Simple French Bread

This week took me back to serving at Villa Via Sacra, the home of the Mount Tabor Center for Art and Spirituality in Barga, Italy. What a blessing to be back in this verdant and beautiful area of Tuscany. This is the peak of Tuscany’s summer season when tomatoes, eggplants, cucumbers, peaches and nectarines are all in abundance. After a busy summer of offering hospitality to various groups, the villa household has quieted down for a wee bit. August 15th is a national holiday for the Feast of the Assumption. We felt it was only right to celebrate this special day in true Italian style, which means pack a picnic and head for the cooler air of the mountains! We did just that: a simple meal of homemade bread, cheese (pecorino stagione, ricotta and parmigiano), meats (mortadella, sopressata and prosciutto cotto), some garden vegetables of cucumbers, tomatoes and olives, a bottle of red wine and a fresh fruit salad.

We enjoyed this fresh French bread with our picnic. Delightful to eat with cheese and meats or just a little olive oil, it requires little rising time, so it’s a wonderful go-to bread recipe that you can make and bake within an hour.

Andiamo mangiare!

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Simple French Bread
SERVINGS
2loaves
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
loaves
COOK TIME
25-30 minutes
PREP TIME
10 minutes
READY IN
1hr

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees
  2. Activate your yeast by sprinkling it over the hot water in a bowl and whisk with a fork until dissolved and add 1 Tbsp of the sugar - let sit until foamy - about 5 min.
  3. Add the remaining sugar (3 Tbsp) and then the flour a cup at a time, mixing in as you go (you can use a stand mixer with a dough hook for this step, if you'd like). Add the salt at some point along the way. Stop adding the flour if your dough is no longer sticky.
  4. When the dough no longer sticks to the side of the bowl, turn the dough out onto your counter and divide into two balls.
  5. Using the palm of your hand to kneed out any air bubbles, roll the dough into two long loaves.
  6. Let rise slightly (about 10 min.) and brush with the egg-wash.
  7. Bake for 25-30 min, or until golden or reaches an internal temperature of 190 degrees.
  8. This recipe can also be used to make nice breadsticks.

Zesty Orange Rolls

One of our Sisters — who is an experienced cook and baker — is teaching one of our Community young girls how to bake, and she is becoming quite successful at it. Not only is she acquiring valuable experience, she is at the same time using this as an effective fund raiser by selling the bread to the Community houses. Proceeds from the sales are divided between the convent and the “young baker in training” to pay for her music lessons and other band related expenses.

I love to watch the two of them together turning out beautiful, fragrant warm loaves of various breads: whole wheat, oatmeal raisin, English muffin, and cinnamon swirl to mention a few – such a wholesome nurturing sight! From time to time they will feature some type of sweet roll such as sticky buns, or cheese Danish. This week they are offering frosted orange rolls. I doubt there will be any left over.

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Zesty Orange Rolls
SERVINGS
30rolls
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
rolls
COOK TIME
25minutes
PREP TIME
2hours
READY IN

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. In small bowl, dissolve yeast in water.
  2. In large bowl, mix milk, shortening, sugar, salt, and egg.
  3. Add yeast mix; blend well.
  4. Stir in enough flour to make a soft dough.
  5. Kneed on floured board for about 7 minutes.
  6. Put in greased bowl, turn to grease top.
  7. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
  8. Punch dough down; divide in half.
  9. Roll each into a 15"x10" rectangle.
  10. Mix filling ingredients until smooth.
  11. Spread half on each rectangle.
  12. Roll up, starting with the long end.
  13. Cut each into 15 rolls.
  14. Put in 2 greased 11"x7" baking pans.
  15. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  16. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit for 20-25 minutes, until lightly browned.
  17. Mix glaze ingredients, spread over warm rolls.

Good Friday Hot Cross Buns

Good Friday marks the second day of the Triduum (from the Latin for ‘three days’), the day on which we commemorate the Lord’s crucifixion and death. The Good Friday liturgies at our monastery (and many others around the world) mark our observance of Christ’s final hours, picking up from Maundy Thursday Eucharist, and continuing through the Holy Saturday Vigil, the Great Vigil of Easter, and carrying us all the way to Easter morning.

In keeping with the solemnity of the day, we remember Christ’s death by bringing to the liturgy of the hours the full range of spiritual depth and beauty found in the ancient texts; we participate in the veneration of the cross, and chant Gospel Passion Narrative. It is a special and holy time, filled with moments of silence, listening, reflection and conviction, as well as a time of joy-filled anticipation.

