Everybody has days. Days when the soul feels restless; and the mind is miles away from the physical body. You know, those days when you feel the most like you’re supposed to be somewhere else doing something else rather than the here and now you possess. To me it’s not particularly a sort of discontentment, or hating whatever I have at the present. Actually it feels more to me like a sensation of seeking. I call these my “Mellow Days”, which is ironic considering these are the moments when my mind seems to wander off in some faraway place very busily. I can hardly sit still.
Admittedly, the older I grow, the less I’ve found myself experiencing these so-called “Mellow Days”, which is why sometimes it comes a surprise to me when I do. I’ve come a long way in terms of accepting my current life-situation (when I say it like that it sounds like mine is horrible), which is the first step to finding ways to bend your circumstances to one that leaves you feeling a little more fulfilled. I really don’t want to sound like I’m struggling through something because it makes me seem ungrateful despite how good my life (mostly) is, but I can’t fight against human nature I suppose.
I think when you’re young you feel entitled to have a small moment of pressure about the future. Especially when you’re fresh off college, there’s that stage of uncertainty about which road to follow. Will it be the best for you in the end? Will it make you happy? These are the daunting questions the mind asks over and over, and why not? They’re legitimate worries. And for most of us we never really figure it out instantly. It takes years and years of looking. Eventually, some of us come to some form of realization about ourselves, at which time we strike a compromise between what we want to be doing and what keeps us stable. I think I successfully found that compromise just this year, which is why my “Mellow Days” have come less and less. (We’ll see how it goes…)
Learning how to work around the “limitations” in our current lives to allow ourselves to balance the things we want to do and things we are responsible for is one of the keys, I believe, to feeling happier. I think it’s reckless to think that “following your heart” will solve everything. To some extent you have to do that, but to go all out is just an impractical notion for me. If only we could live in a world that allows us to drop everything and pursue our passions without conflict! But I guess it’s important to adapt a mind-over-matter approach when it comes to our own lives, and at times it can be tiring.
But that just proves my point. Sometimes we just have days, and we deal with it.
Whenever I’m in a rut like that, I will either like spending time in the kitchen; or I will not be in the mood to be in there at all. But one thing’s for sure, I always find solace in– and this might sound a little odd– bread. I’m not the sort who binges on food in relation to how I feel, but I’d definitely say that bread is one of the most comforting things for me. More than eating, I like being around bread. Just looking at them, taking in their scent, trying to break them into parts and analyzing them like some sort of bread stalker-weirdo… It distracts me from my self-doubts and worries. And I like the idea that bread is in some way or another formed by the hands, a sort of labour that requires hard work but pays off when something beautiful is created. Doesn’t it sound a little like life in general?
Oftentimes when I’m in a funk, I tend to spend a lot of quiet time in the kitchen making bread, and it’s these sorts of breads that really hit the spot for me: Warm bread filled with something sweet and savoury at the same time.
I came across this braided bread recipe while I was browsing through the King Arthur Flour website, which I’m only mentioning because it’s such a treasure trove of recipes for making bread. I LOVE IT. Looove. I’ve never tried any KAF products before obviously since I don’t live in the US, but if I ever visit there again and get the chance to pass by a KAF store I definitely will. However I have spent huge, sleepless nights-level amounts of time looking through their yeasted bread recipes and this was one I noted as ‘priority’. (Along with about a couple dozen others, let’s be real. BREAD-BAKING IS LIFE.)
Something about this bread just resonated with me. It’s a coffeecake and at the same time it’s like one of those simple braided breads. Did I respond to the coffeecake part because I love things that go well with coffee, which is about pretty much every baked bread under the sun, am I right? I can’t explain my feelings when it comes to baking yeasted breads you guys. I just know that I really like it and it comforts my soul in a way nothing else can.
