Friends

2013 is off to a wonderful start!  We returned home, from time in Arizona with family, and jumped straight in to celebrating one of my favorite days of the year: Theophany. Do you love Theophany too? All the water, and the splashing, and the rejoicing with creation?

In Santa Barbara, we bundle off to the beach each year and sing, and the little ones splash into the waves after the cross. It’s always a day of joy! And sandwiches.

This year there was a downpour, so the crowd was a bit thinner, but I came prepared, wrapped in my Irish wool cape, complete with hood. (A definite Saint Brigid moment…) My husband found a neighboring umbrella, and my little one licked the raindrops off his lips. Lots of people were getting soaked. And then the Gospel was read–and the clouds parted–and the sun came out–and the rain stopped! No joke. The photographer for our local newspaper caught the moment as we all laughed and marveled.

Sandwiches came next, and to my delight I was then presented a gift. Several friends had been conspiring over the holidays and they stood around and told me to open the gift–right then.

First the card

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Which was so sweet. Then the wrapped box, which revealed this! A beautiful cast iron, prosphoron baking pan!

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(And only the day before I had opened another card and gift, from another very special friend.

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I do feel loved. )

So now I have a very special baking pan for the communion bread I make for the church. Do you remember when I mentioned this a while back when I posted my recipe for prosphoron?

But more than a pan, I have confirmation in how love travels, person to person. Whatever it is you are giving, whether it’s bread, or a baking pan, or a trip to the moon, what matters most is the friend.

Thank you, my dear friends…

Kate, Seraphima, Joanne, Judy, Carla, Obadiah, Sara, Kristi, Father Nicholas, and Kh Tammy…

Recipe :: Prosphora

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After many batches of prosphora, some passable, and some not, after split tops, and broken seals, and a stubborn dedication to continue to improve, I am finally passing along this recipe in the wake of the horrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. I’m not sure how else to respond, except to try to continue to commit to giving, to finding and creating beauty, and to pursuing love right here, where I am… And prosphoron is all about giving, beauty, and love. It’s about dying, and resurrection, too, and that’s the kind of light that is needed right now.

Please feel free to comment with your prosphora thoughts below. This recipe is a work in progress!

Time Commitment and (lots of) notes: I usually set aside about three hours to make two batches, which equals six loaves of 8-inch prosphora. I mix and mold and bake one batch right after the other, finding that it’s easier to handle two mixes of five cups of flour, as opposed to manhandling a big mix of ten cups of flour! That’s a lot of dough to knead at one time for a little person like me… I make six loaves of bread, instead of five, because I often have a loaf or two that turn out worse than the others. I take all the loaves to church and allow my priest to decide what to use. If all the loaves are passable then he simply freezes the extra loaf for back up.

Also, I typically put a bit of my sourdough starter in my prosphoron mix for added loveliness. Flavor, connection to my family, natural yeasties–they are all reasons to include some. I have a blessing from my priest to do this. My starter is only flour, water, and yeast–unlike some starters that may have fruit juice, honey, rye flour or other additives. Every now and then I bake the prosphora strictly with my starter, using no commercial yeast, but this takes about 20 hours of waiting so I have to be in a particularly patient and planning-ahead mood!

Oh, and I shape my loaves by hand instead of cutting them with a large round tin, or baking them in a baking pan. Though they can at times be a bit misshapen from my hand-molding, I prefer working with the dough this way. The key is learning how to shape the dough into a ball before flattening.

And another thing! This mix is fairly wet, because I don’t like a super dry crumb that makes a huge mess all over the church floor. Don’t be afraid of sticky-ish dough. Don’t add and add and add flour to a mix because it sticks to your hands. Practice will help show you how to adjust the ratio of flour to water–and it’s true that my five cups of flour to your five cups may absorb water at a different rate.

Tools you need:
  • 2 large mixing bowls (glass or ceramic) with cover
  • an oven :)
  • cloth for first and second risings
  • wooden spoon
  • prosphora stamp
  • optional–dough cutter

Ingredients: (Mix for ONE batch of prosphora–three loaves–about 8″ diameter each)

  • 5 cups all purpose flour (I use Trader Joe’s unbleached flour in the blue bag)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast or instant yeast (can use cake yeast, just need to double it)
  • 2 cups cool water
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (I like sea salt)
  • optional–1/4 cup sourdough starter
What to do:

