In honour of Shavuot, I've decided to make a number of dairy meals this week. The first of many was an amazingly delicious braided lemon cheese loaf that I saw on smittenkitchen. It was pretty easy to make, though I did appreciate Zvi taking Bayla outside with him while he was digging holes around the arbour for our new clematis vines. I was working on a pasta dish at the same time (which I'll write about another time) and so it would've been difficult juggling playing with Bayla as well. This loaf is not overly sweet, making it perfect for a light dessert or even breakfast. Smitten mentioned wanting to try it again with a filling other than lemon curd, and I agree ... from the moment I tasted it I started dreaming about how good it would taste made with fresh juicy peaches later in the summer. Cherries would also be delicious ... probably any berry actually and now that I'm thinking about it ... strawberry-rhubarb would no doubt be incredible as it would have that same sweet/sour taste as the lemon curd. But I digress, the cream cheese lemon flavour is amazing and Zvi and I are really enjoying our pre-Shavuout dairy treat.

Don't be frightened of the many components in this recipe. There are many elements, but none of them are difficult to make. Just take it one step at a time and you'll be very grateful that you did!

6 tbsp warm water
1 tsp sugar
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

6 tbsp sour cream
1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
2 eggs, 1 beaten for dough, 1 beaten with water for brushing
1/4 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
sugar and poppy seeds for sprinkling

Cream Cheese Filling
1/3 cup softened cream cheese
2 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp sour cream
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour

Lemon Curd
3 tbsp lemon juice
3/4 tsp finely grated lemon zest
3 tbsp sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp unsalted butter

Step 1: Make Sponge. Combine sponge ingredients. Stir well. Cover with plastic wrap and let proof for 15 minutes.


Step 2: Make Dough. Combine dough ingredients and mix with a stand mixer, first using the paddle attachment and then the dough hook. Knead for about 5 minutes until dough is soft and smooth. Transfer dough to a lightly greased bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for about an hour. Dough should be nearly doubled in size.

Step 3: Make Lemon Curd. Here 's a great tip for squeezing lemon juice without getting any pits. In a saucepan, over low heat, whisk together lemon curd ingredients. Whisk frequently until curd has thickened, about 5 minutes. Transfer lemon curd to bowl, cover surface with plastic wrap and chill for at least 1 hour. You'll only need 1/4 cup of lemon curd for this recipe but you'll have almost 1/2 cup. Enjoy the remainder with some toast, some yogurt, or just lick it up from the bowl. Mmmm mmmm good!
Lemon Curd

Step 4: Make Cream Cheese Filling. Combine all filling ingredients. Mix until smooth.

Step 5: Assemble Loaf. Gently punch down dough. Roll it out on a well floured surface into a large rectangle, about the size of your baking sheet. Transfer dough to parchment paper lined baking sheet. Gently mark 3 equal columns lengthwise in the dough. Spread cream cheese filling over the center section, leaving about an inch at the top and bottom uncovered. Spread lemon curd over the cream cheese. Cut an equal number of 1 inch strips on either side of the loaf. Be careful not to cut through the parchment paper like I did. I used a sharp knife, a bench scraper probably would have been wiser.
Cream Cheese Filling
Lemond Curd and Cream Cheese Filling

Step 6: Braid Loaf. Remove 4 corner segments. Fold top down and bottom up. Overlap strips on opposite sides of the loaf working your way down. You can tuck the last few strips under the loaf or just press them into the bottom like I did. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise about an hour.
Cut Strips

Step 7: Bake Loaf. Brush loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with granulated sugar and poppy seeds. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 375F. Loaf should be golden brown. Let cool for 15 minutes before cutting into it, giving the cheese some time to cool.
Ready For The Oven
Out Of The Oven

Step 8: Enjoy. Try not to eat the whole loaf at once ... seriously, it's that good!