White Chocolate Pecan Bread with Dried Cranberries

Melissa asked me a couple of weeks ago if I could try to replicate a White Chocolate Pecan bread sold at the bakery of her local grocery store.  This is my attempt to make something in that spirit.  I haven’t tried that bread myself, so I don’t know if this is anything like it, but Amie and I can’t stop eating it.  Aubrey and Isaac weren’t willing to try it, but that just means more for us :) .

I added dried cranberries in addition to the pecans and white chocolate, because I thought it sounded good (it is!).  However, if you prefer to stick to just the white chocolate and pecans, I would increase the amount of each of those so that the total amount of “mix-ins” is about the same.  The bread dough itself is 50% whole white wheat with a touch of honey, which gives it some extra flavor and softness, but using white wheat rather than the normal red wheat keeps the color lighter and makes for a nice contrast with the cranberries and nuts.  I used white wheat that we bought from the Bishop’s storehouse and ground ourselves, but it’s pretty easy to find whole white wheat flour in the supermarket these days.  It’s nice in general for adding whole wheat to baked goods without them seeming too “whole-wheaty”.

A look at the interior

The white chocolate in this bread melts and almost disappears.  You see empty pockets in the interior of the bread where the white chocolate chunks were, with just some gooey remnants of white chocolate around the edges of those cavities.  You can see the coloration of where the white chocolate melted and seeped into the bread around the spaces left by the former chunks of solid white chocolate, and you can taste it in the bread.  If the white chocolate pieces in the supermarket bread remain intact, that would indicate that it’s not really white chocolate, but rather “white pieces”, which is made from hydrogenated oils and wax instead of cocoa butter, from which true white chocolate is made.  I used a Ghirardelli’s white chocolate baking bar, which is the only product in the chocolate chip and baking chocolate section of our grocery store that is actually white chocolate.  “Chocolate” is the key word you want to look for on the package, and you can check for cocoa butter in the ingredients to confirm.

This recipe takes two days, using a sponge, or pre-ferment.  That is you mix up a portion of the dough ahead of time with a tiny amount of yeast so that it can ferment for a long time before mixing it in with the rest of the dough.  This significantly improves tast and texture of the bread.  It doesn’t take much work, just some planning ahead.  As I discuss below, you can also use the fridge to slow down and stretch out the rising times in order to fit your schedule while also giving the bread the time it needs to become great.  For both the initial rise and the final proof after youve shaped the loaves, you can stick them in the fridge halfway through and leave it for several hours until you have time for the next step.  I’ve had good success with this approach lately.

Sponge:

  • 120 g white flour (about 1 cup)
  • 75 g water at room temperature (about 1/3 cup)
  • 1/16 t. dry instant yeast
  • Final Dough:

  • 120 g white flour (about 1 cup)
  • 240 g white whole wheat flour (about 2 cups)
  • 275 g water (about 1 1/8 cups)
  • 2.3 g (3/4 t.) dry instant yeast
  • 10 g salt (about 1 3/4 t.)
  • 14 g honey (2 t.)
  • all of the sponge, cut into about 8 pieces
  • 55 g coarsely chopped pecans (about 1/2 cup)
  • 55 g coarsely chopped white chocolate (about 1/2 cup?, or half of a 4oz baking bar)
  • 55 g dried cranberries
  • Method:

    1. 12-16 hours before you want to mix the dough (and at least 17-21 hours before you want to bake the bread), mix the sponge ingredients together and let it sit out on the counter, loosely covered.  It will form a soft ball of dough initially, but will double in volume and become loose and bubbly over the 12-16 hours of fermentation time.
    2. Toast the pecans in a dry skillet over medium heat for about 3 minutes, stirring constantly, until they become fragrant.  Don’t let them burn, and do let them cool off completely before you add them into the bread.
    3. When the sponge is ready, combine all of the ingredients for the final dough except the pecans, chocolate and cranberries.  Knead in a stand mixer or by hand until the dough is moderately well-developed.  This is a fairly soft and wet dough, and will be very sticky at first, but as the gluten develops it will become less sticky and merely tacky.
    4. Once the dough is sufficiently kneaded, fold in the pecans, chocolate and cranberries and knead by hand until they are evenly incorporated into the dough.

      Starting the initial rise

    5. Form the dough into a smooth ball and place it in a lightly oiled container, covered with a lid of plastic wrap, and let it rise at room tempurature for 2-2.5 hours.  At around the 30 and 60 minute marks, turn the dough out onto the counter and do a “stretch-and-fold”: grab one side of the mass of dough with both hands and stretch it out, then fold it back onto the top of the dough.  Do the same from the other side of the dough so that it is folded in thirds like a letter.  Then do the same from the top and bottom, so that you have a nice ball of dough, and return it to the bowl with the smooth (bottom) side up.
    6. After the 2-2.5 hours of rising, divide the dough into two pieces, and form these into balls.  Do this by gentlly flattening out the piece of dough and stretching and pulling the edges in all around the piece of dough and pinching them together on top to seal the seam.  When you turn the ball of dough over, you should have a nice, taut surface.  Take two pieces of clean cloth (linen or cotton) and dust them generously with flour so that the dough won’t stick.  Place a ball of dough in the center of each one, smooth side down, and pick them up by the corners of the cloth and set them into bowls to proof.  Let them rise, covered, for 1.25-1.5 hours.  Alternatively, you can let them rise for 30-40 minutes and stick them in the fridge for several hours until you are ready to bake them.  This can be useful for working around your schedule.  For example, I let them rise and begin proffing before church, then stuck them in the fridge and baked them when we got home.  You can also use the fridge to slow down the initial rise to fit your schedule.  Just stick the dough in the fridge about halfway through the 2-2.5 hour rising time, then come back to it when you have time.
    7. About 20-30 min before your loaves are done proofing, preheat the oven to 500F with a baking stone in the center rack.  Also put some sort of oven-safe metal pan on the floor of the oven, which you’ll pour water into for steam when you start baking the bread.

      Finished proofing, ready to bake

    8. Once the loaves and oven are ready (if you’ve proofed them in the fridge, you can put them into the oven cold, no need to let them warm up first), invert the bowls onto a flour-dusted peel or rimless cookie sheet and remove the cloths.  Slash the top of the loaves with a bread knife or razor blade, and slide them onto the hot stone.
    9. Pour about a cup of hot water into the pan on the floor of the oven and immediately shut the door.  Turn down the oven tempurature to 450F.  Bake for 12 minutes with steam, then rotate the loaves and bake for another 15 minutes or more until the crust is deep brown, but not burnt.  Turn off the oven and leave them in there for anouther 5 minutes or so with the door cracked, then set them on a cooling rack.
    10. Allow the loaves to cool completely before slicing, or else the interior will be a bit gummy
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