Walnut Cranberry Sourdough Bread

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I've been baking sourdough bread padded to the brim with walnuts and cranberries since even before this recipe was originally posted back in 2014. Earthy walnuts are undoubtedly a favorite, as evidenced by the many recipes I have here with their inclusion, and there's a real joy in the pairing of this enigmatic nut with the tart—yet sweet—cranberry. Walnuts and cranberries seem diametrically opposed, but as is usually true in nature, when two things ripen at around the same time, they almost always taste great together. And when looking over this walnut cranberry sourdough, you might read cranberry and think, “too tart!” I urge you to try baking this bread because it's anything but.

Out of the oven, this loaf carries some of the most dramatic coloring of any bread I bake. The crust ranges from burnished to just a kiss of brown, stopping everywhere between. The stray cranberries and walnuts that might have made their way to the surface color deeply in the oven add even more of a dramatic landscape to this darkly expressed loaf. What an eater experiences in drama on the outside, is equally apparent inside, as each slice contains a scattering of sliced tart and sweet fruit and earthy nuts. But, the show's real star is the overall melding of flavors: the fruit, the nuts, and how the rich walnut oil enrobes the entire eating experience.

walnuts and cranberries on top of sourdough dough

Let's first look at the flour used in this walnut cranberry sourdough bread recipe, the dried cranberries, and the called for walnut oil.

Flour Selection, Cranberries, and Walnut Oil

This recipe calls for whole-grain rye flour in the levain. I mostly maintain my sourdough starter by refreshing it with a percentage of whole rye flour each day, so I always have some on hand. Additionally, I find adding it to the levain results in a flavor-forward end loaf by increasing the vigor of the levain.

The cranberries I used in this recipe are sweetened, ever so slightly. I find them at my local market in the bulk area, and I think in the end, they're pretty similar to Craisins. I like to buy a big bag and keep it in my pantry, always ready to go into my next batch of this dough.

For the little amount of walnut oil in this recipe, it sure brings with it a disproportionate amount of aroma and flavor to this bread. The oil carries an irresistible aroma that's luxurious, an aroma that's only outstripped by the exuberant flavor. If I could sneak this oil into every bread I bake, I wouldn't be sad about it. But in addition to the aroma and flavor, the oil also softens the end loaf much as any oil would; I highly recommend using it in this recipe (and it's also great for salads). Alas, my love affair with walnuts continues.

walnut cranberry sourdough bread timeline

Baking Schedule

This walnut cranberry sourdough is made over the course of two days (not including the overnight levain). The cold proof of the dough brings significant flavor to this dough, but you could also opt for a same-day bake. Instead of placing the shaped dough into the refrigerator to proof overnight, leave it out, covered, to proof for 1-3 hours (depending on kitchen temperatures) until ready to bake.

See the baking schedule at right.

Walnut Cranberry Sourdough Bread Formula

Formula updates: There are a few subtle changes to this recipe over the one standing here for so many years: a slightly reduced salt percentage (from 2% to 1.9%), 3% reduction in hydration, 4% more dried cranberries, levain reduced from 25% to 23.33%, and finally, a conversion from “2 tablespoons walnut oil” to a more baker's math friendly 3.00% walnut oil. After many iterations and permutations with this bread, these subtle changes have made this bread even better.

Vitals

Total Dough Weight1,800 grams
Hydration85% (88% including walnut oil)
Pre-fermented Flour10.00%
Levain in final dough23.33%
Yield2 x 900g loaves

This recipe makes two loaves. If you'd like to make a single loaf of walnut cranberry sourdough, divide all the ingredients in half. See my guide to using baker's percentages for help with scaling.

Total Formula

Desired dough temperature: 76°F (24°C). See my post on the importance of dough temperature for more information on dough temperatures.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
640gMedium-protein bread flour or All-purpose flour (~11% protein, Central Milling Artisan Baker’s Craft or King Arthur Baking All-Purpose)80.00%
120gWhole wheat flour (Giusto's Whole Wheat or King Arthur Baking Whole Wheat)15.00%
40gWhole rye flour (Flourist Whole Grain Rye)5.00%
160gWalnuts, shelled and toasted20.00%
112gCranberries, sweetened and dried (Craisins would work well)14.00%
24gWalnut oil3.00%
600gWater 1 (levain and autolyse)75.00%
80gWater 2 (reserve for mixing)10.00%
15gFine sea salt1.90%
8.0gSourdough starter1.00%
Total Yield: 224.90%, 1800.0 grams.
Walnut cranberry sourdough crust

Walnut Cranberry Sourdough Bread Method

1. Prepare levain – Night before mixing, 9:00 p.m. (day one)

This is an overnight levain: mix the following ingredients in a container and leave covered to ripen at about 77°F (25°C) for 12 hours.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
40gMedium-protein bread flour or all-purpose flour50.00%
40gWhole rye flour50.00%
80gWater100.00%
8gRipe sourdough starter10.00%
Total Yield: 210%, 167.3 grams.

