BBA #2: Artos, or Greek Celebration Bread
I’m only a few weeks into this bread-baking adventure, and already I can honestly say: I love baking bread. I love the meditative process of kneading, I love seeing sponges bubble and come alive, I love watching the transformation of dough as it proofs, I love the smell of freshly baking bread in my oven, and I love eating it. I think this Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge is going to forever convert me to a home bread baker…and that, I quite think, is a good thing!
This past week I tackled Artos, which is the general name for any number of Greek celebration breads, served at various holidays and festivals. Reinhart lists a number of variations of the bread, including Christopsomos (with dried fruit and nuts, traditionally baked at Christmas), and Lambropsomo, with dried fruit, almonds and hard-cooked eggs (traditionally made at Easter.) Even though I normally love bread with dried fruit and nuts, this week I was just in the mood for the basic Greek celebration bread, which is an enriched, eggy bread spiced with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice and cloves, and sweetened with honey. Sounds pretty delicious, doesn’t it? And it was. Here’s how it unfolded:
Traditional artos traditionally starts with what’s called a barm, a type of sourdough starter. I don’t yet have any starter living in my fridge (sourdough breads will come sometime this fall!), so I chose to use the alternate starting method of a poolish. A poolish is basically a wet sponge, thick like pancake batter, that you start the day before you plan to bake your loaf. The pre-fermenting action you get with a poolish improves the flavor and structure of the final finished bread.
poolish, starting to bubble
After my poolish had fermented at room temperature and sat in the refrigerator overnight, I was ready to start the artos dough. Because the dough was enriched with milk, olive oil and eggs, it was soft and supple and really easy to knead.
smooth and flecked with spices
After I let the dough go through its rise, it was time to shape it. Reinhart suggests shaping it into a traditional boule (or round), but I was itching to do something a little more interesting. Since it was a soft, eggy dough I thought it would lend itself well to braiding — so I did a simple 3-strand braid.
just like braiding pigtails…kind of.
After my braid was done, I set it out to proof. These pictures below show before (left) and after (right)…I guess you can’t see it as clearly as I could in person, but this dough had oomph. By the time it was done proofing and ready to go in the oven, it filled up my entire half sheet pan!
before (L) and after (R) proofing: bulging at the seams
Here’s my artos, fresh out of the oven. It honestly is, I think, the biggest loaf of bread I’ve ever baked! And, it smelled absolutely heavenly…my whole house filled with the aroma of warm spices and the sweet smell of yeast.
don’t mess with this loaf! It’s a big one.
I used the traditional glaze for the loaf, which is a mixture of warmed up water, sugar and honey. After I brushed the glaze on, I sprinkled it with sesame seeds, which stuck nicely to the glistening loaf. The glaze soaked a little into the surface of the bread, creating a nice sweet crust.
After waiting the recommended hour before slicing into it (and bending over the loaf and deeply inhaling every 10 minutes during that hour), I cut a thick slab and devoured it. It was wonderful: a tender, tender crumb, delicious yeasty flavor, sweet and aromatic with spices.
When the holidays roll around, I think I’ll make this again and use the variation with the dried fruit and nuts — it would be a wonderful holiday bread, and quite a nice hostess gift!
We munched on it, slathered with butter, all week and then this past weekend, the last few slices were perfect for French toast. As I said in the beginning of this post, I think I could get used to this!
Previous BBA bread: Anadama Bread
Up next: Bagels (!)