Baking Prosphoro {Athonite Style}

Today, I made prosphoro (I say prosphoro, you say prosphora) and decided to post how we do it here at the monastery.  I will preface this post by saying this:  I know this post may look intimidating because of it’s detail and length, but I promise if you follow it step-by-step, it will work.  They probably won’t be perfect at first, but you will end up with prosphoro, no matter how humble.  Trust me.

It’s very different from the phrosphoro used in most churches. It is used because it is a natural form of yeast, as in not synthetic or man made.  It has been made this way for centuries and is still the way they make it on the Holy Mountain and in other Athonite monasteries. The texture of this type of dough is very different from regular dough and usually has a sourdough sort of taste to it.

Before I learned to make it using this method, I always seemed to struggle with the dough being too soft and losing the seal.  This has never happened to me when I do it this way.  The dough is a completely different texture than regular bread dough recipes.

We use something called “prozimi” instead of yeast to make the bread rise. Prozimi itself is a miracle. On either September 14 (Exaltation of the Precious Cross) or on Holy Friday, a bowl containing only water and flour is taken into the altar during the Gospel reading. The priest then blesses it. Afterwards, it is placed in a cold oven and left there overnight. The next morning, the bowl is overflowing with this “yeast”.  It is then separated and refrigerated in airtight containers and is used each time prosphoro is made. Every time you make a new batch of dough you tear a small piece off and set aside for next time.

What you need:

7 cups warm water

prozimi

5 lb. bag unbleached flour

3 cups Semolina

1 1/2 tsp. salt

prosphoro seal (often we use 2 different ones at the monastery)

beeswax candle

6 in. pans

icon/holy relics

CD (or someone reading) the Akathist Hymn

heavy blankets

plastic bag

2 white sheets

toothpick


*It’s important to keep these items clean and only use them for prosphoro or artoklasia. It’s wonderful if you have someone there who could be reading the Akathist hymn while you do this.  But if not, I like listen to a CD of the Akathis and pray the Jesus prayer and Rejoice, O Mary.

Also, ask for the intercessions of St. Spyridon and St. Nikodemus the prosphoro bakers of the Kiev Caves.

On the night before you plan to bake your prosphoro you prepare the prozimi. {I also like to thimiasi (cense or bless) the house when I do this and also on the following morning before I begin.}

1.  To begin, you’ll put 7 cups of warm water in a pot. Place the pot on the stove until the water is almost hot. Add your prozimi and and mix very quickly to help it dissolve. Add approximately 2 lbs. of unbleached flour (I use King Arthur or Arrowhead Mills brand) Mix it thoroughly, place lid on top of pot and place in a thick, plastic bag. Tie bag and cover with a heavy blanket. Place in a warm room overnight. I usually place an icon or relics on top.

Prozimi before (not so much, right?):

The next morning your prozimi should look foamy and bubbly, similar to regular yeast.

Prozimi after (now look at it! and this is a BIG pot):

2.  You’ll want to lay out a blanket and a (clean, obviously) garbage bag on the surface where your dough will rise. I also keep a space heater in the room to really heat the room up. You’ll need another garbage bag and heavy blanket to cover it. This dough needs a lot of heat to rise.

3.  Next you’ll measure approximately 8 cups of flour in a large bowl. Add 3 cups of Semolina, 1 1/2 tsp. salt. Then add your prozimi.

4.  Knead the dough until completely mixed. Dough needs to be very stiff; it usually turns my knuckles red from the kneading and it’s consistency. If it’s too soft, add 1/2 cup of flour at a time.

5.  Lay a plain white sheet on the table and have one ready to cover your dough once it’s ready.

6.  Separate into as many loaves as you want, depending on size. You’ll also need an additional piece to continue your prozimi for the next time. You want a flat, smooth surface to roll on. I use my glass table. You also want to make sure there is no flour around to leave indentations on the dough. 

7.  Instead of creating two loaves per prosphoro and stacking them like many recipes instruct, you will roll the dough out in a tube shape and then twist in the center and pat down to shape, or to run a razor blade around the center of the sides.  This reason you don’t want separate pieces is because the Christ was fully man and fully God together, and were never separated. 

Be sure to tuck all the creases at the bottom of each piece. Make sure there aren’t a lot of creases or cracks on the top. Place each piece on your sheet and cover. This prevents it from drying out too much and cracking.

