This happens to be one of my favorite bread recipes of all time. The tender sweet yeast dough with the subtle sweetness of the blueberries and the tang of the cream cheese filling makes the most excellent breakfast (or anytime) treat. It is one of the most fabulous breads I make and it can take on any number of fillings, sweet or savory. One of my favorite variations of this recipe is actually savory and I made it for Iowa Farmer Today, you can get the recipe here. (Roast Beef and Herbed Cream Cheese Braided Bread)
Here’s a picture of the savory version: (Photo courtesy of Jeff DeYoung of Iowa Farmer Today)
The dough is slack and really easy to knead by hand. Sometimes for convenience I use my stand mixer for kneading the dough, but if I’m making a recipe for the blog I try to use minimal kitchen tools. (It is annoying enough to clean up all of the mess as it is!) I want you to know that with your hands, a mixing bowl, a whisk and a spatula you can make a high quality bakery product.
I know you’ve been offered by many children to purchase this type of bread for a fundraiser. Now you can make your own. The next time little ‘Sally” comes from down the lane to sell you on her ‘braided bread’ she’s peddling to make enough money for dance shoes, kindly tell her no thank you and invite her and her mother to come to your kitchen and learn how to make the breads with you. Then promptly give her a $5 bill which is probably what she’ll be losing since you didn’t purchase a $12 frozen braided bread in the first place.
The process of this dough goes like this:
Mix (10 min), Knead (10 min), Rise (75 min), Chill (4 hours), Making Filling (10 minutes), Shaping (10 minutes) Rising (2 hours) Baking (35 minutes)
This process looks like hell, if you really count up the hours. But the best news is after you mix/knead/rise the first time, you pop the dough in the refrigerator to chill so it isn’t so difficult to ‘braid’ and actually holds up and looks pretty. This chilling does make the rise time before baking a bit longer but that is totally suitable for Sunday brunch where this bread will be the main attraction.
Here’s a timeline if I’m making the bread for Sunday Brunch
Saturday afternoon: Mix, knead, rise, chill.
Sunday 8:30 a.m.: Make Filling, shape loaf, set to rise
Church 9 a.m.
Home by 10:30: Preheat oven and bake for 35 minutes. Ready to go around 11:30.
Without further rambling, here we go! (I just felt like I needed to ‘sell’ you on how easy this bread is.)
First, place 1/2 C warm water in a large mixing bowl.
Next, add 4 1/2 tsp yeast (your choice, I’m using instant) *Yes technically instant doesn’t need to be ‘proofed’ but I just do it for good measure and that’s how my Mom taught me.
Give the yeast/water mixture a little sugar to feed on and grow, 1 tsp.
Give that a little whisk to moisten the granules of yeast.
To 1 1/2 C milk (2% today), add 1 TBSP of vinegar. This is my little trick to turn regular milk to ‘sour milk’ which is a perfectly acceptable substitute for buttermilk. Warm this in the microwave on high for 75 seconds.
Here I’m just double checking that this mixture is less than 116 degrees so my precious little yeast friends don’t die!
Come back to that yeast mixture… looks nice and foamy.
To that, add milk/vinegar mixture.
Then add 2 eggs.
1 stick of butter… salted or unsalted you pick. (I can never tell the difference in a recipe. I used to think this was a big deal, not anymore)
Then add 1/3 C sugar.
And 1/2 C mashed potatoes (we had some leftover from the night before, just salted and buttered.) Thanks to the hubs for scooping them out for me for the picture! Potatoes make this dough tender and light.
Add 1 1/2 tsp salt…
Now, give that a generous whisking!
Now add the flour (5 C all-purpose)…
Then start mixing up! (I use a spatula at first.)
Then I invite friends… (she’s unimpressed because the dough at this point is very wet. Give the flour 5 minutes to absorb some of the moisture.)
Once it is pulled together, turn it out onto a lightly floured board.
If it gets stuck, use a little plastic scraper to keep the wet parts from sticking.
Then keep kneading (10 minutes total.) Push, pull & fold back, 1/4 turn, repeat. Then your dough will be smooth and elastic and ready for it’s first rise.
Cover and place in a warm place for 1-1 1/2 hours or until double in bulk.
Come to Mama!
Now, punch this madness down… there is tons of CO2 gas trapped in there (the output of the yeast feeding and growing) and the strands of gluten need to be redistributed as well.
Fold the dough over itself a few times…
Flip the folded sides over so you have a nice pretty ball again. Cover and chill in the refrig for 4 hours at least and up to 2 days! Convenience I tell ya! (*Note: Your dough will continue to grow courtesy of the yeast until it reaches a cool refrigerator temperature. You may have to punch your chillin’ dough down again after an hour of being in the fridge. FYI.) So, again… cover, refrigerate.
