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The simple act of making and breaking bread

The first Wednesday in February can be bone chilling outside. But inside, in the basement of St. Robert Bellarmine Parish in Flushing, faces are flushed with warmth around the oven, as 40 second-graders, along with their parents and guardians, bake – then break – bread together.
    The baking session is part of a morning retreat, organized by Peggy Wescott, the parish’s director of religious education, and teacher Sharon Albertson. “It’s the culmination of nine weeks of study,” explains Sharon, “in preparation for their first holy Communion.”
    The gathered are separated into small groups to make the dough, using an easy coffee can recipe (see below). Then everyone is brought back together to talk about what will happen on the day each family chooses to share this first and most important Communion. “We schedule no more than four families at a Mass, so the experience is really personal,” Sharon says.
    The morning also includes a video, entitled Maria’s First Communion, and a craft workshop: each family is encouraged to make a banner celebrating the sacrament.
    About the time the banners are completed, the bread is ready to be taken from the oven, sliced, buttered, and shared by all. “We hope these activities encourage everyone to think of first holy Communion as a family experience,” explains Sharon.
    Making bread following St. Robert Parish’s simple recipe can also be a family experience. Why not try baking and breaking bread together with your own children?

Coffee Can Bread
Yield: 2 loaves
4 cups all-purpose white flour, divided
1 envelope fast-acting yeast
1⁄2 cup water
1⁄2 cup milk
1⁄2 cup vegetable oil
1⁄4 cup sugar
1 tsp. salt
2 eggs

    Grease two one-pound coffee cans and set aside. Measure 11⁄2 cups of the flour into a large bowl. Stir in the yeast. Using a saucepan, combine water, milk, vegetable oil, sugar, and salt. Heat until warm, but not boiling. Add the warm liquids to the bowl of flour and yeast. Beat until smooth. Add two eggs. Add remaining flour (21⁄2 cups) and beat until smooth and elastic. Divide dough in half and place in the two coffee cans. Cover the can tops with aluminum foil. Let rise in a warm oven for 30 minutes. Remove foil and place the cans back in the oven and bake at 375º for 35 minutes.

Catholics love bread. We didn’t invent it but monks improved upon the theme by inventing pretzels

    Another recipe your children may enjoy making is soft pretzels. Did you know that pretzels have a religious history? As early as 610 A.D., monks on the border between France and Italy used scraps of dough and formed them into strips to resemble a child’s arms folded in prayer. The three holes were said to represent the Trinity. The monks baked the dough and offered the resulting treats to children who had memorized their Bible verses and prayers. The treats took on the name pretiola, which is Latin for “little reward.”
    Over the centuries, the pretiola journeyed beyond its origins and into Germany, where it became known as the bretzel, and later the pretzel. It’s speculated that the term “tying the knot” originated in Switzerland in 1614, when royal couples wished for happiness with a pretzel forming the nuptial knot – much like we use a wishbone today.
    Just when the pretzel first arrived in the New World is a matter of some debate. But they were definitely popularized here in the early 1700s by the Palatinate Germans, who came to be known as the Pennsylvania Dutch.
    With just four ingredients, this modern pretzel recipe will take almost no time to assemble and only 20 minutes to bake!

Soft Pretzels
Yield: 24 pretzels
2 16 oz. loaves of frozen bread dough, thawed
1 egg white, slightly beaten
1 tsp. water
Coarse salt

    Grease two cookie sheets and set aside. Separate thawed bread dough into 24 11⁄2-inch balls. Roll each ball into a rope 141⁄2 inches long. Form a circle with each rope and cross over the ends, connecting them to the bottom of the circle. Place pretzels 1 inch apart on the cookie sheets. Let stand for 20 minutes, then brush with combined egg white and water, and sprinkle with coarse salt. Carefully place a shallow pan containing 1 inch of boiling water on bottom rack of oven. Place cookie sheets containing pretzels on a rack above the water and bake at 350º for 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

By Patricia Majher   |   Photography by Philip Shippert

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