This day of the Cross marks us with God’s presence, and He marks us for his own.

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Good Friday Hot Cross Buns
SERVINGS
1dozen buns
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
dozen buns
COOK TIME
25mins
PREP TIME
30mins
READY IN
3hrs

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Dissolve the yeast by sprinkling it over the very warm water and add a pinch of sugar to activate.
  2. Heat milk in a medium saucepan over low heat until about 100 degrees F. (but no more than 110 degrees)
  3. In a mixer, fitted with a dough hook, add the warmed milk to the yeast mixture.
  4. Plump the raisins (or currants) and citron in the microwave with a little orange juice; cool and set aside
  5. To the yeast & milk mixture add the remaining sugar, melted butter, egg yolk and extract.
  6. Add the salt, nutmeg, cinnamon and ginger to the mixture and continue kneading.
  7. Add the flour, 1 cup at a time, until the dough starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl.
  8. Remove the orange juice from the raisins and citron and discard.
  9. Add the raisins and citron to the dough and mix well. The dough should be slightly sticky and not dry.
  10. Knead until soft and elastic, about 8 min. Shape into a ball.
  11. Brush the inside of a large bowl with butter. Put dough in the bowl and turn to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about 1 hr. 30 min. **
  12. To form the rolls: Pam a 9x13” pyrex pan. Turn the dought out of the bowl and roll into a log. With a dough cutter or sharp knife, divide the dough into 12 equal portions. Roll each of these pieces into a round bun shape, tucking the edges under.
  13. Place them seam side down in the prepared pan, leaving a little space between each roll. Cover the pan with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until the rolls are doubled in size, about 45 min. or longer.
  14. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. and prepare your egg wash.
  15. Prepare glaze: In a mixer, combine powdered sugar, milk and vanilla or almond extract and oil until smooth (the oil will give it a high gloss). The icing should be quite thick. If too runny, add more powdered sugar. Transfer icing to a pastry bag or a ziplock bag with a corner snipped off.
  16. Remove the plastic wrap from the top of the rolls and brush the buns with egg wash. Bake rolls until golden brown and puffy, about 25 min. (an instant read thermometer inserted into the roll should read 190 degrees F.)
  17. Ice buns with a thick cross shape on the top of the warm buns and serve.

** Please note:  This dough might take a long time to rise, but be patient...it is worth the wait because they will come out nice and light!

Convent English Muffin Bread

I have always found bread baking to be an intensely spiritual and creative act. You mix, you knead, you wait. It is prayer.

In our Convent during Lent, we always make an effort to serve a traditional Lenten meal, most often with candlelight and readings. A simple sampling of hard boiled eggs, cheese, some dried fruits, and nuts, is always accompanied by a smorgasbord of beautiful homemade breads. Tonight is no exception. With 65 Sisters in our Convent, we start early with our bread baking and continue through the day.

I am partial to this recipe, one that my grandmother passed on to me, and I am blessed to pass it on to you. It is wonderful sliced and toasted with a big smear of butter and jam. Don’t be daunted by making bread—there is really no fear to be had here! Bake and break bread with your family this Lent and see what God can do.

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Convent English Muffin Bread
SERVINGS
2loaves
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
loaves
COOK TIME
25minutes
PREP TIME
15​minutes
READY IN
2hours or less

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Lightly grease two 8” loaf pans with Crisco and sprinkle the cornmeal over the bottom of the pans. Set aside
  2. Preheat oven to 400 degrees
  3. Sprinkle your yeast over the very warm water, mix with a fork and leave for about 5 min. until bubbles form and your yeast is “active”. (If your yeast doesn’t do anything at this stage, throw it out and begin again!)
  4. Microwave your milk until it is very warm to the touch, but not so much that you can’t stick your finger in it, about 125 degrees
  5. Add your warm milk to your active yeast mixture in a large bowl and sprinkle the sugar over. Mix with a wooden spoon.
  6. Add ​the​ flour, one cup at a time, stirring the dough as you go. After adding about 2 cups of flour, add your salt and baking soda, then add the remainder of your flour.
  7. The dough will look quite dry and stiff at this point, so remove the dough onto a counter and knead the rest of the flour into the dough until it is a smooth dough.
  8. Divide the dough in half, form two oblong loaves and press these into the prepared pans.
  9. Put the dough in a warm place to rise, covered with a tea towel, for about 45 min. The dough should be doubled in size.
  10. Bake in a 400 degree oven until golden brown and cooked through, about 25 min.
  11. Remove from the pans immediately onto a cooling rack and let cool.