2. Prepare mix-ins – 7:30 a.m. (day two)

Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Spread the 160g walnuts out evenly on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until they start to take on a little color and become very fragrant. Keep an eye on them; they can burn quickly. Set aside until called for during bulk fermentation.

3. Autolyse – 8:00 a.m.

This recipe uses the autolyse technique to increase the extensibility of the dough and make mixing by hand easier. The increased extensibility helps with incorporating the walnuts and cranberries.

Add the following to a mixing bowl and mix until incorporated.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
600gMedium-protein bread flour or all-purpose flour (~11% protein, Central Milling Artisan Baker’s Craft or King Arthur Baking All-Purpose)80.00%
120gWhole wheat flour (Giusto's Whole Wheat or King Arthur Baking Whole Wheat)15.00%
520gWater 176.00%
Total Yield: 225.90%, 1800.0 grams.

4. Mix – 9:00 a.m. (Day two)

Gather the following ingredients for mixing. The remaining water (water 2) should only be added through mixing if your dough feels like it can handle the addition. Use a splash to work in the levain and salt, adding the rest based on how the dough feels2. Finally, be sure to  hold back the walnut oil  until the later steps of mixing.

WeightIngredientBaker’s Percentage
24gWalnut oil3.00%
80gWater 210.00%
15gFine sea salt1.90%
168gRipe levain (from step 1)1.00%
Total Yield: 224.90%, 1800.0 grams.

I strengthened this dough by hand using the slap and fold kneading technique, which quickly develops the dough. Alternatively, you could use a bread dough mixer, or even a KitchenAid would work with this dough.

Add the levain to the top of your dough in the mixing bowl (that's been in autolyse) and use a splash of water to moisten. Mix the levain in thoroughly and slap and fold (or do folds in the bowl) for 5 minutes until the dough begins to smooth out and become elastic.

Let the dough rest in the mixing bowl for 10 minutes.

Sprinkle the salt over the dough, then dissolve with a splash of the reserved mixing water. Mix thoroughly. If the dough still feels very slack, continue to strengthen the dough in the bowl by stretching and folding (or do slap/fold on the counter) for a few minutes until it begins to tighten. Then, slowly begin adding the walnut oil while folding the dough in the bowl. I like to add a small pour every minute or so as I'm folding.

At the end of mixing this dough will still be very extensible and slack, but it will look smooth and shiny. The walnuts and cranberries will be added during bulk fermentation.

Transfer the dough to a container for bulk fermentation and cover.

4. Bulk fermentation – 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

At a warm room temperature, around 74-76°F (23-24°C), bulk should take about 3 hours. If your kitchen is cooler, place your bulk container in a small home dough proofer, or extend the bulk fermentation time to give the dough more time to ferment. This dough needs about three sets of stretch and folds during the 3-hour bulk.

walnut cranberry sourdough at end of bulk fermentation
Walnut cranberry sourdough bread dough at end of bulk fermentation

Combine the 160g toasted walnuts and 112g cranberries in a large bowl.

Before you give your dough its first set of stretch and folds, spread about 1/4 of the mix-ins over the top of the dough. Then, grab one side of the dough and stretch it up and over the dough to the other side. Spread on another 1/4 of the mix-ins to the new top. Rotate the bowl 180° and perform another stretch and fold. Spread on another 1/4 of the mix-ins, then rotate the bowl 90° and do another stretch and fold. Finally, spread on the last of the mix-ins, turn the bowl 180° and do one last stretch and fold. You should have the dough neatly folded up in the bowl with all the mix-ins tucked into the dough.

Here's a video of me stretching and folding this dough over on Instagram.

The remaining two sets of stretch and folds should be a little more gentle. After the third set, let the dough rest, covered, for the remainder of bulk fermentation.

5. Divide and preshape – 12:30 p.m.

Fill a bowl with some water and place it on your work surface. Scrape out your dough from the bulk container onto your dry counter. Divide the mass in half using a bench knife. Using a wet hand and the knife in the other, gently preshape each half into a loose round.

Let the dough rest, uncovered, for 30 minutes until its relaxed outward.

6. Shape – 1:15 p.m.

I like to shape this loaf as an oblong batard, but a round boule would also work well. Shape each by first flouring the top of the rested rounds and your work surface, then shape them into your desired shape.

Shaped walnut cranberry sourdough in smaller 10″ proofing baskets

After the dough is shaped, place it seam side up in a proofing basket lined with canvas or a clean kitchen towel. I recommend lining your proofing basket because the red cranberries can ooze out a bit of color during the long, cold-proof. I like to use smaller, 10″ proofing baskets for this dough to keep it in a tighter shape during proof.

7. Proof – 1:30 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. (overnight)

Cover the baskets with a large, reusable plastic bag and seal it shut. Place the baskets into your refrigerator to proof overnight.