Step One: Combine flour, salt and yeast (and starter) in a large glass or ceramic bowl–mix with wooden spoon. (Hang on! If you aren’t sure that your yeast is lively –for example, if you buy it in a packet from the grocers and don’t bake often–then proof the yeast by putting it in the mixing bowl first and add some water to it. Wait five minutes to make sure the yeast begins to bubble. If it doesn’t activate, then go find some live yeasties!) Add water. Stir until mix begins to come together. Turn out onto flat surface and knead by hand for ten minutes, or mix with dough hook in electric mixer. Pray while you knead! Say the Jesus Prayer to the rhythmic movements of hand kneading…

Step Two: Transfer dough to a clean, floured bowl. Allow to rise until doubled. Around 90 minutes. Go and hug your kids, or find some kids to hug!

Step Three: Heat oven to 350 degrees. Then divide dough equally into six pieces. Roll into balls (here is a video), then gently flatten tops and set aside for 10-15 minutes, covered by a cloth. This step is crucial, allowing the dough to relax before stamping. (If the dough is firm from just being worked, and you stamp it, it will rise right out of the stamp.)

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Step Four: Take two of the rounds, flatten them with your hand or lightly with a rolling pin, then glue them together with water. Wet the top of one piece and the bottom of another with drops of water, or a spray bottle, then flatten them together. Set aside and do the others until you have three, two-tiered rounds of dough ready to stamp. (Some priests will want these two-tiered loaves, and others won’t. Just ask what your priest prefers. I’ve found that the layering actually helps keep large air bubbles from occurring, and minimizes splitting…)

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Step Five: Flour the top of one of the rounds, press the stamp firmly into the dough. Pull the stamp up out of the dough slowly. Set aside, and stamp the other two rounds. Cover the three stamped dough rounds and allow to rise for another 10 or so minutes.

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Step Six: With a toothpick, skewer, or other pointed object, poke holes around the outside of the lamb (that’s the seal in the center of the stamp) in the form of a cross, then poke 8-12 holes around the outer edge of the seal to allow the steam to escape while baking. The holes help keep the loaves from splitting. Make sure you poke the holes clear through the dough.

Step Seven: Carefully transfer the dough to the oven. I bake them at 350 degrees for 30 minutes on a pizza stone in the middle of my oven, transferring them in and out with my hands and my dough cutter or my spatula. (I’ve baked them successfully on a cookie sheet.) Bake until just beginning to have a golden color.

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Step Eight: Allow to fully cool. Make sure you include your prayer list when you take your lovely offering to church. Many churches like you to put the prosphoron in a plastic bag to ensure moisture retention.

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Here are some additional websites to help you in your prosphoron baking!

  • Father George’s www.prosphora.org where you can find stamps and loads of information on baking prosphora.
  • A really cool baking pan with the stamp imprinted in it. Someday I might have to get me one of these!
  • A recipe by Peter Serko that includes lots of photos and good advice, plus some added links.

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And on her lips were prayers of all sorts: for the rain, and the sun, and the moon, and the wheat – and the bread that was to come.

Prosphora–All Gift

Recently I posted an open letter to prosphora bakers, asking for their help in uncovering some of the secrets of making the perfect loaf of bread for church. The discussion ran from the original post, to a stream of comments on Facebook, to a final landing place of photos on my own Facebook page. All of this was amidst a whole day of trial baking–nine loaves in all–four batches of bread–and the hopes that I might continue my learning and better my baking.

And I think what I learned most didn’t have to do with baking at all. It’s what I already knew–what I’ll always know. This kind of work, this kind of act–something destined not only for myself, but for others too, is ALL a gift. The mixing, the kneading, the prayers, the way the house fills with smells from the oven, the way the bread travels with me, from my home, to the church, to the altar…  Christ makes his home in that bread, just as he makes his home in our hearts–and that eucharistic bread is changed for us–a holy gift to us, reaching from mouth, to stomach, to our hearts.

All gift. So who cares if a few of the loaves split on the sides? Who cares if a few even split across the top?  Three good ones, that’s all Father Nicholas really needs, and the rest, if it comes out well, is simply bonus bread.

All gift. If you bake prosphora, I encourage you to enjoy each and every moment of that process. If a loaf or two come out lame, God doesn’t care, and chances are, your priest won’t either. You offer what you can and leave it at that–proceed from the kitchen to then love those around you, and leave a little more learning for the next time.

(And by the way, the batch I made with using only a sourdough starter, instead of a commercial yeast, came out the best. I’ll be fiddling more with that in the future.)

All gift.

Cheers, my friends…