The Fresh Loaf

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Mike Avery's Cranberry Chocolate Loaf

tamraclove's picture

Mike Avery's Cranberry Chocolate Loaf

I"m wondering if Mike Avery is lurking today...  I'll copy this entire post into an email to him, and then post a reply when I get one.

I'M A NEWBIE at sourdough, but this question doesn't regard THAT part of the bread.

Here we go:

I decided to give Mike Avery's Cranberry Chocolate Loaf a try today.  This is my first attempt at a true sourdough loaf - no added yeast (although my wild yeast starter isn't ready yet, so I had to use my yeasted one... it won't be long now, though!) Oh - I believe my starter is at about 100% hydration (thick pancake batter)  Below, you'll see that I didn't add very much flour while kneading, so I'm thinking that it was just about right.

I don't have a stand mixer, so I followed instructions closely, but mixing everything in a bowl then kneading by hand.   I watched Mike's Kneading Video (to refresh my memory) and then followed his procedure... press out, fold back, 1/4 turn.  Slowly and rhythmically.  The instructions said to knead 12-15 min in a stand mixer - I decided to start with about 25 minutes by hand.  At around 20 min, i noticed the dough became smoother but firmer - giving way more freely under pressure, but sticking less to the surface.  I thought that "satiny" might be just the term, which is what I had been shooting for - good so far.  Over the course of 25 min, I only added 1/4 C. additional flour for kneading - which is good for me - I think I usually end up with bricks partly because I add too much flour.  I was proud of myself at this point :-) The dough was quite moist and supple - tacky to my hands, but not to the surface.

I gave it a couple more minutes of kneading then proceeded to add the cranberries and pecans.  NOTE: The pecans were my own idea.  I thought that since they were very coarsly chopped (not ground) they wouldn't affect the moisture of the loaf too much. Please correct me or point me to more reading if this isn't right.  They kneaded in beautifully.  Then came the cranberries, and the reason of this posting.  They were a disaster.  I began to knead them in and the dough fell apart.  They were so wet, that by the time I got them all in I felt like I was kneading cake batter!  I had drained them and used the juices in the recipe (as directed) and everything was going so well up to this point!  I only let myself add 3/4 C. more flour - that was the minimum amount required so I could pick the dough up to transfer it to my greased bowl.

My question - was there something I missed?  Has anyone else made this loaf?   Did I miss some major direction (like spread the cranberries out on paper towels for a week to dry before adding)?  Maybe my starter was too wet?  The directions didn't say precisely, but it was measured in cups - it had to be at least pourable, right? My dough is in its first rise now, and I'll let you know how it turns out.  If anyone has experience with this recipe, I'd love to hear about it.  Again, I'll email this posting to Mike, and let you know if he sheds any light on my plight.


tamraclove's picture

I am absolutely AMAZED that I can post a success!! First, I'd like to thank all those who've been helping me over at my other post. This is my first 100% sourdough only bread. No added instant yeast!!

Report on bread:

I let the dough rise for 2 hours the first time. I'd say it increased by maybe 75%. It firmed up nicely during this rest, and it wasn't terribly sticky when I shaped it. I made it into 1 large loaf, placed it on parchment, and let it rise again. It only took about an hour to nearly double. I had a heated stone in the oven, and a heated cast-iron skillet. In went the dough, in went 1C. boiling water. The loaf took an hour to bake. I reduced the temp slightly after 45 min to prevent over-browing.

As you can see from my photos, I had a good bit of oven spring! (i forgot to slice the surface, so it kind of exploded out one side) I have ALWAYS/CONSISTANTLY had problems with oven spring. The cross sections of my 'regular' bread are even dipped in the middle.

Oven spring was a little out of control - i forgot to split the top

Good Cross Section!


The texture was too moist. I took the loaf out when the center was at 200 (thinking it would finish the last 5 on the cooling rack). I don't think that was the problem, though, because it was too moist all the way out to the crust - not just in the center. The crumb was a bit dense, but that was probably due to the moisture. The crust was great! Carmelized, and quite flaky on the very surface.

Too Moist?

Too moist, I think

Overall, I'm claiming this as a success. It rose (even in the oven!) and it's edible. I think I could have made the dough stiffer without any problem.

Please leave me your thoughts about my troubleshooting, and where I've missed the mark.

Thanks again for all of your help!

