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Not every holiday bread is sweet, despite the evidence produced by endless variations on egg- and sugar-rich fruit breads. The following dense, chewy country loaf, studded with pecans and cranberries and scented with orange, features the toasty, nutty flavor of whole wheat, and the tang of orange and cranberry tempered by a touch of honey.
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
1/2 cup King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/2 cup King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
1/3 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 1/2 cups King Arthur 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon King Arthur Whole-Grain Bread Improver
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup water
1/4 cup orange juice
1/8 teaspoon orange oil
1 cup (3 ounces) chopped toasted pecans
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries*, very coarsely chopped; OR 1 cup sweetened, dried cranberries
*Use fresh or frozen cranberries if you enjoy their very assertive tart flavor; use sweetened dried cranberries for a milder effect.
Sponge: In a large mixing bowl, the bowl of an electric mixer, or in the pan of your bread machine, combine the sponge ingredients, mixing till smooth. Cover the bowl and allow the sponge to rest for 2 to 10 hours, at your convenience.
Manual Method: Add all of the ingredients, except the pecans and cranberries, to the puffy sponge. Mix until a rough dough forms, then knead (about 10 minutes by hand, 5 to 7 minutes by machine) until the dough is somewhat smooth; since this dough is made almost entirely from whole wheat, it won't be nearly as supple and silky as a white-flour dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour. It'll become somewhat puffy, but won't double in bulk.
Bread Machine Method: Place all of the ingredients except the pecans and cranberries into the pan of your bread machine (atop the puffy sponge), program the machine for Dough or Manual, and press Start. Check the dough about 10 minutes before the end of the final kneading cycle; it should be stiff but fairly smooth. Adjust the dough's consistency as necessary with additional water or all-purpose flour. Allow the machine to complete its cycle.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased work surface, and knead in the pecans and cranberries. There's a lot of fruit and nuts here, so don't be discouraged when it appears it doesn't all want to go into the dough; just keep pushing it in and kneading, and eventually it'll all be incorporated. Shape the dough into a flattened 6-inch round, place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and allow it to rise for 2 hours, or until it's noticeably expanded, though not doubled in bulk.
Bake the bread on the middle rack of a preheated 350°F oven for 45 to 50 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil midway through the baking time if it appears to be browning too quickly. The interior temperature will be between 185°F and 200°F when the bread is done. Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a wire rack. Yield: 16 slices.
Nutrition information per serving (1/2-inch slice, 63g): 180 cal, 7.1g fat, 4g protein, 20g complex carbohydrates, 4g dietary fiber, 203mg sodium, 133mg potassium, 2RE vitamin A, 2mg vitamin C, 1mg iron, 15mg calcium, 106mg phosphorus.