Monday, September 19, 2011

How to make Prosphera (Orthodox Holy Bread)

The bread used in communion is a special  bread, that is baked every Saturday in preparation for liturgy.   It is stamped with a special seal before it is baked. Here is what I learned at a recent prosphera baking workshop.

  • 1 package yeast (or 2 ½ teaspoons yeast)
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 4 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water
  • Holy water

First cross yourself and begin with a prayer. Pour a little holy water in the bowl and make the sign of the cross in the bottom of your mixing wold. Then pour a half a cup warm water in the bowl and add the yeast and salt. The salt preserves the prosphera and is food for the yeast.  I was surprised that there was no sugar in this bread, since I’ve always used sugar as food for yeast, but salt is enough food to get the yeast started. When  the yeast is softened, add the other cup of warm water and begin to add the flour one cup at a time. Save ½ cup for kneading.
Begin to knead the dough in the bowl, then turn it out on a floured surface and knead thoroughly, adding more flour if needed. Knead in a prayerful manner. Start with the Jesus prayer and go on to pray for your loved ones and members of your church while kneading.

When the dough is dense, but still workable, make it into a ball and place in the bowl. Make the sign of the cross into the dough with the side of your hand, and cover it with a damp cotton towel. Let rise until double in a safe, warm place. This should take about an hour and a half. It’s important to keep the dough moist so it doesn’t develop a crust on top.

When the dough is about doubled in size, punch it down and prepare your bread. 

Large loaves are more common in the Greek Orthodox churches. To make a large loaf, line a 9-inch cake pan or pie pan with parchment paper. Lightly roll out the dough until it is just smaller than the size of the pan. Place dough in pan (lined with parchment paper), dust top with flour and press the seal into the dough. Let dough rise about a half an hour, then bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.

Small loaves are typically used by the Russian and Slavic Orthodox churches. To make small loaves, take about 2/3 of the dough and roll the dough out.  Use two canning lids or cookie cutters, one slightly larger than the other. Cut five large circles out of the first piece of dough, then take the remaining dough and cut five smaller circles.

Place the large circles on a parchment-lined cookie sheet. Place a small amount of holy water in a bowl. Dip your finger in the holy water and make the sign of the cross on each circle. Then place a small circle on top of each circle. NOTE: Do not throw the holy water down the drain.  You can either drink it or pour it on a plant.
Press the small end of the seal onto the top circle. Then take a toothpick and pierce four holes through both layers, starting at the middle of the top of the square, then in the middle of the bottom, the middle of the left side and the middle of the right side. Let rise about a half an hour and bake for 15 minutes at 350 degrees.
The small loaves look a little like the swiebach my mother used to make, but that is food for a future post.


  1. I was given a tip from a monastery in Greece to prevent the break sticking to the cooking tray.

    They place the tray in the oven for a few moments to get it hot. They then take it out and with a large bees wax candle make the shape of the cross on the tin and then cover the base of the tin with a thin layer of wax. After a minute when the tin cools the wax forms a very fine film.

    It is easy to make a large wax block by melting down some smaller candles or votive candles and setting it in a tin.

    This methods works really well and is very traditional.

  2. Thank you for the tip. I had never heard of this idea before. It's very interesting.

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