Monday, April 16, 2012

Lemon Braided Bread

The bread machine is a glorious thing.  Toss in a few ingredients, and--presto! magic!  Before you know it, a lush, steaming loaf is ready to slice into.  Just imagine, with the press of a single button, your kitchen is filled with that perfect, yeasty, fresh-baked bread smell.  The only thing wrong with this marvelous machine is that it can't make this Lemon Braided Bread.

Oops, I was so excited to record the braiding process, that I forgot to fold over that bottom flap before photographing!
Having a bread machine means that any hand-made bread recipe seems, at least, infinitely more difficult, and this recipe was no exception.  Naturally, I just had to make the most complicated-looking bread ever--I blame this insanity on a sudden lemon curd craving.  Surprisingly, although I would definitely classify it as a weekend recipe, this process is long but sneakily simple.  Frankly, as a beginner, I was shocked that my finished product was so beautiful!  With its crunchy sugar crust, fluffy interior, and refreshing lemon cream filling, this bread is certainly worth the extra effort!

Even better, after making this bread, there's leftover lemon curd.  If you're feeling generous, plop on a bow and it's perfect for gifting; otherwise, I won't blame you if you'd rather slather it on toast for a midnight snack.  Personally, I'm plotting to stuff it into cupcakes... 

Braided Lemon Bread
Barely adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Total Recipe Cost: $3.01 for 10 servings!  This bread is huge, guys. 

Given my lack of bread making experience, I will unabashedly admit that I had to Wikipedia what a sponge is.  Basically, the sponge kick-starts the fermentation process which makes for happy yeast and thus happy bread.  And honestly, I’m too scared of bread-making to really deviate much from the recipe.

The original recipe calls for pearl sugar to sprinkle over the top of the bread.  I suspected this would be expensive, and couldn’t find it anyways, so looked for the largest sugar crystals I could find, hoping they wouldn’t melt away during baking.  I used “Natural Cane Turbinado Sugar” (the generic, and thus cheaper, version of  “Sugar In The Raw,” which worked splendidly!

6 tablespoons warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
1.5 teaspoons yeast (also called bread machine yeast)
¼ cup all-purpose flour

Sponge (made above)
6 tablespoons sour cream
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 large egg, beaten
¼ cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups all-purpose flour

Cream Cheese Filling
1/3 cup cream cheese, softened
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons sour cream
1 teaspoon lemon juice
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Lemon Curd Filling (recipe below)
¼ cup lemon curd

Egg Wash
1 large egg
1 tablespoon water
Turbinado sugar, for sprinkling

Making the Dough:
Stir together all the sponge ingredients, until well mixed.  Cover with plastic wrap and set aside to rest for 10-15 minutes. 
Mix together the sponge, sour cream, butter, beaten egg, sugar, salt, and vanilla until well stirred.  Add the flour and stir until a “rough, shaggy” dough forms.  Knead the dough (it will be quite sticky and soft) on a lightly floured surface for 5-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth.  Let the dough rise in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap.  After 60-90 minutes, the dough should be puffy, almost doubled in size, and ready to braid!

Making the filling (while your dough rises):
-Combine all cream cheese filling ingredients, stirring until smooth. 
-Prepare the lemon curd.  The curd recipe below will more than what’s needed for this bread—a perfect gifting opportunity!

Braiding the bread:
Roll out the dough on floured parchment paper, making a large rectangle (roughly 10"x15").  With the side of your hand, make indentations in the dough to divide it into 3 equal columns, lengthwise.  Leaving the top and bottom 2 inches clear, spread cream cheese filling in the center section, then top with the lemon curd.  
To prepare for forming the braid, cut the outer columns crosswise into 1 inch strips (use the dull edge of the knife so the parchment paper isn't cut).  Make sure there is an equal number of strips on both sides.  Remove the top-most and bottom-most strips (the 4 corners of the rectangle); these leftover dough strips can be balled up and baked (at the same time as the braid) as a single roll.  
Start braiding by folding the top and bottom flaps over the lemon filling.  Then, fold the top most dough strip diagonally over the filling.   Do the same to the other side, alternately folding left and right strips.  At the end of the braid, the last two strips can be folded over, then tucked beneath the braid.  
If you are preparing the bread ahead of time, it can be frozen here--to be resumed within a week.  If frozen for a few days, bring the dough to room temperature and proceed to the steps below. 
Transfer the bread (and parchment paper) to a baking sheet, and loosely cover with plastic wrap.  Allow the bread to rise for 45-60 minutes.  

Baking the bread:
Preheat the oven to 375 F.  Whisk together the egg wash ingredients, and brush it over the dough.  Use just enough egg wash to coat the bread; don't use it all.  Sprinkle generously with large sugar crystals (i.e. turbinado), then bake for 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown.  Allow the bread to rest 15 minutes, then dig in!  

Unit Cost
Total Cost
1 t + ¼ C + 2 T sugar
1.5 t instant yeast (also called bread machine)
¼ C + 2.5 C + 2 T flour
$0.01/T flour
6 T + 2 T sour cream
4 T unsalted butter
2 eggs
1 t salt

1 t vanilla extract
1/3 C cream cheese
1 t lemon juice

Incl. in lemon curd cost
¼ C lemon curd (below)
Turbinado sugar



Lemon Curd
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen
Total Recipe Cost: $0.64 for ½ cup!

While my lab work requires me to attend to amounts as small as picograms, cooking—thank goodness—is much more forgiving.  (Or perhaps I just have a forgiving palette.)  In any case, the original recipe is more exact; here, I use all the juice and all the zest from a single medium lemon.  It’s not particularly precise, but at least it’s not wasteful!  In the same vein, for the braided bread recipe, I only use 1 lemon for the entire recipe.  Instead of reserving all the lemon juice for the curd, I sneak away 1 teaspoon for the cream cheese filling.  Voila, no waste!

Zest from 1 (medium) lemon, grated
Juice from 1 medium lemon (~3 T)
3 tablespoons sugar
1 large egg
2 tablespoons unsalted butter

Cut the butter into small pieces, and combine all ingredients in a saucepan.  On medium-low heat, whisk frequently until the butter melts and the curd is thickened.  This will take about 5 minutes, or until bubbles start coming up and the curd is thick enough to hold whisk marks. 

Transfer the curd to a bowl and cover its surface with plastic wrap (this will prevent a film from forming).  Chill in the refrigerator for at least an hour before use.  Lemon curd is great in the baked goods (as in above), and even just spread on toast!

Unit Cost
Total Cost
Zest from 1 lemon
Juice from 1 lemon
3 T sugar
1 egg
2 T unsalted butter



  1. I just love how you showed just how to braid this scrumptious looking treat. It really does help to see the process. Thank you!

  2. Thanks! I wouldn't have attempted this bread at all until I saw a similar how-to picture on pinterest. Thank goodness, else I'd be missing out now! :P