Braided Lemon Bread

My dad has taught me a lot over the years. He taught me how to drive stick and made me drive from a full stop up a hill, over and over until I didn’t stall. He educated me in the rules of NFL football, quizzed me about team names, coaches, and quarterbacks, and taught me to love the Niners (in good times and bad). And, he taught me how to be resourceful in the kitchen.

In my dad’s kitchen, nothing is wasted. Food ingredient OR time. Leftover odds and ends of onions, peppers, and last night’s pork chops go into Sunday morning omelettes. Prep dishes are washed as the meal is being cooked or dessert is being baked, so that after you’ve finished eating or baking, all that is left are the dishes you ate off of. These are practices that I’ve happily brought into my own kitchen, and just one of the infinite ways that my dad has shaped and influenced my life. Thanks Dad, I hope you had a fantastic day!

So remember that lemon curd? We didn’t come close to finishing it off with the pavlovas, but I used the rest in this tasty breakfast “brastry” (bread pastry? no??)! A soft sweet dough is filled with a cream cheese and lemon curd filling, and when baked, will fill your kitchen with the most lovely smell; you’ll be able to close your eyes and imagine that you’ve opened that little coffee pastry shop you’ve always dreamed of. 

Braided Lemon Bread
from Smitten Kitchen

6 tablespoons (3 ounces) warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour

Sponge (above)
6 tablespoons (3 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
1/4 cup (4 tablespoons or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, 1 beaten for dough, 1 beaten with 1 teaspoon water for brushing bread
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
Pearl sugar* or sparkling white sugar for sprinkling

Lemon cream cheese filling:
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons (5/8 ounces) sugar
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup (2 ounces) homemade or prepared lemon curd

Make sponge:

In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Stir well to combine, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make dough:

  1. Combine the sponge, sour cream, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl if making by hand. 
  2. Add flour and mix (with the paddle attachment or spoon or hands) until the dough is a rough, shaggy mass. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5-6 minutes, or by hand 5-10 minutes, until a soft, smooth dough forms. 
  3. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until quite puffy and nearly doubled.

Make the filling (while dough rises):

  1. Combine all the filling ingredients (except the lemon curd) in a small bowl, mixing until smooth and lump-free. Reserve the filling and lemon curd until ready to fill the braids.

Prepare bread:

  1. Gently deflate the dough and roll it out on a very well floured counter to a 10″ x 15″ rectangle. 
  2. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper. With the side of your hand, lightly press two lines down the dough lengthwise, dividing it into three equal columns. Spread the cream cheese filling down the center section, leaving the top and bottom two inches free of filling. Spread the lemon curd over the cream cheese filling.
  3. To form the mock braid, cut crosswise strips one inch apart down the length of the outer columns of you dough (the parts without filling). Make sure you have an equal amount of 1-inch strips down the right and left sides. Be careful not to cut your parchment paper; if you have a bench scraper, this is a great time to use it. Remove the four corner segments. 
  4. To “braid”, begin by folding top flap down and bottom flap up over the filling. Lift the top dough strip and gently bring it diagonally across the filling. Repeat on the right side, and continue down the entire braid, alternating strips until you are out. You can tuck the last couple that hand off decoratively under the end of the braid.
  5. Carefully transfer the dough and the parchment paper to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and set it aside to rise for 45 to 50 minutes, until quite puffy.

Bake bread:

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the loaves with egg wash, and sprinkle with pearl or coarse sparkling sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and your apartment smells like a doughnut factory. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

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    oh my god. get in my stomach.
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