It was really good with butter

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I'm always delighted when someone tries one of my recipes and comments on it.  I'd have replied sooner, but we had baking classes here Saturday and Sunday, and I've been tied up.  The classes were small, intimate, and a lot of fun.  A sweet little 10 year old girl and her mother were here, and that always makes things fun!  Young girls can be SO VERY determined, and that can be such a joy to watch.  Maybe I am a bit sad I never had a daughter.  On the other hand, I missed out on daughters dating, which many fathers have told me is stressful, so perhpas there are some blessings there too.  


Anyway... about the bread.... it's been years since I made this bread, so I am digging back into ancient memories.  The bread looks very nice, and adding pecans is a good idea.  Or walnuts, for that matter.


First, there's a wonderful poem in an old Joy of Cooking.  The authors had eaten the most wonderful beaten biscuits they'd ever had and asked the cook if they could have the recipe.  The cook was happy to oblige, and gave them a poem also.  It was primitive, almost illiterate, but absolutely beautiful.  It isn't necessary to be literate to be insightful as the old cook showed the Joy's authors.  I don't have that edition of the Joy any longer, so I'll give you a from memory prose rendition of the poem.  "I'll glady give you the recipe I make my biscuits by, but I don't know if you'll be able to make the biscuits the way I do because recipes won't make you a cook any more than singing hymns will make you a saint."


We tend to get hung up on recipes and when they don't work we tend to say, "awww... the guy who wrote this was a jerk" instead of thinking that maybe Julia Child's Massachusetts kitchen is different my Texas kitchen, or my Arizona kitchen is different from Mike's Colorado kitchen.  


Now then.... time changes things.  If I were writing the recipe today, I'd make the point that if I was kneading by hand, I'd add the cranberries at the start of the kneading, not the end.  By machine, still at the end.  Also, I'd probably stretch and fold today, which was a technique I'd not heard of when I put that recipe together.  Same thing with the nuts.  I hate to add liquid ingredient at the end and have it totally change the hydration of the dough, which is what happened.  It doesn't take much to turn dough into soup.


All that said, it does look too wet.  I think I'd shoot for a drier dough.  I'd shoot for 5 to 10% lower hydration.


I may need to play with this recipe a bit in weeks to come.


Best wishes,



tamraclove's picture

Mike - thanks for the reply!  No sweat about waiting until the weekend was over.  I'm glad you had a good class - I was a little girl of 10 once, and I was a very diligent little cook.  I'm very lucky to have a mom who let me help in the kitchen, and didn't shoo me away.

All of your answers confirmed all of my sneaking suspicions.  I was thinking that next time I might add the berries at the beginning, to be sure and get it dry enough by the end.  I wondered if machine kneading would somehow help the dough not be soggy at the end.  

I was very wary about over-flouring the dough, because of my history of doorstops, but once I get a few sourdough loafs under my belt (and my hands) I think I'll feel more confident in adjusting the recipe according to current conditions.  

My husband asked if it was supposed to be bread or cake... If it were sweeter, I think it would pass nicely for cake! 

Well, I finally got a scale today - weighs in 1g increments up to 4 kg.   I've decided to try Mike's WW sandwich bread today, in 3 hours once my starter has proofed... risen... matured?  What do we say when it's fed and doubled and ready to use?  Active?

Thanks for all the help - I might turn out some good loafs yet! 

Paddyscake's picture

When I make cranberry orange bread I always use fresh cranberries. I'm guessing that could be a challenge finding them. I always throw a few bags in the freezer when I buy them during the holidays. I never looked, but I bet you can find them frozen. You just pulse them in your food processor until roughly chopped, fresh or frozen.

Addendum : I was just reading the recipe and am thinking you could cook the berries in the water and brandy, just until they pop like when you make whole cranberry sauce and drain well. They are really hard, so I don't think they would add much moisture at all. I may have to experiment tomorrow   :  )

tamraclove's picture

I love cranberry orange bread (it also uses whole or chopped fresh cranberries).  I have a wonderful recipe I go to during the holiday season - I like to bring it as a thank-you gift when we travel to stay at someone's home, or go over for dinner.  I mix up a cream cheese spread using the same spices as the bread and brown sugar to give with the bread.  I get the Philly in a tub, mix up the dip, then re-fill the container and wrap with pretty paper and a bow!