilk, 2 eggs, melted butter and orange extract and stir vigorously until well blended. Gradually stir in enough hot water to form soft, slightly sticky dough. Transfer dough to floured work surface. Knead dough until smooth and slightly tacky but not sticky, adding more flour if necessary, about 7 minutes. Knead in dried cranberries 1/3 cup at a time; then knead in walnuts. Form dough into ball.

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 1 1/2 hours.

Lightly oil large heavy baking sheet (or line with parchment paper). Punch down dough. Turn dough out onto floured surface. Divide dough into 4 equal pieces; then divide 1 piece of dough 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. Braid ropes together. Tuck ends under and pinch together. Transfer braid to prepared baking sheet. Roll out each of the reserved 3 small dough pieces to 10-inch long ropes. Braid ropes together. Tuck ends under and pinch together. Brush large braid with some of egg glaze. Place small braid atop center of large braid. Brush small braid with some of egg glaze. Let rise uncovered in warm area until almost doubled in volume, about 1 hour 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Brush loaf again with egg glaze. Bake until loaf is deep golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about 45 minutes. Transfer loaf to rack and cool at least 45 minutes before slicing. (Can be made ahead. Cool completely. Wrap tightly in foil and a plastic bag and freeze for up to 2 weeks. Thaw at room temperature.)


  1. Absolutely gorgeous bread!
    I don’t mind the Seattle rain either, but don’t you find your bread batter gets a little tempermental with the moisture? I never know how it’ll turn out!

    Comment by redmenace — November 15, 2008 @ 12:12 am

  2. You’re right, we are on the same brain-wave! This bread looks just amazing, and much more creative than mine. I’m a guest this year at a friend’s t-giving table, maybe I’ll make this to bring along! And you don’t have to touch any bird you don’t want to ;-)

    Comment by Andrea — November 15, 2008 @ 12:29 am

  3. A beautiful and festive Thanksgiving loaf! Thanks for submitting to YeastSpotting.

    Comment by Susan/Wild Yeast — November 15, 2008 @ 6:26 pm

  4. this sounds wonderful! You don’t have to convince me to make it- I have been on a bit of a bread baking binge lately!

    Comment by Emily Rose — November 17, 2008 @ 4:32 pm

  5. Definitely one of my favorite treats!

    Comment by My Sweet & Saucy — November 18, 2008 @ 6:50 am

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