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Makes two loaves

For the sponge:

1 cup milk, at room temperature

1 package dry active yeast (2¼ teaspoons)

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1 cup all-purpose flour

For the dough:

¼ cup currants

¾ cup golden raisins

1 cup dried cranberries or dried cherries

¼ cup diced dried apricots or dried mango

1 tablespoon rum

2 eggs plus 3 egg yolks

12 tablespoons unsalted butter (1½ sticks), melted, at room temperature

1 tablespoon almond extract

4 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting

1 teaspoon fine salt

½ cup sugar

2 teaspoons anise seeds

1 teaspoon ground cardamom

1 teaspoon grated orange zest

1 teaspoon grated lemon zest

¾ cup slivered almonds

1 tablespoon milk

Sugar or pearl sugar for topping, optional

1. Make the sponge: Put 1 cup milk in a medium bowl, add yeast and let dissolve. Whisk in 1 cup all-purpose flour. Cover bowl and leave in a warm place until doubled in size and very frothy, about 30 minutes.

2. Put currants, raisins, cranberries and apricots in a small bowl and cover with hot water. Leave 10 minutes, then drain. Return to bowl and stir in rum.

3. Beat 2 eggs and 2 yolks. Add beaten eggs, melted butter and almond extract to sponge and stir. Stir in dried fruit.

4. In a large bowl mix together 4 cups all-purpose flour, salt, sugar, anise seeds, cardamom, orange zest, lemon zest and almonds. Pour sponge mixture over flour mixture and combine, stirring with a spoon or hands until it forms a shaggy, slightly sticky mass. Dust lightly with flour and turn dough out onto a clean work surface. Knead for a few minutes until smooth, dusting with a minimal amount of flour if necessary, to make a soft dough. (If desired, dough may be refrigerated overnight in a large zippered storage bag. Bring to room temperature and proceed with recipe.)

5. Put dough in a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 45 minutes. Punch down dough and knead lightly. Divide dough in half with knife and form two loaves; they can be round, braided or free-form. Place side by side on a large parchment-lined baking sheet, leaving a 4-inch space between them (or use two smaller baking sheets). Cover lightly with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Meanwhile, place a rack in the middle of the oven, and heat oven to 350 degrees.

6. Make the egg wash: With a fork, beat together the remaining egg yolk and the milk. Uncover loaves and brush generously with egg wash. Sprinkle each loaf with 2 tablespoons sugar (or 1 tablespoon pearl sugar), if desired. Bake on middle rack for 45 minutes or until loaves are a dark, glossy brown. Transfer to a cooling rack and let cool completely.

From David Tanis, The New York Times

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