Braided Lemon Bread

Smitten Kitchen, I love you and frequently use your recipes. And this one was no exception. A rich bread filled with sweetened cream cheese and lemon curd, akin to a lemon cheesecake. I decided to make two while making dinner with some friends. It may seem like brunch fare, but it was a fun treat to make while cooking together, and a dessert/snack for adults and kids alike through an evening of board games. After a cocktail, or two, my ability to focus on the instructions waned a little and resulted in the above crooked loaf (and the slightly goofy braid, I recommend either being happy with imperfection or skipping the cocktails, either way it tastes good). In the end I liked the look of the slightly curved loaf more than the one that turned out straight, like what I think a loaf of challah or pulla often looks like. In fact next time I might make it into a ring. Don’t be put off by the length of this recipe, it’s really quite easy, it’s the braid that will probably catch you up the first time, but you’ll be so glad you made the effort. You can also make the bread a week before eating it by freezing it before the baking stage.

The recipe originally comes from King Arthur Flour and I highly recommend checking out their site for how to make it look much better than mine, but I do like the changes Smitten Kitchen made to the recipe so I’ll preserve her’s here, with my usual edits. And while King Arthur claims this a great recipe for a snow day, I say it’s a great recipe for any day as lemon curd is good for any occasion.

Braided Lemon Bread

Lemon Curd
Makes a little shy of 1/2 cup


  • 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 3/4 teaspoon fresh lemon zest, finely grated
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into small pieces


  1. Whisk together juice, zest, sugar, and egg in a 1-quart heavy saucepan(you can also do this over a double boiler to keep the egg from curdling)
  2. Stir in butter and cook over moderately low heat, whisking frequently, until curd is thick enough to hold marks of whisk and first bubble appears on surface, about 4 to 5 minutes
  3. I like to push mine through a strainer just in case there are any lumps
  4. Transfer lemon curd to a bowl and chill, its surface covered with plastic wrap, until cold, at least 1 hour

Lemon cream cheese filling


  • 1/3 cup (2 1/2 ounces) cream cheese, softened
  • 2 tablespoons (5/8 ounces) sugar
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) sour cream
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons (1/2 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour


  1. blend well
  2. let sit at room one hour before using



  • Sponge
    • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) warm water
    • 1 teaspoon sugar
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
    • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Dough
    • Sponge (above)
    • 6 tablespoons (3 ounces) sour cream or yogurt
    • 1/4 cup (4 tablespoons or 2 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
    • 1 egg
    • 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) sugar
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
    • 2 1/2 cups (10 5/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
    • 1 egg plus 1T water for egg wash
    • coarse sugar for sprinkling


  1. Make sponge:
    1. In a small bowl, combine the sponge ingredients.
    2. Stir well to combine, loosely cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Make dough in a stand mixer:
    1. Combine the sponge, sour cream, butter, egg, sugar, salt and vanilla in the bowl of a stand mixer.
      1. Add flour and mix with the paddle attachment until the dough is a rough, shaggy mass.
      2. Switch to the dough hook and knead on until a soft, smooth dough forms, about 5 to 6 minutes.
      3. Place the kneaded dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and allow to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until quite puffy and nearly doubled.
  3. Prepare bread:
    1. Gently deflate the dough and roll it out on a very well floured counter to a 10″ x 15″ rectangle.
    2. Transfer rectangle to a large piece of parchment paper, please; I did not and it led to all sorts of trouble.
    3. With the side of your hand, lightly press two lines down the dough lengthwise, dividing it into three equal columns.
    4. Spread the cream cheese filling down the center section, leaving the top and bottom two inches free of filling–go a little further than you think.
    5. Spread the lemon curd over the cream cheese filling–less is more, if you don’t use all your lemon curd save it for your toast once the lemon braid is gone.

To form the mock braid:

  1. Cut crosswise strips one inch apart down the length of the outer columns of you dough (the parts without filling).
  2. Make sure you have an equal amount of 1-inch strips down the right and left sides. Be careful not to cut your parchment paper; if you have a bench scraper, this is a great time to use it.
  3. Smitten Kitchen recommends that you remove the four corner segments. I tucked them into the top making a more bready end, which was enjoyed by the kids that didn’t like lemon.
  4. To “braid” follow these instructions or go to King Arthur for photos:
    1. begin by folding top flap down and bottom flap up over the filling.
    2. Lift the top dough strip and gently bring it diagonally across the filling.
    3. Repeat on the right side, and continue down the entire braid, alternating strips until you are out.
    4. You can tuck the last couple that hand off decoratively under the end of the braid.
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F
  2. Carefully transfer the dough and the parchment paper to a baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic and set it aside to rise for 45 to 50 minutes, until quite puffy.
  3. Bake bread:
    1. Brush the loaves with egg wash, and sprinkle with pearl or coarse sparkling sugar.
    2. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown and your apartment smells like a doughnut factory (thanks Smitten Kitchen for that one, it really does!).
    3. Remove from the oven and cool for 15 to 20 minutes before serving.

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