Cranberry Christmas Bread

Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Makes


    12 by 6 by 2¾ inch high loaf

Appears in

The Baking Bible

By Rose Levy Beranbaum

Published 2014

  • About
Oven Temperature 325°F/160°C for the walnuts; 400°F/200°C, then 350°F/175°C for the bread
Baking Time 7 minutes for the walnuts; 50 to 60 minutes for the bread

I published this bread first in The Bread Bible, but then found that adding a simple dough starter (biga) gave it extra flavor, softer texture, and a longer shelf life. This bread is perfect with cheese and so beautiful that it is especially appropriate for the holidays.

Plan Ahead Make the biga a minimum of 1 day or preferably 3 days ahead.



dried cranberries 1 cup 5 ounces 144 grams
hot water ½ cup (118 ml) 4.2 ounces 118 grams


walnut halves 2 cups, divided 7 ounces 200 grams
whole wheat flour (see Note) ¼ cup (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) plus 2 tablespoons 1.8 ounces 50 grams
Gold Medal bread flour (or half other brand bread flour, half unbleached all-purpose flour), see Note cups (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) 8 ounces 227 grams
nondiastatic malt powder, or barley malt syrup, or sugar 1 tablespoon . 9.3 grams, or 21 grams, or 13 grams
instant yeast 1 to 1⅛ teaspoons (see Note) . 3.2 to 3.6 grams
fine sea salt 1⅛ teaspoons . 6.7 grams
reserved cranberry water (70° to 80°F/21° to 27°C) ¾ cup minus 1 tablespoon (163 ml) 5.7 ounces 163 grams
Biga about 1 cup 8.3 ounces 236 grams
canola or safflower oil 1 tablespoon (15 ml) 0.5 ounce 13 grams
flour for kneading cup (lightly spooned into the cup and leveled off) 1.5 ounces 43 grams

Special Equipment

A 10 inch or longer baking sheet, preferably insulated, or a double layer of two baking sheets, lined with a 14 by 8 inch sheet of parchment


Make the Biga

See recipe.

Preheat the Oven

Twenty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack in the middle level of the oven and preheat the oven to 325°F/160°C.

Soak the Cranberries

In a small bowl, place the dried cranberries and water. Cover with plastic wrap and let the cranberries soak until they are softened and plump, stirring once, 30 minutes. Empty the cranberries into a strainer set over a small bowl. Press the cranberries gently to release any excess liquid and pour the liquid into a 1 cup glass measure. (There should be 6 tablespoons/89 ml.) Add enough water to come to the ¾ cup minus 1 tablespoon level/163 ml/5.7 ounces/163 grams, and set it aside, covered with plastic wrap, to use for making the dough. If planning to mix the dough the following day, cover the cranberries and the cranberry water with plastic wrap and refrigerate them overnight.

Prepare the Walnuts and Flour Mixture

Spread the walnuts evenly on a baking sheet and bake for 7 minutes to enhance their flavor. Stir once or twice to ensure even toasting and avoid overbrowning. Turn the walnuts onto a clean dish towel and roll and rub them around to loosen the skins. Coarsely break the nuts into a bowl, scraping off and discarding as much of the skins as possible. Cool completely. Set cups of the walnuts aside.

Place the remaining ½ cup of walnuts in a food processor along with the whole wheat flour and process for about 1 minute, or until finely ground. Pulse in the bread flour, malt, and yeast. (Note: If planning to give the dough the second rise overnight, use only 1 teaspoon/3.2 grams yeast; otherwise use 1⅛ teaspoons/3.6 grams.) Then pulse in the salt. Set the flour mixture aside.

Make the Dough

Bread Machine Method Into the container of the bread machine, pour the cranberry water. Use sharp scissors, dipped in water if it is sticky, to cut the biga into many small pieces, letting them drop into the water. Add the flour mixture. Program the machine to mix for 3 minutes and set it to go through the 3 minutes of mixing. Let the dough rest (autolyse) for 20 minutes.

Program the machine to knead for 10 minutes. Add the oil and reserved broken walnuts and set the machine to go through the knead cycle, which will include 3 minutes of mixing and 7 minutes of kneading. Let the dough rest for 20 minutes.

