Cranberry Cointreau Pecan Loaf

I created this loaf for a Christmas-loaf baking competition. The recipe got me into the final three. It’s a citrus flavoured loaf, specked richly with fragrant cranberries and nutty pecans.

Ingredients:

  • 500gr strong bread flour
  • 10gr dried yeast
  • 10gr salt
  • 40gr sugar
  • 60gr butter, unsalted, room temperature
  • 250gr milk (weigh it for accuracy), boiled and cooled to room temperature
  • 2 large eggs

For the filling:

  • 200gr dried cranberries
  • 60ml Cointreau
  • 1 orange, organic (unwaxed)
  • 1 lemon, organic (unwaxed)
  • 150gr pecan nuts, unroasted

Extra:

  • 1 egg
  • vegetable oil

Recipe:

Combine the cranberries and the cointreau to allow the cointreau to be soaked up by the cranberries. You could do this the night before, but I always seem to forget.

Place the flour in a large mixing bowl (preferable one which fits a lid). Add the salt on one side and the yeast on the other. Make sure that the salt and yeast do not touch, as yeast is a living organism and salt will kill it which will result in a dense loaf. Mix the yeast in with some of the flour around it to spread it out some. Add the butter and sugar to the salt-side of the bowl.
Pour the room temperature milk in the bowl on the salt-side of the bowl, and mix with a wooden spoon into the flour on that side. Add the eggs and then combine everything in the bowl together with the wooden spoon. Turn the bowl out over a clean working surface. Do not add flour to the surface, you actually want the dough to stick as this will develop gluten quicker. Scrape out the bowl (and your spoon) with a dough scraper (or a very firm silicone spatula if you don’t have a dough scraper, although I can advice you to get one. They are cheap and very handy, I have more than 10 myself).

Now comes the fun part. You get to play with your food! Don’t tell your mother.
It’s a sticky dough with a high water content. Most recipe books will tell you that a wet dough like this needs a freestanding mixer but I always knead this by hand. It will get less and less sticky as the gluten develop.
There are several ways to knead dough, but for such a wet dough I like to slide my fingers under the dough on both sides, lift it up from the kitchen counter, stretch it in the air and slap it back on the kitchen counter, then folding the sides (what you hold in your hands) over the middle. In the beginning the proteins in the flour have not developed any gluten yet, so your dough with easily tear. However, the more you work it, the stretchier it will become and thus easier to work with. Don’t forget to occasionally scrape the parts stuck to the work surface off and add it back to the dough. Don’t worry about being tidy or mastering the technique, focus on keeping a bit of speed in it and you too will eventually find the method that works best for you.
If you keep up a nice speed you can work the dough to a good state in about 10 minutes. It will take a bit longer the first few times. Just remember that the dough should let go easily from your hands (so your hands will be relatively clean) and then add two minutes. When you stretch the dough thinly you should be able to see thin membranes that let the light through easily. Because this is a rich dough (which means it contains added fat and sugar) the gluten will develop a bit less than a regular white bread dough, but you should still get a good membrane.

When you have kneaded the dough enough, form it into a ball with your dough scraper (it will stick less than to your hands). Scrape under the ball over the work area, and pull this part of the dough over the top of the dough. You are folding the bottom and sides over the top. This will tighten the dough and will allow for a nice, even rise.
Place the ball of dough back in the mixing bowl (if you scraped it with the dough scraper it should be clean enough, else scrape it clean now or wash it with some water without any soap). Cover the bowl and set it on a warm spot (not too warm, 30°C is a good aim, too warm and the dough will rise too fast and easily collapse, and with very high temperatures – above 65°C – you will even kill the yeast) until the dough has doubled in size. I purposely do not specify a time, as rising time depends greatly on temperature of the dough and surrounding space.

Once your dough has risen, take a third of the dough out of the bowl and place it on a lightly oiled work surface. The oil shall prevent it from sticking without drying out the dough. Do not use too much oil as it will keep the loaf from forming later. Spread the dough out to form a circle of approximately 30cm diameter, with the sides very thin and the middle part thicker.
Mix the cranberries, any excess cointreau, the zest of the orange and lemon, and the pecan nuts with the dough that you left in the bowl. Mix well and then place it on the circle of dough on the work surface. Fold the outsides of the circle over the filling.
Turn the loaf over and tighten it once more by sliding your hands under it: place your right hand on the right side behind the dough, your palm upwards and your fingers away from you, and place your left hand in the same position on the left side in front of the dough. Now move your right hand to you and your left hand away, moving them under the dough. This should stretch the loaf into a tighter form. Do this a few times while moving the loaf and form it into an oval shape.
The reason for the coating of the plain dough, is to keep the filling inside, as it tends to stick out during shaping, and the filling burns quite easily. So when shaping, do not continue on until the filling portrudes the coating.

Place the loaf on a baking tray, preferably with a floured cloth around it (rubbing flour into it will keep it from sticking). This will give the bread a bit of support when rising. Cover loosely with plastic and make sure the plastic does not touch the dough.
Leave the bread to rise again until doubled. In the mean time heat your oven to 230°C.

Stir the egg with a fork. When your dough has risen, smear the top of the loaf with some of the egg wash.
Place the dough in the hot oven. Spray a bit of water over the loaf and on the bottom of the oven to create steam, which will allow your loaf to rise better. Lower the temperature to 200°C and bake the loaf 40-45min, or until a core temperature of 97°C has been achieved. Does your loaf brown too quickly, lower the temperature to 180°C.

Serve, if desired, royally dusted with powdered sugar.

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