1) Mix the starter ingredients in a small (about 1-quart) bowl or other container; the dough will be stiff. Cover and let rest overnight at room temperature.
2) The next day, the starter should have expanded and be bubbly.
3) Combine the starter with the remaining dough ingredients (NOT the nuts and fruit), mixing and kneading to form a smooth, supple dough. It'll be very slack; for this reason, we suggest kneading in a bread machine, or with a mixer, rather than by hand.
4) Place the dough in a bowl or other rising container, cover it, and let it rise for about 1 hour.
5) It may not double in bulk; that's OK.
6) Gently deflate the dough, and knead in the nuts and fruit. It's a sticky process; place them atop the dough in the bowl, wet your fingers, and keep working everything around till the fruit, nuts, and dough are combined.
7) Divide the dough in half; each half will weigh about 30 ounces, if you have a scale. Place each half in a lightly greased 9" star-shaped pan or 8" round cake pan, gently nudging it into the corners or out to the edge of the pan.
8) If you're using paper star-shaped pans, place them on a baking sheet for support. 8" cake pans can be treated the same way, for ease of handling; it's simpler to move one pan around than two.
9) Gently poke any raisins or dates that are sticking up above the top surface of the dough back into the loaf; this will prevent them form burning.
10) Cover the pans with a proof cover or lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the loaves to rise for about an hour; they won't rise a lot. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
11) While the loaves are rising, stir together the topping ingredients and let them rest at room temperature.
12) The mixture will seem dry at first, but will liquefy as it sits and the sugar dissolves.
13) Drizzle the topping over the loaves.
14) Bake the loaves till they're a light golden brown and their internal temperature registers 190°F, about 45 to 50 minutes.
15) Remove the loaves from the oven. Allow them to cool right in the paper pan, for gift-giving. If baked in round cake pans, allow them to cool for about 10 minutes, then turn them out onto a rack to cool completely.