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Note: This recipe is copied (with photograph) from Vefa Alexiadou's wonderful cookbook, "Greek Pastries and Desserts" (ISBN 960-85018-7-3). I cannot praise this book enough, and recommend it to anyone interested in baking. You will find a load of great recipes, including a hefty section of Orthodox holiday breads.
Yields 2 Altar Breads
Preparation time 40 minutes
Baking time 20 minutes
If using sourdough starter, reactivate it the night before. Otherwise, dissolve the yeast in one half cup of the tepid water. Add 3-4 tablespoons flour and mix well. Let it stand for about 10 minutes or until doubled in bulk. Meanwhile sift the flour with the salt into a kneading basin and make a well in the center. Pour in the sour-dough starter or the yeast mixture and the remaining tepid water. Gradually incorporate flour from the sides of the well into the water until all the flour is moist, and knead until a smooth and elastic dough is formed. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours. Knead the dough again for about 5 minutes and divide into 4 equal parts. Shape each part into a ball. Slightly flatten the balls into rounds, pressing with your palms, and flour them generously. Put the two rounds, one on top of the other, in a well-floured baking pan. Dip the religious seal in flour, shake off the excess and press it firmly onto the floured surface. Let the seal remain on dough for about 5 minutes and carefully remove it. Place the other two rounds, the same way, onto a separate pan. Cover and leave in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk. Just before baking, prick inside and outside corners of cross with a wooden skewer to attain a flat-top appearance of the breads. Bake in a 400 ºF oven for 15-20 minutes, taking care not to burn them. As soon as they are removed from the oven, brush them with a little water, using a pastry brush. Cover the altar breads with a cotton towel and leave them to cool on a rack.