Braided Easter Basket

I go a little nuts at holidays. With baking, that is. It’s all those lovely pictures from my magazines and cookbooks that show everything I would love to have on my holiday table. I have a friend who calls this obsession “holiday hopes and dreams” but I think she is referring to her kids. Strangely, I still have a collection of those.

I saw this loaf and thought it was so pretty, while also being not very sweet, a good addition for someone who likes to go a little overboard on the breads and candies. It’s a charming centerpiece and an easy bake, and rewardingly simple. The recipe comes from Recipes from the Old Mill: Baking with Whole Grains.

You can also see the multiplicity of bakes here: I couldn’t stop with just the Braid! I actually also made cupcakes and cookies, too. And distributed many of them. My additional holiday hope and dream is to cover the house in Cadbury Mini Eggs. I mean, it’s just once a year.

Braided Easter Basket

2 1/4 t. yeast
3/4 c. warm water
1/4 c. sugar
3 T. instant dry milk
1/4 c. oil or butter
1 t. salt
1 egg
1 c. whole wheat flour
2-2 1/2 c. flour

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Let set for 5 minutes. Add sugar, dry milk, oil or butter, salt, egg, and whole wheat flour. Add enough flour to make a soft dough.

On floured surface, knead 8-10 minutes, till smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl, turning once to grease surface. Cover. Let rise in warm place till double, about 1 hour.

Punch down. Divide in thirds. Cover. Let rest 10 minutes. Shape 1/3 of dough in 6 “eggs.” Place close together in the center of greased baking sheet. For nest, shape remaining dough in two 26″ ropes. Twist together. Coil around “eggs.” Seal ends. Cover. Let rise till double, about 45-60 minutes.

Bake at 375 degree for 15-20 minutes.

Frost the braid with confectioner’s sugar icing (powdered sugar, a little milk, and vanilla or orange zest for a little more flavor), starting with the “eggs.” As soon as iced, sprinkle with candy decorations. Glaze the coiled nest. Sprinkle with coconut that has been tinted green with a few drops of green food coloring.

Sweet Cheese Strudel

This bread is our favorite Easter morning breakfast. In February, my oldest daughter Lucy usually starts asking me if I’ll make it this year for Easter, and she’s also been known to request it for her birthday. The original recipe comes from Beth Hensperger’s Bread for All Seasons. I’ve done everything here the same as the original, except sometimes I only use cream cheese (I don’t add the goat cheese), and I also braided this plait instead of rolling it like cinnamon rolls–and it turned out beautifully.

It’s a simple but dramatic loaf and one of the best ways to start any morning. I think perhaps tomorrow I’ll also add some blueberries into the filling–just a few! Oh, also note that it rests in the fridge overnight, so start the day before.

Sweet Cheese Strudel

Yeasted Sweet Cheese Strudel orĀ  Cream Cheese Braided Danish

2 1/2 t. active dry yeast
1/2 c. sugar
1/2 c. warm water
1/2 c. sour cream
6 T. unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into pieces
2 eggs
Grated zest of 1 large lemon
1 1/2 t. salt
3 1/4 c. unbleached all-purpose flour (exact measure)

Sweet Cheese Filling
8 oz. fresh goat cheese (not Feta! that rookie mistake was embarassing), at room temperature
8 oz. cream cheese, at room temperature [sometimes, I just use 16 oz. of cream cheese instead of goat cheese, and it is great either way]
2/3 c. sugar
1 egg
2 t. pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 large lemon

Brandied Almond Crust
1 egg yolk
1 t. good-quality brandy [or almond extract]
2 T. light brown sugar
1/4 t. ground allspice
1/2 c. slivered or sliced almonds

1. In a small bowl, sprinkle the yeast and a pinch of the sugar over the warm water. Stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. Warm the sour cream on the stove top or in a microwave to about 105 degrees, then add the butter pieces. Stir to melt.

2. In a standing mixer (or equivalent), combine the remaining sugar, eggs, lemon zest, salt and 1 c. of flour. Add the warm sour cream and yeast mixtures. Beat until smooth, about 1 minute, switching to a wooden spoon as necessary if making by hand. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 c. at a time. The dough will be rather soft and have a silky, translucent quality. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Cover the bowl with 2 layers of greased plastic wrap and let rise in the fridge overnight.

3. The next day, make the sweet cheese filling. With an electric mixer, blend together the cheeses, sugar, egg, vanilla, and lemon zest until smooth and well combined. Cover and refrigerate until needed.

4. Using a large dough scraper, scrape the chilled batter onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into 3 equal portions. Roll out each portion in to an 8-by-12-inch rectangle, dusting lightly with flour as necessary to prevent sticking. Spread each rectangle with one-third of the sweet cheese filling, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the edges. Starting from a long side, roll up jelly-roll fashion and pinch the seam together to seal. Pinch both ends to seal and tuck them under. (In the picture above, I spread the filling down the center and then cut the dough on both sides into one-inch strands, and folded them over each other to create the braid. I like the look much better.)

5. Place on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, at least 3 inches apart. Using a serrated knife, score each finished cylinder in 5 places across the top, no more than 1/4 inch deep. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Twenty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

6. Bake in the center of the preheated oven 10 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare the brandied almond crust. In a small bowl, combine the egg yolk, brandy, brown sugar, and allspice and beat briskly with a whisk. Using a pastry brush, spread the crust mixture gently over the tops of the partially baked strudels. Immediately sprinkle each strudel with one-third of the almonds. Quickly return the pan to the oven and bake until the strudels are golden, sound hollow when tapped, and a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean, another 15-20 minutes. Using a spatula, carefully transfer the strudels from the baking sheet to a rack to cool completely. Enjoy!