Artos apo ta Kythera

Festive Bread from Kythera

Preparation info

  • Difficulty

    Medium

  • Makes

    1

    large round loaf

Appears in

THIS IS one of the best breads I have ever eaten. It has a complex aromatic flavor that reminds me of one of my favorite sweets, melomakarona, the honey cookies prepared traditionally at Christmas. It’s ideal for breakfast, spread with butter and honey or marmalade, or eaten as dessert with cheese, and it makes excellent toast and bread puddings. This recipe comes from Eleni Kalligerou, the most accomplished baker on Kythera.

In modern Greek, the word artos is reserved for various semi-sweet and flavored breads that are associated with religious occasions. The breads are baked at home and then taken to church to be blessed, where they are sliced and distributed to the parishioners in a special ceremony. The Kythera bread contains olive oil, some of the local red wine and orange zest, and it is sweetened with the local thyme honey and spiced with cinnamon and cloves. Since sourdough bread rises very slowly, Eleni told me that she finishes kneading it in the evening and lets the dough rise till the next morning. “But it all depends on the weather and the wind,” she said, “so I get up and check during the night. Once I had to fire the oven at four in the morning.”

In my recipe, the combination of dough starter and yeast makes for a completely predictable bread, so there is no need for you to bake in the wee hours.

You will need a pizza stone or unglazed oven tiles and a spray bottle, such as a plant mister. The bread keeps well for about 1 week.

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Ingredients

Sponge

  • ¼ cup warm water
  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • cups all-purpose flour or 2 cups all-purpose flour plus ½ cup barley flour
  • 1 teaspoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • About cup room-temperature water

Bread

  • ¼ cup warm water
  • ½ teaspoon active dry yeast
  • About cup room-temperature water
  • 4–4½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons grated orange zest
  • 1 tablespoon coarse sea salt or kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ cup honey, preferably thyme honey
  • cup dry red wine
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • Cornmeal
  • cups coarsely chopped walnuts (optional)
  • ½ cup chopped dried Calimyrna figs (optional)

Method

Make the Sponge

Oil a large bowl and a piece of plastic wrap. In a small bowl, combine the warm water and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes, or until frothy.

In a large bowl or a food processor, combine the flour or flours, yeast mixture, salt and room-temperature water and stir or process, adding more water if needed, until a soft, sticky dough forms.

With floured hands, shape the dough into a ball and transfer to the oiled bowl. Cover with the oiled plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 3 hours. The sponge is now ready to be used, but it can be refrigerated for up to 3 days. Remove from the refrigerator about 1½ hours before baking. If you don’t plan to bake the bread within 3 days, punch down the sponge to flatten it, wrap it in oiled plastic wrap, place in a zipper-lock bag and freeze for up to 3 months. Remove from the freezer at least 4 hours before baking.

Make the Bread

In a small bowl, combine the warm water and yeast and let stand for 5 minutes, or until frothy.

In a food processor, combine the sponge, yeast mixture and ½ cup room-temperature water and process until smooth. Transfer to a medium bowl.

Clean the bowl of the food processor. In the processor, combine 4 cups flour, orange zest, salt, cinnamon and cloves and process until combined. With the motor running, pour in the sponge mixture, honey, wine and oil and process until a soft, sticky dough forms, adding more water if necessary if the dough is too stiff. Do not overwork the dough.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead with floured hands until smooth, elastic and only slightly sticky, about 5 minutes, adding more flour if necessary.

Oil a large bowl and a piece of plastic wrap. Shape the dough into a ball and transfer to the oiled bowl. Cover with the oiled plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in volume, about 3 hours.

Generously sprinkle a pizza peel with cornmeal. Combine the walnuts and figs in a small bowl, if using. On a floured work surface, press the dough into a 12-x-10-inch rectangle. Sprinkle the walnut mixture evenly over it. Fold the two long sides into the center, overlapping them to cover the walnut mixture. Fold the other two sides into the center and fold over to form a 6-x-5-inch rectangle, pinching the seams to seal. If not using the nuts and figs, shape the dough into a round loaf.

Transfer to the pizza peel. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise until almost doubled in volume, about 2 hours.

About 1 hour before baking, place a pizza stone on the bottom oven rack or line with four to six unglazed tiles and preheat the oven to 450°F.

About 15 minutes before baking, place an empty roasting pan on the bottom rack of the oven. In a medium saucepan, bring about 1½ quarts water to a boil.

With a single-edged razor blade or a very sharp knife held perpendicular to the loaf, slash an X about 5 inches long and ½ inch deep in the top of the dough, being careful not to cut too near the edge of the loaf. Sprinkle the stone or tiles with cornmeal and carefully slide the bread onto the stone or tiles. Immediately pour the boiling water into the roasting pan (it will steam vigorously) and close the oven door. After 1 minute, open the door and spray the bread three times with water. Close the door and bake for 2 minutes, then repeat the spraying. Bake for 10 minutes more, reduce the oven temperature to 375°F and bake for 35 to 45 minutes more, or until the bread is browned on top and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.

Transfer the bread to a rack and cool completely before slicing.

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