Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid

by Julie Ruble on June 11, 2011 · 46 comments

So much dust. Shuffling papers, flying markers, scuffling footsteps. The crush of boxes being broken down, the shrill hum of students’ voices. As chairs were stacked and debris was cleared, the classroom started to look foreign. There was an alien quality to the space (cleanness, maybe? emptiness?) that made us all feel like we didn’t quite belong there anymore.

And we didn’t, really. It was the last, abbreviated week of school. The kids had one foot out the door, and the other was probably kicking someone under the table.

The teachers out there will give me an amen when I say that during those last few days, you fight a losing battle for your students’ attention. My middle schoolers and I work until the last minute — reflecting on how their writing has grown over the course of the year, finishing up our last novel — but there’s always a current of near-hysteria that runs through the classroom at the end of the year. I start to feel like I’m trying to hold back a tidal wave with a beach towel. At any given moment, they’re about to lose their little minds entirely and start surfing on the tables.

When I realize we’ve reached this point, the turning of the tide of sanity, I start pining for summer myself. Up until then, everything is a flurry of urgent business: grading projects, writing emails, blogging, creating curriculum. There’s barely a second to let the idea of vacation sink in. But finally, staring into a dozen sets of half-crazed student eyeballs, I see the bright summer sunshine at the end of the tunnel.

This year, I had the presence of mind to make a summer to-do list. It includes all of the mundane tasks I neglected while being a teacher 24/7 during the school year: clean under the bed, clean out the closet, reorganize the bookshelf. It contains resolutions reminiscent of New Year’s: join the Y, start exercising regularly, figure out summer meal plan. It contains techy bloggy things: move to self-hosting, spruce up Willow Bird Baking.

But something’s missing.

Know how I know? I recently re-read my Raspberry Almond Braid post from over a year ago as I was preparing to create this Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid.

When I wrote that post of yesteryear, I was on spring break and gushy about how much I loved the freedom. I listed 20 things I was enjoying, including things like running through the grass, playing fetch with Byrd, and reading. Oh, yeah. Things that are totally absent from what I’ve come to realize is my summer chore list.

Don’t worry, I’m going to fix it.

In fact, it’s only been summer vacation for one day now, but I’ve already read a book: the first of the Hunger Games series my students have been recommending to me. I’ve already done a mini craft project (a card for a friend that turned out wonky but hopefully lovable). I’ve already baked something. I’ve already taken a nap. So far, so good!

Apart from helping me realize the error of my summer ways, this Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid was also the perfect restful recipe: though the process is as simple as can be, the result looks and tastes phenomenal. The flaky, tender almond pastry surrounds a cream cheese filling in addition to the blueberry preserves, making this one of my new favorite things to eat. It’ll definitely get a heart on the WBB Recipe Index.

You have to make it as soon as you can — and then hopefully you can find the time for a summer nap in a lawn chair somewhere.

What are your family’s summertime plans?

Blueberry Cream Cheese Almond Braid

Recipe by: Adapted from Luna Cafe
Yields: 10-12 1-in. slivers of braid, or about 4 servings

Dough and Filling Ingredients:
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter
3 ounces best quality cream cheese
1/2 cup milk, minus 1/2 teaspoon
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/2 cup blueberry preserves (or your favorite preserves)

Cream Cheese Filling Ingredients:
8 ounces (227 grams) cream cheese, room temperature
1/4 cup granulated white sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Icing Ingrdients:
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon milk
1/8 teaspoon vanilla
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons toasted sliced almonds (optional)

NOTE: 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.

Make the cream cheese filling. In your electric mixer, or with a hand mixer, beat the 8 ounces of room temperature cream cheese until smooth. Add the sugar, egg, and vanilla extract and beat until creamy and smooth. Set aside while you make your braid.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. In the bowl of a food processor, mix the flour, baking powder, and salt. Add the cream cheese and butter into the flour mixture and pulse to cut the fat into the flour (about 6 pulses). Add the milk and almond extract and blend into a loose dough.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead VERY LIGHTLY for 4-5 strokes. (NOTE: This is the step at which you can ruin the braid. If you overwork the dough, the pastry will be tough. Just gather the dough together and don’t worry about making it smooth. It will still look a little rough. That’s perfect.)

Between two sheets of waxed paper, roll the dough to an 8- by 12-inch rectangle. Turn dough out onto a lightly greased baking sheet and remove the waxed paper. Measure and mark the dough lengthwise into thirds. Spread preserves down the middle third of the dough and spread a thick line of the cream cheese mixture on either side of the preserves (still remaining in the middle third of the dough — try to keep your filling about ½ inch from the mark on both sides.)

