Our Holiday Bread

December 19, 2010

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

Cranberry-Walnut Braid
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.)


  1. It sounds wonderful, I will be sure to give it a try!

    Comment by Kirsten — December 19, 2010 @ 12:11 am

  2. Well isn’t that a thing of beauty! The flavor combinations are very seasonal, with what I’m guessing is a tender crumb thanks to the buttermilk. Definitely welcome on any holiday (or other) table of mine.



    Comment by heather — December 19, 2010 @ 1:46 am

  3. I really like reading posts where bloggers remake something from their blog’s early days. It gives me great confidence that I can look back someday and improve on what I’m doing now.
    Your holiday bread is a work of art!

    Comment by Rachel — December 19, 2010 @ 2:20 am

  4. gorgeous loaf!

    Comment by tracy — December 19, 2010 @ 4:54 am

  5. You didn’t have to tell me twice! Alright, maybe you did because I might not have found it on my own.

    This bread looks wonderful. Braided breads are always so impressive to look at (really Dana. It’s beautiful.). And even better to eat. I will certainly be making this for Christmas. And I will be making two loaves. One for me to devour on my own and another for my parents. Tis the season after all.

    Comment by Joanne — December 19, 2010 @ 1:04 pm

  6. Oh, I can’t tell you how much I like your food. My boyfriend said that the goat cheese pasta with oil cured olives and tomatoes was the best thing I ever made. I agree.

    Regarding the bread, how long do you think it keeps once made? Three or four days outside of the freezer? Any suggestions?
    Thank you,

    Comment by Liesl R — December 19, 2010 @ 10:20 pm

  7. I am impressed with your bread. It’s a delicious looking one.

    Comment by Helene — December 19, 2010 @ 10:46 pm

  8. It looks like a great Halah.
    Do you mean dry yeast?
    Can you tell me please what is the amount of the yeast? As living outside of U.S.A. I am not sure what you mean.
    Thank you.

    Comment by veredgy — December 20, 2010 @ 4:53 pm

  9. Yummy – well one more thing to add to my baking list for this week. But thank you for this – it will fill out a gift basket perfectly!

    Comment by Charlotte — December 20, 2010 @ 6:09 pm

  10. Dana – I made this last night, except, I didn’t quite follow the instructions – I left out the hot water when mixing (as I was doing this and cooking dinner at the same time!). Consequently it took quite a bit of time to get raising action to happen. I couldn’t figure it out until I reread the recipe and realized I missed the hot water step so I popped the bread dough into a warm oven and crossed my fingers. I took the finished loaf out of the oven at 11:30 last night and it looks amazing – not quite as good as your pictures but my hubby says it looks like I bought it. I used pistachios instead of walnuts and tonight I’m going to try it again with apricots and almonds. Thanks so much for the recipe and inspiration!

    Comment by Charlotte — December 22, 2010 @ 7:54 pm

  11. PS to veredgy – I used 4 1/2 tsp of bread yeast or dry active yeast powder. I got that from America’s Test Kitchen book: 1 envelope = 2 1/4 tsp dry yeast powder. Hope that works for you.

    Comment by Charlotte — December 22, 2010 @ 7:57 pm

  12. gorgeous loaf!

    Comment by Ina Franks — December 23, 2010 @ 7:40 pm

  13. I love breads like this with orange zest, dried fruit and nuts. I can see why you make it every year!

    Comment by Ashley — February 21, 2011 @ 5:49 am

  14. I’ve made this atleast 5 times, and usually double it so that I can give one of the two loaves away…it is amazing bread that gets gasps of “you made this!” Thank you for sharing it Dana!

    Comment by Kristi — June 25, 2011 @ 4:19 am

  15. I made this bread for breakfast on Thanksgiving, and my husband and I loved it. I made french toast using the leftovers the following day and it blew my mind. This bread is so good, thank you for sharing – I am already planning to make it again soon!

    Comment by Kelsey — December 8, 2011 @ 6:55 pm

  16. This looks and sounds wonderful!

    Question – have you ever let it rise overnight at a cool temperature? I’ve been experimenting with various no-knead bread recipes which give long rise times to compensate for kneading, and was thinking of trying it with this recipe.


    Comment by Susan — December 8, 2012 @ 6:37 pm

  17. Susan, I haven’t tried that with this recipe. As I understand it, the no-knead recipes that work best are very simple in terms of ingredients and they also have very little yeast in them. I think you would end up with a balloon of dough if you tried it with this amount of yeast. I would imagine you could do a long slow rise in the refrigerator overnight, but I would also imagine that you would still need to knead the dough. I wish I could be of more help. If you try it, will you let me know?

    Comment by dana — December 8, 2012 @ 8:14 pm

  18. Thanks, Dana! I think I will give it a try by reducing the amount of yeast. I’ve just had such great results with the no-knead method (and modified Cooks Illustrated recipe) that I want to do everything this way now ;)

    I’ll let you know how it turns out!

    Comment by Susan — December 9, 2012 @ 5:41 pm

  19. I have made this bread every Thanksgiving for the last 3 years and I have never taken leftover home. I make a honey butter to go with it and it is so wonderful! I am making it again this year too! Thank you for this wonderful recipe!
    Kat Luce

    Comment by Katarina Luce — November 21, 2018 @ 5:24 pm

  20. Hi Kat! I am just signing back into my site for the first time in 6.5 years and came across your comment. Thanks so much for reaching out! I too make that bread every holiday season, now for Christmas as we travel to Seattle for Thanksgiving. I’m so glad to know that you are baking it too.

    Comment by dana — June 3, 2020 @ 11:26 pm

Leave a comment