Monday, December 21, 2015
Cranberry Walnut Christmas Bread
There are three secrets to making this wonderful bread, although I guess you can't really call them secrets if they're published in a best-selling cookbook.
One is to soak the dried cranberries in hot water. This plumps up the cranberries so that even the ones that end up on the outside of the loaf retain their flavor and aren't just charred lumps.
The second secret is to toast and skin the walnuts. I include a picture of me rubbing the walnuts in a clean dish towel to prove that I didn't skip this step even though it's one of my least favorite baking chores.
The third secret is to start with a biga that you've mixed together and ignored for a few days. I can't tell you what a difference in flavor this makes. Here you see it in the water used to soak the cranberries, which also permeates the bread with flavor. I believe this is the third time so far I've used the word "flavor." This should suggest why this bread is so extraordinary.
Other than making the biga and coaxing the skins off the walnuts, this bread is a cinch to make. And making the biga is easy--it just requires you to think about making this bread three or four days before you eat it. Skinning the walnuts doesn't require any technical skills either--just patience. The cranberries are supposed to be strewn over the dough, which is supposed to be in a rectangular shape. As you can see, I considered a vaguely rectangular shape to be good enough.
Actually it probably is good enough because it just gets kneaded lightly, shaped into a ball, and put into a rising container.
After two rises (I did the second one overnight in the refrigerator, partly because that method requires less yeast - for better flavor - and partly because it was getting late when the first rise was done). Shape into a torpedo loaf and don't worry about all the lumps and bumps.
I love this little lame knife. It lets me make such clean slashes and doesn't pose the same threat to my well-being as a razor blade.
Some of the cranberries and walnuts are bound to pop out of the finished loaf, but they're all not only edible, but delicious. And some of them will fall off as you slice the bread. In my opinion, these little treats belong to the person who's slicing the bread.
When the bread was cool enough to slice, I intended to eat one small piece, just to sample it. After the first slice, I said to myself, "More!" I decided I could eat two more slices if I thought of it as a sandwich and considered it my lunch. Then I decided I could have one more slice if I considered the third slice to be the filling in my sandwich. Then I ran out of excuses to have more (until it was time for a mid-afternoon snack). Jim ate at least as much as I did, and we decided we didn't want to give any of it away. Poor bread--it never got a chance to be the star of a cheese plate, as was its destiny. But I count my bread sandwich among the best lunches I've ever had.