This is a Christopsomo, baked for Christmastime (due to the glaze, from certain angles I thought it looked like a big roasted chicken). The bread is decorated with a gothic cross. The spices in the bread are mahleb (or mahlepi) and cloves. Mahleb is a spice used a lot in Greek and Middle Eastern baking. It's actually the inner pit of a cherry and has a slightly sour-cherryish fragrance (very slight). I didn't have any mastic on hand, if so I would have subbed it in for the cloves. Mastic is a resin, harvested from a Pistacia lentiscus tree. These trees are found only on the Greek island of Chios. I've seen the harvest process and it's painstaking and low-yield.
The bread is further enhanced with dried cherries, raisins and toasted walnuts. Good quality dried fruit is so nice in breads like this one. Don't fall for the plastic nubbins of dried "fruit" at the supermarket. Get good stuff.
Anyway, the bread. The fragrance of the dough and baked bread immediately brought me to the holiday table; I was shocked by how strongly it evoked memories for me. The dough behaved beautifully. It's enriched with eggs and so the rise was a little slower. In fact, I am experimenting with doing extra-slow rises with most of my breads. I let this one proof in the fridge overnight before shaping and final proofing.
Changes for next time:
- Split off the dough for the cross before I add the fruit and nuts for a neater result.
- Make two smaller loaves. The final loaf is huge, well over 10" around. For two people this was overload and too much to eat.
- As a number of bakers noted, this bread makes great French toast.