Make 2¾-inch slight diagonal cuts at 1-inch intervals on each the long sides (see photos below). Do not cut into the center jam-filled area. Fold strips, first one from one side and then one from the other side in a rotating fashion, over the filling. It will now resemble a braid. Bake in a 425° oven for 12-15 minutes, until the dough is cooked through and the top is lightly browned.

In a small glass measuring cup with a pouring spout, combine the sugar, milk, vanilla, and almond extract. Drizzle over the top of the braid. If desired, sprinkle on the toasted sliced almonds while the icing is still wet. Serve warm.

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{ 46 comments… read them below or add one }

Karly June 11, 2011 at 5:44 pm

Ooh, this looks divine! I’ve made a raspberry version, but I bet blueberries are delish, too!


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 11, 2011 at 7:11 pm

I love the raspberry version, too! What kicked this one over the top for me was adding a cream cheese filling — yum! Thanks, Karly :D


Sophia Spach June 11, 2011 at 6:34 pm

I can’t even tell you how great this looks! Beautiful pictures as well :)


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 11, 2011 at 11:56 pm

Thanks, Sophia! Hope your summer is already going well!


Maris (In Good Taste) June 11, 2011 at 7:08 pm

This looks so amazing. Hard to believe you describe it as simple!


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 11, 2011 at 11:56 pm

I promise! Super simple! It’s such a surprise how quick and easy it comes together, and then how great it tastes! :)

Thanks, Maris.


Vanessa June 11, 2011 at 7:58 pm

Looks amazing!! I need to make summer resolutions myself. One definitely involves working out!! If you figure out how to go self hosted, let me know. It’s one of those things I NEED to do and don’t know how!! See you on the 17th?!


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 11, 2011 at 11:55 pm

YES, will definitely be there!! I can’t wait!


Joanne June 11, 2011 at 10:21 pm

Unfortunately I don’t get much in the way of a summer vacation so I’ll just have to live vicariously through yours! I’m all for taking things day by day, slowly, just doing what feels right.

And quite frankly, making danishes always feels right. This looks so good!


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 11, 2011 at 11:54 pm

I agree — can’t think of a wrong time for a danish :) Thanks, Joanne!


jamhandsblog June 11, 2011 at 11:18 pm

That is so incredibly beautiful. There are few things better to eat at breakfast than a tasty cream cheese braid :)


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 11, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Thank you! I completely agree :)


I Speak Math June 11, 2011 at 11:51 pm

I loved the “current of near-hysteria” description and surfing student analogy. It depicted the end of year perfectly. This recipe looks fabulous too! But, baking is way down on my summer list. I just paid my overdue bills today. Tomorrow I attack the giant bags of gross that the kids bring home from their lockers – blech! I did run across a beer marshmallow recipe today however. They sounded fun and yummy!


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 11, 2011 at 11:53 pm

HA oh yes, overdue bills. Must get to those ;) Good luck with those locker bags — so glad I got to send those AWAY from myself as opposed to bringing them home with me!

Did you see the beer marshmallows on How Sweet It Is? Love her blog! I think they’re making the rounds now, though, because it’s such a good idea.


I Speak Math June 12, 2011 at 11:12 am

Yes! A feller tweeter sent me the link. I even put beer in my homemade baked beans today just because of it. Yummmmmmmy summer cookout day!

I’m letting the locker bags sit at least a week. I can’t even get my head around that right now. Ugh.


I Speak Math June 12, 2011 at 5:25 pm

I meant fellow, not feller. lol!


Lauren at Keep It Sweet June 12, 2011 at 6:51 am

Happy Summer Vacation:-) It’s hard to always do everything you want to do, but that’s ok! This looks amazingly delicious.


WiseMona June 12, 2011 at 8:13 am

Wow – and yum – and I might have to have this made for me!
Looks so yummy.


Susan C. June 12, 2011 at 4:57 pm

I had made your raspberry braid and added my own cream cheese filling… it really does add that “somethin’ somethin'” special!! Thanks so much for this recipe!! It really has become my go-to when company comes!!


Betty @ scrambled hen fruit June 12, 2011 at 5:29 pm

My summer vacation doesn’t start ’til the 23rd. Sigh. I haven’t made my list yet, but this scrumptious braid certainly should be on it when I do. A slice of it would be so much more rewarding than cleaning the basement, which will also be on the list. One more week of antsy second graders!


Leila H. June 12, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Just stunning and it looks eye rolling-ly delicious! I love the combination of blueberries and cream cheese, a match made in heaven. Fantastic post!


muppy June 12, 2011 at 7:33 pm

i want some , yum!!! looks very good :)


Kaitlin June 13, 2011 at 12:42 pm

Yay summer break! Sounds like a superb time to get started on all that forgotten stuff. Really hope you enjoy doing it and that you get in lots more baking :)

I LOVED Hunger Games. I’m stoked you liked it, too!


