I love cranberry bread. Especially sourdough cranberry bread. I love it in all its glorious variations: cranberry walnut, cranberry pecan, cranberry raisin, cranberry pumpkin seed, cranberry poppy, spiced cranberry, etc.
But mostly, I just love plain ‘ol cranberry the best. Simple and delicious.
I make this bread every year during the Holiday Season – rarely the same way twice – and it’s always a hit. For this recipe here, I just wanted to go with an easy bare-bones version. Think of it as a template – a starting point from which to branch off with any variation you like.
Do you prefer cranberry and nuts?
Cool, replace a portion of the cranberries with nuts (half and half is a good starting point).
Do you want a lighter and more open cranberry loaf?
No problem, just reduce the whole grain and maybe increase the hydration a bit.
Or conversely, if you’re looking for a heartier loaf then you can increase the whole grain (FYI, a dense and delicious version is 50/50 whole wheat and a full 50% cranberries or cranberry/nut mixture).
In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever run into a cranberry bread that I didn’t like. Such a thing may not even exist.
But enough with all the acclamation, let’s get to the recipe!
85% Bread Flour
15% Whole Spelt Flour (or Whole Wheat)
40% Cranberries (Dried Sweetened)
12.5% Starter (as a percentage of total dough weight)
Recipe (for 1x 800g loaf)
264g Bread Flour (or All-Purpose)
55g Whole Spelt (or Whole Wheat)
148g Cranberries (Dried Sweetened)
100g White Starter @ 100% Hydration
Now, before we get to the directions I just want to take a moment here to discuss this formula. I personally prefer cranberry breads with lots of cranberries. A cranberry in every bite is just right. And the nice thing with cranberries is that it really is difficult to put in too many. Maybe that’s just because I like ’em so much.
This formula uses 40% cranberries — that’s a fair amount, and it makes for a good versatile loaf. But I’ve happily gone up and over 60% cranberries and loved every bite. If you like the cranberry/nut combination, then you can certainly go quite a bit higher than 40% — I tend to prefer a heavier loaf that’s dense with cranberries and nuts to one that’s lighter, but also light on the extras.
What I love about dried cranberries is that they’re sweet, but not too sweet. They also have that nice tartness to them. So they have a very balanced flavor. This is in contrast to raisins, which are really just sweet sweet. I have a hard time with raisin breads that are in excess of 20% raisins, or thereabouts. They’re just too damn sweet.
Maybe that’s just me, but if you decide to make a cranberry raisin bread (or cranberry/raisin/nut bread), then I would suggest actually reducing the percentage of dried fruit in order to compensate for the sweetness of the raisins. Perhaps something like 20% cranberries/10% raisins, or possibly 10% cranberries/10%raisins/20% nuts. Try to find that balance where the raisins don’t dominate (unless, of course, you love raisins as much as I love cranberries).
I used a standard autolyse/mix method for this loaf, but in all honesty, I actually prefer the Premixing method for this particular formula. Premixing is easier and makes for a slightly more extensible dough, in my experience.
With the flours I use, 75% hydration tends to be the most difficult for me to hand mix. Stiffer dough is easier because it’s firm enough to comfortably knead in the bowl. And wetter dough is easier because it’s slack enough to use the Rubaud Method.
But 75% . . .
It just doesn’t seem to work well for either method (for me). I usually just end up flopping it around in the bowl somewhat haphazardly until it comes together. It’s not pretty, but it works.
Now actually, this is an ideal consistency for using Slap and Fold. It’s soft and yielding, but not so wet that it’ll splatter everywhere. If you like Slap and Fold then go for it.
For me, premixing this formula is ideal. It still gets a little sloppy when adding the starter, but because the dough is so much more fully developed it tends to smooth out quicker, and holds tension better so that it can be more readily kneaded in the bowl. Plus, there’s no doubt that the salt is fully mixed in since it was added at the start.
As for this particular loaf, I didn’t really plan this mix ahead of time so I went with a more standard mixing method. I first gave it a 90 minute autolyse. Just mix all the flour and water until it forms a shaggy clump. No need to develop the gluten. Then just let it rest for 1 or 2 hours.
When you’re ready to mix, just sprinkle on the salt and then add the starter. It’s okay if they touch. Actually, in this case it’s helpful. The liquid starter is wet enough to help dissolve the salt, which otherwise might be difficult to mix in without also adding some reserved water. So if you can get the starter fully worked into the dough, then you’ll know that you got the salt mixed in as well.
After the dough comes together and begins to smooth out, I add the cranberries. I just spread them out on top of the dough (and on the underside as well) then fold the dough a few times to get them incorporated. Then I just knead the dough in the bowl by rolling it into itself. I continue this until the cranberries are evenly mixed in and they stop popping out of the dough.
You don’t have to wait for this point to add the cranberries. You can add them in right at the start of the autolyse if you like. It won’t hurt the development of the dough. I prefer to add them after the dough is developed because sometimes when the cranberries come into direct contact with water they will “bleed” and stain parts of the dough pink. It’s purely an aesthetic issue, but I prefer to avoid it.
But I don’t add the cranberries when premixing. Partly to avoid the staining, but also because I worry about excessive enzymatic activity/wild fermentation due to the sugars in the cranberries. Maybe it would be fine, maybe it wouldn’t. I don’t know because I’ve never attempted it. If you decide to premix this recipe, then the call is yours. And if you do add the cranberries during the premix, please let me know how it goes. I’m genuinely curious.
