Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Baking Bread for Church

Spoiler alert:  I’m going to get very personal in this post. I’m going to talk about my church and my faith.

But - I hope it won’t be in a preachy way.  I hope it relates to the core of why we make food and how we make some of the food and ingredient choices we make for one circumstance or another.  It really goes to the heart of the art of cooking.  I hope I’ll be speaking to expression and meaning in the food and in the result. It’s really the first chance I’ve had to take an emotion and express it through ingredients, through process, and, finally, to result.

If you don’t want to be bothered with all that, I won’t be offended.  You can skip down below and read what I hope will be a good, solid, yummy bread recipe. On the other hand, I hope you’ll also take a moment and, in the comments section below, tell me about a time when you’ve cooked something expressive.

OK, here we go--

Last Sunday, I had the opportunity to provide the bread for our ward’s Sacrament Service. For those not of my faith, let me just take a moment to explain that. In a Mormon chapel, every Sunday, one of the meetings (the most important one, theologically) is the Sacrament meeting. We listen to “talks” (what we call sermons), and sing, of course, but it’s the actual ordinance of the Sacrament that’s the key portion of the meeting. In it, baptized members of the church eat a tiny piece of bread and drink a tiny cup of water in symbolic remembrance of the Savior’s suffering and the offering of the Atonement to us. It’s a big deal to us (or at least it should be). It’s a part of our weekly renewal and repentance.

So, I got the chance to provide the bread for that service last week.  Now, normally, the bread is just store-bought sliced bread. It doesn’t matter, theologically or doctrinally, what bread you use.  In the Last Supper, Jesus himself probably used some variant on a Pita or some unleavened flatbread.

Since I love to bake bread in the Dutch oven, I got up early in the morning to do that, to bake the loaves that would be used in our Sacrament service.

Part of the reason why I bring all this up is to share my thought process as I decided what I was going to do.  My first thought was to pull out all the stops and make an amazing herb loaf, or the cocoa bread, or maybe even a rye. Practical reasons stopped the rye, it would take too long to rise. And the others didn’t seem right. I wanted to give it my best.  I mean, this is for Church, right? In some ways, I’m baking for God, here!

Then I thought about the service itself, and I realized that if I did one of those wonderful breads, then lots of people would be tasting that wonderful bread and they might start thinking, “Wow, that bread is really great!”.  And suddenly, they’re pulled out of the ordinance.  They’re thinking about the bread, not the Atonement.

The bread would have to be simple and plain.  It would have to be the best simple and plain bread I’ve ever baked. In that sense, it might even be a bit zen-like or like a Shaker hymn...

Anyway, so I set about my recipes and identified a pure and simple bread recipe.  I did add a little olive oil and maybe an egg for a touch of richness, and the dough turned out to be a very damp, rustic dough, which, I think, added to the fluffy lightness in the end. I also doubled what’s below and baked two loaves, one for my family.  As I gathered up the ingredients, I said a quick prayer inside, and started in!

Church Bread

12” Dutch Oven
14-15 coals below
18-22 coals above

1 Tbsp Yeast
2 Cup water (110 degrees)
2 Tbsp sugar

~4 Cups fresh bread flour, adding as much as 1 more during kneading
1 tsp salt
~2 Tbsp olive oil
1 egg (optional)

The process was very much like every other bread loaf I’ve done.  I started by getting some warm tap water (to touch, it feels like a nice hot shower, even just a little too hot).  I added the yeast, the sugar, and stirred it up. I set that aside to activate.

Meanwhile, I sifted the flour into a large mixing bowl, and added the salt.  Once the yeast was nice and frothy, and added that and the oil into the mix and stirred it all up.

I scooped it out onto a well-floured countertop and started kneading, shaking on more flour as it was needed. As I mentioned, when it got to a good windowpane test http://www.squidoo.com/dutchovenbread , it was still a very damp, loose dough, but, obviously, not as sticky as when I started. I shaped it into a large ball and set it in the oiled bowl to rise, covered with a tea towel.

There’s quite a bit of yeast in the recipe, so it rose fairly quickly. when it was more than doubled, I punched it down and reshaped it, and set it in a cloth-lined basket for the second raise. As I reshaped it, I pinched a seam along “the bottom”, but I put that side upwards in the basket.  That way, when I would dump it out into the hot Dutch oven, the seam would truly be “the bottom” of the loaf.

I lit up some coals, and when they were getting white, I set up the proper coals over and under a 12” Dutch oven.  I had lightly oiled the interior of the oven, and I let it preheat, empty, with the lid on, for about 15-20 minutes.

Finally, it was all ready to bake. I opened up the Dutch oven, and turned the dough ball in from the basket.  I sliced the top and put the cover back on. After about 15 minutes, I opened up the lid and put in a short-stemmed thermometer, and rotated the lid and the Dutch oven. It was a pretty breezy day, so I added 2-3 coals to the bottom and 3-4 to the top.  After another 20 minutes, it was done (to an internal temperature of 190-200°F). I brought it in and turned it out onto a cooling rack.

After it cooled, right before we left to take it to church, I sliced it up, and it was probably the lightest, fluffiest loaf I've ever baked. I tasted a corner, and it was just what I wanted: pure, simple, and perfectly cooked.

At church, my oldest son got to participate in the service, as he often does. It was very special to me to hear him say the prayer to bless the bread, then to watch it be passed to the congregation. As it came to me, I felt a peace and happiness that I think comes from being able to give something, an offering, and know that it was accepted.

Mark has discovered a love of Dutch Oven Cooking. Mark also has other sites and blogs, including MarkHansenMusic.com and his MoBoy blog.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Mark. I'm sure your offering was appreciated by all. And now I'm wishing I could try all your breads. Must be lunch time!

  2. Hey, kent, thanks for posting!

  3. I just found your blog this morning and look forward to learning a lot more about Dutch oven cooking. I am currently experimenting with sourdough and can't wait to mix the two. Your story was a blessing and such a great memory for you and your family. Cooking real food and passing that knowledge on to my children has been a great reward. Happy Father's Day!

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