Friday, May 23, 2014

Braided Lemon Cream Cheese Bread

This bread is for celebrating. I made it for mother's day but you can make it to celebrate anything. Even a random Tuesday, if that's when you feel like celebrating. I say we don't celebrate enough. So pick anything, pick any one good thing and celebrate it with this bread, and wine, and whatever else makes you happy.

I know that homemade bread intimidates a lot of people. I'm here to tell you it shouldn't. It requires a little extra time but we all know nothing, and I mean nothing, beats a warm slice of fresh baked bread. All the better if that fresh baked bread is filled with tangy lemon curd and cream cheese. So much better in fact. I will give you the step by step and you too can be celebrating with this bread by tomorrow, if you so choose.

This bread was a hit with my family. They loved it. The six of us consumed the entire loaf. I foresee it gracing many celebrations in the future. You can make it all the night before, let it rest overnight in the fridge, pull it out an hour before you want to bake it and let it rise, and then just slide it in the oven. You will never celebrate without this bread again. Fluffy egg dough, zesty lemon curd, and rich cream cheese is what all bread dreams should be made of.

Braided Lemon Cream Cheese Bread
Slightly adapted from Smitten Kitchen, serves 6 indulgent people and 8 more polite

6 tablespoons warm water
1 tablespoon honey
1 1/2 tsp yeast
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Sponge (from above)
1/3 cup yogurt
4 tablespoons butter, melted
2 large eggs, one for dough and one for brushing on top
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups sugar
Extra sugar for sprinkling on top

Lemon Cream Cheese Filling
1/3 cup cream cheese softened
2 tbs sugar
2 tbs yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbs all-purpose flour
1/4 cup store bought lemon curd (you can make your own, if you're feeling energetic, otherwise, it's usually sold by the jelly in stores)

In a small bowl, combine all the sponge ingredients and stir. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, until the sponge gets a little bubbly. You want to see the sponge rise or bubble here that means your yeast is working and your dough will rise.

If you have a stand mixer using the dough hook attachment, combine the sponge, yogurt, butter, 1 egg, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Add flour and mix 5-7 minutes until a smooth dough forms. Place dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise  in a warm area until doubled 60 to 90 minutes.

Without a mixer, you can whisk together, sponge, yogurt, butter, 1 egg, sugar, salt, and vanilla. Using a wooden spoon or your hands mix in the flour and knead 10 minutes. Then place in the greased bowl to rise.

While the dough rises, make your filling. Combine all the ingredients minus the lemon curd in a small bowl and mix until lump free. Reserve until ready to braid.

Once the dough has doubled, deflate and roll out on a floured surface to 10" by 15" rectangle. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper. Using the side of your hands, press two lines down the length of the dough, dividing it into 3 equal columns. Spread the cream cheese filling down the center section leaving 2 inches at the top and bottom. Do the same with the lemon curd over the cream cheese.

Now it's time to braid. Cut 1 inch strips down the two outside columns making sure you have an equal number of strips on each side. Fold down the top and bottom two inches on top of the filling, then lift the top dough strip diagonally over the filling and do the same on the other side. Continue down the braid.

Move braided loaf on the parchment to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with dish towels and let rise 45 minutes until puffy.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Whisk last egg and brush over dough. Sprinkle sugar over the top and bake 22-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool 15 minutes before serving.

**If you want to do it the night before, you can refrigerate the braided dough overnight, pull it out an hour before you want to bake it for the last rise, and throw it in the oven.

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