They say it’s better to give than receive. I’ve found this to be true, especially when it involves bread-baking. I love to bake bread and sharing it with others just makes it more special. Giving the gift of bread during the Holidays is a wonderful way to do something you enjoy and bless the recipient as well. A double blessing.
I wanted to make a delicious and beautiful braided bread for a special family for Christmas. I was looking for a bread that was easy to transport and would fit in a bread bag. I found the perfect solution. This Cranberry and Orange Loaf with nuts is braided, but it’s baked in a loaf pan which allows it to fit in a bread bag and makes it easy to transport.
To make things really easy, this bread can be made completely in the bread machine. You won’t have the braided look, but if you’re short on time, just let the machine do the work while you’re busy doing other things. Or, if you want to mix things up a bit like I did, mix the dough and let it rise in the bread machine, shape it into braid, then place it in the loaf pan to bake. This way, you get a beautifully-shaped loaf, that is easy to transport, and makes great toast bread. Voilà!
Braided Cranberry & Orange Loaf with Nuts
Makes: One 9” x 5” Loaf or one small bread machine loaf
Adapted from: Bread Machine: How to prepare and bake the perfect loaf by Jennie Shapter
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/2 cup orange juice
- 1 egg
- 3 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1/4 cup white whole wheat flour
- 1 tablespoon nonfat dry milk
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 1/2 tablespoons butter
- 1 teaspoon instant yeast
- 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
- 1/3 cup dried cranberries, plumped in orange juice
- 1/3 cup pecans, chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh orange juice
- 2 tablespoons sugar (I used sugar in-the-raw)
Use the bread machine to mix the ingredients on the Dough Setting or bake the loaf completely in the bread machine. Or, if you prefer, mix the ingredients using a stand mixer and bake in a conventional oven.
Step 1: Place the ingredients in the bread pan of your bread machine in the order specified by the manufacturer.
My bread machine specifies that the liquid ingredients should be added first, then the dry ingredients. So I added the water, orange juice and egg in the bread pan. Then I sprinkled the flour over the wet ingredients and added the nonfat dry milk. Then I placed the sugar, salt, and butter in separate corners of the bread pan. Finally, I made a shallow well in the center of the flour, and added the instant yeast.
Step 2: Knead in the orange zest, dried cranberries and pecans.
When the machine beeps (or after the first kneading), add the zest, cranberries and pecans and let the machine mix them into the dough.
At this point,
- If you are baking the loaf completely in the bread machine, let the machine continue through the baking cycle.
- If you are using the machine to mix and proof the loaf, let the bread machine finish through the dough cycle, then remove the loaf to shape and bake.
- Or, if you are tired of the bread machine having all the fun, follow the process below:
I felt the dough after the first kneading and decided I wanted to get my hands on it so I took over at this point.
Instead of letting the machine knead the final ingredients, I removed the dough from the bread pan and gently kneaded the rest of the dough ingredients into the dough.
Step 3: Bulk Fermentation: Place the dough into a lightly greased bowl and let it rise until doubled, about 30 - 45 minutes.
Step 4: Shaping the Braid
Remove the dough from the bowl onto a lightly floured surface and divide it into three equal balls.
Roll each piece out into ropes. The ropes shouldn’t be too long if you want to bake the loaf in a loaf pan. If you want to bake the braid freeform, you can make the ropes as long as you want. Just keep in mind, they need to fit on a baking sheet.
Overlap the ropes in the middle.
Start braiding at one end, then flip the braid around (or walk around if possible) to the other end and finish the braid. Gently tuck the ends underneath.
For more braiding options, refer to this post on Making Braided Challah.
Step 5: Proofing the Loaf
Place the braid in a 9” x 5” loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap sprayed with spray oil and let it rise 30 to 45 minutes or until it reaches the top of the pan. If you want to bake the braid freeform, place it on a greased baking sheet to proof instead of in the loaf pan.
Step 6: Baking the Loaf
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Bake the loaf in the preheated oven until it is golden brown, about 20 – 30 minutes. If it starts browning too much on top before it is baked all the way through, you can tent it with aluminum foil. Test for doneness by inserting a toothpick or wooden skewer in the middle of the loaf. Just do it in an inconspicuous place especially if you plan to give the loaf away.
Step 7: Cooling the Loaf
Remove the loaf to a wire rack to cool. Let it cool in the pan for a few minutes, then remove it from the pan and let it cool completely on the wire rack.
Step 8: Glaze the loaf or brush with butter
To make the glaze, mix the orange juice and sugar in a small pan and heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves. Then boil until it becomes syrupy. Brush the syrup over the loaf and let it cool.
I got distracted and let my glaze burn so I opted to brush the loaf with melted butter instead of the glaze. I think this worked out better for giving as a gift anyway.
Step 9: Wrap and give the bread as a gift
If you want to give the bread as a gift, let it cool completely, then place it in a plastic bread bag or wrap it in plastic wrap and decorated it festively.
I gave this bread to a special family. They’ve been enjoying it as toast with breakfast. I’m so glad!