When ready, grab the dough out of the refrigerator. Divide in half.
Start rolling out… then take a break if need be, the dough is pretty spastic after being handled. Let the gluten rest for a few minutes… use this time to prepare the filling.
At this time you can prepare your fillings. Place the cream cheese filling into the bowl, add the sugar, vanilla, zest and juice of the citrus of choice and mix well. (I had cute little clementines… they are really juicy and have a distinct flavor.)
Then toss the blueberry filling ingredients into a small saucepan and simmer for 5 minutes until thickened. Cool completely.
Roll the dough out into a 12×17 rectangle and score (don’t cut through) the dough into thirds lengthwise.
Now, cut as you see here. I use a bench scraper to do this.
Now, flip up the ends and anchor them, pressing gently with your fingers and some water to seal the connections.
Repeat to the other end too.
Let me show you how to braid the bread… take every other strip and lay it across the bread down to the next level strip on the opposite side and alternate.
Keep on going all the way down the loaf. If you have excess strip length, no worries… chop it!
This is the fateful part I get to EVERY time when everything is going fabulous… then BAM, we’ve got a problem. Fiddlesticks. Shucks. Fudge! How do you finish this?
Lay the last piece over, trim the excess and tuck it underneath, sealing it well with water.
Then flip your braided beauty to her ‘good side’ (we all have those don’t we?) and take a picture.
Cover with plastic wrap and let the braid rise in a warm place for 1 – 2 hours (mine took 1 hour and 20 minutes on top of a warm oven WHILE I was making lunch in a warm skillet right next to it.
This is what I feel like after I eat too much… fluffy. Time to bake!
Bake at 350 degrees F for 35 minutes. Halfway through your dough will look like this: (if you like blonder crust you can tent with foil any time to prevent overbrowning.)
Annnnnd she’s done.
Just checking to be sure the internal temp is over 190 degrees. (That’s a great done-ness temperature for sweet breads.)
Here’s the finished dough.
Now drizzle a basic vanilla glaze on top, very pretty-like. (2 C powdered sugar, 1 tsp vanilla, 2 T or so milk)
And take a fancy picture…
Share a piece with a friend.
Eat it like a pirate:
Blueberry Cream Cheese Braided Breads (Makes 2 large braids)
½ C warm water
4 ½ tsp instant yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cup warm milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/3 C sugar 5 C all-purpose flour 1/2 C (1 stick) butter
2 C blueberries
1/4 C sugar
1/4 C cornstarch
Zest and Juice of 1 lemon
Cream Cheese Filling
8 oz (1 block) cream cheese
2 tablespoons sugar 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 tsp lemon zest
1 TBSP lemon juice
2 C powdered sugar
1tsp vanilla bean paste
1 tsp citrus zest *if desired
1 TBSP citrus juice *if desired
Mix warm water, yeast and sugar together in a small bowl. Set aside until foamy.
Add the eggs, salt, sugar, and butter, whisk well. Add flour and mix in until a soft but kneadable dough is achieved and the butter thoroughly incorporated.
Knead the dough by hand or with a mixer until it is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes by hand 6-8 in a mixer.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise and room temperature until doubled in size, 1 – 1 ½ hours. Deflate the dough, recover the bowl, and refrigerate overnight, or for at least 4 hours.
The next day, make the fillings before shaping the loaves.
Blueberry Filling: combine all of the ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil over medium heat while stirring constantly. Reduce heat and simmer for 5 minutes, then remove from heat and let cool.
Egg Glaze: combine the egg and milk in a bowl and beat until combined.
Cream Cheese Filling: combine all the ingredients in a bowl and mix until combined
Icing: combine all ingredients until a smooth icing forms. Set aside until coffee cake is baked and cooled for 15 minutes.
Once your filling has cooled off, take the dough out of the refrigerator and gently deflate it. Divide it into two pieces. Use a rolling pin to shape each piece into a 10×15 rectangle.
*Spread your fillings in the center of the length of the dough, leaving 3 inches on each side open.
*At an angle, slice the unfilled sides of the dough into tabs approximately 1 inch wide.
*Alternating from side to side, fold the pieces in over the filling.
*Brush with egg wash, cover. Rise until double. 1 hour. While it is rising, preheat the oven to 350.
*Just before placing the braid in the oven, glaze it again with any remaining egg wash.
*Bake on the center rack of the oven for approximately 35 to 40 minutes, rotating it once after 20 minutes so that it bakes evenly.
*Remove it from the oven and allow it to cool to warm. Drizzle icing and serve warm. Makes 2 braids.
NOTE: You can substitute a thick canned pie filling in place of the blueberry filling in this recipe. You can also omit the cream cheese, no problem!