The second Willow Bird Baking Challenge required bakers fill a pastry braid with any filling that met their heart’s desire. I had been thinking about whipping up some baked pears like those I made in the past, so I figured, why not just put them into a braid?
There is something about a fruit and cheese combination – in this case pears and Feta – that to me never seems to get old. Another of my favorites is apple and cheddar. Tart Granny Smith apples, creamy brie cheese, and sweet cherry preserves are another favorite combo, and I think either would make an equally delicious braid.
I thought of so many filling possibilities I wanted to try in this challenge that I felt a bit like a cop-out trying something I knew would work based on past experience. I initially thought of making some sort of banoffe pie concoction. I also considered adding some cocoa power to the dough to create a chocolate braid, filing it with bananas and marshmallows.
Thinking of chocolate dough led me down the path of wanting use cherry pie filling. After that, I naturally began to wonder if pudding would not make for a delicious filling as well. What I am trying to communicate is there are seemingly infinite possibilities for this braid. When a recipe is as flexible as its fillings, what’s not to like?
If this is your first time baking a braid, as it was mine, the step-by-step pictures in the original recipe post show how to cut and fold the dough. The assembled braid can be refrigerated and baked the next day, so it is great to pull together the night before a brunch. Keep in mind the dough does not make an overly large pastry – the 8 x 12 dimensions are just slightly larger than a sheet of notebook paper – so you may want to bake two braids if you expect a crowd.
See all of the wonderful concoctions baking challenge participants created here. The savory options bakers came up with were amazing! The sweet recipes looked pretty good too. Enjoy!
Honey Pear & Feta Braid
- For the Dough
- 2 cups all-purpose flour (additional may be needed)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 3 ounces cream cheese
- 1/2 cup milk, minus 1/2 teaspoon
- 1/2 teaspoon lemon extract
- For the Filling
- 1/2 medium-sized pear, sliced very thin
- 2 tablespoons honey, plus additional for drizzling
- 1 teaspoon lemon juice
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 2 tablespoons feta cheese, plus additional for topping
- For the Icing
- 1/2 cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1/4 teaspoon lemon extract
- In the bowl of a food processor, combine the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Add the butter and cream cheese into the flour mixture and pulse to cut the butter into the flour.
- Add the milk and the lemon extract and blend into a loose dough.
- Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead VERY LIGHTLY for 4-5 strokes. Add flour as needed to make sure the dough is not too sticky to roll out. The goal is to simply gather the dough together. It does not need to be smooth, and likely will look a bit rough.That is okay.
- Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll the dough out to an 8- by 12-inch rectangle. Next, turn the dough out onto a lightly greased baking sheet and remove the waxed paper.
- Measure and mark the dough lengthwise into thirds.
- In a clean bowl, mix together the honey, lemon juice, cinnamon, and ginger.
- Toss the sliced pears in this mixture until well coated.
- Lay the pear slices down the middle third of the dough, keeping them about ½ inch from the mark on both sides.
- Sprinkle the feta over the pears once layered across the dough.
- Make 2 3/4-inch slight diagonal cuts at 1-inch intervals on each the long sides. Do not cut into the pear-and-cheese-filled center area.
- Fold strips, first one from one side and then one from the other side, in a rotating fashion over the filling.
- The dough should now resemble a braid.
- Bake in a 425° F oven for 12-15 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and the top is lightly browned. About a minute before taking the pastry out of the oven, sprinkle additional feta over the top if desired and return to the oven.
- When the braid comes out of the oven, drizzle with honey.
- While the braid cools, combine the powered sugar, milk, and lemon extract.
- Drizzle over the top of the braid and enjoy. Best when served warm.
Note from Julie at Willow Bird Baking: To prepare this braid in advance, complete all steps and assemble the braid but do not bake. Cover the braid on its parchment-lined baking sheet with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Set out in the morning as you preheat the oven and then bake as usual.