We’re now in full swing with the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge and many of us have completed our second bread: Artos (Greek Celebration bread).
The group is now 200-strong (officially — there are many others around the world who are also baking along with us). The group includes every experience level, from those who have never tried baking a loaf before to several very experienced bread bakers who regularly blog their baking exploits. The group is baking around the world, hunting for ingredients in India and Sweden and Sri Lanka and Italy and, of course, right here in the United States.
Some people are steaming ahead with the recipes because they’re excited or fanatics (bread fanatics, that is), or because they’re trying to get a jump on the schedule because of summer vacation plans. So, far, though, I’m doing my best to stick to the once-a-week schedule, so I had to tread water a bit between the Anadama and the Artos. Last weekend was busy with guests and activity, so I had to wait until the middle of this past week to finally plunge in to recipe #2.
The basic Artos recipe is for a spiced and enriched bread (similar to a challah with the addition of spices). From there, the variations are practically endless, differing from family to family, celebration to celebration. The book gives two variations: christopsomos, for Christmas, and lambropsomo, for Easter. I more or less followed the christopsomos variation, with a few slight, um, twists.
The first step for me was to mix up the poolish (starter dough) the night before. For bakers who already have some starter they nurture in the fridge for years on end, this step is not necessary. I’m not so great with keeping starters. I tend to forget about them, and they tend to take over the fridge, and get nasty. Maybe this project will inspire me to try it again.
After mixing the poolish (flour, water, and yeast) and letting it sit on the counter for four hours, I put it in the fridge overnight. By the next morning, it was nice and bubbly and active.
Following the recipe, I carefully measured out 7 ounces of poolish (reserving the rest for another recipe), let it warm up to room temperature for an hour, and then mixed the other ingredients into the dough. Aside from flour, the essential ingredients are the spices (cinnamon, nutmeg, clove, allspice), eggs and milk, honey and oil, and some citrus. I used lemon zest and some Fiori di Sicilia that I had picked up for a different recipe earlier this year (more traditionally, the recipe calls for almond oil).
This all mixed up into a very sticky dough. But with just a little added flour, it kneaded into a very nice, pliable dough. I rounded it up and put it in a greased bowl for rising.
Only problem is…. I had a friend coming over the morning I was mixing this up and she arrived during the kneading. I guess I got a little busy talking and completely forgot the step about adding in the fruits and nuts (I went with dried cranberries, raisins, and toasted walnuts). And I didn’t notice until after the dough had risen for 90 minutes.
It was gorgeously doubled and puffy. There’s no picture of it, though, because it was at that moment that I remembered about the fruit and nuts and I had to figure out what to do.
My choices appeared to be: 1) bake it as is, without the fruits and nuts, or 2) go ahead and mix in the fruit and nuts and let it rise again.
I went for option 2. I deflated that beautiful dough, mixed everything in, and let it rise for another 60 minutes.
Luckily, the dough cooperated nicely (it helped that it was a warm, sunny day) and it doubled again in 60 minutes and was ready to shape.
The traditional christopsomos bread is a large boule, criss-crossed by two strands of dough that end in beautiful little curlicues. It looks nice in the pictures, but I was worried it would be too big a loaf, not easily sliced or usable for toasting, etc. I also wasn’t too confident that I’d manage the shaping well and figured it would end up looking like a bread squid was attacking the rest of the loaf.
So, instead, I went for my traditional 3-strand challah braid.
Another 60-minute proof and then it went into the oven.
When it came out, it looked sort of like a challah, but with a dull crust, and with raisins sticking out. Traditionally, you’re supposed to put a water/sugar/honey glaze on it after it comes out of the oven and, from the pictures that others have taken of theirs with the glaze, it looks much better that way. But I didn’t want the glaze.
All in all, this is a nice bread, with a moist and softly crumbed interior and a subtle flavor of citrus, spices, and fruit, but I don’t think it’s one I’m eager to make again. It makes beautiful toast (exceptionally nice spread with goat’s milk butter), but I’m not that fond of it untoasted, and I really prefer my bread without chunks inside (which makes me a bit hesitant about the Casatiello recipe coming up in a few weeks, which incorporates salami and shredded cheese…).
I know I’ll be happy with next week’s challenge, though: Bagels!