- The dough can be started one day in advance. Once the dough has risen the initial hour, it can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours, covered.
- The cake is definitely best eaten within one day of preparation, ideally the same day that it is prepared. Be sure to keep it tightly wrapped in plastic wrap at room temperature to prevent it from drying out.
- Feel free to play around with the filling recipe, depending on what you have on hand. Finely chopped almonds or pecans, candied citron, dried cranberries or cherries, and raisins are all good options.
- Instead of braiding the dough, you can also roll it up jelly-roll style. After rolling the dough to the 24X10-inch rectangle, brush it with the melted butter and sprinkle the filling on top. Tightly roll the dough and then bring the ends of the roll together, pinching to seal.
For the dough
1/2 cup whole milk
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/3 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar
3 1/2 cups flour
6 ounces butter, softened
4 large eggs
Zest from one orange
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the filling
3 tablespoons butter, melted
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
For the icing:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
1 stick unsalted butter, softened
2 cups powdered sugar
delicious guts of half a vanilla bean
the juice of one whole lemon
1 tsp vanilla extract
Here is what you'll do:
Prepare the dough: In a small saucepan, heat the milk to about 110F degrees. Pour the milk into a small bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the surface. Add 1 teaspoon of the sugar and stir to combine. Set the mixture aside until the yeast is foamy, 10 minutes.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and the remaining sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the yeast mixture and mix for 1 minute. Add an egg and mix thoroughly; follow with a third of the flour. Repeat with the remaining eggs and flour. Add the orange zest, cinnamon, cardamom, and salt, and continue to mix on low speed for 7-8 minutes, until the dough is smooth, shiny, and elastic, and it starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl. If the dough is too soft, add up to 1/2 cup of flour.
Scrape the dough from the bowl and lightly knead to form into a ball. Butter or oil the inside of a medium size bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, turning to coat with the butter. Cover with plastic wrap and set in a warm spot to rise for 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk.
When the dough has risen, turn it out of the bowl, punch it down, and knead it lightly to form a ball. Put the dough back in the bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
Form the cake: Flour a clean work surface. Roll the dough into a 10 by 20-inch rectangle, keeping the thickness consistent throughout. Cut the dough lengthwise into 3 strips. Paint each strip of the dough with the melted butter, leaving a 1/2-inch border clean along the length of each strip. Reserve any leftover butter. Sprinkle the strips with the brown sugar and cinnamon.
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Fold each strip over lengthwise toward the clean edges to enclose the cinnamon sugar, and pinch the seam to seal the dough closed. Snugly braid the three pieces together. Transfer the braid to the baking sheet and form the braid into a wreath, pressing the ends together. Cover the wreath with a clean towel and set aside to rise for 40 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F degrees.
Brush the cake with the reserved melted butter and bake for 18 minutes, until golden brown. Cover the cake loosely with foil and continue to bake for 20-25 minutes more, until baked through.
While the cake is baking, make your icing. Cream together butter and cream cheese, and powdered sugar. Then add vanilla bean insides, vanilla, and lemon juice. Beat until all ingredients are incorporated and it becomes light fluffy and delicious. Divide icing into three bowls and color appropriately with the dye of your choice.
Remove the cake and while it's still warm, smother in cream cheese icing. I decorated it so that there were 3 chunks of each colors. Green, yellow, purple, green, yellow, purple, green, yellow, purple. Get it? Got it? Good.
P.S., this was far easier than expected, and truly gratifying when it turns out beautifully. I had a picture of the great braid before I iced it, but apparently my SD card ate it, grr. Don't forget to hide a little plastic baby! (I didn't get to because well, I live in Missouri which is a giant sheet of ice currently) Just realize it's a commitment. It's a day project, for sure.