For the second bread I am baking from the Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I chose to make the Christopsomos version of the Artos breads. The Christopsomos is a Christmas-season bread, filled with dried fruits, and with a cross laminated on top. The bread can be made with a wild-yeast starter (a barm) or a poolish. So, the day before I wanted to make the bread, I made the poolish. I made the mistake of using cold water to mix my poolish, so instead of being bubbly and happy in 3-4 hours, it took around 6-7. After most of the day had passed, it finally looked like this:
Nice and bubbly and foamy! Perfect. I popped it in the fridge to hang out overnight. I would start the bread the next morning.
The next morning, I pulled the poolish out of the fridge to bring it up to room temperature before beginning the dough. I measured out one cup in a bowl. The texture and color were different; it was whiter and stiffer.
Meanwhile, I measured my dry ingredients out into one bowl and whisked my wet ingredients into another, so that they both could come to room temperature along with the poolish. The milk was still rather cold, and I wish I had let it sit out longer before incorporating it with the other wet ingredients. The coldness of the milk meant I had to knead my dough longer to get it to the proper temperature for proofing.
To flavor the bread, I chose orange extract over lemon as I felt the flavor would go better with the dried fruit. I also chose to use mahlab instead of cinnamon, nutmeg, and allspice. Mahlab, also known as mahleb or mahlepi, is a spice traditionally used in Greek, Eastern European, and Middle Eastern cooking. The whole spices are pits from St. Lucia sour cherries; you can see traces of fuschia staining on the spices from the cherry juice! Ground, the spice has a delicate aroma of bitter almonds with a distinct floral background. Very aromatic, it is traditionally used in baked goods and pastries. You can find an assortment of recipes that use mahlab on my Delicious account. I was so curious about this unusual spice that I had to find out how it was used. I stumbled upon it at Penzey’s in Richmond and felt compelled to use it in my bread, but I wanted to find many ways to use the rest. I could not find ground mastic, so I used the clove substitution for that.
After I combined the wet and dry ingredients and mixed them with the poolish, I really had my work cut out for me kneading the bread. It took me nearly half and hour to get the bread to the right temperature. I decided I would knead the bread until it registered between 77 and 81º, then attempt the windowpane test. It failed the first three times, so after each try I kept kneading. Finally, I got this:
You have no idea how hard it is to do that one handed and take a picture without destroying your camera. Perhaps I am Supergirl? With a windowpane achieved, I kneaded my toasted nuts and fruit into the dough, oiled a bowl, and transferred the dough to it, reserving one third of the dough in the refrigerator for the cross. I ended up letting the dough rise for a little over 90 minutes, as it had not yet doubled in size. I then removed the dough from the bowl and shaped it in the traditional Christopsomos shape of a boule. I removed the remaining dough from the fridge, rolled it into this cylinders and added the cross with the curled ends.
If I made this shape again, I would reserve the dough for the cross before adding the fruit and nuts. The little lumps made the dough difficult to shape – I kept ending up with walnuts in the dough curls!
I baked this using essentially the same technique I did for the Anadama bread to develop a crust. I wish I had not. I started my oven at 450º so that it wouldn’t lose too much heat during the misting, then reduced the temperature to 350º when finished. This caused my bread to brown too rapidly. However, due to the application of the cross, the bread baked for much longer than the directions indicated. After 45 minutes, the center of my bread only registered 140º– nowhere near done. I baked it for over an hour before it was done. At that point the bread was very brown and crusty. I had opted not to make the glaze, because I didn’t want such a sweet bread. I wish I had made it now, because I think it would have been the little detail that made the bread go from good to excellent. Next time, I would also likely forego the dried fruits and nuts. The delicate spice flavoring given to the bread by the mahlab was overwhelmed by the intense flavors. Not that it wasn’t delicious, mind you. The bread has a tight crumb and is evenly studded with fruits and nuts. I’ve really enjoyed it for breakfast, and it would probably make excellent french toast. I would definitely recommend this bread, but the next time I make it I will opt for a plain loaf, no fruits, no nuts, and plenty of glaze.
Here’s some more yeasty goodness I’m sending over to Yeastspotting.