Prosciutto, Fig and Gorgonzola Pizza with Arugula Salad

This past spring, the brass group of our community built us an amazing outdoor kitchen and wood fire oven inspired by the one we have at Villa Via Sacra, our mission house in Barga, Italy.  All summer long and even now into the colder months of fall, we’ve been able to fire up the oven and make one of our favorite foods, amongst other things, pizza!

When I served at Villa Via Sacra, I invented a Tuscan pizza of gorgonzola and prosciutto with fig jam that we had made from our gorgeous fig tree.  It was delicious – almost like dessert – and we quickly adopted it as one of our “house pizzas”.  This past weekend, we hosted a men’s retreat at our community, so I thought it might be fun to make some adaptions to this recipe and really perfect it – once and for all.  I am so happy with the results!  Thin crust pizza with a mixture of sweet and salty ingredients topped with a salad of crisp nutty arugula that’s been tossed in a balsamic vinaigrette.  Heaven begins here!  It doesn’t get much better than this!  Now that figs are readily available in the market (get green fresh ones, not dried) and certainly are a treat to many, you just might want to fire up your oven and give this a try.

Andiamo mangiare!

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Prosciutto, Fig and Gorgonzola Pizza with Arugula Salad
SERVINGS
4-6
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
COOK TIME
5minutes
PREP TIME
20minutes
READY IN
4hours

Ingredients

Instructions

Dough:
  1. Place ¼ cup very warm water in a small bowl and sprinkle with the yeast. Let sit for 5 minutes or until yeast is hydrated and creamy (This will allow the yeast to be quickly absorbed by the flour).
  2. Place flour, salt, yeast mixture, and remaining water in mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook.
  3. Mix on low speed for 2 minutes to combine. If the dough appears too wet and sticky and is not combining, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time while mixing until dough takes on a “shaggy” appearance.
  4. Drizzle with oil and mix for 2 minutes more. Dough should form a smooth ball and clear the sides of the bowl.
  5. Turn mixer off, cover top of bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest for 20 minutes.
  6. Resume mixing on medium low speed for 3 minutes, or until dough forms a smooth ball, clearing sides of bowl.
  7. Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
  8. Let sit at room temperature for 2 ½ hours. It will double in size. Dough may be used immediately.
Instructions for Assembly:
  1. Preheat oven to 500 degrees or highest setting
  2. Cut dough into 4 – 8 oz. balls
  3. Dust both sides of dough with flour and roll out to make a thin crust
  4. Drizzle with Olive oil
  5. Sprinkle generously with Gorgonzola
  6. Place into a wood fire oven (or regular preheated oven – preferably on a pizza stone)until the crust is starting to golden
  7. Remove from oven and quickly distribute on top of the pizza: sliced fresh figs, cover with slices of prosciutto and dot with fig jam and mascarpone cheese – don’t get too heavy on any one ingredient or your end result will be soggy and the individual flavors will be lost.
  8. Drizzle with olive oil
  9. Place back into oven for about another minute – watch carefully
  10. Meanwhile, dress a bunch of fresh arugula with an aged balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper
  11. Once out of oven, top with the dressed arugula, slice and enjoy!

Savory Dill Rolls

I never cease to be amazed at the number of Sisters who love to bake bread or want to learn how. It always results in a most satisfying experience for all, both those who make it and those who eat it. So we bake and serve a wide variety of breads for the convent and for our guests. But like every other category of foods, there are always some that have more appeal than others and become old standbys. This is the case with our SAVORY dill bread , which is a favorite all year round, but especially at this time of year when fresh dill is flourishing in our herb garden.

This is a flavorful soft textured dough that can be formed into loaves for slicing or various shaped rolls to accompany salads or dinners. Whatever shape they are baked into they are sure to please.

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Savory Dill Rolls
SERVINGS
3dozen rolls
CHANGE SERVING SIZE
dozen rolls
COOK TIME
12-15 mins (for rolls)20-25 mins (for loaves)
PREP TIME
1 hr30 mins
READY IN
1 hr 45 mins2 hrs 10 mins

Ingredients

Instructions

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Dissolve yeast in warm water; add milk, sugar, onion, dill, salt, eggs, shortening or margarine, and 6 cups of flour. Mix well.
  3. Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead until smooth and elastic.
  4. Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).
  5. Punch down and form into rolls or loaves. Place on a greased pan and let rise until doubled in bulk.
  6. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes for rolls or 20-25 minutes for loaves.