Saturday, February 26, 2011

Holy Bread.... Prosphora

Today I make communion bread for church tomorrow. I always make for the week of something special. Birthdays, anniversaries or feast days for the family. It is this week for Ben's birthday and he won't even be at church! Generally 3 large loaves of a dense white bread with a special "seal" or stamp on the top that the priest uses for the Lamb during the service for communion of the people.

I start each loaf separately, moving on to the next while the last starts to rise. In the Orthodox church the bread has only 4 ingredients: flour, salt, yeast and water. Prayers are said and the task is started. Once risen, the bread is shaped into loaves, stamped and risen again. Off to the oven for a thorough baking but not browning. The loaves should remain as light as possible but still have an internal temp of 200 degrees.


6-8 cups of flour
2 t yeast
2 t salt
up to 3 cups warm water

I usually begin with my KitchenAid and place all the dry ingredients first and mix with the dough hook. Make a well in the center and add about 2 1/2 c. water. Start mixing and drawing in the flour until a dough forms and begins to pull from the sides. I like a wet dough. Once it comes together (adding more of the water as needed but take care to add  just enough)  take it from the bowl and knead it by hand. It should be slightly sticky but dry enough to knead without additional flour. Let it rise covered till double, about 1 hour or more.

Now, my parish priest likes thick round loaves so I bought 3, 4 inch deep 8" cake pans with removable bottoms, non stick and I have 3 seals. I place the deflated dough in there, flour the top lightly and place a seal on the loaf, pressing moderately. Cover and let rise to the top of the pan meanwhile preheating the oven. Carefully remove the seals once the bread has risen sufficiently and place in oven. I can bake all 3 at once on convection at 350.  About halfway through, I place a remote thermometer in one loaf to make sure we get to 200 degrees. Turn out the loaves on a wire rack when finished. I ususally cover them with a clean towel to keep the crust soft. Make sure the towel is not heavily scented (some folks use Downy fabric softner and you can taste it in the finished loaf...ugh)

Some churches like a flatter, round disk but every priest I know likes a fat, thick "Lamb" so I try to keep it pretty thick. Some churches in the Russian diocese bake small double disks rather than a large loaf.

As an old altar boy, I have cut my fair share of doughy, under baked loaves that we are required to serve regardless. But it's gross,  so I make sure my bread is cooked all the way through. I do make a moist loaf of bread though so its not dry and airy like some of the loaves we get. No one complains (yet).

The priest prepares the bread for communion by taking portions from the seal. Specifically, the center of the seal is inscribed IC XC NI KA in Greek letters means Jesus Christ Conquers All. That square becomes the "Lamb". Along the sides of the seal are 9 symbols and an "M". He takes particles from all over the seal for living and departed, the apostles and saints. The M is for the Mother of God.  All of this will be placed in the common cup at the "epiclesis" and then served to the communicants towards the end of the service.

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