Braided Lemon Bread

Springtime. Seems like most people associate Easter with Spring, and the fact that Easter came early this year means…so did Spring? Aside from an epic thunderstorm on Saturday night/Sunday morning, I’d say it’s been pretty springlike here in Northern California!

You know what else I associate with Spring? LEMON!

I love lemon everything. Lemony marinades and vinaigrettes in savory dishes…lemon poppyseed desserts…ANY kind of lemon dessert…you name it, I’m all about it.

So when my lovely boyfriend brought me half a dozen lemons fresh from his coworker’s tree last week, I knew I had to make something carby and lemony for Easter Brunch. All I knew was that I didn’t want it to be too desserty for 11 in the morning…and then I saw Deb from Smitten Kitchen’s Braided Lemon Bread.

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Bingo!

Besides pizza dough, I have only made a couple of breads from scratch before. One was Bacon & Cheese Bread last year on Easter, which I made the mistake of making with whole wheat flour and it ended up tough and dry. This year, I had a secret trick in my arsenal:

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White Whole Wheat Flour has the same taste and texture as all purpose white flour, but nearly all the nutritional value of regular whole wheat flour. Score.

In addition to whole wheat flour, I also used 1/3 less fat cream cheese in the filling, and nonfat Greek yogurt in place of sour cream. Not huge alterations that would change the integrity of the pastry, but it made it feel just a little less guilt-inducing.

Baking your own bread isn’t nearly as hard as it sounds. Just takes a bit of patience to wait for the yeast to activate, and the bread to rise. Not to mention a bit of elbow grease if you don’t have a stand mixer to knead the dough 😉

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All you need is your two hands. (complete with a reminder scrawled on one of them to pay your rent)

Try it yourself! And reap the benefits. This was so delicious.

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{note: if you don’t have a rolling pin, a wine bottle will do juuuust fine}

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I was freaking out the entire time I was braiding this puppy. It is such a beautiful pastry; I can’t wait to try other fillings!

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One side was totally more flour-y than the other. Easily fixed by dusting it off with a pastry brush! {seriously, who has a pastry brush and not a rolling pin?!}

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Here’s how our entire Easter Brunch spread ended up:

The baked and stuffed bread joined a fruit salad (with a simple lime juice/honey/fresh mint dressing) and my dad’s famous Chile Egg Puff

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{also, adorable Peeps Sushi that my parents brought home from church!}

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Perfect balance of savory and sweet!

Braided Lemon Bread
adapted from smitten kitchen’s Braided Lemon Bread

Sponge
6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast {I actually added an entire packet of instant yeast, which worked fine}
1/4 cup all-purpose flour

Dough
Sponge (above)
6 tablespoons plain nonfat yogurt {or sour cream}
1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, + 1 egg white to brush bread with
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Sugar, for sprinkling

Lemon cream cheese filling
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) cream cheese, softened {feel free to use 1/3 less fat cream cheese}
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

To begin, make your sponge:

Combine all 4 ingredients (make sure water is not too hot) together in a small bowl, mixing well to combine. Let sit for 10-15 minutes until yeast has proofed and the mixture looks frothy and smells, well, yeasty.

To make the dough by hand: {see Deb’s original recipe for how to make in a stand mixer}

Mix together wet ingredients (yogurt, softened butter, egg, sugar and vanilla) in a large bowl until well combined. Stir in the sponge. Next, add both kinds of flour and do your best to combine it all with a wooden spoon. It won’t come together super easily, so your hands will probably work best here. Once most of it has formed into a shaggy ball, turn the dough and any other scraps out onto a well-floured space. Knead for 5-10 minutes until all the pieces are incorporated and the dough has become smooth. Add flour or water to your hands if necessary. Place the ball of dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and place in a somewhat warm spot to rise for 60-90 minutes, until it is puffy and nearly doubled in size.

While the dough is rising, make the filling (see instructions below).

Deflate the dough by pushing it down a bit, and roll it into a 10″ by 15″ rectangle. **Make sure the dough is on some sort of portable surface, such as parchment paper or aluminum foil, or you’ll regret it later!** Use your hands to press lines into the dough that equally divide it into three columns. Spread the cream cheese filling down the middle column, leaving ~2 inches free toward the top (see photos above). Next, spread lemon curd over the cream cheese filling.

To make the braids, cut 1-inch strips on each side of the middle column. Make sure each strip has an equal-sized corresponding strip on the opposite side. Cut off the “corners” that will be leftover – the space between the 2 inch flaps you left above and below the filling, and the strips. To begin braiding, flip the flaps (lol) over the filling. Next, fold first strip on the left side diagonally over the filling. Repeat with the corresponding strip on the right. Lather, rinse, repeat, until you’ve gone all the way down the braid. Set aside for dough to rise for another 45-50 minutes, until it’s puffy.

Pre-heat oven to 375F. After it’s done with its second rise, brush the dough with the beaten egg white and sprinkle with sugar. Bake about 25-30 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown. Remove from oven and let cool for a bit before serving.

To make the filling:

Combine all the filling ingredients (except the lemon curd) in a small bowl, mixing until smooth and lump-free. Set both the cream cheese filling and the lemon curd aside until ready to fill the braids.

Notes: As Deb points out in her recipe, you can make this ahead of time and put the bread in the fridge overnight if needed. Just make sure you leave enough time to bring it back up to room temperature before proceeding with the next steps. I put mine in the fridge once the braids were done, then I brought it out on Easter morning and left it in a warm place to come to room temperature and do its second rise. Also, click the link in the recipe to see how to make homemade lemon curd- it is actually quite easy!

Have you ever baked bread?

What’s the coolest/most impressive thing you’ve ever made from scratch?

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Easter Weekend in Photos + My First 5K!

Quick post! Crazy day at work! Awesome weekend.

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Friday night was costume planning night.

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And Saturday was the Veggie Run 5K! Would you believe Nicki and I were the only ones (besides those official Veggie Chase veggies) who dressed up? Let’s just say we (and especially Nicki) were super popular. We even made it on Good Day Sacramento (click to see video! We come in at about 1:16):

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Right after finishing! We came in at 28:54, which is a 9:15/mile pace – well below my 30 min goal! I actually ran much faster than I normally do…Nicki usually runs faster, but she had a little bit of wind resistance 😉

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We finished 70th and 71st out of 251 women…And I was 7th in my age division (19-24)! Not too shabby for a first race!

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That night, T-Man and I walked (through pollen) to LowBrau, a new restaurant/beer hall here in Sacramento for a fundraiser to raise money to find out who killed Josiah Humphreys. He was beaten to death on St Patrick’s Day just blocks from where I live.  We bought a raffle ticket, tried their duck fat fries and a couple of new-to-us beers. I can’t wait to go back…really cool spot! At midnight, we sat outside and watched a thunderstorm roll through. T-Man loves him some thunder and lightning!

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I can’t WAIT to show you all the recipe I made for Easter brunch. So proud of myself. You’ve been warned: lots of lemon recipes comin’ at ya this week!

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After brunch with my parents here, we hurriedly drove to Napa (hence me tying T-Man’s tie for him) for dinner with his dad’s side of the family. It was gloomy and rainy…but the food was great! Afterward, we stopped by his mom’s and she gifted him a quilt she’d been working on for months! So lovely!

It was an awesome weekend, and I was sad to see it go. Here’s my amazing to do list just for today…

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Two more items have been added since I made the list. FML.

Do you have any Easter traditions?

What did you eat for Easter brunch/lunch/dinner?