This chocolate cranberry bread can be shaped like a loaf if baked in a loaf pan or like pull-apart buns if baked in a round cake pan. These are made from a brioche dough kneaded in the stand mixer so the process is easier. The dough rises in the fridge overnight so you can bake the buns on Christmas morning!
Kneading brioche dough by hand can be a real pain, if we are being honest. In pastry school, we learned to do it by hand, using the "slap and scoop" method. The dough is slapped down on the counter with the right hand, then scooped up with a bench scraper in the left hand, over and over, until the gluten has developed sufficiently.
These chocolate cranberry buns start with my easy brioche recipe kneaded in a stand mixer because most of us don't have the patience or the time to do it by hand. The mixer does a great job of developing the gluten and incorporating the butter, without warming the dough too much. So the butter doesn't melt too quickly, leading to a greasy mess, which is a likely outcome if you kneaded by hand.
For this dough, I used dark chocolate chips from Callebaut with 70 % cocoa solids. This is a great type of chocolate for baking because it's high quality, not too sweet but it does hold its shape.
Fresh versus frozen cranberries
I recommend using fresh cranberries for this recipe because they are added to the dough before the overnight cold rise. Frozen cranberries would defrost in the refrigerator and there's a risk they lose too many juices, making the dough too wet to manipulate after.
Finishing sugars for bread
The buns are sprinkled with pearl sugar before baking them. Pearl sugar is also called Swedish sugar or Belgian sugar. It's a popular sugar for garnishing breads before baking because it holds its shape in the oven without melting or burning. You can order pearl sugar from Amazon.
I brushed the buns with maple syrup after baking to give them a little sweet finish and also the syrup softens the crust of the bun. The nice thing about pearl sugar is that it doesn't dissolve.
Shaping the bread and special equipment
This chocolate cranberry bread can be baked as:
- a loaf in a standard 1-pound loaf pan (9x5 inches)
- as pull-apart buns in an 8-inch cake pan (as shown here)
The bread is made from a standard brioche recipe kneaded in the stand mixer with fresh cranberries and dark chocolate chips.
Chocolate Cranberry Bread
- 63 mL whole milk (3.25 % fat) warmed to 38 ºC or 100 ºF
- 1 pinch granulated sugar
- 8 grams active dry yeast 1 packet
- 250 grams bleached all-purpose flour
- 24 grams granulated sugar
- 5 mL Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt
- 2 large egg(s) whisked
- 115 grams unsalted butter room temperature, cut into cubes
- 50 grams fresh cranberries
- 90 grams dark chocolate chips
- 1 large egg(s) whisked with a pinch of salt
- 15 mL pearl sugar for sprinkling on the bread
- 22.5 mL pure maple syrup
- In a small bowl, whisk the warm milk with a pinch of sugar. Sprinkle the yeast overtop in an even layer, then you can whisk it to help the yeast melt and to avoid clumps. Let the mixture sit for 10 minutes at room temperature. It should bubble and create a layer of foam.
- Meanwhile, in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the flour, sugar, and salt. Stir on low to combine.
- When the yeast is ready, dump it in, along with the two eggs. Stir the mixture on low until a shaggy dough forms. Increase the speed a little to form a more cohesive ball of dough, then switch to the dough hook to knead the dough for 10 minutes. The dough will be stiff, but smooth.
- Switch back to the paddle attachment and add the butter, a little at a time, working it into the dough before adding a little more. The dough will seem to break down but eventually will start to come back together. Switch to the hook and knead it for another 10 to 15 minutes to form a smooth dough.
- Knead in the dark chocolate chips. The dough will be smooth and a little tacky.
- Transfer the dough to a greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rise slowly at room temperature for 1 hour.
- Place the bowl in the refrigerator to chill the dough for 1 hour.
- Once the dough is cold, punch it down and roll it out on a lightly floured surface. Scatter the cranberries over the entire surface, then roll it up and pinch/roll it together to shape the bread dough into a "boule" (ball shape). Place back in the greased bowl, cover, and refrigerate overnight.
- Butter an 8-inch cake pan and line the bottom with a round of parchment paper. Set aside.
- Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Each piece will weigh almost 90 grams. Shape each piece into a ball and set them in the cake pan, evenly spaced, 7 on the perimeter and 1 in the middle. Shaping the buns isn't easy because of the cranberries so don't worry too much about it.
- Cover the pan with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for 1.5 hours or until puffed and almost doubled.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F (190 °C).
- Whisk the 1 egg for the egg wash with a pinch of salt. Brush the tops of the buns with the egg wash, and sprinkle generously with pearl sugar.
- Place the pan in the oven. Bake until a thermometer inserted into a bun reads 88 ºC (190–195 ºF), which takes roughly 30 to 35 minutes. The buns will be a deep golden brown on top.
- Transfer the pans to a wire rack and let cool about 10 minutes before transferring to a wire rack. You can brush the hot buns with maple syrup and sprinkle with additional coarse sugar before serving. The syrup will soften the crust and add a little sweetness to these buns.