The braid looks really professional, and it's surprisingly easy to make. It tastes great, too. It's light and sweet, kind of like brioche or challah. I sometimes find sweet doughs dry, but this one has a great consistency. And the fillings complement it beautifully! I surprised myself by liking cherry as much as, or more than, chocolate!
King Arthur Basic Sweet Bread Dough (from the pamphlet they handed out at the demo)
Makes enough for two loaves
3/4 cup (6 ounces) warm water (about 95-105 degrees; just warm enough to be comfortable if you stick your finger in it)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
1/2 cup (2 1/8 ounces) flour
Do this first: pour warm water in a bowl and sprinkle yeast over. Stir gently with a whisk, and then whisk in the sugar and flour. Cover it with plastic wrap and let it sit for 10-15 minutes, until it is nice and frothy.
all of the sponge
3/4 cup (6 ounces) lowfat yogurt (plain and vanilla are good choices)
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup (3 1/2 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 teaspoons citrus zest
4 1/2 - 5 1/2 cups (19 - 23 1/4 ounces) flour
1 egg plus 1 tablespoon water (for egg wash)
While the sponge is sponging, put yogurt, butter, eggs, sugar, salt, vanilla, and citrus zest in a big bowl. You can easily do this with a stand mixer or by hand. You choose. Pour in the sponge and stir everything together. Start adding flour , one cup at a time, mixing until the dough comes away cleanly from the side of the bowl. I used just a bit more than 4 1/2 cups and reserved the last cup of flour for kneading. The dough will look kind of shaggy at this point.
If you used your stand mixer, you can knead with it, too. Switch to the bread hook at this point. Add a little more flour as needed, and don't turn the mixer higher than 2 or you can overwork the dough. (Apparently, you can rarely overwork dough by hand, but it's easy to do it with the mixer.)
If you're kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board, and flour your hands as well. Knead about 5 minutes, until the dough is soft and pliable but not sticky. Let the dough rest and prep the bowl you're going to let it rise in (you can use the bowl you mixed in; just scrape out all the leftover bits and spray it with cooking spray). Finish kneading the dough. It should be smooth and springy. A good way to knead is to fold the bread in half toward you, push it back away from you, and give it a quarter turn; then repeat. Dust the board and your hands with more flour as needed.
Place the dough in the greased bowl and turn it to coat. Press a piece of plastic wrap to cover the surface and let it rise in a warm place for 90 minutes or until doubled.
When the dough has risen, gently deflate it and divide it in half. Put the half you're not using back in the bowl and cover it again with plastic wrap.
To make this braid, roll out half the dough into an approximately 10x15" rectangle. Stop along the way and reshape the dough if it gets out of line. You're in charge here.
Before you fill it, transfer the dough rectangle to a cookie sheet lined with a silpat or parchment. You're not going to want to move it once it's braided. Use a knife (or pizza cutter or bench knife) to lightly draw lines all the way down the dough dividing it into thirds. Leaving about an inch open at the top and bottom, spread your chosen filling all the way down the middle section. Cut 1"-wide strips from the edge of the filling to the edge of the dough. Then cut out the corners and save those for making cinnamon rolls or something. Here's what it will look like:
Fold down the top and bottom flaps over the filling. Starting at the top, bring the top right strip across the filling diagonally. Cover it with the top left strip, also on a diagonal. Continue, alternating, until you get to the bottom. Pinch the bottom two strips underneath. See?
Let this rise again for an hour. After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 350F. Just before baking, gently whisk together egg and water to make the egg wash. Brush it over the braid. You can sprinkle it with sanding sugar if you want. Bake 25 -35 minutes until the braid is a rich, golden brown. Cool on a rack. If desired, you can drizzle it with a glaze made with powdered sugar and a little milk and sprinkle it with slivered almonds.
Ooh! One more note: this shape is pretty versatile. I think it would be great as a faux-calzone. Make pizza dough and braid it up with sauce, cheese, and pepperoni (or your favorite toppings) inside!