I baked prosphora for Pascha. Usually, Anglican churches use those unleavened wafers bought by the gross, but they are boring. No one wants boring altar bread on the most exciting Holy Day of the year.
The Orthodox have used this bread for millenia, so don`t give me any Puseyite leavened-unleavened debate. Use unleavened bread for seder, but it doesn’t matter, as far as I am concerned, at communion.
Prosphora is easy, but it requires attention. You will need: 2 cups hot water, about 2 tablespoons of dry yeast, a teaspoon of salt, and at least six cups of flour. I use white flour for altar bread.
Before you start, pray that the work of your hands will be a blessing to others. There are formal prosphora prayers, but I don’t worry too much about it. Intention is more important.
Dissolve the yeast in the hot water, and add one cup of flour. Stir a bit, then cover the bowl and leave in a warm place. Check it in 15 minutes, and stir again. The yeast should be blooming – starting to multiply. Now stir in the salt.
Start adding flour, a cup at a time, stirring it in well. When it gets to be a coherent ball of dough, pulling away from the bowl, then knead in some flour by hand. When it isn’t quite as sticky, turn the dough out onto a floured surface – a kneading board, a tabletop (not finished wood, however) or a countertop. Sprinkle a little flour on it, and start to knead, folding the dough over and pushing it with the heels of your hands. Keep the work surface floured lightly, and use a little flour on the dough to keep it from sticking to your hands.
Knead the dough for about twenty minutes. This is a long time for kneading, but it is necessary to get a close-grained frssh bread that won’t crumble. You may need to take a break or two, or get someone to help you. It is exercise!
Once kneaded, it will be a smooth, glossy dough that is starting to rise. Flour the dough ball, and put it back in the scraped out bowl. Cover with a clean cloth – a large napkin or a tea towel. (Don’t use a terry towel, or the dough will stick badly if it rises against it.)
Let the dough rise for an hour, or until it is doubled in size. Take it out of the bowl, flour the work surface, and knead it again for about five minutes.
I spray a baking sheet with a vegetable oil pan for baking. And unless you have a prosphora seal, you will need to shape the bread in a certain way so you can mark the loaf with a cross. Divide the dough into two balls, one slightly bigger than the other. I just shape it into a flattened round about seven inches across; some people use a bowl upside down to make it a more perfect round. Then shape the other ball of dough, slightly smaller, wet the top of the bigger ball, and place the smaller one on top. Transfer to the baking sheet, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, then flour a sharp knife and mark the top all the way across with a cross. I let it rise maybe ten minutes, then put it in the oven. It will take about 45 minutes to bake, and should be brown top and bottom. The bottom of the loaf will sound hollow when tapped if it is done. I lightly cover the loaf while cooling so the crust doesn’t get too tough.
There are two ways to use the prosphora in a non-Orthodox church. (Orthodox priests have their own way – it’s complex.) Remove the top when it is placed on the altar, and use that for the fraction, then the priest tears the loaf into pieces as he/she gives it to the communicants. Or remove the top half, put that on one plate, and cut the bottom part of the loaf into small pieces and put them in a basket or bowl. The priest blesses the pieces and uses the top half with the cross for the fraction (the breaking of the bread.)
This is a delicious, sweet bread, and if there is a lot left, the priest should take it home to be eaten at the next meal, or it can be served at coffee hour. The Orthodx take the extra and hand it out at the door as antidoron. Serving the bread at ameal will give some people the uptights, but this is good bread and shouldn’t be wasted by tossing it on the ground like extra consecrated wafers. Eat what is put before you, and enjoy the meal.