How goes the first couple of weeks of the new year for you all? Mine has been one heck of a roller coaster ride. Sometimes when I lay down to sleep at night, I feel shocked at how much has happened in the last 11 days since the year began. Work has been absolutely draining and stressful and overwhelming. Sometimes all I want to do is lie down and stop thinking about everything. The weather has been nice over here too, contributing to my desires to take it slow. Maybe I need a change of careers. Or something.
I know I told myself that 2013 is going to be an awesome year– my year. I felt good about its approach, and I felt good as I welcomed it with open arms. I had this sensation in me that this is the year when things will begin falling into place. That I’ve been feeling the blues these past few days has been discouraging me though. I feel insecure. I feel terrified that things seem to still be muddled until now. I know it’s grossly premature to have this fear that I am going to be disappointed at the end of the year just because I’m having off days right now, but it’s an odd feeling. I feel like there’s something else out there I should be doing to get to where I want to be. And yet I have no idea how or where to get started.
How do I fix this? Where do I go from here? These are probably the questions plaguing most people. I don’t take comfort in knowing that I’m not the only one feeling this way. It isn’t the kind of feeling you would wish on others. Still I can’t help asking more questions that only serve to trouble my mind. When will I ever find the answers I need?
Fatigue aside, my spirit seems to have run off for a vacation for the time being, to the point that I haven’t had the heart to make anything in the kitchen since the year started. I haven’t had the inclination to draw or paint either, but thankfully I’m still writing. This one is an old unposted recipe from last year, but a well-loved one that brings back pleasant memories. First of all it’s lemon-flavoured, and we all know how much I love that.
But I’m pretty sure I’m not the only who loved this. I remember this bread being a big hit, even with my grandma who has become a bit difficult to please with food these days. The dough is super fragrant and soft, almost like gunk that you can hold in your hands. It’s smooth but not sticky, though it’s not solid enough or hard enough that you can pick it up as a chunk of shape-able dough (thus it must be moved using parchment paper). Because of this, the bread that comes out after baking is marvelously soft. The cream cheese adds a slightly salty flavor to the tangy sweet-sourness of the lemon curd, which by the way is fantabulous. Not only does it not require separating eggs, it tastes positively fantastic! I remember clearly spreading leftover curd on a piece of bread and just savouring every bite.
I guess I subconsciously I picked this to make myself feel better somehow. Lemons make me think of sunshine, sunshine makes me think of happiness, and hopefully after a few days I’ll be back to my old self.
Braided Lemon Bread
adapted from Life Is Great blog | Makes 1 large braided loaf
This bread has two sources of tang: the lemon and the cream cheese, both of which come from the filling. The bread itself has a soft, beautiful crumb. It’s an absolute joy to make, but an even bigger joy to eat.
For the Lemon Curd: (makes a little shy of 1/2 cup)
3 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice
3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, finely grated
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
2 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
For the Sponge:
6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1/4 cup (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Dough:
1 recipe of Sponge (from above)
6 Tablespoons (3 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, beaten
1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
For the Lemon-Cream Cheese Filling:
1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
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
For the egg wash:
1 large egg
1 teaspoon water
Pearl or coarse sparkling sugar, optional
1. Make the lemon curd: Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and egg in a 1-quart heavy saucepan. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of the whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 4 to 5 minutes.
2. Transfer lemon curd to a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.
3. Make the sponge: In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Stir well to combine. Loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes.
4. Make dough in a stand mixer:* 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 the dough is a rough, shaggy mass.
5. Switch to the dough hook and knead on medium-high speed until a soft, smooth dough forms (approximately 6 minutes or more). 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.
6. While dough rises, make the filling: Combine all the filling ingredients except the lemon curd in a small bowl, mixing until smooth and lump-free. Reserve the filling and lemon curd until ready to fill the braids.
7. Once risen, prepare bread: Gently deflate the dough and place on a large piece of floured parchment paper (about 12″ x 17″ in size) roll it out to a 10″ x 15″ rectangle. The dough will be too soft to transport so preparing it on the parchment you will bake it on is preferred.
8. With the side of your hand or your metal ruler, lightly press two lines down the dough lengthwise, dividing it into three equal columns.
9. 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.**
10. Cut crosswise strips one inch apart down the length of the outer parts 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. (If you have a bench scraper, this is a great time to use it.) Remove the four corner segments.
11. To “braid” bread: 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.
12. Repeat on the right side, and continue down the entire braid, alternating strips until you are out. Tuck the last flaps under the end of the braid.
13. Carefully transfer the parchment paper and dough to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and set it aside to rise for 45 to 50 minutes, until quite puffy.
14. To bake bread: Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Mix together the egg and water to create the egg wash. Brush the loaves with egg wash, and sprinkle with pearl or coarse sparkling sugar, if desired.
15. 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. It’s best eaten fresh, warm, or after toasting.
Do ahead tips: When working with bread dough, you can refrigerate it or freeze it at almost any point in the process (before the first rise, after you deflate it, etc.). When you’re ready to work with it again, bring it back to room temperature and let it resume rising from where it left off. This can take a few hours since it is cold. For this braid, you may assemble the whole thing, braided and filled, put it on its baking sheet loosely covered with plastic. You may either refrigerate it overnight or up to a day, or freeze it for up to a week (go back and wrap it tightly after freezing it for an hour). When you’re ready to use it, take it out, bring it back to room temperature and let it complete its second rise before brushing and baking.
* To make dough by hand: Whisk together sour cream, butter, egg, sugar and vanilla in a large, wide 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. Continue with the rest of the instructions.
** How much curd do you put into the filling? It really depends on you. Because I like my lemon flavour bright and clear, I am inclined to use most, if not all, of the lemon curd. I used only half of the 1/2 cup produced from this curd recipe (in short, 1/4 cup curd), and felt it was a bit too subtle for my taste. However, since the people in the house liked it well enough with just that amount of curd, I ‘ll just spread the leftover curd over my slice of bread for an added lemony zing.
I made these mini lemon breads out of the leftover dough and filling. They remind me of little mounds of sunshine I want to pop into my mouth. Here’s to hoping for better days to come.