Items for baking:
1. A very large bowl
2. A wooden spoon
3. Parchment paper and/or silicone baking mats.
4. Waxed paper
5. Baking sheets, jelly roll pans or Pizza pans – 3 pans for 2 ½ lbs. flour plus one for communion hosts.
6. An old table cloth or an old bed sheet – used, but very clean. It may get stained with oil. That is alright. Keep it for baking only.
7. A bath sheet (towel) or small thermal blanket
8. A glass measuring cup
9. Kitchen scales
10. Kitchen (cooking, meat) thermometer
11. A couple of kitchen towels
12. A rolling pin
13. A large and a small biscuit cutter. A water glass and wine glass will work, but do not cut as cleanly.
14. A bread stamp (A carved, round wooden or plastic piece to press onto the dough just before baking)
15. Cooling racks
16. Pot holders
17. Aluminum Foil,
18. Sandwich sized zip lock bags
19. Gallon size food and bread bags. These are not zip locked and come in boxes of about 75 and tie with ties.
20. White paper towels
21. A pastry brush
1. White Bread flour – Gold Medal tastes better than Pillsbury. I don’t know why. Pillsbury bread flour is very acceptable and is better than any all-purpose flour. 5lb. bag. Other brands are fine, but be sure it is bread flour, not all-purpose flower. White is the tradition; nothing else is used in the Antiochian Archdiocese in this country that I know about. Note: if you store flour too long you may find weevils in the bag when you open it. Store in the refrigerator.
2. Table salt
3. Olive or other vegetable oil – light, not extra virgin. Do not use sesame oil; it stains.
4. Oil in spray can such as Pam or the type you pump up yourself to spray
5. White granulated sugar – only a two teaspoons full (Honey will work)
6. Dry yeast – any type that comes in 1/4 oz. packages or in bulk 1pk will do for any amount of flour.
Start by having a very clean section of counter near the sink. A pastry board or pastry cloth is useful, but not necessary. In the glass measuring cup pour in 1/4 to 1/3 cup of very warm water. 115 degrees is ideal. Add a teaspoon or so of sugar. The portions are not important. Add one packet of dry yeast. One packet is sufficient for 1 or for 5 or more loaves. It is expensive and more will not be better. Set this aside where you can keep your eye on it. It should foam up (proof) after 5 minutes. If it is does not, start over. Check the date on the yeast package – very often out of date yeast does not work.
While we usually use 5 lbs of flour per batch, I would start with half a bag if you are new at bread making. Put a little less than half a bag of flour in the bowl. (For the compulsive: There are 21 cups of flour in a 5 lb bag. You do the math if you wish to measure.) Add very warm water and stir. Start with two cups, stir and add the proofed yeast mixture. Add a table spoon of salt. Keep adding very warm water until not quite all the flour is barely moistened. Just how much water varies with humidity and altitude. It is never quite the same. The flour should be moist enough to be formed into a big ball that can be picked up easily. Leave the dough in the bowel, cover and let it set (rest) for 30 minutes or so. Kneading will be much easier if it rests at this point. (One can do all this the night before baking day to reduce time on baking day.)
The dough should be moist enough to stick together well, but not be too sticky and hard to handle. This is a good time to add more water if necessary. Put a good hand full of flour on the counter spreading it around. Pour the dough onto the counter. Wash the bowl and dry it. Put flour on your hands. Taking the dough in both hands push down and forward with the heals of your palms. Fold the dough over onto itself from one side and turn that side toward you. Push again as before. Keep this push-fold-turn-push again process up for 10 minutes minium. 15 minutes is better, but this is a tiresome process. (Needing on a surface lower than the kitchen counter makes the work easier.) Add more flour to the counter and your hands as the dough becomes sticky. The dough should become smooth and elastic.
Put some olive oil in your clean bowel; use enough to just barely cover half the bottom and to swirl up the sides a couple of inches. Two tablespoons of oil should be enough. Form the dough into a ball and put into the bowl. Oil the bottom of the dough ball in the bowel and turn the dough over with the oiled side up. A crust will form on the dough during the rising, if you omit this. Make the sign of the cross in the dough three times. Cover the bowl with waxed paper and then with a kitchen towel. Set the bowel in the warmest, most draft free part of the kitchen. If your kitchen is cold, set the bowl in a pan of very warm water. Usually this is not necessary.
On a large surface, spread the bed sheet. Set out the baking pans on half the sheet. The other half of the sheet will be folded over the pans and loaves to cover them later when they are rising. Three pans should do if you are starting with 2 ½ lbs. of flour. You can grease the pans with olive oil or any other vegetable shortening. Some use corn meal. It should work, but my bread always sticks. I use parchment paper and no oil. It makes cleaning the pans much easier. It is a little expensive, but I reuse it several times. It is 100 % effective to prevent sticking even for me. Silicone baking mats work well too, but are very expensive initially. Tear off pieces of waxed paper for each loaf a little larger than the pans and set them aside. Clean up the counter and wash the spoon, sink etc.
The time varies, but in about two hours, press on the dough with your finger. When the dent stays, it is fully risen. It will be about double in bulk. Punch the dough down. This is to get the air bubbles out of it. Flour the counter and pour out the dough onto it. Kneed the dough a minute or so to finish getting the big bubbles out. Divide the dough into parts (four for 2 ½ lbs flour; eight for 5 lbs.) They should be the size of a large orange, about 12 to 14oz. (16 to 18 oz for large congregations.) I have a little scale from a dollar store. This way one gets even-sized loaves. Reserve one part for communion hosts for Western Rite parishes (if using 5 lbs of flour, reserve two parts for hosts). One at a time, shape each loaf into a round ball with no seams or creases. Place it on a prepared baking sheet. Repeat with the others. One may oil each loaf lightly and cover each with waxed paper. Spraying the waxed paper with ‘Pam’ rather than spraying the dough makes cleaning the pans easier. Bring the sheet up and fold it over the bread pans. Cover with the very large towel or thermal blanket. I have a small space and do not use the sheet underneath; any substitute or approximation is acceptable. It is to keep the dough warm and draft free.