This recipe will take somewhere between 4-6 hours to proof at room temperature. This loaf took 5 hours. You’re looking for a 30% to 50% rise in volume before you preshape. This loaf was around a 30% increase, and I probably would’ve taken it further if I had the time. I generally like to give it around a 50% rise for a more airy crumb.
I gave it a total of 3 folds at one hour intervals, and left it alone for the last 2 hours. Because there are so many cranberries in there, it adds a certain structural-strength to the dough. The dough is not as extensible as you would imagine a 75% hydration dough to be. So be careful with the folds – don’t over stretch/tighten/tear the dough. You can even skip the folds altogether if you prefer. I often do.
Also, keep in mind that all those cranberries are adding a lot of dead weight that the dough must overcome as it rises. Dough that is dense with fruit or nuts generally proofs slower. So don’t rush it. Make sure you get that minimum of a 30% increase in volume during the bulk.
Prerounding the loaf into a simple boule should do. I used a bench knife here, but it’s a fairly strong dough and you may be able to shape it just fine with your hands. Whatever you prefer.
Just be sure not to make the preshape too tight – it’s such a dense dough that we need to be pretty careful not to compress it any more than necessary. High surface tension is not particularly beneficial to this loaf.
After shaping, give it a 30-60 minute bench rest. I gave it a full 60 minute rest to help the stiff dough relax a bit more, and covered it with a mixing bowl to prevent it from forming a skin. In warm humid weather, it may not need to be covered at all.
I shaped this into a batard using a light “cinching” technique. Even after an hour’s rest it was still a pretty strong dough – it didn’t become overly relaxed or slack. I tried to be careful not to compress the loaf too much – it really didn’t need much in the way of tension development. It was perfectly strong enough to stand on its own.
And it should go without saying – if any cranberries pop out while shaping then you’d best stick them back into the loaf, or eat them. I’m pretty sure wasting cranberries is a sin.
I placed this into a linen-lined basket that was lightly dusted with rice flour. Just a head’s up: cranberries will stain your cloth. It’s not really a big deal to me since it doesn’t affect anything (i.e. it won’t leave stain spots on other loaves after it’s been washed), but it does mar the appearance of the cloth. For this reason, I have one cloth that I always use when proofing cranberry bread (or any bread that might stain).
I let this loaf proof at room temp for 1 hour and then put it in the fridge for around 20 hours. The next day I baked it directly from the fridge. I probably should’ve let it sit out at room temp for a bit longer, maybe another 30-40 minutes, before refrigerating it – it was still a bit young when I baked it. Doing so would’ve helped to open up the crumb a bit more. If you decide to retard your loaf, you will have to adjust proof times for your refrigerator, your dough, and your conditions.
If you let it proof entirely at ambient temps, then you’re probably looking at 2-4 hours or so.
Generally, I prefer the flavor of this bread when it’s proofed at room temp – it has a bit more of a sweet earthiness to it. But it’s good either way. I decided to refrigerate this one because it was late afternoon, and here in Vermont that means daylight is quickly fading. I didn’t want to film the scoring video with only the kitchen lights, so I decided to refrigerate it and wait until the next day for some natural light.
One thing to be aware of when baking in a dutch oven or combo cooker is that cranberries will stick to the hot cast iron. You end up with these little burnt chunks of cranberry on the pan. You can scrape most of it off, but usually the rest will just need to burn off over the course of the next few bakes. It’s not really a big deal, but it’s kind of annoying — especially if you end up with a big smoky chunk on there.
For that reason, I like to cut out a slip of parchment paper to line the pan with before I set the loaf in it. Actually, what usually happens is that I always forget this little step with the first loaf I make during the season. Then — after discovering the burnt cranberries and cursing my poor memory — I use the parchment for the follow-up bakes. If you look closely at the pan before I add the paper, you’ll see the charred remnants of Thanksgiving’s loaf still stuck to it. Happens every year.
The only other thing to really note here is that loaves full of dried fruit, or nuts, or seeds, can be more difficult to score. This is especially true with nuts and seeds (especially if the surface of the loaf has been encrusted with them).
Basically, these objects are hindrances – they obstruct your cut path and make getting a smooth clean cut more difficult. So you will need to be swift and decisive with your cuts. If you hesitate or move too slowly then the blade will snag and drag. And if you cut too lightly then it will bounce and rebound off the objects and ruin your cut.
But be careful – carelessly swinging a blade through nuts and seeds can be dangerous. The blade might ricochet off a nut and take an unplanned detour into your finger. Or the blade might even snag a seed and pop entirely off the lame (this has happened to me, and it’s not cool).
That said, if you decide to make just a plain cranberry loaf like this one then it’s not too bad. Dried fruit, while still getting in the way, is much easier to cut through than seeds or nuts.
I gave this loaf a single slash down the center, but feel free to score however you wish.
I baked this in a preheated cast iron combo cooker at 450F (232C) for 20 minutes covered, then rotated and finished for another 25 minutes uncovered. I allowed a fairly bold bake since I knew it was just going to be me eating it.
But typically, when I bring it over to holiday gatherings I will bake it much lighter since that’s how most folks like it. In those cases, I usually go with 425F (218C) for 40-45 minutes total. Feel free to bake to whatever color you prefer.
Cool and Enjoy!
Okay, so I ignored my own advice and cut into this while it was still a little warm. I just couldn’t help myself. This bread is soooo good when it’s fresh, warm, and smothered in butter. So I guess I’ll spare you the lecture. This time.
Trevor J. Wilson