1) Combine the starter ingredients in a small mixing bowl, cover, and allow to rest overnight (8 to 12 hours) at room temperature. If using a bread machine, do this right in the bucket.
2) Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients, excluding the cherries, almonds, chocolate chips, and pearl or sparkling sugar; mix, then knead to make a soft, shiny, slightly sticky dough. This dough is difficult to fully develop by hand; we strongly recommend using a mixer or bread machine to knead the dough. Knead in the fruit, nuts, and chocolate chips at the end.
3) Allow the dough to rise, covered, for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, or till it's puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk.
4) Gently deflate the dough, and form it into a ball. Place it in a panettone pan (paper or metal); or other straight-sided, tall, 1 1/2 to 2 quart pan. Cover the pan and let the dough rise till the middle is crested over the rim of the pan, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
5) Toward the end of the rising time, move your oven rack to a low position and preheat the oven to 350°F.
6) Spritz the dough with water, then sprinkle with the pearl or sparkling sugar. If using a paper panettone pan, place the bread on a baking sheet
7) Bake the bread for 55 to 65 minutes; check the bread after about 45 minutes, tenting it with foil if it's browning too quickly. The loaf is fully baked when an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F or above.
8) Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a rack. If baked in a metal pan, cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack. If baked in a paper pan, cool completely right in the pan.
Yield: 1 large loaf.