Once again, it's time for a monthly Improv challenge, hosted by Kristen of Frugal Antics of a Harried Homemaker. If you haven't had a chance to visit Kristen, you should take the time to do so.....not only does she post some great recipes, she has some great stories to tell.
This month our ingredients are Lemon and Sour Cream. As it happens, I was looking longingly at a Braided Lemon Bread recipe on the King Arthur Flour website. After making a few adjustments, I had my January Improv Challenge in the bag! The best part is that while there are a few steps, it's easier to make than it looks.
This recipe starts out by making a sponge--think of it as a big kick-start to your yeast. As King Arthur describes it, this dough is so rich that it needs a little help to get it to rise quicker. The dough is certainly rich, filled with butter, sugar, eggs, and (here's where I made my sub), sour cream. The recipe also calls for 2 teaspoons of vanilla or Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor and I have to tell you, that Buttery Sweet Dough Flavor is the bomb! My friend DeeDee recommended it to me, so I had to give it a try, and I'm so glad I did. It made the dough taste like it came from a bakery.
Let me just share a couple of hints when working with this dough (with any dough, really). First, if you measure your flour in measuring cups, spoon it lightly into the cup and level it off. Start with the minimum amount called for in the recipe...you can always add more. If you do add more, add it a tablespoon at a time until the dough is the consistency that you want. This time you are looking for a soft dough, so if it's a bit sticky, no worries.
Often, when you read a dough recipe, it calls for you to "punch it" down after it has risen. I'm guilty of using those words, myself. These directions call for you to "gently deflate" the dough, which really makes much more sense. Why rip into those delicate cells of yeast? Gentle is the way to go.
While the dough is rising, go ahead and get your filling together. First is a layer of cream cheese filling (a mixture of cream cheese, sour cream, sugar and flour), and then there is a layer of lemon curd. You can buy a jar of lemon curd, but I prefer to make my own (printable recipe here) because I don't like it too be too sour.
Add the zest of one lemon to 3/4 cup sugar. Cream this mixture with 1/4 cup softened butter. Add 2 eggs and 1 egg yolk, one at a time, beating until light and fluffy. Beat in 1/3 cup lemon juice and a dash of salt.
Place the lemon mixture in a medium-sized heavy saucepan and heat over low heat, stirring constantly, until mixture just comes to a simmer and starts to thicken (about 10 minutes). Remove from heat, cover and chill until needed.
You'll have more lemon curd than you'll need for the recipe...just keep it refrigerated and use it on toast, or waffles, or pancakes, or crackers, a spoon.....
Now you're ready to make your braid.
Now just lightly press two lines down each side of the dough (making three equal divisions). You'll then spread the cream cheese mixture down the middle and top that with lemon curd. Cut strips on each side of the filling (making sure you have the same amount on both sides). Starting from the left, bring one strip of the dough over the filling diagonally. Repeat on the other side, so that the strips overlap and continue down the entire braid until you have your formed loaf.
It looks a little like a mummy at this point, no? The nice part about using the silicone mat is that you can just transfer the whole thing over to a baking sheet and bake. Just brush a little egg wash over the top, and sprinkle with some pearl sugar.
The sour cream was a great addition to the dough--it was very soft, and it stayed that way for a couple of days.
You can see what I did with my extra curd. :)
Again, this recipe is from the King Arthur Flour website The only change I made was to swap out the yogurt for the sour cream. You can find a printable recipe here: Braided Lemon Bread