8.  Next, you’ll prepare your pans. I use 5 6-inch Wilton pans. (These pans should only be used for baking prosphora or artoklasia.) You heat your pan in the oven (pre-heated to 350 degrees) and then take the bottom of your beeswax candle and coat the inside of the pan. This is done because no oil should be used in prosphoro. Then set them aside.

9.  Remove each piece and place one on top of the other.

10.  “Bottom” sides with creases should be facing each other. Now, each loaf should look as perfect as possible with no cracks showing (as you can see I’m still working on perfecting mine), the dough will almost shine.

11.  Place in pan and press seal down. BE CAREFUL! You should press the seal down from the sides not the center. Push down until you can’t anymore, wait a second and then quickly “pop” off. This type of dough is so stiff that it often makes a “popping” sound.

12.  You want the seal to be very distinct so it doesn’t disappear when the dough rises. Next take a toothpick and poke the top of the dough (not too close to the seal) in the shape of a cross.

13.  After you seal and poke them all, take them to the place where you prepared the blankets.

14.  Put them down and cover with the bag and blanket. Place your icon or holy relics on top and let rise for 2-4 hours, check them periodically.

15.  Place your new prozimi in your container and let it rise as well. After they’re done rising, place them in your preheated oven. Let bake for 45-50 minutes. Once slightly golden, remove from oven and let cool. Sometimes I will slightly dampen a sponge and rub them with it to make them a little shiny.

Clean your seals very good. Scratch off any dough that may have adhered to it when stamping. It’s best not to get your seal wet, put a tiny bit of water on your finger if necessary.

It is customary to include a list of names, both living and asleep, to give to the priest with the prosphoro.

The antidoron (literally meaning instead of the gift) is what is leftover after all the necessary pieces are placed in the chalice.   We receive our antidoron at the end of the Divine Liturgy.

A few years ago I found these tiny, plastic seals for the boys. They help by making their own little “prosphoro”. Sometimes they turn out quite well and we take them to church but most of the time they end up eating them afterwards.

Here’s some pics of their seals and little “prosphoro”.   I found these on Ebay.

Ace admiring his seal

a close-up of it

Lucky’s seal. He did a pretty good job, with his brother’s help of course!

About 5 years ago when I first started to learn how to do this (it really is a craft!) my Gerondissa gave me a gift from Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi monastery on the Holy Mountain. (A friend of mine has one from Elder Paisios the Athonite!) These hand carved seals and this pouch to carry the prosphoro to church in. The front flap lifts up and there’s a pocket to place the prosphoro in.

The seal in the picture below belonged to my great-grandmother and when I make small loaves and the priest requests that I use the whole seal, I use hers.

Here are the seals from Mount Athos. You’ll notice they are carved very, very deep. This helps the seal stay perfect even after hours of rising.

These two are very small, only about 4 inches round. One symbolizes Christ and the other symbolizes Panagia’s portion (square on bottom right), the 9 ranks of hierarchy, souls of the living and the dead. Oftentimes, at the monasteries they use two small prosphoro.

This is a larger seal, about 6 1/2 in. round

Whew! That’s a lot of information! I hope I didn’t forget anything. If I did, please let me know.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

 

Comments

  1. What an interesting and beautiful post. Thank you!

  2. thanks for sharing this; i enjoyed reading it. traditions like these have to be shared… they seem to easily lost…

  3. Thank you so much for this beautiful post. How special to be able to do this the traditional way!

  4. Thanks for the beautiful post! Fathr and I really enjoyed reading it. He was happy to see prosphoro done this way – it is very rare.

  5. I’m glad you all enjoyed it!

  6. I just made prosphora this morning. Your post was very encouraging even though mine never turn out so nicely. I really want to get another seal as I think that is part of my problem.I loved the story behind the prozimi – how lovely. I would be afraid to let mine rise so long. That must be because of the prozimi.Thanks again, I will definitely refer back to this again and again for instruction and encouragement.

  7. Very well researched, explained and illustrated. God bless.

  8. Why is it, do you think, that the use of prozimi is so rare? Is it an old tradition that all used to follow? Or is it just unique to the Athonite monasteries (and those that follow their ways)?

  9. Great post, Sylvia! When I stayed with the nuns in Serres for a few weeks in the summer they told me the story and showed me how to prepare the prozimi. When we were kneading they told me to say the “O Theotokos and Virgin, Rejoice Mary full of grace the Lord is with thee…” while I kneaded. It was so cool. I’m glad you posted this. Someday if I have a bigger kitchen (or even just an oven) I’d love to make prosphora like this. Speaking of Serres… do you know Sr. Chrystovalandou and Sr. Pachomia? Or did they return to Serres before you started going to the monastery?

