View Orthodox:Making Prosphora
The Holy Art of Prosphora Baking
A word to the beginner…
Baking is an art. That means, just because you followed the recipe doesn’t mean the bread always comes out the way you intended. Just like singing or painting icons, it takes some practice and still there will be mistakes. Go easy on yourself as you learn. Don’t pour holy water in the dough or make long prayers in front of your first loaf, since you will more than likely be feeding it to the birds or wishing you could put jam on it as you eat your mistakes. You are not in the 5th century, so you don’t bake bread daily. If you do bake every day, then your prosphora probably comes out pretty reliable. For those of us in this century, it takes years to acquire the skill…and still we have problems. After all, yeast is a living creature. Most of all, enjoy learning! It is the Christian calling to grow in the life with God, and so try to grow as a baker and continue developing your skills all your life. Learn from your mistakes, glorify God for your successes and never cease to relish the feel of well-kneaded dough!
Fr. George Aquaro .... Prosphora.org
A Few Thoughts
As Fr. George so eloquently describes above prosphora baking is not a precise science, it requires patience and perseverance to get things just right. The interaction of yeast and flour is key. Depending on the type of yeast and flour (and the time of year) these two key ingredients can react very differently. I use a very “lively” high gluten flour and a dry bulk commercial yeast. My initial prosphora baking adventure failed due to not understanding how these ingredients interact (along with a big dose of pride). I continued to experiment until things turned out right. The reader’s experience will undoubtedly be different from mine.
I am by no means an expert baker. I offer this brief tutorial to help those interested in learning how to bake prosphora “Russian Style”. In the “Slavic Orthodox” tradition the faithful “offer” small prosphora in commemoration of the living and reposed during the Proskemide Service. They then take the “blessed” prosphora home to consume with holy water during the week to break the nightly fast. Prosphora used for the Eucharist is made in the same way but in a larger size.
A few suggestions:
Don’t skimp on quality, buy good flour, not the cheapest thing you can find. If you have foul tasting water use filtered or bottled water. Make sure your yeast is fresh. If you buy in bulk keep it in an airtight container in the refrigerator. If you don’t bake a lot buy only what you need for a few batches.
There are, of course, as many recipes and techniques as there are prosphora bakers. Consult some of the resources below and explore a few of the other recipes and methods available online.
May God Bless and Reward Your Efforts!
Prosphora.org It’s not pretty but a very good resource.
Foolproof Recipe The basic “Russian Style” recipe I used in this demo. There are many others on the website.
Technical Baking Tips This is a must read for anyone learning to bake prosphora.
Assemble all the ingredients and equipment to be used and say this prayer:
O Lord Jesus Christ, only-begotten Son of the Eternal Father, who has said: Without me you can do nothing! O Lord, My God, with faith I accept your words. Help me, a sinner, to prepare the bread of offering, that the works of my hands may be acceptable at the Holy Table and may become through the works of Thy Holy Spirit, the communion of ‘`Thy Most Pure Body for me and all Thy people.” In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Make the sign of the Cross blessing all ingredients.
Cutters and Prosphora Stamp
Dough cutters can be just about anything of the proper dimension: soup cans, drinking glass, etc. It is best when making Russian style prosphora to have two cutters of different diameters, smaller for the top piece that holds the imprint. Shown above are a nesting set of biscuit cutters along with a small prosphora stamp: IC XC NIKA “Jesus Christ conquers”. The above stamp and a matching larger one (used for prosphora for the Eucharist) were purchased at Prophora.org.
⇒ Yeast should be dissolved in warm water (110-120°F) mixture and left for about 10-15 minutes for the yeast to begin to work.
Mix and Knead
⇒ Gradually add flour to mixer and stop when a light batter is achieved. Beat for 5-6 minutes.
⇒ Change to dough hook and slowly add more flour and allow mixer to knead the dough. Add small amounts of flour to keep dough from sticking to hook or sides.
Of course, if you don’t have a mixer you will do all the above by hand.
⇒ Hand knead for 3-4 minutes to attain a dough that is smooth and fairly dry (hand and fingers don’t stick).