Sweet Braided Breakfast Bread
For the sponge:
¾ cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 tablespoon dry yeast
½ cup all-purpose flour
For the dough:
all of the sponge
¾ cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 stick or 8 tablespoons butter, softened
2 large eggs, beaten
½ cup sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
egg wash (1 egg plus 2 teaspoons water)
sparkling white sugar for sprinkling on braid (large crystal sugar)
Filling ideas: (¾ to 1 cup of jam per loaf)
blueberry, strawberry, or seedless raspberry jam, prepared lemon curd, almond paste, apple or cherry pie filling (do not use all the juice) chocolate hazelnut spread, or cream cheese filling
Cream cheese filling -- good with some jam or by itself
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
¼ cup plain or vanilla yogurt
1 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Stir well to combine, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and set aside 10 to 15 minutes, or until frothy bubbles form on top.
In the bowl of your stand mixer combine the sponge, yogurt, butter, eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. Gradually add 4½ cups of flour and mix with the paddle attachment until the dough is a rough, shaggy mass. Switch to the dough hook and knead on speed 2 until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 5 to 6 minutes, adding more flour if needed to achieve a rather soft dough that forms a ball.
Place kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise in a draft-free place for 60 to 90 minutes, or until nearly doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, prepare cheese filling if using; Combine all the filling ingredients in a small bowl, mixing until smooth and lump-free. Reserve the filling until ready to fill the braids. If using jam or other filling without cheese, simply skip this step.
Gently deflate the dough and divide it in half. Cover half with plastic wrap and set aside. Roll out the first piece into a 12x17-inch rectangle. You should not need flour for this step. (Consider rolling on parchment paper as it makes moving bread to the baking sheet easier.) With your eye, divide dough lengthwise into 3 equal sections. Spread center third with the filling(s) of your choice, being careful not to over fill, and leaving approximately 1 inch space on all sides of the filling.
To form the braid, cut 1 inch crosswise strips down the length of the outside sections, as if cutting fringe, making sure you have the same number of strips down each side. Beginning on the left, lift the top dough strip and gently bring it across the filling diagonally. Repeat on the other side with the top dough strip, so that the two strips crisscross each other. Continue down the entire braid, alternating strips to form the loaf. Press edges together at both the top and bottom of braids.
Repeat with remaining dough. Set both loaves aside, lightly covered, to rise for 45 to 50 minutes.*
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the loaves with egg wash and sprinkle with coarse sparkling sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
*At this point, dough may also be placed in the refrigerator overnight. Remove in the morning, brush with egg wash, sprinkle with sugar and then allow to sit at room temperature while your oven is preheating. Bake as directed above.
This was inspired by a King Arthur Flour recipe for a Braided Lemon Loaf, but I have made some changes -- Penny Kazmier