Thursday, July 29, 2010
You know that time of the year when everything seems to happen at once? July is such a month for us. The lease on our apartment was renewed, the World Cup won by Spain, I'm in between jobs, our anniversary celebrated, friends wanting to come and visit and the Great Singapore Sale - which I missed. The final blow came when the Fujifilm service center informed Vijay it costs 800 bucks to replace the entire chassis of the S2 Pro just to fix the broken lens mount.
One would understand then my need for some therapy. It may sound corny and all but try baking bread once at home and you may never look back. On a weekend morning when your entire flat (including the bath) smells like Bread Talk and a lump of golden brown and delicious blob of goodness is slowing cooking in the oven, you'd want to make a cup of coffee, sit down with a good book and and enjoy the moment. This is of course after a couple of hours of manhandling ever unpredictable doughs and waiting impatiently for those tiny belching creatures to do their job.
I've made this lemony concoction twice after finding its brilliance on Deb's site. The recipe has been bookmarked for months and one night when Germany played Argentina I finally broke out that jar of lemon curd procured specifically for this purpose, leftover cream cheese from making that ridiculous cake and some arm muscles to make bread for the first time in my life.
It turned out that I botched the braiding without realizing it till the deed was done. The game was pulling my attention away (Germany was annoyingly playing engineered football), I rolled the dough out to an incorrect size and left it too long before braiding (got carried away shooting), it proofed slightly rendering the already short braiding portions shorter. The next morning it tasted great out of the oven and that convinced me to try again.
The second attempt turned out better but still not without some setbacks. The dough was a bit wet after mixing and in slight panic I added quite a bit of flour instead of trying to knead it out first. Braiding was a breeze after I rolled out the dough really nice and flat on the parchment instead of the counter (this prevented all that work of transferring the dough onto the paper and adding on unnecessary flour to prevent sticking). I checked around with baking experts and found out how to avoid those tiny dimples - avoid the oven being too hot when the dough goes in.
As for the pearl sugar, I called Ikea and was told that they no longer carry it. I resorted to blitzing some cube sugar to render similarly sized sugar bits to be studded on top of the baked product. My advice after doing this? Don't do it. The pain is not worth it, unless you're like me, who needs the food to look good as well as it tastes.
The sweet soft dough with it's creamy aromatic inside should be good enough to remind you that come what may in this month of madness, there's always time for a little homemade greatness.
Braided Lemon Bread
Adapted barely from Deb Perelman's Smitten Kitchen.
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) warm water
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
- Sponge (above)
- 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
- 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 2 large eggs, 1 beaten for dough, 1 beaten with 1 teaspoon water for brushing bread
- 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- Pearl sugar* or sparkling white sugar for sprinkling
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 (recipe below) or prepared lemon curd
Make sponge: In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients. Stir well to combine, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes.
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. Switch to the dough hook and knead on until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 5 to 6 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.
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.
Make the filling (while dough rises): 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.
Prepare bread: Gently deflate the dough and roll it out on a very well floured counter to a 10″ x 15″ rectangle. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper, please; I did not and it led to all sorts of trouble. With the side of your hand, lightly press two lines down the dough lengthwise, dividing it into three equal columns. 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.
To form the mock braid, cut crosswise strips one inch apart down the length of the outer columns of you 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. To “braid”, 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. Repeat on the right side, and continue down the entire braid, alternating strips (like so) until you are out. You can tuck the last couple that hand off decoratively under the end of the braid.
Carefully transfer the dough and the parchment paper to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and set it aside to rise for 45 to 50 minutes, until quite puffy.
Bake bread: Preheat the oven to 375°F. Brush the loaves with egg wash, and sprinkle with pearl or coarse sparkling sugar. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and your apartment smells like a doughnut factory. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.
Do ahead: 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, you 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, my favorite way to approach it is to assemble the whole thing, braided and filled, put it on its baking sheet, loosely cover it with plastic and either refrigerate it overnight or up to a day, or freeze it for up to a week (wrapped better once frozen, of course). When you’re ready to use it, take it out, bring it back to room temperature and let it complete its second rise before you brush and bake it.
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
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 whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 4 to 5 minutes. Transfer lemon curd to a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour.
Next will be to try it with homemade lemon curd. August looks promising already.
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