  10. That transport bag is BEAUTIFUL – what a great idea. I often feel a little post-climatic wrapping my lovely, prayed-over prosphora in tin foil.Thanks for sharing. Oh – and for linking over :)

  11. Awesome post – filled with so many gems! It sets the bar high for the rest of us to follow and the proof is how beautiful those prosfora look! wow… God is with you ~

  12. You are so lucky. When I was growing up only ‘grannies’ were allowed to bake prosphora.

  13. Perhaps you could do a “part 2″ to this post and explain the different meanings behind the seal. I know some things but I’d love to have the whole thing explained.

  14. Petra,As far as I know this is the way it was always made. I think people just switched because regular yeast is more readily available and the process is simpler. Konstantine,That’s a great idea! I’ll write a post soon about the meaning of the seal. :) And yes I do know Sisters Chrysovalantou and Pachomia! Do you see them often? If so please tell them I said hello and give them my metanoia!!

  15. Thankfully, I do get to see the sisters fairly often. I was there two weeks ago and plan on going to stay for a few days during Lent pretty soon. I will say hello to them for you give them your metanoia.

  16. This is the first year i have tried to make the Prosphoro. I have a beautiful seal from the Monasteri in Kenoshia Wis.All this information you have here is the greatest i can’t wait to try making the prozimi the way my Mom use to make it in the old days back in Greece sto xorio.Thanks!

  17. Thank you, I'll say to my wife about this traditional prosphora, an useful post…

  18. Truly enjoyed reading this. Questions you can help with: My seal was lost in Hurricane IKE. It belonged to my mother in law. I have a new one, is it supposed to be at the altar for 40 days before I can use it? Also, how do i do the seal on the bottom? Using what seal, and when I put them together, that would face down in the pan? If I use the pan with the seal embossed on the bottom, what seal would i use on top? The saem i guess? How would I get this second seal? Millie in Galveston, Texas

  19. Hello,Beautiful post. Would you contact me by email please? A friend shared your blog with me, and I am trying to locate some photographs, the ones you have posted here are lovely. bethborch@goarch.orgThanks

  20. Is it possible for heretical Latins to make prosphora and have it used in the Divine Liturgy?

  21. I think the Latin Rite canonical norms require the use of unleavened bread.

  22. Where can I find a seal like the one you use from Mt.Athos? I need a really deep seal….any help would be apreciated!!! Thanks!!! chrocket@netscape.net

  23. The seals like the one I use are often sold at monasteries. I will double check to see if the one near my house has them in stock and if so I will email you their info. If you want, you can order one and they will ship it to you. They are all hand-carved on Mt. Athos and are really the best ones to use because the seal is very deep.

  24. thank you for the perfect post .i learn alot from you.na eisa panta kala.

  25. sylvia where can i order the little seals for my daughter.i live in canada.thank you.

    • Orthodox Mom says:

      Hi Fotini, I ordered them quite a few years ago from eBay. I would check there and if you can’t find them, maybe just do a google search for “Orthodox bread seals”. Hope you find them!! :)

  26. sylvia thank you for answering back.it will be good to show your seal .because there are seals that are not correct ex. the ones tha have instead of HXonly abig x which x it is not our x it is something else.my english are not good but i hope you understand what i want to say.some years ago in toronto at the church of metamorfosis they gave us flyers explain the difference when i checked my seal it was the wrong one.i spoke with priesteof agia triada and told me mas epiasan ston ypno.petaxethn.ki etsi phra allh einai kalo o kosmos na exei thn sosth na mhn paei xamenos o kopos kai na dinoume to sosto prosforo gia thn proskomidh.esy eisai enhmeromenh arketa gia na mas exhghseis thn sfragida.eyxaristo.

  27. Every prosphoro-maker will want to read this superb book, now available in English–the definitive book about prosphoro–history, theology, liturgics, tradition, stories from the Gerontikon, complete instructions for making prosphoro in the traditional way, with lavish illustration including photos of prosphoro-making in traditional Greek village (my village actually–and it was my privilege to translate this superb book into English.) Every Orthodox church and monastery should have this in their bookstores and libraries. A must -read–and of great interest to anyone who is Orthodox, not just those who make the prosphoro. ENJOY!!! http://www.stamoulis.gr/Prosforo-and-Artos_p-403165.aspx

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