Braided breads have a special place in my heart, because all the versions I’ve made so far have been nothing short of superb. There’s the BBQ Chicken one and the super yummy lemon one, and now we’re adding this to the list. Not only does it look fabulous, it’s really delicious too! I chose to fill mine with strawberry jam (a favourite) and I do think the cream cheese filling component is runny on purpose because you spread it on top of the jam. If it’s too thick it’ll be really difficult to get it on there. But what I really want to highlight is the beautiful dough:
The dough has sour cream in it, creating a nicely fluffy and lightly flaky crumb within the bread itself. It also infuses some richness to the bread. The texture of the bread was absolutely beautiful, and the dough was so easy to handle! No stickiness or anything of the sort that will require adding more flour just to get the right texture. The thing about this dough, though it is yeasted, it doesn’t rise at all when you proof it. But once you get it into the oven, the bread starts to take form with flaky layers and all.
This was spectacular warm and toasty. A little bit of crunch on the outside and rich oozing filling within! I love how the the jam and sweetened cream cheese filling contrasts with the tang of the sour cream-based bread. Not to mention just the mere fact that this bread is braided means it is so very pretty to look at! This recipe makes two loaves but I really don’t think you’ll even think about sharing once you get your first taste of this.
Jam & Cream Cheese-Filled Braided Bread
Makes 2 loaves of braided bread, good for 12 servings
For the dough
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 tablespoons sugar
- 1¼ teaspoons salt
- ½ cup sour cream
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 large egg yolk, white reserved for glazing
- ⅓ cup lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast
For the filling
- 8 ounces cream cheese, softened
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
- ⅓ cup sugar
- ⅛ teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 6 tablespoons all-purpose flour, divided use
- 1 large egg
- 1 cup jam of choice
For the topping
- 1 egg white, reserved from dough
- 1 tablespoon cold water
- ¼ cup coarse white sugar, for optional topping
Make the dough
- 1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine all of the dough ingredients and mix briefly with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough is formed. Transfer to the mixer and using the dough hook, knead until dough becomes a smooth ball that clears the sides of the bowl. The dough will seem very dry at first; DO NOT add more liquid. It'll come together and smooth out as you knead.
- 2. Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover with cling wrap or a damp kitchen towel. Let rise for 90 minutes, though at the end of rising time it won't look risen at all.
Five minutes before end of rising time, make the filling
- 3. In a small bowl, gently beat together the cream cheese, butter, sugar, salt, extract, and 3 Tablespoons of flour until smooth. Add the egg gently beat until only a few small lumps are visible.
- 4. In another small bowl, whisk together jam and the last 3 Tablespoons of flour.
- 5. Divide the "risen" dough into two pieces. Working with one piece at a time, place the first piece of dough on the parchment paper you will use to bake the bread with, then roll out it into a 10-x15-inch rectangle.
- 6. Spread half the jam mixture lengthwise in a 2.5 inch-wide swath down the center of the rectangle, leaving 1.5-inches of dough bare on all sides. Spread half the cream cheese mixture atop the jam, then fold the bottom and top portions of bare dough over the filling.
- 7. Using a knife, make horizontal cuts on either side of the jam filling, spacing about 3/4-inch from each cut all the way down. Be careful not to cut right into the jam filling!
- 8. Starting at one end, pull the cut strips up and over the filling in a slightly diagonal direction, alternating sides. Once the whole bread has been "braided", transfer the whole parchment with the bread on it to a baking sheet.
- 9. Repeat the process with the other piece of dough, placing it on a piece of parchment as well before starting to roll it out. This will help prevent the bread from getting disfigured by carrying it into a baking sheet. You can place the finished bread beside the first one on the same baking sheet by moving the parchment around to make some space.
- 10. Cover the loaves, and let them rise for another 90 minutes. Again, it won't appear to have risen at all and that's normal for this bread. About 15 minutes towards the end of the second rising time, preheat oven to 350°F (180°C).
- 11. Combine the reserved egg white with 1 tablespoon water, and brush over the loaves to glaze. Sprinkle with the coarse sugar for a bit of decoration, if using.
- 12. Bake the coffeecakes for 32 to 36 minutes, until they're golden brown and cooked through. Remove from the oven, and place on a rack to cool slightly. Serve warm.