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Yesterday was the husband’s and my very first anniversary. A year ago, on June 26, he and I both said, “I do.” And that’s that.

I have to say, I’m pretty dang lucky to have this guy in my life. He makes me happy every day. And he’s a fun roommate.

But enough on that. Let’s talk about this bread.
instant yeast.sponge.
eggs.lemon bread dough.

Yesterday was a crazy busy day. I was simultaneously baking this bread, this cake and this bread (for an upcoming Tablespoon post… eee!) all afternoon while watching (and/or yelling at) the TV while USA kicked a ball around with Ghana. USA lost. I was bummed. But then I realized I had cake, and I was happy.

lemon curd.

cream cheese filling.

lemon curd & cream cheese filling.

But once again, back to the bread. I’ve been planning to make this lovely creation since I first saw it on King Arthur Flour’s blog, but then life got in the way I guess and, lo and behold, it popped up on Smitten Kitchen days later, with a much simpler approach that I am grateful to say made my life yesterday easier.

braiding the loaf.

braided loaf.

There’s not much to say about this bread, other than the fact that within its lovely braid there is a concoction of sugar, cream cheese and lemon curd, and therefore it is undeniably amazing. It’s also not as intimidating as the directions may at first suggest, especially because they’ve been adapted so people like me, who don’t see why it would be impossible to transfer a 10 x 15-inch rectangle by hand from counter to baking sheet (let me tell you, it IS nearly impossible), don’t end up with a mess. If you don’t have parchment paper (and preferably a bench scraper, as well), get thee to the nearest grocery and buy one, especially if you plan to bake often. They are handy and nearly necessary tools.

braided lemon & cream cheese bread.

I had a lot more to say about this, but it’s been a busy weekend, and all I can think about right now is this. Yum.

Debrief: The original and adapted recipes call for pearl sugar sprinkled atop the braid, but I didn’t have any and really don’t see when I would use it ever again, so I opted out. It probably makes the bread look prettier, but I think the braid speaks volumes itself. The egg wash is still necessary though, in my opinion, as that’s what gives the loaf that glossy, ever-so-slightly crusty crust.

Braided Lemon Bread
Courtesy of Smitten Kitchen, adapted from King Arthur Flour

Yields: 1 loaf

Sponge:
6 tbsp warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

Dough:
Sponge (above)
6 tbsp sour cream or yogurt
4 tbsp unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, 1 beaten for dough, 1 beaten with 1 tsp water for egg wash
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
(optional) Pearl sugar or sparkling white sugar for sprinkling

Lemon cream cheese filling:
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp sour cream or yogurt
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup lemon curd

Directions:
Make sponge — In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Stir well to combine, loosely cover with a towel, and set aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes.

Make dough — Combine the sponge, sour cream, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add flour and mix with the paddle attachment until you have a shaggy dough. Switch to the dough hook and knead until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 5 to 6 minutes. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes until doubled. (Dough can also be made by hand, incorporating all ingredients in a bowl and using your hands to mix and knead. Kneading by hand will take about 5 to 10 minutes before smooth and soft.)

Make the filling (while dough rises) — Mix together all the filling ingredients (except the lemon curd) in a small bowl until smooth (no lumps). Refrigerate the filling and set aside lemon curd until ready to fill the braids.

Prepare bread — Gently deflate the dough and roll it out on a well-floured counter into a 10 x 15-inch rectangle. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper, folding in quarters and then unfolding once transferred (quickly, or it’ll stick together!). With the side of your hand (in a karate-chop fashion), 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.

To form the braid, cut crosswise strips one inch apart down the length of the outer columns of your 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 (now is when that bench scraper comes in handy). Remove the four corner segments (shown here on KAF). 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 over or under the end of the braid (I chose over, and you can barely tell the difference).

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 puffy.

Bake bread — Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Brush the loaves with your egg wash, and sprinkle with pearl or coarse sparkling sugar if desired. Bake for 20 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown (or a mere 17 minutes for me, as my oven is a beast). Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

Extra punches: The dough can be set aside and refrigerated at nearly any point in the preparation process. Just take the dough out of the fridge when you’re ready to work with it again, and let sit until it reaches room temperature. Then, proceed.

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