Stand Mixer Method Into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook, pour the cranberry water. Use sharp scissors, dipped in water if it is sticky, to cut the biga into many small pieces, letting them drop into the water. Add the flour mixture and mix on low speed for about 1 minute, or until the flour is moistened, to form a soft, rough dough. Scrape down any bits of dough on the sides of the bowl. Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rest for 20 minutes. Add the oil and reserved broken walnuts and knead on medium speed for 7 minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic. After the first 3 minutes, if the dough still appears sticky and does not begin to pull away from the sides of the bowl, add a little of the flour for kneading, 1 tablespoon at a time.

Add the Cranberries

Sprinkle the counter with some of the flour for kneading and roll the dough into about a 14 by 10 inch rectangle. Sprinkle the cranberries evenly over the dough and, starting from one of the short ends, roll up the dough as you would a jelly roll.

Form the dough into a ball and knead it lightly. After the cranberries are added, the dough will become sticky and will need a little more of the extra flour.

Let the Dough Rise Twice

Place the dough in a 2 quart/2 liter dough rising container or bowl that has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Push down the dough and lightly coat the surface with nonstick cooking spray. (The dough should weigh about 2 pounds 6 ounces/1,075 grams after adding the cranberries and 2 pounds 7.4 ounces/1,114 grams after adding the extra flour.) Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. With a piece of tape, mark on the side of the container approximately where double the height should be after rising. Let the dough rise in a warm place (ideally at 75° to 85°F/24° to 29°C) until it reaches the mark, about 1½ to 2 hours. (See recommended rising environments.)

Using a spatula or dough scraper that has been lightly coated with cooking spray, remove the dough to a floured counter and gently press down on it to form a rectangle. Give it a four-sided stretch and fold (gently stretch out one side at a time and fold it into the center). Round the corners and set it back in the container.

Again, lightly coat the surface of the dough with nonstick cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap, and mark where double the height should now be after rising. (The dough will fill the container fuller than before because it is puffier with air.) Let the dough rise until it reaches the mark, about 1 to 1½ hours. Alternatively, place the dough in a sprayed gallon-size reclosable freezer bag and refrigerate it overnight. Deflate it once or twice after the first hour and then the second hour to prevent overproofing. Remove it to room temperature for 1 hour before shaping.

Shape the Dough and Let It Rise

Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter. Gently flatten the dough into a 7 by 5 inch rectangle, with the longer side facing you. Fold down the two upper corners about 3 inches to form a triangle and press down the dough. Starting from the top, roll the dough. When you reach the bottom edge of the dough, pinch it firmly against the outside of the dough to make a tight seam. The torpedo-shaped dough should be about 10 by 3½ by 2½ inches high. Set it on the prepared baking sheet.

Cover the dough loosely with plastic wrap that has been lightly coated with cooking spray. Let the dough rise in a warm place (ideally at 75° to 85°F/24° to 29°C) for about 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until about 12 by 4½ by 2¾ inches high and when pressed gently with a fingertip, the depression fills in very slowly.

Preheat the Oven

Thirty minutes or longer before baking, set an oven rack at the lowest level and place a cast iron skillet, lined with aluminum foil to prevent rusting, or a sheet pan on the floor of the oven. Preheat the oven to 400°F/200°C.

Slash and Bake the Bread

For an attractive contrast, dust the dough evenly with flour before slashing (rye flour has a particularly good taste). Alternatively, if the dough is sticky, let it sit, uncovered, for 5 minutes to dry slightly. With a straight-edge razor blade or sharp knife, make ¼ to ½ inch deep parallel crosswise slashes in the top of the dough about inches apart.

If not dusting the dough with flour, mist the dough with water. Quickly but gently set the baking sheet on the oven rack and toss a handful (about ½ cup) of ice cubes into the pan on the oven floor. Immediately shut the door and bake for 5 minutes. Lower the heat to 350°F/175°C and continue baking for 25 minutes. For even baking, rotate the bread halfway around.

Continue baking for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the crust is golden and a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. (An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center should read about 205°F/96°C.)

Cool the Bread

Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it from the baking sheet to a wire rack to cool completely, top side up, at least 2 hours.


Room temperature, 2 days; airtight: frozen, 3 months.

In this section