This is a healthier version of the typical yeast cake. It’s from my friends from Chicago with my tweaking. It smells heavenly while baking and looks professional. It freezes well, so it can be made in advance.
1 pkg (2 1/4 tsp) dry yeast
1/2 cup warm soy milk or water
1 tsp sugar
1/2 cup oil, divided
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or 70% whole wheat)
500 gram (1 lb 2 oz) 1/2% white cheese or low-fat cream cheese
1/3 cup sugar or to taste
1 packet (1 Tbsp) vanilla sugar
1/2 tsp fresh lemon juice, optional
1/2 tsp grated lemon zest
dash or two of cinnamon (don’t overdo it – you want to keep it subtle)
3 Tbsp flour
1. Dissolve the yeast in the warm soy milk or water. Add the sugar and proof the yeast for a few minutes. Mix ¼ cup of the oil, sugar, and salt in a mixer. Add the yeast mixture. Add the egg and incorporate it. Add the flour and then the rest of the oil, and mix until it forms into a soft dough. Place the dough in a large bowl, cover, and let it rise for 2 hours on the counter, or overnight in the fridge.
2. For the filling, place the white cheese in a strainer lined with cheesecloth or a few sheets of paper towel. Set this over a bowl. When you see that the cheese looks more solid (all the liquid has drained), it’s ready to use. This can take up to half an hour. Alternatively you can use ready cream cheese. Transfer the cheese to a bowl. Combine it with the rest of the ingredients besides for the flour. Add one tablespoon of flour at a time, until the mixture is thickened. Set the filling aside in the fridge until you are ready to use it.
3. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C).
4. Remove the dough from the fridge and let it rest at room temperature for a few minutes. Divide the dough in half and roll each half to a nice size rectangle. This should be done on baking paper to facilitate transferring it to the baking pan afterwards. Place half of the filling down the center. Then make 1-inch (2.5-cm) horizontal cuts into each side of dough (see photo). Fold each cut towards the center (over the cheese filling) alternating sides, one by one, diagonally, to form a braid (see photo). You may then let the cheese braids rise again for ½ hour before baking. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden brown. You can egg it before baking (I did) and sprinkle a streusel topping if you’d like, or you can glaze it after baking. Cool and store in the fridge.
Variation: You can substitute farmer cheese (about 3/4 lb / 340 grams) for the white cheese, but your filling won’t be as smooth. The 1/2% cheese is the thickest because it has the least fat. Of course you can use 5% or 9%, but be sure to drain it very well. Also, this dough can be used for other fillings.