For making Western Rite Hosts: Flatten the 4th part of the dough with your hands on a well floured counter. Turn it over. Cover it with a piece of waxed paper and then with a kitchen towel. In 15 to 20 minutes uncover and roll the dough with the rolling pin. Begin at the center and roll toward the edges. Flour the counter well. Turn the dough over, cover and let it set again. It takes a while for the gluten to stretch and allow the dough to be flattened. You can speed up the process by flattening it with your finger tips, but basically you cannot rush it. I find doing two pans (batches) of the communion hosts at a time difficult. I do one after the other or do the first, bake the loves, then do the second.
Meanwhile, keep checking the three loaves after an hour or so. When they keep a dent when tested, with your fingers gently flatten the loaves by pulling lightly from the center. They should be flattened to about an inch of thickness and be the size of a small dinner plate. Cover them with the waxed paper, sheet and blanket again. Set the shelves in the oven to one up from the bottom and the other one level down from the top.
When the dough rolled out on the counter is the thickness of pie crust, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. (A toaster oven works well for baking hosts as well.) Be sure the dough is floured so that it may be moved. It must be moved to a baking sheet; it is important that it does not stick to the counter. Cover the baking sheet with parchment paper or silicone mat. Move the dough to it. Folding it over a rolling pin to move may help. Allow the dough to rise 20 to 30 minutes as before. Cut 3 to 4 large rounds (about 3 inches in diameter) and the remaining dough into rounds the size of half dollars with biscuit cutters. Remove the web left between the rounds. It can be made into a ball and flattened and rolled out to make hosts too. Allow them to rise for 20 minutes or so. Stamp the large rounds with the floured stamp on the handle of the bread seal firmly. Be very careful to stamp in the center of the round of dough; press straight down. This is more difficult than it sounds. Do not move them from the parchment on the baking sheet for cutting or stamping. They become elliptical very easily. (A pastry cloth makes a good cutting surface too. Move them to the baking sheet with a spatula from the cloth before stamping.) Bake immediately after stamping. Bake 6 minutes. Cool on a kitchen towel. Have zip lock type sandwich bags ready when they are cooled. Do not allow them to stand long after thoroughly cool, they become very hard if you do. Make up packets each of one large, stamped host and packets of enough of the smaller ones for a service – seven. It may seem obsessive, but I wrap each packet of hosts in a white paper towel, then in aluminum foil and then into a zip-lock bag if they are to be frozen. When they thaw, moisture collects on the bread. The napkin absorbs this. The foil keeps them from picking up refrigerator tastes. At the Church the small breads are cut into 4ths, but can be cut into 6ths if more are needed. Also failed 3 inch priest hosts may be cut into 10 parts for communicating the people. We have a cutting board and knife at church for cutting the Holy Bread into cubes. This is used to cut up the peoples hosts to be consecrated.
Turn the oven up to 375 for the loaves. Uncover the loaves. Flour the wooden seal lightly, but thoroughly. Brush off excess with a pastry brush (a new paint brush works very well). Stamp the first to be baked with the seal. Really press it into the dough. While holding the seal in place, take a skewer or swizzle stick and make three holes deep into the dough on each of four sides. Say in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Ghost as you make each of these. Gently lift the seal. It may stick a bit; that is good. You will have a better impression if it does. Remove the seal slowly using the skewer around the edge. At the intersection of each of the lines in the seal imprint in the dough, make a deep hole with the skewer or swizzle stick. There are 16 of these punctures.
Place the first loaf in lower shelf of the oven. Set the timer for 7 minutes. If your loaves turn out to be over 9 inches in diameter bake 8 minutes. Stamp the second loaf. When the timer sounds, move the first loaf from the lower shelf to the upper and put the second loaf in the oven on the lower shelf. Set the timer again. Repeat the process. They are fully baked at 200 to 205 degrees. Check this with a thermometer unless you are an experienced baker and can assess doneness by the sound made when thumping. I have had better success since I take the temperature of the loaf.
With pot holders take each finished loaf off the baking sheet to a cooling rack. It should lift right off the baking sheet. If it sticks wait a couple of minutes. Do not cover while cooling. If loves are to be frozen, when fully cooled, wrap in a paper towel – one sheet – then wrap aluminum foil, and place in a gallon sized plastic bag. Again, do not wrap until they are fully cooled.
To thaw, take the bread out of the freezer and put in the regular part of the ice box the day before it is used so it thaws slowly. Microwave thawing works. Slow thawing retains a better flavor, I think. This may be a product of my imagination too. Bread may be refrozen, if that occasion arises. You may freeze loaves at home, bring them to Church in the car where they will start to though; that is not a problem if some of the batch goes into the freezing compartment of the fridge at Church.
My bread never comes out the same twice in a row. Don’t feel alone if you have failures. Good seal making takes lots of practice and a good stamp. In the Western Rite it really doesn’t make a difference if the stamps on the loves come out well or if the loaves are stamped at all since the lamb portion is not used for the consecration. However, I always stamp the loaves. The large communion hosts are used by the priest. Make a couple of extras to allow for baking failures.
If you are very familiar with making bread, ignore half of this. Do it your way.