I always think of this breakfast braid around the holidays, because it looks like the swaddling on an infant. It’s wonderful with whatever jam you have on hand. I particularly like raspberry, blueberry, blackberry, apricot or peach. If you’re using the raspberry jam we made, and you added hot pepper to it, just remember that yours is going to have a little kick to wake up the tastebuds . . .
I usually make this first thing in the morning although you can make it and refrigerate the dough overnight to bake the next morning. This recipe is adapted from a wonderful bread book by Beth Hensperger called Beth’s Basic Bread Book (Chronicle, 1996).
Add 2 teaspoons yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar to 1/4 cup warm water and let sit until bubbly, about 5 – 10 minutes. (This is the first step, and you can almost do it with your eyes closed after walking zombie-like out to the kitchen early in the morning before anyone is up. Now start your coffee.)
Add to water/yeast mixture to form a sponge: 1/2 cup warm milk, and 1 cup flour. Stir in well, and let sit for 15 minutes. (This is where I drink my coffee.)
While waiting, grab a half-pint or cup of your favorite jam. Scoop into a small saucepan, and heat over low with 2 tablespoons of water until it starts to soften. Add 2 tablespoons of cornstarch (or whatever you use to thicken sauces — and if corn starch isn’t for you, try potato starch. It’s a great thickener) and stir in well.
Heat until sauce just thickens and clears, then turn off heat and set aside to cool.
To the sponge add: 2 large eggs, grated zest from 1/2 lemon (save the other part of the zest for the streusel), 1 teaspoon salt and 1/4 cup sugar. Mix together.
Then add 1 – 1 1/2 cups flour, and 3/4 of a stick of butter, cut finely. Beat until a soft dough forms, adding only enough flour to make it workable if needed. Scrape the dough out of the bowl and drop into an oiled bowl.
Flip the dough over and then let rise until half again as big, or double, depending on how much time you have. (This is when you get your shower in). If you’re making this in the evening for the next morning, you stop here and refrigerate the dough and filling, covering with plastic wrap.
Next, roll out dough on a greased cookie sheet or parchment paper, into an 8 x 12 rectangle. Let rise again for 20 minutes or so. Then pour filling down the middle of the dough.
Cut dough in roughly 2″ sections at right angles to filling.
Start to braid, or swaddle the filling. When your braid pieces overlap, they hold the shape together. At the bottom, tuck dough under if necessary to seal off. Let rise for about 20 more minutes and make streusel while waiting. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
See? Not so hard . . .
Since this is a small quantity of streusel, I make it in a small food processor. Toss in 1/4 cup sugar, the other half of the zest from the lemon, 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon, 1/4 cup flour, and the other quarter stick (2 tablespoons) of butter, cut finely.
Pulse until combined, but don’t overdo it.
Sprinkle streusel on top of braid.
Pop braid into the oven. (Now is when I open any bedroom doors that aren’t open, and start to clang around a bit in the kitchen, cleaning up. After all, I want their taste buds at least partially awake to appreciate this!)
Bake for 30-40 minutes until braid is golden brown and filling bubbly. In my excitement I’ve taken this out before the center is cooked through, so test if dough is done in the center by whether it springs back under a finger. This will smell fantastic and start to wake those who aren’t up yet . . .
Let cool until just warm. Slice and serve! If you have any leftovers (doubtful), it freezes and reheats superbly! You can also make a double batch, and use two different kinds of jam for fillings.