Jamie June 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm

Gorgeous! And on my to-do list is a braided, cheesy, fruity filled coffee cake, believe it or not! And no yeast? Even better! This is one stunning braid and mouthwatering coffee cake and you have hooked me!


natalie (the sweets life) June 14, 2011 at 12:47 pm

I’ve had the raspberry braid bookmarked forever and frequently turn to it to make…but then always seem to need to serve a larger group. Now that I’ve seen this one too I am DROOLING…MUST make one of them soon!!

Enjoy your time off! :)


Angela Mears June 15, 2011 at 1:30 pm

Gorgeous recipe! And beautiful writing. And you’re right: my lists consist of chores. I need to change that.

Brave to teach writing to summer-pining middle schoolers… I remember that crazed feeling very well.

Thanks for visiting my site. I’m bookmarking yours.


rebeccasubbiah June 17, 2011 at 9:52 pm

wow what an amazing cake so professional enjoy your break from teaching


Mackenzie@The Caramel Cookie June 18, 2011 at 3:28 pm

Looks delicious! Enjoy your summer vacation!


kristineskitchen June 18, 2011 at 7:35 pm

I can’t believe how simple this recipe is for such a beautiful and delicious result! I’m on summer vacation as well, so I should be able to find some time to make this! Thanks for sharing.


Steve June 20, 2011 at 10:58 am

wow, simply wow! I absolutely love this braid, I wish I could bake as well as you, am not even attempting to make it


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking June 20, 2011 at 11:04 am

Aw, Steve, I hope you’ll reconsider! My favorite recipes are ones that come out looking fancy but are super easy to make, and this is definitely one of them! Give it a shot!


Avanika (Yumsilicious Bakes) July 4, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Wow Julie, that bread looks amazing. Can’t wait to try it :D


Maranda July 7, 2011 at 3:20 pm

Gorgeous as always Julie!! I hope you definitely find time in your Summer to-do list for some fun and relaxation!


Kristin July 9, 2011 at 8:18 am

I just made it, and it’s sooooo delicious. I’m definitely going to try this with other fruits too.


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking July 9, 2011 at 10:23 pm

So glad you enjoyed it, Kristin!!


Food Frenzy December 29, 2011 at 9:26 pm

Fantastic recipe. This is a must make.

We invite you to share this post and other food posts on Food Frenzy.


Sarah February 25, 2012 at 6:21 pm

It’s in the oven – my bluberry preserves & cream cheese mixture were running out the ends and towards the sides (must have used a thinner preserve than you, Bonny Meman brand) – but I’m hoping it still turns out! Looks delish!


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking February 25, 2012 at 9:14 pm

I can’t wait to hear how it turns out! Mine didn’t run out, but it might if you fill it a little fuller or if you don’t roll out your dough quite as large, or if your middle section is a little smaller — lots of reasons! But I still think it should be lovely — just lift it away from the jam/filling that ran out, set it on a platter, and enjoy :) Let me know how it goes!


Sarah March 6, 2012 at 1:21 am

Turned out awesome, Julie! Will be making this over and over with different flavor combinations! Think my issue was simply my runny jam, haha. It’s nice going to a blog where you know you can trust the recipes – and I totally trust anything you publish! Thanks again :)


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking March 6, 2012 at 1:38 am

Woohoo! That is so great to hear, Sarah! I’m a BIG fan of changing up the flavors in these braids myself — so many possibilities. I’m so glad you all enjoyed it! Thanks!


Nina November 18, 2012 at 11:59 pm

Do you think the pastry would work with Pepperidge Farms frozen pastry sheets?


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking November 19, 2012 at 2:19 am

It probably would, but honestly the cream cheese dough is SO easy to work with that I hope you’ll try it at least once! For a quick prep, the frozen sheets will work — though the texture will be different.


Sam February 14, 2013 at 4:14 pm

This is absolutely delicious! I’ve made it a couple of times as well as several of your other recipes, and I love your blog!
Quick question: Will it work to make this a few days ahead and freeze it? And if so, will it be best to bake and freeze or freeze and bake?


Julie @ Willow Bird Baking February 14, 2013 at 4:19 pm

Yes, I think so! Freeze and bake, definitely :) I’d thaw in the fridge overnight before you want it and then bake as usual. I’m so glad you enjoy it!!


ekj July 12, 2013 at 12:09 pm

This looks great. I came across it while looking for something to make using the fresh blueberries that I just picked. You might have already answered this question, but I did not have time to read over the thread, do you think fresh berries would work? I did not have time to make a blueberry jam and we have gone through the bulk of the berries and not enough to make it now.


Julie Ruble July 12, 2013 at 8:02 pm

I’d say probably — maybe sprinkle a bit of extra sugar in the cream cheese for good measure. Hope you enjoy!


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