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Fresh fruit braid an easy pleaser for breakfast or brunch

Recipe: Try it with cherries, apricots or any seasonal favorite

Braided baked pastry on a dark blue plate
Fresh apricots are baked in puff pastry on a bed of lemony cream cheese. It's
a special breakfast treat. (Photos: Kathy Morrison)

I have no problem using kitchen shortcuts when the results are delicious and reliable. Frozen puff pastry is one of the best. (No way am I making my own.)

Pastries aren't diet food, but occasionally a treat for a special breakfast (Father's Day, for example) is a lot of fun. This recipe comes together easily, with some cream cheese, lemon zest and a pint or so of fresh fruit. Blueberries are spectacular in this, but cherries, apricots, peaches or nectarines are great, too.  Strawberries might be too juicy, but good strawberry preserves are an option for the strawberry fan.

One box of frozen puff pastry makes two of these breakfast braids, so it's easy to vary the fruit to please everyone. Or make just one now and save the second frozen dough for another occasion.

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A cherry pitter is a must if you make a lot of
cherry dishes.

Note: I made my two braids separately, using 14 halved cherries for one and 5 quartered apricots for the other.

Fresh fruit breakfast braid

Makes two braids, 5 or 6 slices each

Ingredients:

One 17.3-ounce package puff pastry dough, defrosted but cold

One 8-ounce package regular (block) cream cheese, room temperature or softened slightly in the microwave

4 tablespoons sugar

Zest from 1 lemon

2 to 3 cups prepared fruit (such as blueberries, pitted and halved cherries, or pitted and sliced apricots or peaches, or 1 to 1-1/2 cups of two kinds)

""
Cutting the triangles provides a guide
for making the braid.

Cream or milk for brushing the pastry

Coarse sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Instructions:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Prepare the fruit desired, and set it aside while you make the filling.

In a medium bowl, stir the lemon zest and sugar into the softened cream cheese until thoroughly incorporated. Set aside while the dough is being prepared.

Remove 1 dough from the box; leave the other in refrigerator to stay cold while you're working on the first.

Apricot quarters on pastry
The cream cheese and fruit are in place and the pastry
is ready to braid.

Place the first dough  on a large piece of parchment paper with one of the short sides in front of you. Unfold the dough, removing the little papers that are packed with it. Using a rolling pin, lightly roll it thinner, generally retaining the shape.

Using a sharp knife, cut two small triangles off the upper corners of the dough (about 2 inches in from the corners). Then cut two triangular notches out of the lower edge of dough. (See photo for example.) This will allow you to fold the ends up to keep the filling from spilling out. Save the triangles for decor if desired.

Now cut the braid pieces, following the angle of the upper corners of the dough. They can be thick or thin, but there should be an equal number on each side.

Slide the parchment paper onto the pan you'll be using to bake with. Set the pan in the refrigerator or even the freezer to stay cold while you work on the second dough.

After the second dough is prepared on a second piece of parchment paper, set it aside. Remove  the first dough, still on the pan, from the refrigerator.

""
Overlap the strips to make the braid.

Spread half the cream cheese mixture over the center part of the dough, leave about an inch or dough uncovered at each end. Arrange the desired fruit on top of the cream cheese.

Then braid the dough, starting at the bottom where the notches are. Fold up the uncovered dough, then alternately bring the dough strips up and over the fruit. The strips should overlap a little; if they don't stick together, wet the undersides with a little water.

When you get to the end, tuck the upper uncovered flap of dough up under the last strips. If desired, use the cut-off triangles to decorate the top. Brush the dough with cream or milk and sprinkle on the coarse sugar if using.

If there's room on the pan, slide the second dough and its parchment paper on it, and repeat the process with the rest of the cream cheese and fruit. If there's not enough room, slide the dough and paper onto a second pan and create the braid there.

Put both pans in the oven and bake 25-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool on wire racks after baking for about 10 minutes. The braid can be served warm, room temperature or even cold.

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All ready for the oven.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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