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.
Convent English Muffin Bread
- Lightly grease two 8” loaf pans with Crisco and sprinkle the cornmeal over the bottom of the pans. Set aside
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- 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!)
- 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
- Add your warm milk to your active yeast mixture in a large bowl and sprinkle the sugar over. Mix with a wooden spoon.
- 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.
- 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.
- Divide the dough in half, form two oblong loaves and press these into the prepared pans.
- 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.
- Bake in a 400 degree oven until golden brown and cooked through, about 25 min.
- Remove from the pans immediately onto a cooling rack and let cool.
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.
Prosciutto, Fig and Gorgonzola Pizza with Arugula Salad
- 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).
- Place flour, salt, yeast mixture, and remaining water in mixer bowl fitted with a dough hook.
- 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.
- Drizzle with oil and mix for 2 minutes more. Dough should form a smooth ball and clear the sides of the bowl.
- Turn mixer off, cover top of bowl with plastic wrap, and let rest for 20 minutes.
- Resume mixing on medium low speed for 3 minutes, or until dough forms a smooth ball, clearing sides of bowl.
- Place in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
- Let sit at room temperature for 2 ½ hours. It will double in size. Dough may be used immediately.
Instructions for Assembly:
- Preheat oven to 500 degrees or highest setting
- Cut dough into 4 – 8 oz. balls
- Dust both sides of dough with flour and roll out to make a thin crust
- Drizzle with Olive oil
- Sprinkle generously with Gorgonzola
- Place into a wood fire oven (or regular preheated oven – preferably on a pizza stone)until the crust is starting to golden
- 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.
- Drizzle with olive oil
- Place back into oven for about another minute – watch carefully
- Meanwhile, dress a bunch of fresh arugula with an aged balsamic vinegar, olive oil, salt and pepper
- Once out of oven, top with the dressed arugula, slice and enjoy!
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.
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Dissolve yeast in warm water; add milk, sugar, onion, dill, salt, eggs, shortening or margarine, and 6 cups of flour. Mix well.
- Add enough of the remaining flour to make a soft dough. Knead until smooth and elastic.
- Place in a greased bowl, cover and let rise until doubled in bulk (about 1 hour).
- Punch down and form into rolls or loaves. Place on a greased pan and let rise until doubled in bulk.
- Bake for 12 to 15 minutes for rolls or 20-25 minutes for loaves.
Cape Cod faced an historic winter storm this week. As I was leaving work at Paraclete Press on Monday night, one of my customers emailed me and said, “Sister, don’t forget to stop and get your bread and water on the way home! Be safe in the storm!” I chuckled to myself because, little did she know, we were planning to bake fresh bread that night!
The recipe here has become one of our staples for the Convent. It’s a lovely light whole wheat bread that we have been making for years. Shortly after it comes out of the oven, I always expect to see one of the Sisters sheepishly cutting a heel off one of the loaves and slathering it with butter and honey. I imagine you might too!
Bethany Whole Wheat Bread
- Pour water into a large mixing bowl equipped with a dough hook, sprinkle yeast over and add sugar. Wait at least 5 min until bubbles form on the surface and the yeast is active.
- Add the honey and the oil and mix well on low speed.
- Add the white flour and salt and continue mixing
- Add the whole wheat flour, a cup at a time, just until it starts pulling away from the sides of the bowl. You may not need all the flour listed here, or you may need more depending on the humidity of the day.
- Dough will be barely sticky when it is ready - press your finger into it and see if it springs back
- Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Knead the dough, shape into an oblong loaf and place in well-greased bread pans.
- Let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 15 min. or until the dough is about 1 ½ to 2 inches above the pans.
- Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30-40 min. The bread should pull away from the sides of the pan and sound hollow when you tap on it.
- Transfer to a wire rack to cool … or slice and slather with fresh butter and jam!
In many European countries Epiphany is celebrated as a National Holiday. Last year, I was blessed to be serving at Via Sacra in Italy where I learned about the magical Christian legend of La Befana, an important character in the Christmas festivities. The story of La Befana has been in Italian tradition since the XIII century. The legend tells that la Befana was approached by the Three Wise Men who asked her to lead them to the stable where the baby Jesus lay in a manger. La Befana was too busy sweeping her house, so she declined the offer to go with them. Soon she realized that she had made a mistake, so she gathered up a bag full of gifts and set off alone, flying on her broom in search of the baby Jesus. Though she followed the same star as the Magi, she was unable to find the stable. Undaunted, la Befana continues to travel the world to this day, searching every house for the Christ child, leaving gifts. On January 6, the first day of Epiphany, Italian children search their stockings for gifts from La Befana as a sign that they have been good that year.
