Using a Recipe as a Guide: Cranberry Nut Sourdough Loaves

Even after I find a recipe that I can see myself baking, I often do some additional research to in order to read up on and decide whether I want to include additional elements in my final recipe (formula). Doing so allows me to keep in mind that recipes are best when used as guides rather than a rigid set of ingredients and instructions. After all, one’s sourdough starter is a living culture, each flour has its own protein level and absorbancy potential, and every kitchen (home) has its own temperature and humidity level. This being said, when adapting a recipe to factors such as one’s tastes, starter characteristics, and baking experience level. It is important to adjust ingredients and variables in a manner that does not compromise the basic techniques and/or ingredient percentages outlined in the recipe’s instructions and introductory paragraphs. For example, one can use their 100% hydration starter instead of a stiff starter. However, one should use the same percentage of starter and pay attention to how his or her bulk fermentation rate and dough temperature differ from those listed in the recipe being used.

In the days leading up to this past Thanksgiving, I decided to bake two new sourdough loaf recipes. The first was my base loaf recipe with freshly milled Turkey Red wheat and 1.8% Victory malt and the second was Breadtopia’s “Whole Grain Cranberry Walnut Sourdough Bread” or the focus of this article…

When looking for a cranberry-walnut sourdough loaf recipe I chose Breadtopia’s because of its well tested whole grain element and my familiarity with the technique/s included in its list of preparation instructions. However, I chose to include two ingredients from other recipes that I read during my initial recipe search along with two ingredients that were chosen to put my own personal touch on my adapted recipe. Firstly, I found that many recipes included orange juice in place of some or all of the water and/or orange zest; therefore, I included the zest of one large orange. Secondly, I chose to use both walnuts and pecans instead of only walnuts for added complexity and to embrace my love of toasted pecans in baked goods. Lastly, in terms of my purely personal ingredient choices, I made 10% of the flour freshly milled hard Redeemer wheat berries from Castle ValleyMill in order to take advantage of their natural cinnamon aroma (when milled) and added 9% honey to balance the tartness of the cranberries and orange zest.

My Adapted Recipe: Original recipe by Breadtopia’s Melissa Johnson

Makes 2 loaves

340g Hard Red Spring Wheat flour (River Valley Community Grains) – 33.8%

150g Sprouted Red Spring Wheat berries* (Breadtopia) – 14.9%

250g Spelt berries* (Castle Valley Mill) – 24.9%

165g White Senora berries* (Breadtopia) – 16.4%

100g Hard Wheat berries* (Castle Valley Mill) – 10%

200g Sourdough Starter (100% hydration)

22g Salt

230g Dried Cranberries

90g Honey

85g Walnuts

85g Pecans

Zest of 1 large orange (see final thoughts below)

* Milled into flour using my Mockmill 100 Professional grain mill

Adapted Instructions: I included 10 tips for successful and smooth preparation of this recipe within the video above.

  • Mix all of the ingredients except the walnuts and cranberries. Cover the dough and let it sit for 30 minutes.
  • Complete one set of coil folds to build gluten strength.
  • Wet about 14″x18″ of clean counter or cutting board and place the dough on it. Stretch the dough into a large thin rectangle. A little tearing of the dough is okay.
  • See the video above for a visual explanation of the following instructions. Place about 1/3 of the cranberries and walnuts onto the middle third of the dough and then fold over a side, covering the additions. Spread another 1/3 of the additions over the layered dough, and then fold over the other side of the dough. Add the remaining cranberries and walnuts to half of the dough and then fold it in half.
  • Ball up the dough and return it to the bowl. Cover and let it rest 30 minutes.
  • Gently perform one round of coil folding, partly to redistribute the cranberries and walnuts, and partly to build more gluten.
  • Cover and let the dough rise until it has grown by 50-75%. In my experience, this was about 5.5 hours after the initial mixing in low to mid 70s kitchen temps.
  • Mist your countertop with water and transfer your dough onto it. Use your bench scraper and food scale to evenly divide the dough (see video). Fold the sides into the middle and form a ball. Flip the dough onto its seam. Use bench scraper to create some surface tension as you rotate the dough. Cover and let it rest for about 20 minutes.
  • Flour the rested dough and then flip it over. For a boule, do the same process as the pre-shape, only scoot the ball around to tighten it after flipping. For a batard, gently stretch the sides outward before folding them inward and over each other, then roll the dough up from the bottom, scooting the tube until the seam is facing down. Pinch the edges closed (see video).
  • Place the dough in a floured banneton, stitch seam if you shaped your dough into batards (see video), cover and proof 1-2 hours at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator. My dough went immediately into the refrigerator for 16 hours and was baked from the cold.
  • Preheat your oven and baking vessel to 485F for 45-60 minutes.
  • Flip your dough onto parchment and score it (see video). Put the dough in the baking vessel, cover it and bake for:
  • 24 minutes at 485F, covered
  • 18 minutes at 450F, uncovered
  • The internal temperature should be at least 205F when the bread is done. Let cool for 1-2 hours before slicing.

Final Thoughts: Overall these loaves came out looking and tasting great. The whole grain flours, cranberries, and nuts contributed to both great texture and flavor and the orange zest added freshness and complexity. In terms of appearance my scoring decisions (see pictures below) led to differences in oven spring, but thanksfully both loaves had even crumb and a crisp crust. Though I added the honey to balance the tartness of the cranberries and orange zest, all who tried these loaves noted that the orange zest at times seemed overpowering. In turn, next time I bake this recipe I’ll use less orange zest and possibly add some cinnamon to complement the nuts.

Happy Baking!


About Barry W

Israel (formerly NJ) based sourdough baker and fermentation enthusiasts sharing his baking, fermenting, cooking, and brewing adventures on
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1 Response to Using a Recipe as a Guide: Cranberry Nut Sourdough Loaves

  1. So lovely! I don’t usually think of putting fruits and nuts in a sourdough.

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