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Portland, OR, United States
I am finishing up my midwifery apprenticeship and plan to be a real midwife early in 2014!

Monday, August 20, 2007

Elizabeth's Further Experimentation with Prosphora

Well, perhaps this should be in my cooking blog, but that's the breaks. Life doesn't compartmentalize neatly always.

I've been wanting to try out making whole wheat communion bread for years. But I haven't made prosphora at home in....I don't know how many years. A lot. Today I was making raisin bread--the first bread I've baked at home all summer! How did that happen? Anyway, I thought hey, I should whip up a prosphora as well! So I did.

The problems with it are all different from the problems I thought I'd have. I thought there would be problems with the crumb, with the texture, with the taste. It turns out the problems are 100% with the seal--it doesn't show up very well at all.

Here's how I tried it:
I used the same recipe as for white flour, just subbing whole wheat flour. I kneaded it probably a bit more than I would have for white flour, until it as nice and stretchy. And then here's where I deviated from the original: instead of putting it directly into the pan, I let it rise once in the bowl. After it rose and I poked it with a wet finger and it didn't rise back up right away, I shaped it--two balls, flatten one and put it in the pan. Flatten the other and seal it with the seal, then wet the first disk and put the sealed on on top. (This is a new technique I learned from another lady who was teaching prosphora at camp--I have before sealed both pieces together, or just as one piece.) Then I let it rise and baked it as usual.

The taste is pretty good! I can imagine that people who don't like whole wheat bread will certainly not like this. But I think it's pretty darn good--very flavorful for communion bread!

So, anyway, here's my recipe for communion bread (not perfected for the seal...)
3 to 4 cups whole wheat flour plus more for kneading (home-ground is the *best*)
1 1/2 cups warm water
2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon salt

Place three cups flour and salt in a large mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon. Add the yeast to the warm water, stirring as you pour slowly to wet each grain. Make a well in the flour and pour the water into it. Mix just the center at first, combining well, then stir in the rest of the flour. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more flour until you can knead it.

Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, until the dough is stretchy and you can pull a piece into a paper-thin sheet without it tearing (or almost). Put back into the bowl and cover with a plate. (No oil in communion bread, please!)

After about an hour and a half, poke a wet finger into the center, up to the first knuckle, then pull it out. If the dough slowly rises back, it's not ready yet. If it just sits there it's ready. (If the dough sighs and deflates, you've let it rise too long!) Divide it in two, then form each into a disk. Put flour on the bottom of your pan--a cake pan works well, but so does a plain old cookie sheet. Again, no oil! Place one disk on the flour, then press the seal into the other disk--hard. Now, here's where I had trouble--the first time, the dough stuck like crazy and I had to wash it and re-do the disk. So then the seal was wet and I floured the top of the disk, and it came out okay then....though the seal still didn't show up very well. Cover and let rise until double, then bake in a 350 degree oven until done, maybe an hour? Thump the bottom with your thumb and if it sounds hollow, it's done. Hopefully your seal will turn out better than mine!

Prosphora has specific needs--it only contains these four ingreadients: flour, water, yeast, salt. No oil, no sweetener. So it can be a bit finicky. But I think we can figure this one out!


Christina said...

A woman in our parish experimented with whole wheat prosphora. We (I'm one of the "prosphora bakers" at our church) use half whole wheat and half white flour. It seems to do well. We do not put one on top of the other (I used to do that). http://www.stjohngoc.org/prosphoro.html

that's the link to our prosphora recipe (although it says bread flour, we use 1/2 white and 1/2 wheat).

Elizabeth said...

Oh cool! You know, all I've heard is "it can't be done" and "it shouldn't be done." And here you are at St. John's, just doing it. Is that how all your prosphora is? Maybe I'll have to come over for a liturgy, just to sample the prosphora! :-)

Mimi said...

I've never tried Prosphora.

Mimi said...

I should clarify, that's tried making it, not not tried eating it :)

Molly Newman said...

Can you possibly at some point do some sort of a post on the liturgical/symbolical meaning behind prosphora?

(Godless heathens wanna know.)

Elizabeth said...


Molly--do they really? Okay, I will. :-)