This sweet bread recipe makes a beautiful, soft, lightly sweetened and buttery bread loaf that’s delicious as a toast with your morning coffee or tea.
Check the yeast: (see footnotes if you'd like to make this dough in the breadmaker)
Dissolve 2 tsp of active dried yeast with 1/2 cup milk and 1 tsp of sugar from the overall amount and leave in a warm location until frothy, about 10-15 minutes. If the mixture does not froth up and rise, discard the yeast and start over when you have a fresh batch of dried yeast.
Into a bowl of a mixer sift 3 cups of flour. Then add 1/3 cup sugar, remaining 1/2 cup warm milk, 4 egg yolks, 2 tbsp sour cream, 1 tbsp vanilla extract and the risen yeast mixture. Mix with a paddle attachment on low speed until it comes together, then switch to a kneading hook and knead on low speed (speed 2 to 3 on a Kitchenaid mixder) for about 20 minutes or until the dough is elastic, tacky to touch and you're able to stretch a piece of dough into a thin "window without it tearing.
Pro tip: Do not overknead, or the gluten strands will get overworked and tear, leaving you with a chunky dough that doesn't have the strength to hold a good rise of the dough.
Oil the sides of the bowl and the dough, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and leave in a warm place to proof until doubled in size, about 1.5 hours. I preheat the oven at 200F for 2-3 minutes then turn it off and place the bowl into the oven with the heat off. This gives the dough a nice warm place without being too hot. Be careful not to overheat the oven as anything over the temp of 100F will kill the yeast instead of allowing it to proof.
This recipe makes one large braid. To make two smaller bread loaves divide the dough into two, then shape 2 separate braids instead of one like the recipe instructs to.
Once risen, divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Weighing the dough is the best way to divide the dough evenly. Roll each piece into a tight ball, then into a 20-inch log. Pinch the ends of the 3 logs together at one end, then braid them into a braid pinching the three ends together at the end as well. Tuck both ends of the braid underneath itself slightly to give it a better shape.
Transfer to a 12"x18" baking sheet, cover with a clean tea towel and transfer to a warm place once again until the braid doubles in size. You can repeat the trick with preheating the oven slightly once again (be very careful that the temp does not rise higher than 100F inside the oven while proofing).
Once doubled in size remove from the oven and preheat the oven to 350F with the baking rack in the middle.
Brush the braid with a beaten egg yolk and water and sprinkle with sesame seeds or poppy seeds if you wish. Applying the egg yolk mixture several times will give you a darker glaze once baked.
Bake the braid for about 30-35 minutes or until the top is golden in color and/or the inside of the sweet bread registers 195F. If the top starts to brown before the inside registers 195F loosely tent the bread with foil.
Once baked, remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before cutting or eating.
If you'd rather make the dough in the bread maker add the ingredients in the following order: milk, active dry yeast, vanilla extract, room temperature butter, salt, egg yolks, sour cream, flour, sugar. Turn the bread maker to a 1.5 hour dough cycle and allow it to run through. Then, continue with steps 4 and beyond.
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