Prosphoron (Altar Bread)
Ingredients (makes two round loaves)
- 2.5 cups water (room temperature is okay)
- 1 package active dry yeast (make sure it is fresh)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- About 0.5 cup bread flour (unbleached)
- About 5 cups all-purpose flour (unbleached)
Helpful items and kitchen tools
- Plastic, closeable dough bin for mixing ingredients and letting dough rise the first time while staying moist
- Parchment (to keep the dough from sticking to the pan during final rise and baking)
- Large plastic, sealable bags (large enough to contain a loaf during the final rise; keeps dough from drying out)
- Seal (to imprint on risen bread before baking)
- Sifter (no sifting is required to mix the dough, but a sifter helps to evenly coat the kneading surface and the top of the formed loaves and the seal when imprinting before baking)
- Bamboo skewer (for piercing top of loaf before baking to release trapped bubbles under seal)
- Completely dissolve yeast in water in a large bowl. There is no need to use water warmer than room temperature unless you are in a hurry.
- Add salt to water and yeast.
- Add about half the flour and stir into the mixture. I use about half a cup of bread flour and the remainder all-purpose flour to create a dense but soft dough.
- Continue gradually adding flour and mixing until dough is formed but still sticky. THERE IS NO SET AMOUNT OF FLOUR TO USE!
- Turn sticky dough out of bowl and onto floured kneading surface.
- Add flour and knead dough until dough loses most of its stickiness. The amount of flour required will vary depending on the amount of water used, the humidity, and the dryness of the flour.
- Place dough in covered container and let rise until about doubled.
- Split dough into two lumps; knead a little more and form each lump into a round loaf by continually tucking the edges under the center (creating tension on the upper surface).
- Place loaf on baker's parchment paper on a pizza pan or similar flat pan.
- Place pans with dough in large plastic bags and let rise for about 30 to 45 minutes while oven heats to 350 degrees.
- Remove pans with dough from bags when they have risen sufficiently; they will rise further during the baking process.
- Lightly flour wooden seal and top of loaves, gently spread flour across top of loaves, and knock off excess flour from seal.
- Press seal onto loaves with moderate pressure (depressing about an inch or so into the loaf) and hold the seal in place for as much time as it takes (about 30 seconds) to get a strong imprint of the seal on the top of the loaf.
- Remove seal and prick dough at 6 or 7 places around the seal with a bamboo skewer, and place pan, parchment, and loaf on the middle or upper shelves in the preheated oven.
- Bake until bread is done and lightly browned; about 30 minutes. If one loaf is on the upper rack and the other on the lower rack, switch the position of the loaves after about 20 minutes to ensure both loaves are browned (the loaf on the upper rack browns faster).
- Remove the cooked loaves from the oven and wrap them in cloth for a couple of hours to soften the crust while cooling.
- Once the loaves are completely cooled, they can be frozen in sealable plastic bags for future use.