In a large bowl, combine the warm milk and yeast. Allow to sit for 10 minutes until yeast is dissolved. Whisk in 1 cup of the flour and let it sit in a warm place until doubled in size and spongy.
Meanwhile, combine cherries, raisins, currants, almonds and citrus peel. Sprinkle a little of the flour over and toss it with your hands. Set aside.
Beat the butter, sugar and orange zest in a large bowl (use a stand mixer if you have one) until light and fluffy. Add eggs one at a time, followed by the salt and vanilla.
Add the fruit and nuts, the sponge and 6 cups of flour. Stir and knead the dough until smooth and elastic, adding more flour if it's too sticky. (You may eventually need to turn it out onto a floured countertop to do this, unless you have an effective dough hook.)
Cover the dough with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in bulk.
To shape your loaves, divide the dough into two or three pieces, pat each into a rough oval and fold one third lengthwise over the other two thirds. Place on baking sheets - one loaf per sheet - cover and allow to rise again until almost doubled in bulk. As they rise, preheat the oven to 350F.
Bake loaves for 30-40 minutes (depending on whether you made 3 or 2), until they are golden brown. When loaves are cool, dust them generously with icing sugar.