Adapted, just barely, from the Smitten Kitchen
Maybe the weather is warming up. Maybe you need a bread to match the sunny sky. Maybe you love lemon. Maybe it’s a Saturday. Whatever your reason, you need to make this bread! I was looking for a bread that had a little extra special something to it. The sun has been out, and I wanted a sweet treat to go with the sweet weather that this spring has brought. I have wanted to try this bread for several months, but never had the right opportunity. I am glad I finally got around to it. Our family loves lemon, so I added extra lemon curd to the filling; I think next time I will also increase the cream cheese filling as it was slightly lost among all the lemony goodness. The recipe called for pearl sugar on top, but I didn’t have any, so I used turbinado sugar instead. This bread is buttery, lemony, has a cream cheese filling, and is easily doubled – I’m not sure what more a person could want. It’s positively gorgeous to look at, and it’s even better to eat. And it’s probably all gone by now, but I’m not admitting anything. Hiccup.
Yield: 1 Loaf – this recipe is easily doubled to make two loaves
6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
6 tablespoons sour cream
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs, 1 beaten for dough, 1 beaten with 1 teaspoon water for brushing bread
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Lemon cream cheese filling
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3-1/2 cup homemade (see link for recipe) or prepared lemon curd
Turbinado sugar (or pearl sugar if you have it) for sprinkling on top
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 by Hand: (See link for directions on using a stand mixer) Whisk together sour cream, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla in a large bowl. Stir in sponge. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon as best as you can; you may need to get your hands in there to form it into a shaggy ball. Turn ball of dough and any incorporated scraps onto a counter and knead until a smooth, soft dough forms, about 5 to 10 minutes. 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): Combine all the filling ingredients (except the lemon curd and sprinkling sugar) in a small bowl, mixing until smooth and lump-free. Reserve the filling and lemon curd until ready to fill the braids.
Prepare Bread: Gently deflate the dough and roll it out on a very well floured counter to a 10″ x 15″ rectangle. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper (an absolute must!). 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.
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; a bench scraper works great here. Remove the four corner segments. 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.
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°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.
*Do ahead: (See link for more tips) For this braid, I assembled the whole thing, braided and filled, put it on its baking sheet, loosely covered it with plastic and refrigerated it for the afternoon (also can be refrigerated overnight or up to a day, or frozen for up to a week). When ready to use it, take it out, bring it back to room temperature and let it complete its second rise before you brush and bake it.