Whole Wheat Cranberry-Orange Loaf

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.

Prep
45 mins
Bake
45 to 50 mins
Total
7 hrs 30 mins
Yield
1 loaf, 16 slices
Whole Wheat Cranberry-Orange Loaf

Instructions

  1. To make the 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 until smooth; it will be stiff. Cover the bowl and allow the sponge to rest for 2 to 10 hours, at your convenience.

  2. To make the dough manually or with a mixer: 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.

  3. 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.

  4. To make the dough in a bread machine: 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.

  5. 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.

  6. Shape the dough into a flattened 6" 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.

  7. 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.

  8. Store, well-wrapped, on the counter for 3 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Tips from our Bakers

  • Use fresh or frozen cranberries if you enjoy their very assertive tart flavor; use sweetened dried cranberries for a milder effect.