Nestled in the forests of Scott Valley, in northern California, are two traditionalist Greek Orthodox monastic communities – the St. Gregory Palamas Monastery, with twelve monks, and the Convent of St. Elizabeth, with fourteen nuns – located five miles apart in the small village of Etna. Following a religious life dating to the first century, their daily cycle of services follows the Old (or Julian) Calendar, which runs thirteen days behind our modern (Gregorian) Calendar. The communion bread used in daily worship is made exclusively from Bob’s Red Mill Hard White Whole Wheat Flour. They have graciously let us share their recipe.
(Recipe from the Convent of St. Elizabeth, Etna, California)
The Convent of St. Elizabeth has provided a recipe for their communion bread (called phosphoro, from the Greek word for “offering”). The loaves, when used for the Eucharist, are ornately decorated with a wooden stamp of the Cross, and Greek letters representing Christ and other religious figures. A healthy, simple yeast bread, it has a uniquely robust, slightly sour flavor.
4 cups of Starter*
4 cups Warm Water
1 Tb Active Dry Yeast
2 Tb Sea Salt, finely ground
9-11 cups Bob’s Red Mill Hard White Whole Wheat Flour
Place starter in large mixing bowl. Dissolve yeast in the warm water. Stir water and yeast mixture into starter, mixing well. Sprinkle 3 cups of Bob’s Red Mill Hard White Whole Wheat Flour on top of the yeast, water, and starter mixture. Do not stir the flour into the mixture. Add salt (when used for Orthodox communion bread in the Eucharist, salt is added to the dough in the form of a cross). Now stir all ingredients together, adding as much flour as necessary (usually 6-8 additional cups) to achieve proper consistency for bread dough. Knead the dough until it is smooth and strong (about 10 minutes). It should feel slightly tacky, firm, and it should spring back gently when it is ready.
Allow the bread to rise for 3 hours. Punch down and allow to rise again for ½ hour. Shape into small loaves, 4 inches in diameter and about 1 inch thick. Two of these smaller loaves are stacked, one on top of the other, and very lightly squeezed together to form a larger loaf. (These 2 smaller loaves represent the divine and human natures of Christ, when they are used for communion bread). With a toothpick, make half a dozen small air holes in the bread before baking, in order to allow them to vent. Bake on a flour-dusted cookie sheet for 20 minutes, or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped. Cool on baking rack. Makes 18-20.
*Natural sourdough starters are universally available. Follow the package directions when preparing the starter for the first time, making sure that you have enough for a single recipe and at least one cup left over. Keep the remaining starter refrigerated. Perpetuate the mixture by removing it from the refrigerator every week or two (as required) and adding 1 cup of Bob’s Red Mill Unbleached White Pastry Flour and one cup of hot tap water (or heated spring water). Stir the mixture vigorously to aerate and let sit overnight on a counter. Return to refrigerator after using.