It might seem like cheating that I am kicking off my post-a-day-until-Christmas with something I have already written about. But here is the thing. I wrote about this incredible bread back in November of 2008. I had about 12 readers back then, probably 6 of whom live within a mile of me. The photo was taken with my old point and shoot camera and it is a terrible photo. I would just re-direct you to that post, but I have new photos and I have more to say. I can’t let another holiday season go by without talking about it again.
I have made this bread every Thanksgiving for the last 11 years. I only know the year I started making it (1999) because our Thanksgiving was remarkable that year. Not remarkable in that it was so wonderful but in that it was so different. My parents were in the midst of remodeling their house and so we did the dinner at my grandmother’s which felt weird. But what felt weirder is that my divorce from my first husband had just been finalized and I was at the family feast alone. A good distraction from the sadness of that fact was to bake bread.
I was not a great bread baker at the time (I’m still not) but this turned out beautifully. Both in looks and taste. The sweetness of it complimented the rest of the meal so well and I have been making it ever since. Thanksgiving is at our house now and Randy and I have spent ten of them together. Thanks to a special request, this bread will now be on the Christmas table every year going forward. It is wonderful at the holidays but I think it would also be terrific at just about any meal.
If you needed any more reason to make this (and please do, you will be astounded by how easy it is and how delicious it is), my brother Michael, who loves good food, asked me to make him two loaves as a holiday gift. Nothing else – just bread. He wants to be able to slice it and keep it in the freezer for a special treat.
One Year Ago: Chocolate Caramel Treasures
Adapted from Bon Appétit
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
1/4 cup sugar
2 envelopes quick-rising yeast
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup buttermilk
2 large eggs
2 tbsp. (1/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 1/2 tbsp. orange extract
1/3 cup (about) hot water (120-130 degrees F)
1 cup dried cranberries
1/2 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.)