Celebrate Epiphany with us by baking Dreikönigskuchen (A Cake for Three Kings) a specialty sweet roll found in bakeries all over Liechtenstein at this time of year!
Dreikönigskuchen (A Cake for Three Kings)
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk and add sugar – wait about 5 min until the yeast starts to work. Add the rest of the ingredients, starting with the liquids and going to solid, adding the flour last. Add the flour 1 cup at a time until the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl and it springs back to the touch. You may not need all the flour.
- Once a soft, smooth ball forms, set it aside to rise until doubled in bulk, about 2 1/2 hours. Be sure to cover it and place in a warm spot.
- Divide the dough into 8 Pieces, one a little larger than the rest.
- Roll each piece into a ball and arrange the 7 smaller balls around the slightly larger one on a sheet pan, forming a flower. Poke an almond into the bottom of one of the rolls. Let rise another 30 minutes, then brush with the egg wash.
- Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 F. Prepare the glaze by mixing the apricot jelly with a tablespoon of hot water.
- Bake the rolls for 30-40 minutes, or until deep golden brown. Brush with several coats of apricot glaze and sprinkle with the coarse sugar. It’ll sparkle in the sunlight, like a beautiful jewel
- Next, add a real crown. You can make one out of a brown paper bag or, if you happen to have one of these laying around…
- Let a lucky someone find the almond and be royalty for the day! Serve it with a big cup of tea or coffee and … an epiphany or two.
Our Monastic Bake Shop opens for Advent, just in time for people to select delicious home-baked goods for their Christmas table. One of the favorite sweet breads that people return for is the lovely St. Lucia Bread. A rich, dense dough filled with citron, saffron and almonds, and decorated like a wreath, has been a long-standing tradition for our Bakeshop, started by one of our own Sisters, Sr. Lucia.
Traditionally, when we make our first profession as Sisters, we also take on a new name – symbolizing our new life wedded to Christ. Sr. Lucia became a novice in early December. When she was preparing to take her vows, she prayed about what her new name should be. One of the Sisters told her that she had an idea of a name for her. The Sister next to her said, “Now don’t overwhelm our new novice with another big decision!” But she couldn’t bear the suspense, and she told her the name: Lucia. A bit later, a different Sister mentioned that she had received a name for her, and it was the same one! She decided to learn more about who St Lucia was, only to discover that her feast day was celebrated on December 13th — the exact day that the name had been suggested to her! She couldn’t deny that God was speaking. It turns out that her middle name had been Lucille after her maternal grandmother, and years later it was discovered that her actual given name had been Lucia!
- In a large mixer, soften the yeast in the warm water
- Heat the milk until warm. Add the oil and sugar and stir to dissolve.
- Add this mixture to the yeast mixture in the mixer
- Add salt and saffron
- Add the 3 slightly beaten eggs and mix with dough hook.
- Add the lemon zest, citron and almonds and continue mixing
- One cup at a time, add the flour and mix well after each addition. Stop adding the flour when the dough starts pulling away from the side of the bowl. Adding more flour if necessary.
- Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for 5 min, or until dough becomes smooth and elastic; adding flour as necessary.
- Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 1 hr. (At this point, you can refrigerate the dough, if you want to work with it later).
- Divide the dough into six equal balls and roll into large ropes and then braid three together, making two braids.
- Pinch the two ends together and tuck under, forming two circular loaves.
- Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Line two sheet pans with baking paper, or grease, and put a braided loaf on each pan.
- Cover and let rise in a warm place, until doubled.
- Combine the remaining egg with a tablespoon of water to make an egg wash, and brush on the braids.
- Bake for about 20-25 min or until the loaf feels firm to the touch. If you would like to use a thermometer, the internal temperature should read about 190 degrees.
- While the bread is baking, prepare your frosting, mixing all ingredients until smooth and on the thicker side. Cut your cherries in half.
- Remove bread from the oven and cool slightly, then decorate, using the green cherries as leaves, and the red as berries.