I have always loved making home-made bread. I think there is just something so wonderfully homey about the smell of bread baking. So for me, a loaf of bread is one of the funnest gifts to give. Many years ago I happened on this recipe for Almond Braid and have made it for so many gifts and occasions. I decided to share it with you today.
You will need to start with your bread dough. (You can use a favorite basic bread dough recipe or you can purchase frozen bread dough and use that!) Place your dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise until double. (This will vary in time depending on if you're using fresh dough of if it was frozen dough.)
While your dough is rising, make your almond filling:
In a mixing bowl combine:
eight ounces of cream cheese
1 egg yolk (reserve the egg white for later)
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon flour
Mix together with hand mixer until smooth and creamy. Set aside.
When your dough has risen, pour it out onto a floured surface and roll out your dough to a nice rectangle. Mine was about 9 inches wide by about 12 inches long.
Gently pick it up and place it in a buttered 11 x 14 jelly roll pan.
Using a pizza cutter, VERY lightly score your bread dough lengthwise into 3 equal portions. Do NOT cut through the dough, just lightly score it.
Now, take your pizza cutter and cut your dough into 1 inch diagonal sections on each side, up to the scored lines. If your pizza cutter has a hard time cutting all the way through, you can also do this with kitchen scissors. (It looks tricky, but it is very easy. Your diagonal sections do not need to be perfect either.)
Place your almond filling in the center section stopping about an inch from the top and the bottom.
Now, this is where we start braiding. (And its not really a braid, more like a criss-cross fashion. )
Take the very tiny little middle section on the top and fold it down (kind of like the flap of an envelope) and then take a diagonal piece from each side and criss-cross over that. (The purpose of folding over that top flap is to keep the filling from spreading out when it cooks.)
Keep going in this way, just taking a diagonal piece from each side and crossing over the other piece.
When you are two or three sections from the bottom, take that bottom center section and fold it like you did the top (closing the "envelope" flap again). Fold those bottom two diagonal pieces in also. Then, go back up and cross in the remaining two pieces from each side.
Your "braid" will look something like this.
Cover it lightly with a tea towel and let it rise for 15 minutes or so.
Now, take your reserved egg white and beat with a fork til foamy. Brush the egg white carefully all over the dough, covering every inch so it takes on a shiny appearance.
Sprinkle with sliced almonds and raw sugar. (Or leave the almonds off. Don't leave off the raw sugar though!!)
Pop in a 375 degree oven and bake until golden brown; about 15 - 20 minutes. This is positively yummy fresh out of the oven, but yummier the next day after the filling has had a chance to set up a bit.
I wrapped my cooled braid in saran wrap and sealed it up tight. Then I lightly wrapped it in unbleached parchment paper and tied some twine around it.
I made my gift tag by printing a greeting on an Avery label, adhering that to a red card stock circle, punching a hole in the tag and threading it to the twine.
I added some fresh greenery and berries. Perfect Holiday gift! Mine is going to our closest neighbors that live on the adjoining farm!
It's really the perfect gift to give on Christmas Eve because it is the absolute best breakfast for Christmas Morning!
Happy Holidays to you and yours!