This festive bread is perfect for gifts. The recipe can be doubled and freezes well for up to 2 months. A fermented yeast "starter" gives this bread a full flavor, but you can omit the process if you're in a hurry.
PREHEAT OVEN TO 350F. In a food processor or mixer bowl, mix 1 cup of the flour, the warm milk, yeast and sugar. If time allows, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave the dough at room temperature to ferment and bubble for 2 hours. If time does not allow, proceed to add the egg, salt and butter. Add the rest of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to make a soft dough. Knead the dough in the food processor, mixer or on a floured board until elastic and smooth. Mix the cherries, candied fruit, dates and nuts together and fold and knead 1/3 of the mixture at a time into the dough until well mixed.
Place in an oiled plastic bag or oiled bowl. Turn to coat. Seal or cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 3/4 to 1 hour. Punch down. Knead briefly. Grease a 9-by-5-inch loaf pan. Form the dough into an oval approximately the length of the pan, and place in pan. Let rise again until doubled. Brush the loaves with the egg glaze. Bake on the middle shelf about 40-to-50 minutes until nicely browned. Cover with foil if the loaf browns too rapidly. Cool on a wire rack. TO MAKE ICING, mix confectioners' sugar, oil, almond extract and enough water to make a smooth consistency. Brush cooled bread with icing. Top with the candied cherries and nuts. Makes 2 Loaves