Pre-made Puff Pastry Makes Easy Work of this Dessert
If I am going to use a pre-made product, it better not just be easy, it needs to taste good too. Pre-made puff pastry saves tons of times, and has countless sweet and savory uses. Look for one made with real butter; it is harder to find and more expensive, but really delicious.
Every gathering needs something for the sweet teeth that attend, and this one is pretty as well! My mother made this originally with a sweet, yeast dough, until she discovered the wonders and ease of frozen puff pastry later in her life. She never looked back! The pre-made puff pastry is an immense time saver!
One for today, one for the freezer
The recipe makes two rich loaves, so you can tuck one away in the freezer for another day if your party is not so large. The dough is puffy and crisp and flavorful, and the luscious center of lemon-flavored cheese is the added bonus; you won’t need any butter. It is a wonderful sweet bread for any special event or brunch. It is also really pretty!
2 sheets of puff pastry, thawed in the refrigerator
12 oz. Neufchatel cheese, fully softened
1/3 cup sour cream, full fat, or cottage cheese
1/3 cup superfine sugar
1 egg yolk
2 tbsp. unbleached white flour
2 tsp. fresh lemon juice from one lemon, reserve zest
1 cup lemon curd
Apricot jam for glazing
Cut parchment paper to fit a large rimmed baking sheet and preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
Zest the lemon in long, fine strips and place in a small bowl. Toss with a little granulated sugar and set aside for topping later on.
Cream together the cream cheese, sour cream (or cottage cheese), sugar, egg yolk, flour, and lemon juice. Set aside. Mix up the lemon curd to loosen it a bit. If really stiff, add a few drops of lemon juice.
Now this is the fun part. To assemble the braids, roll out one of the pastry sheets on a lightly floured board until it measures 10 by 14 inches or so, no need to be exact here.
You are going to place the dough vertically in front of you. With the back of a butter knife, score the dough into thirds vertically, being careful not to cut through! These lines will be your guides.
Now, look at the two bare flaps on each side of the filling. Using a firm straight edge (I use my metal ruler I stash in my kitchen drawer and use just for cooking) cut slashes right through the dough on each side, 14 or so strips to a side, making “fringe.”
Cover the middle third of the sheet with one-half of the cheese mixture. This will be a nice thick luscious layer. Cover this carefully with one-half of the lemon curd.
Then, starting at the top, alternate one side then the other, and fold over the fringe to create a braid-like form on top of the filling. There may be filling peaking out both ends. This is fine, A bit of oozing is expected.
Make the second braid. Mix an egg glaze by beating an egg yolk with a little water, and carefully brush the top of the braids of both pastries to encourage even browning. Be careful not to let the egg drip down the cut side of each braid as it could inhibit the puff.
Refrigerate for 20 minutes to firm the pastry again, then place in the oven and reduce the temperature to 350. Bake for 30 minutes, until puffed and browned.
Remove from the oven and let cool.
Place a little apricot jam in the microwave for 20 seconds or so to warm and thin. Brush the tops of the braids and sprinkle with the reserved lemon zest.
Now, use your imagination!
This is the basic braiding technique with puff pastry you can use for so many sweet or savory recipes. Lots of possibilities exist for other fillings and flavor combinations. Think pesto and goat cheese, tomatoes and mozzarella, smoked salmon and cream cheese and chives. What flavor combinations do you love?
You can also use this technique for any number of fruits and jams. What do you like? You name it. Precooked apple pie filling? Raspberries? Dried cherries? Perhaps a mix of flavors?
Almond Apricot Braid: My mom’s favorite. In the filling, use ½ tsp. almond extract, ½ cup finely diced dried apricots soaked for a half hour in ¼ cup apricot or orange liquor, drain and substitute some of the reserved liquor for the lemon juice. Save the rest for glazing after the bake. Use a thin layer of apricot jam in place of the lemon curd. When baked, glaze with apricot jam thinned with the drained apricot or orange liquor, and sprinkle with toasted almonds.
Chocolate Hazelnut Ginger Braid: In the cream cheese filling, chop up 1/3 cup crystalized ginger and add 2 tbsp. ginger brandy, omitting the lemon. Substitute chocolate/hazelnut spread for the lemon. Once baked, glaze with apricot jam and sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts and more crystalized ginger.
Goat Cheese and Sun-Dried Tomato Braid: This makes a great party appetizer. For each braid, use 4 ounces of creamy goat cheese thinned with a tbsp. of half-and-half, a few sun-dried tomatoes, chopped up, and a sprinkle of oregano or other favorite herb. Add chopped olives if you like, and sprinkle with Parmesan just out of the oven.
© Copyright 2018 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read