I love fruit. I’d happily adopt an exclusive diet of fruits if I could for the rest of my life. Growing up on a tropical island that is famed for its abundance, variety and quality of produce all year round, we rarely go a day without 3 pieces of fruit. That is perhaps one of the reasons I love incorporating fruit into whatever I’m baking, be it fresh, stewed, compote, dried; the finished product is guaranteed to burst with personality.
Cherries are the choice of fruit today. With their tart, sweet flavour and almost a wine-y bouquet, they go hand-in-hand with cream cheese, all enveloped in strips of woven dough.
I don’t know what black magic is in effect here, but I’ve successfully made bread that does not resemble a piece of rock twice in a row. Which never happens. For someone who’s never had much luck at all in the yeast department and used to not appreciate why people go through so much trouble for loaves of bread, this has to be more than a stroke of luck, right?
Truth be told, there was a step in the making of this bread that I thought I’d screwed up, not dissimilar to when you’re making an omelette, fail in the process and think to yourself, ‘I guess I’ll just make scrambled eggs now’. Despite flouring the already non-stick surface, the strips starting sticking to each other and the surface after the first few folds. I suspect the heat also had a lot to do with it, but even after chilling, it was almost impossible to flip over the strips without stretching them out of shape. In the end, I just winged it and tried to convince myself that taste was all that mattered, looks were secondary.
Apart from the melty dough drama, I was pleased with how it turned out. Prepping the yeast by making a sponge first helped it rise wonderfully, and not unlike making a water-roux, retained the softness and moisture. It yielded a generous loaf of sweet, not-too-dense homemade bread – perfect because of and despite its imperfections.
I’ve been applying for all sorts of jobs, to spare myself from boredom and being antisocial in the three long months of holidays. I’ve applied to restaurants, surgeries, tuition centres, you name it. Last night I finally got notified for an interview, to take place in a about a week’s time. It’s a waiting job at a high-end restaurant, quite a departure from my designated career path, but we shall see. So long as I don’t have a panic attack in front of the manager.
Cherry cream cheese braided bread
(adapted from Pastry Affair)
For the sponge:
90g water, between 40.5-43°C (105-110°F)
25g plain flour
1 sachet or 7g instant dried yeast
For the dough:
the prepared sponge
75g full-fat plain yogurt
50g unsalted butter, softened at room temp.
45g granulated sugar
dash of vanilla
165g plain flour
100g bread flour
For the cream cheese filling:
65g cream cheese
25g full-fat plain Greek yogurtIn
25g granulated sugar
1 tsp lemon juice
125g cherries, pitted and stemmed
1 tsp lemon zest
If using a mixer, combine the ingredients for the sponge in the mixer bowl and leave it for 12-15 minutes to become foamy.
To the activated sponge, add the ingredients for the dough. Mix and knead for close to 10 minutes, until soft and elastic. Don’t be alarmed that the dough is very sticky, there’s no need to add additional flour. Cover the bowl with a wet tea towel (not touching the dough) or cling wrap, and leave in a draught-free spot until the dough doubled in size. I like to put it in the microwave with a cup of hot water.
To make the filling, simply mix all the ingredients together until smooth. Macerate the cherries with the sugar and zest and leave them to release excess juices that would otherwise make the bread soggy.
Generously flour a big sheet of baking paper (slightly larger than 38 x 25cm), and turn the dough out onto it. Roll it out into a rectangle measuring 38 x 25cm. Using a ruler, lightly indent two lines dividing the dough into thirds of 8.3 x 38cm. Cut rectangles out of the four corners, 5cm from the short edge (see photos above). To divide the strips on either side, first cut each side into halves, cut each half in half again, then cut each into thirds so you end up with 12 strips on either side.
Spread the filling onto the middle third (not on the top and bottom flaps), and dot on the strained cherries.
To begin folding, fold the top and bottom flaps onto the filling. Then starting with one of the 12 strips on one side, fold it on a slight angle, diagonally down so that it meets the seam on the other side. Take the first strip from the other side and fold it on top of the first. Keep alternating between the two sides until you get to the end, where you can tuck the ends under the body of the bread.
Transfer to a baking sheet, cover and leave to rise again until doubled in size, about an hour. Brush with preferred glaze, I just used milk with a sprinkling of demerara sugar. Bake in the preheated oven at 180°C/350°F for about 25 minutes in the middle rack, until the top is uniformly golden brown and the centre no longer has any raw dough.
Leave on baking tray until cool enough to handle, then transfer to a wire rack. The filling might be still runny while it’s hot, but once it’s cool enough to touch you can go ahead and slice it up.