So-called ’braided pastry’ has always had a central place in Russian cuisine. My grandmother remembers her mother often baking various types of braided pastry: with different sweet and savoury fillings, or even plain. They called it pletyonka, which in Russian literally means ‘braided bread’.
It’s likely this tradition came from Jewish cuisine, especially from the most iconic braided pastry of all times - challah – the ceremonial Jewish bread.
This is certainly one of the easiest recipes of braided pastry that you can master: it’s not so complicated to ‘braid’ as challah, but still it has that vibe. Cherry braid, or pletyonka, was one of my father’s favorite baked items in his childhood: grandma constantly made it in summertime, while cherry season lasted, as well as all year round – from frozen berries. It goes perfectly with shortcrust pastry, the same as with rich yeasty dough, which I prefer slightly more.
1. Start with making ‘predough’ – a kind of base for your sweet yeast dough. In a bowl mix lukewarm milk, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 2 tablespoons of flour and yeast.
2. Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm corner for half an hour so that the yeast activates. The mixture should increase in size and slightly foam and bubble – this indicates the yeast is doing its ‘job’.
3. Then add one egg to the predough, the remaining sugar, vanilla sugar or extract, as well as vegetable oil and a pinch of salt. Work the mixture with a whisk until smooth, add the remaining sifted flour and start kneading the dough with a mixer using dough hooks or just with your hands.
4. Finally, add soft butter, work the dough for another couple of minutes and round into a ball. It is all about the consistency: you should get a non-sticky but still very soft and elastic dough.
5. Put the ball into a large clean bowl and let rise under plastic wrap in a warm place for an hour. Then punch the risen dough, again round it into a ball, and leave for the second proving in another hour or so.
6. Meanwhile, remove the pits from the cherries, add a pinch of cornstarch and set aside.
7. Next, slightly sprinkle the cooking surface with flour, roll the dough into a large oval, and dust the middle section with cornstarch.
8. Spread the cherries right onto the cornstarch and sprinkle the berries with some sugar, and then with more cornstarch so the filling does not bleed while baking. Next, make parallel cuts on the edges of the dough as shown in the photo.
9. To make a braid, firstly fold top and bottom flaps to cover the filling. Then start folding side strips over the berries: one right, one left, right, left, until you’re done with your braid.
10. Cover the cherry braid with a clean kitchen towel and let rest and rise for around 20 minutes. Then, gently smear it with egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of milk or water.
11. Bake for 25-30 minutes at 180°C until the braid is richly golden-brown and glossy on top.
12. The last step is the most difficult – you need to wait until the braid has completely cooled before indulging in this amazing pastry, otherwise the hot cherry filling may bleed. Generously dust the cherry braid with powdered sugar and enjoy. Priyatnogo appetita!
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