Walnut Cranberry Sourdough

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Last week I finally found a bottle of walnut oil at a local market (I later found the same walnut oil online), and I wanted to use it as soon as I could. When I brought it home, I just had to open the bottle and take a smell—divine. Walnuts and walnut oil are so decadent to me; they add such a deep flavor to any food it’s no wonder I eat them almost every morning with my oat porridge, pancakes, or even waffles. I didn’t want to do just walnuts this time, even though last time it was absurdly good on its own. I had some dried fruit leftover from a recent granola batch, and I decided to match the walnuts with dried cranberries in this walnut cranberry sourdough.

Dried cranberries

This weekend was relatively light with work around the house as the last was the massive yardwork push. Outside has all the indications of a rapidly approaching Spring: blooming trees, New Mexico winds, green grass pushing up through the dirt and even dreaded pollen on the air. Despite the beckon of warm weather outside, an indoor Sunday carved out for baking bread is such a relaxing and beautiful complement to the weekend. I just can’t resist the call to work with my hands and get a couple loaves into the fridge for a long, cold proof.

My German shepherd, Arya

While the dog was resting in our comfy leather chair, I was preparing the ingredients. Toasted & shelled walnuts, dried cranberries, walnut oil. But before we get there, let’s go back to Saturday night just before bed to get started.

Walnut Cranberry Sourdough Formula and Method

Prepare the levain – 11:00 p.m.

  1. 30g ripe sourdough starter
  2. 60g Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour
  3. 60g Sangre de Cristo white flour 
  4. 120g water

After mixing the above in a glass container, cover and set in a slightly warm area in your kitchen overnight. The night time here in New Mexico isn’t quite as cold now as it has been in the past weeks. Pay attention to your conditions and adjust your levain to suit! This might mean starting the levain later at night (11:00 p.m. is an hour later for me) or plan to use it earlier the next morning. Alternatively, you could cool the added water a few degrees to slow down the fermentation process.

Mix the flour & water, autolyse – 9:00 a.m.

Add the walnuts, dried cranberries, and walnut oil will after the second set of stretch and folds during the bulk phase. You want to develop and strengthen the dough a little before adding in these extra ingredients.

Morning espresso

After your morning espresso or cappuccino, gather the following:

Ingredients:

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
250gLevain25%
800gAll-purpose flour (Sangre de Cristo white flour (high protein)80%
175gWhole wheat flour (Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour)17.5%
25gWhole grain rye flour2.5%
20gSalt2%
880gWater88%
200gToasted & shelled walnuts20%
100gDried cranberries10%
2 TbspWalnut oil (optional)

This bake I decided to go back to using a small percentage of rye flour to stimulate additional fermentation activity. The amount added is a small test and can be omitted with no ill effect. The whole wheat flour was reduced by the same amount as rye flour added to keep a total of 1000g, or 100% in baker’s percentages.

Ingredients ready for mixing

Prepare Walnuts:

The walnuts were toasted right before starting the autolyse on a baking sheet at 425°F (220°C) for 10 minutes, occasionally stirred to prevent burning. If you are using walnuts in their shells, you could extend this to about 20 minutes to compensate. Once toasted, cool for at least 20 minutes before incorporating into your dough.

Mix:

  1. Add 250g levain to mixing bowl
  2. Add 830g water and mix to incorporate
  3. Add 800g white flour, 175g whole wheat, and 25g rye flour mix until all dry bits are combined
  4. Cover the bowl and let autolyse for 40 minutes
  5. After 40 minutes, add the salt on top and slowly pour the remaining 50g water to dissolve
  6. Mix by hand until the salt is incorporated and slightly sticky
  7. Transfer to your bulk fermentation container

Final dough temperature: 79°F (26°C).

The temperature in the house was a few degrees higher than my last bake; Spring sure is on its way. Keep an eye on your dough during bulk fermentation if temperatures are rising in your area.

Bulk Fermentation – 10:00 a.m.

