I’m terribly excited! I just returned from taking some of my Artos bread to the owner of our neighborhood Mediterranean restaurant and grocery. He gave me so many compliments that I actually blushed! However, I had to give all the credit to Peter Reinhart for making the instructions fail-proof, since I had no idea what I was doing. Abe (owner of the store/restaurant) especially couldn’t believe the texture and color. Apparently, when this bread is tried in a home oven, the interior is often under-done and the top is over-done. He said he was a bit stunned that this didn’t come out of a bakery, because I got it just right. It was nice to get an expert’s opinion, as one downside to a web-based group (like the BBA Challenge Group) is that we can’t taste several of the other bakers’ breads and compare. We can only share photos and tasting notes. And I have never eaten a bread like this, even when I’ve been in Greece, so I have no idea what it should taste like! Okay, now, enough of my victory dance, and on to the details.
This week our BBA Challenge focused on the pictured Greek Artos Bread. There are plain versions, but it’s essentially a celebration bread, changed up for different holidays like Easter and Christmas. I made the Christmas version, which is called Christopsomos and features dough placed in the shape of a cross on top.
Despite the fact that we’re about to celebrate Memorial Day, making us seasonally-challenged for a Christmas bread, the bread was so much fun to make. (However, if you aren’t extremely interested in the process of making bread, just skip to the next paragraph so that your eyes don’t glaze over. I promise I’ll post something other than bread soon. On the other hand, if you’re crazy to make some starter, and have questions, then leave a comment and I’ll get back to you!) I began making a seed culture a couple of weeks ago, mixing pineapple juice with dark rye flour, and each day after that adding liquid and flour to the mixture until I had the beginnings of a sourdough starter. Next, I made a “barm” or starter with that seed culture. I wanted my barm to be old enough to have some good flavor by the time I baked with it, so I waited until I had refreshed it a few times before beginning this bread. However, it’s still young, in terms of starters, and the flavor will continue to develop for a long time.
Next, I went to Abe’s store, Alhana, and purchased Mahlab spice and Greek orange blossom honey. (May I mention how grateful I am to have a store like that within walking distance of my house? And the restaurant is really, really good, too, if you’re ever in the area and you’re needing falafel or kufta kebobs or something like that.)
I decided to use the authentic Mahlab (ground from the pits of Santa Lucia cherries, who knew?), since I could easily get it, in place of the cinnamon, nutmeg and allspice. However, I had to use the suggested ¼ teaspoon of ground cloves, since mastic was nowhere to be found, and sounded like something used to set tile, anyway. I chose to use grated orange peel instead of extract, reasoning that the flecks of color would be additionally festive. I added a mixture of chopped dried figs, cranberries, raisins, and toasted walnuts during the last two minutes of kneading. Which was weird for me – because I don’t like much “stuff” in my bread – but stretching a little is part of this journey, right?
I’ve also never done a decorative loaf before, so I had no idea what to expect. Cakes, yes; bread, never. Since many of my baking buddies had trouble getting the curls to stay put during baking, I thought I’d try to use toothpicks and see what happened. I think it worked pretty well, but I felt really, really guilty poking holes in the bread and was scared (yeah, that’s how seriously I’m taking this whole bread thing) that by breaking the surface tension of the boule, I was going to go to a special bread-making hell. So far I’m still in Belmont. But keep an eye out for me, okay? I have no idea what the statute of limitations is on messing with bread dough.
Truthfully, by the time I took this giant loaf out of the oven and brushed it with the lemon-honey glaze, I was already giddy in love. The house smelled exotic from the mahleb, almond, orange, lemon, honey combination. Heck, my hands smelled exotic, too. I was a little disappointed that droves of relatives weren’t on their way to celebrate a major holiday with us. I ate some in place of dinner. Then I had some toast with it this morning. I’d say that I’ll make it again soon, but I’d be lying. There are still 40 or so more breads to go in this book, and each is a new adventure waiting to happen!