I discovered Emma's blog, Poires au Chocolat, soon after starting my own. The French name drew me in, validating my equal love of chocolate and pear cake, one of the recipes that inspired me to begin blogging. Emma's photography mixes simplicity and honesty with ease and grace, making it feel as if I am in the kitchen alongside her. Her voice is so real and truthful that I feel like I've gotten to know her well, despite living an ocean away. Simply put, her blog is lovely.
I'm honoured to be writing for Pastry Affair today. I've been following along for a few years now, watching Kristin's path weave side to side, just like my own.
In short (if only life was this simple and factual), I started out studying medieval literature (Old and Middle English, Old French, Chaucer, Julian of Norwich and so on). In my final year, after two years of blogging, I decided to train in pâtisserie. I spent six months at Cordon Bleu. A few months later, I left pastry and my first cookbook proposal to return to Oxford and medieval literature.
Yet my path soon twisted again and last Christmas I chose to return to food instead of pursuing a career in academia. I've stayed in my favourite city and as well as working on my blog (supplemented by tutoring, much like Kristin did), I'm now developing another book idea. It's a book that will be all the better for the twists and turns of the past few years.
As Kristin said in a post last year, "my path may be riddled with curves, but I've learned to embrace the zigs and zags of my road."
Just like the braids of this bread, sometimes our dreams can be multiple and interwoven, each one taking priority at different times. One strand is at the front, then the next. Neither one ever goes away and both are always connected to the centre.
I'll always have my studies in the background, nudging me every now and again - is it my turn yet? I don't know at the moment if it will ever get a turn again - but then maybe it will, in one form or another. I've learnt that I never know until I hit the peak - that glorious, heady moment as a child when you reach the top of the swing, legs kicking to get higher, before you hurtle backwards again.
It's that moment when you realise you have no choice but to change, to pull the next strand on top, creating your braid. It repeats until you reach the end and the final strand is tucked under. How do I know if I have reached that point? I can only trust.
Though the braiding technique can look a bit intimidating, it's not bad once you've got your head around it.
There are lots of different ways to fill these braids. The first one I tried used lemon curd along with the creamy filling. I've also made a version filled with salted caramel, walnuts and meringue and a different bread recipe, which was pretty amazing (I made it for a challenge, I don't think I'd include meringue again). I like the creamy-fruit type for breakfast or brunch. I made a simple blueberry compote here but you could use other fruits or possibly use a not-too-sweet jam.
Blueberry Braided Bread
For the sponge (to start the yeast):
90ml (6 tbsp) warm water
25g plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp sugar
1.5 tsp instant/active dried yeast
For the dough:
(the sponge, above)
75g full fat sour cream
50g unsalted butter (soft, at room temperature)
1 egg, beaten
1 tsp vanilla extract or paste
1/2 tsp fine sea salt
265g strong white bread flour (or all-purpose, if you don't get strong)
For the filling:
15g brown sugar
1/2 tsp cinnamon
65g full fat cream cheese
25g full fat sour cream
1 tsp lemon juice
pinch of fine sea salt
In a small bowl, whisk the water, flour, sugar and yeast together for the sponge. Leave to sit for 12-15 minutes.
Pour the sponge into the bowl of a stand mixer and add the sour cream, soft butter, sugar, egg, vanilla and salt. Beat to combine. Add the flour and stir until you have a dough. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes - the dough is very soft and sticky, so it's much easier in a mixer than by hand. Cover the bowl with cling film then leave to double overnight in the fridge (or for an hour in a warm place).
The next day (ignore if rising at room temp), take the dough out of the fridge to warm up. Place the blueberries, brown sugar, cinnamon and a splash of water into a pan and heat until the berries have burst and it has reduced down to a thick, purple-navy compote. Transfer to a bowl to cool. In another bowl, whisk the cream cheese, sour cream, sugar, lemon juice and salt together.
Knock the dough back on a well-floured surface and roll out to a 10 x 15" (38 x 25cm) rectangle. Transfer to a big sheet of baking parchment. Mark the dough into three long, even strips by lightly pressing down with a knife or ruler, but don't cut through. Mark 2"/5cm in from each short end, so you have a long rectangle marked in the middle of the dough. Cut the four outer corners out*. Spread the inner middle rectangle of the dough with the cream cheese mix, then swirl in the blueberry mix. Fold the small top and bottom flaps in. Divide the long flaps on each side into 12 strips of around 1"/2.5cm. Fold the first one over the top flap, then fold one in from the other side. Keep going down the bread, alternating sides. Tuck any end pieces under. Cover with a sheet of greased cling film and leave to rise for 45 min - 1 hour or doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 190C/ 375F. Brush the top of the bread with milk or egg wash. If desired, sprinkle over some pearl sugar (or even some finely chopped pecans). Bake for 22-25 minutes, turning once if it seems to be browning unevenly. The bread should be a deep golden brown and sound relatively hollow when tapped (the filling makes it sound a bit different to normal). Transfer to a wire rack to cool before eating.
* I re-roll these corners, spread the dough with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar, roll up, cut, rise and bake as a few baby cinnamon rolls.
(Makes one large 15" or so plaited bread)