8. Bake – 9:00 a.m. (next day)

Preheat your oven with a baking stone or Baking Steel inside to 450°F (230°C).

I baked these loaves on my Baking Steel in my oven, following my guide on how to steam an oven for baking bread. However, you could also use a Dutch oven if you've shaped your dough as a round shape (see my guide to baking bread in a Dutch oven here).

Score each piece of dough and slide it into the oven—bake for 20 minutes with steam. Then, remove the steaming pans from inside the oven (or remove the lid to your combo cooker or Dutch oven) and bake for an additional 30 minutes, or until the crust is deeply colored and the interior temperature registers around 204°F (95°C).

Once fully baked, cool your loaves on a cooling rack for 1-2 hours. See my post on the best way to store bread to keep it fresh for a week or longer.


walnut cranberry crumb shot
Walnut cranberry sourdough with a super tender interior

While I've been baking this bread off and on for ages, revisiting the formula and formalizing it here made me appreciate just how much I love it. It's surprising how much I look forward to the moments when I can eat a slice of this walnut cranberry sourdough, whether it's in the morning toasted with butter, the afternoon with a turkey sandwich, or the evening simply on its own. When baking this bread, I often regret not doubling the recipe and making more—easily fixed next time!

Buon appetito!


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Walnut cranberry sourdough bread

Walnut Cranberry Sourdough Recipe

  • Author: Maurizio Leo
  • Prep Time: 24 hours
  • Cook Time: 1 hour
  • Total Time: 25 hours
  • Yield: 2 loaves

Description

A delicious loaf of sourdough bread padded with tart and sweet cranberries and earthy walnuts, all tied together with a small addition of roasted walnut oil. This is one of the most flavorful bread recipes I bake, and there's a good reason it's also one of the most requested—it's delicious!


Ingredients

Levain

  • 40g medium-protein bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 40g whole rye flour
  • 80g water
  • 8g ripe sourdough starter

Main Dough

  • 600g medium-protein bread flour or all-purpose flour
  • 120g whole wheat flour
  • 160g walnuts, shelled and toasted
  • 112g cranberries, sweetened
  • 24g walnut oil
  • 15g sea salt
  • 520g water 1 (autolyse)
  • 80g water 2 (mix)
  • 168g levain

Instructions

  1. Levain (night before mixing, 9:00 p.m.)
    In a small container, mix the Levain ingredients and keep it at a warm temperature overnight.
  2. Prepare mix-ins (the next day, 7:30 a.m.)
    Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C). Spread the 160g walnuts out evenly on a sheet pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes until they start to take on a little color and become very fragrant. Set aside until bulk fermentation.
  3. Autolyse (8:00 a.m)
    In a medium mixing bowl, add the 600g medium-protein bread flour, 120g whole wheat flour, and 520g water and mix until no dry bits remain. Cover the bowl and let rest for 1 hour.
  4. Mix (9:00 a.m.)
    To the mixing bowl holding your dough, add the levain and a splash of water. Mix thoroughly and strengthen the dough for about 5 minutes. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes in the mixing bowl. Add the salt, another splash of water, and mix until incorporated. Strengthen the dough further if necessary until it's elastic and smooth. Then, slowly add the walnut oil over the course of the next few minutes while stretching and folding until the oil is absorbed and the dough is smooth and shiny. Transfer the dough to a bulk fermentation container and cover.
  5. Bulk Fermentation (9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.)
    Before you give your dough its first set of stretch and folds, spread about 1/4 of the mix-ins over the top of the dough. Add the rest of the mix-ins in the same way through the remaining folds for the first set. Perform two more sets of gentle stretch and folds during this 3-hour period, then let the dough rest the remainder of bulk fermentation.
  6. Divide and Preshape (12:30 p.m.)
    Lightly flour your work surface and scrape out your dough. Using your bench knife, divide the dough in half. Lightly shape each half into a round shape. Let the dough rest for 30 minutes, uncovered.
  7. Shape (1:15 p.m.)
    Shape the dough into a round (boule) or oval (batard) and place in proofing baskets. Cover the baskets with a reusable plastic bag.
  8. Proof (1:30 p.m. to 9:00 a.m. the next day)
    Cover proofing baskets with reusable plastic and seal shut. Then, place both baskets into the refrigerator and proof overnight.
  9. Bake (The next day, bake at 9:00 a.m.)
    Preheat your oven with a baking surface or combo cooker/Dutch oven inside to 450°F (230°C).

    When the oven is preheated, remove your dough from the fridge, score it, and transfer to the preheated baking surface or combo cooker. Bake for 20 minutes with steam. After this time, vent the steam in the oven or remove the lid (you can keep it in the oven or remove it) and continue to bake for 30 minutes longer. When done, the internal temperature should be around 204°F (95°C).

    Let the loaves cool for 2 hours on a wire rack before slicing.



  1. If the dough is extremely slack, omit the rest of the water.

  2. If the dough is extremely slack, omit the rest of the water.

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