Baking prosphora requires practice. If possible, this procedure is best learned by watching someone with experience making prosphora a few times before one begins. The most common misconception about prosphora is the texture. Prosphora should have a heavy, compact texture without being very moist. The recipe that follows is very detailed. If one carefully follows the directions, God willing, one should end up with good prosphora.
Prosphora are made with two pieces of dough, which signify our Saviour's two natures, Divine and Human. Preferably, prosphora should be made three days before Liturgy to allow the loaves two days to dry out and one day to soften slightly in a plastic bag. This makes it easier for the priest to cut the Lamb. A fresh loaf tends to crumble, fall apart, or become doughy in the Chalice. Extra loaves may be stored in plastic bags in a refrigerator for a few days.
Prosphora must be oil free and should be made with only wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast, with no substitutions. To avoid picking up the oils left in utensils, especially wooden ones, set aside the equipment for making prosphora for that purpose only.
Before you begin, assemble all the ingredients and equipment as outlined, and prepare the work table. Light the votive candle, and before the icon of Christ, make the sign of the Cross over yourself and over the pans and flour. The Jesus Prayer should be repeated frequently while baking prosphora.
In the small bowl, combine 1 cup warm water and 1 teaspoon yeast. When the yeast has produced some foam – it will not be much because the amount of yeast is so small – add the salt and mix well.
Into the bowl of the mixer, sift the 5 heaping cups of white flour and then sift the 4 level cups of whole wheat flour. Mix the two flours until uniform.
Pour the yeast mixture into the flour and start the mixer. The dough hook will do the work of kneading the dough. If you do not have a mixer with a dough hook, you will have to do this process by hand. Using a small measuring cup, gradually add a few teaspoons of water at a time to the flour, mixing and kneading the dough the entire time. Continue adding teaspoons of water until all the flour is absorbed. When all absorbed, if the dough seems too dry and rough, add drops of water to the dough and continue kneading. If the dough still looks rough, cover it with plastic wrap, making sure that all the edges are covered, and let it sit for 30 minutes. After this time, knead the dough again and, if needed, add more drops of water and knead until smooth. Cover the dough carefully with plastic wrap and prepare the pans for baking.
Heat a pan on the burner of the stove. Remove from heat and run the stub of a beeswax candle all around the bottom and sides of the pan. A thin coat of wax is sufficient. The candle wax acts as a greasing agent to allow the prosphora to come out of the pan easily.
After the pans are ready, shape the bottom loaves. Use the kitchen scale to weigh out 14 ounces of dough. Shape and knead the dough into a pancake, 1- to 1-1/2-inches thick, and the same diameter as the pan. Put the loaf into the pan and press down on it, making sure that it is even all around. Repeat for the other two pans. Cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let rise on the table. DO NOT put the loves on the oven top to rise, as this will cause the dough to become too light. DO NOT cover the loaves with anything but plastic wrap.
Now you can shape the top loaves. They are smaller, requiring only 2 ounces of dough. Shape the little loaves into balls and place them face down on the cutting board for 10-15 minutes. After this time, turn them face up and cover them again.
When the bottom loaves have risen to the top of the pan, it is time to start pressing the seals. It is important to let the bottom loaves rise enough or they will crack at the edges and be lopsided. Do not be discouraged if you see that after several hours the dough hasn't risen very much. This is a heavy, dry dough with not much yeast in it. It can take up to 4 or 5 hours to rise, so plan your schedule accordingly. During this time it is best to remain in a prayerful state by avoiding television, radio, etc.
Pre-heat the oven to 350°F.
Flour a small section of the cutting board well. Place the top loaf on the flour and roll it out with the rolling pin, making the dough 1-inch larger all around than the seal itself. Very lightly flour the top of the loaf and smooth out the flour with your fingers. Make the sign of the Cross over the loaf with the seal. Center the seal over the loaf and press down hard, first in the middle and then, carefully, without moving the seal, press down firmly all around the seal. The loaf will now be stuck to the seal – leave it that way. Turn the loaf/seal over and with a sharp knife, gently scrape off all the lose flour from the bottom of the loaf. Run your thumb between the edge of the loaf and the seal to get just the edge loose. Place the loaf on the table where there is no flour and carefully pull straight up to release it from the seal.
Lightly wet a small section of the table and place the loaf on the water. Caution: not too much water, not too little. With your fingers, lightly wet the top of the bottom loaf. Take the top loaf and carefully center it on the bottom loaf, holding it on both sides and placing the middle down first, then the sides. Repeat for the other loaves. Having finished placing the seals on the loaves, make toothpick holes around the edge just outside the seal. The Lamb is cut out of the center of the loaf. It must have no air bubbles. DO NOT put the toothpick holes inside the seal. This makes the loaf unacceptable.
Reduce oven heat to 325°F and place all the loaves in the oven immediately. Bake for approximately 50 minutes, depending on your oven.
Prepare the cooling rack by spreading one of the heavy towels on it. When the prosphora are done baking, remove them from the pans and place them on the towel on the cooling rack. Using the paintbrush, brush the tops and bottoms generously with cold water. If flour is still visible on the seal after the prosphora have dried, rub it with a wet towel until all the flour disappears. Place the prosphora face down on the cooling rack and cover them with the two remaining heavy towels. This step ensures that the seals do not become too hard to cut. Let the prosphora dry out just as they are for two days. On the evening of the second day, put them in plastic bags.
The pans will need washing after repeated use. Melt the wax still remaining in the pans by heating them on a stove burner and wiping the inside with a paper towel. Scrub the pans with a liquid cleanser, such as Soft Scrub, dry, and then re-coat with beeswax.
Pray to the Saints Who Made Prosphora