  1. 10:30 a.m. – Stretch & Fold Set 1
  2. 11:00 a.m. -Stretch & Fold Set 2 – After this set of stretch and folds, add your walnuts, cranberries, and walnut oil and gently fold into the dough.
  3. 11:30 a.m. – Stretch & Fold Set 3
  4. 12:00 p.m. -Stretch & Fold Set 4
  5. 12:00 p.m. – 1:15 p.m. – Rest on counter untouched
Walnut cranberry sourdough

After gently folding in the walnuts, cranberries, and walnut oil through your dough don’t worry if they are not completely dispersed throughout the dough at this time. During subsequent sets of stretch and folds, the ingredients will more fully incorporate and spread around uniformly.

You want to avoid tearing the dough too much when adding these ingredients,  be gentle .

By the end of your bulk fermentation, the dough should look a bit puffy and jiggly with an increase of about 20-30%. If you use a clear container you can mark on the sides to keep track of your rise. Little bubbles around the sides and top all show signs of good fermentation. The image below shows my dough after the entire bulk fermentation step. You can see how the dough has risen and holds its shape along the edges—it’s ready to go.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

Pre-shape – 1:20 p.m.

Take the dough out of the bulk fermentation container onto your work surface and sprinkle some flour on top before dividing. Divide the mass into two halves and lightly spin each half with your dough knife in one hand and your other hand. Let this pre-shape rest for 20 minutes.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

Lightly dust your two linen-lined bannetons (or bowls) with white rice flour and set aside until you are done with the next step, shaping.

Shape – 1:40 p.m.

I wanted to do a batard this week as it’s been a while. One of my loaves was done as a boule and one as a batard. The dough was relatively easy to handle here even though we are pushing 88% hydration (not including levain hydration). However, things are a bit sticky with this dough so be ready for it: use few touches, moderate flour, and a decisive yet gentle hand.

Proof – 1:50 p.m.

After shaping, place your two loaves to-be into the fridge for an overnight proof.

Score + Bake – 7:30 a.m. (the next day)

Preheat your oven to 450°F (230°C). After one hour, take one of your loaves out of the fridge and cut a piece of parchment paper to place on top of the basket containing the dough. Take your pizza peel and then put it on top of those two and quickly invert it so the dough is now resting on the parchment paper and the peel.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

Score the loaf with your preferred pattern and place it into the combo cooker and bake, covered, for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes, and continue to bake for an additional 35 minutes, until the internal temperature is around 206-208°F (96-97°C).

Keep an eye on your loaf during the last 15 minutes of baking as it’s easy to burn with all the nuts and berries along the outside. You might need to toggle the heat a little lower during the end to ensure the loaf fully bakes without scorching the outside.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

Conclusion

This walnut cranberry sourdough has taken the top spot for me as my favorite homemade bread. Those are some enormous shoes to fill, but the combination of rich walnuts, slightly sour flavor due to fermentation, and tangy cranberries is just the perfect balance. After I cut this open to inspect the crumb my mouth was watering… I promptly ate almost one-third of the loaf during “taste tests.” Shame on me.

Crust

The crust was SUPER brittle on this loaf. Both the boule and the batard had some of the thinnest and crispiest crust I’ve ever baked. I’m wondering now if the higher hydration played a part, the walnut oil, or just my shaping technique (I did shape these very tight, forming an excellent membrane along the outside).

Walnut cranberry sourdough

Regardless, this crust is some of the best I’ve been able to produce in my home oven on my baking stones.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

Crumb

Tender, open, and wonderfully colored from the tannins in the walnuts and juice from the cranberries. I like the large scattered holes with random bits of walnut and cranberries tucked inside. Each slice brings a new pattern of fruit and nuts. This bread is going to be sublime in the morning with butter, or even as a decadent French toast.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

I think the added rye flour helped fermentation get a good start, but I’m not completely sure it was necessary. If I were to do an even longer proof, I would certainly omit the flour. Perhaps 25g is too little an amount to create any effect in the dough; future flour combination experiments should probably have at least 50g or so.

Taste

A complex, rich (thanks to the walnuts), and sweet bread. If I were a professional baker and owned a bakery, this bread would be my prima donna, my stage stealer… Front and center stealing attention and business from all my other loaves. This bread would be hard to keep stocked.

Walnut cranberry sourdough

This week’s result has me pining to try other ingredient combinations. My cupboard is brimming with dried fruit, nuts and other spices that have me wondering what other pairings might play an integral role in my future baking.

Buon appetito & happy baking!

If you use this recipe, tag @maurizio on Instagram and use the hashtag #theperfectloaf so I can take a look!

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