Lent and Easter
in the Domestic Church




Fasting with Homemade Bread

Peter Fournier and Catherine Fournier

Page 16 in "Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"

The Code of Canon Law (another excellent resource for families) sets out the regulations of the Church. Among the laws are those concerning penance, fasting, and abstinence.

Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church

"Lent and Easter in the Domestic Church"
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Why should we do penance? Divine law obliges all Christ's faithful to do penance. While everyone can perform penance in his own way, there are certain specified days of penance, so that the Church community is joined together in a communal practice of penance. On these days, the community should spend time in prayer, participate in projects of piety and charity, and abstain and fast when required.

When should we do penance? The Code identifies these common days of penance as each Friday of the whole year and the whole of the season of Lent.

What is meant by fasting and abstaining? In the universal Church, abstinence from eating meat is observed on Fridays throughout the year, not only those of Lent. Fasting means reducing the amount of food and number of meals eaten in the day. Both abstinence and fasting are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

Who should fast? Canon Law states that at least all those past their fourteenth birthday should abstain, although younger children may also abstain. Fasting is expected of adults until age sixty. Persons older and younger than this may also choose to fast, although it is not required. Priests and parents should make sure those in their care not required to fast and abstain understand the intent and meaning of penance.

We are asked to fast and abstain during Lent as penance and sacrifice (CCC 1434, 2043). Fasting generally means eating simpler and smaller meals, and abstaining generally refers to removing meat from the meal. Some individuals or families may choose to fast on the weekdays throughout Lent, not just on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Some may choose to have only one meal a day while fasting-to share the life of the poor, who have little to eat. Others may choose to abstain from meat throughout Lent or some other variation. Your bishop may have specific guidelines for your diocese. These should be observed. However, families and individuals may choose to make a greater sacrifice than what is obligatory. Regardless of what degree of fasting and abstinence your family chooses, fasting presents a challenge to family life.

Some members of the family—children, pregnant or nursing women, and aged relatives—cannot and should not fast. So, a meal needs to be prepared for them. Family members who are fasting need nutritious and satisfying food for their simple meals. Homemade bread and homemade soup satisfy these requirements. And if it is going to be bread, it really should be good bread. Homemade bread is so much better than store-bought bread that after a while the soft, pallid, tasteless stuff from the store is not recognizable as deserving the label bread. And it is truly easy to make, regardless of your schedule, budget, or physical limitations.

A bread-maker is unnecessary. Loaf pans are unnecessary. An oven is unnecessary for some kinds of bread. Even yeast is optional. The absolute minimum for bread making is flour, water, and a heat source. Pita, bannock, and chapatis are simple kinds of bread made on a hot surface without yeast. Sourdough bread is made with a "wild" yeast culture (yeast captured from the air and grown on a medium or food source). Quick breads use baking powder or baking soda as leavening.

Anyone can make bread, and everyone can help make bread. Adding flour, mixing, kneading, watching, and finally shaping into loaves and baking: bread making can be a true family activity.

Making Bread

The following recipe will seem long, but in actual practice it is extremely simple. It uses a bare-bones list of ingredients, producing the very simplest, plainest bread possible. It will still taste wonderful and homemade. A slightly more elaborate recipe follows these directions.

Recipe: Simple White Bread

I am giving the instructions in some detail so that every step is clear. Once this recipe is mastered, you will be able to bake virtually any bread recipe with confidence. The ingredients given will make two loaves.

Ingredients

Directions

Pour the warm water into a large mixing bowl. The temperature of the water is important. Yeast is a living plant. A temperature that is too warm will kill it (that is what happens when you finally put it in the oven), and one that is too cold will keep it from growing quickly. It is better to err on the side of too cold rather than too hot. As the yeast grows, it gives off carbon dioxide, which forms bubbles in the batter-this is the rising that gives bread its lightness. Once you understand this, everything else in bread making makes sense.

Sprinkle the dry yeast over the water. Dry yeast is in suspended animation and will keep for some time if kept dry. Once it touches water, it wakes up and starts growing. Sprinkling it over the water gets it started and well dissolved into the water. Leave it alone for a few minutes until the water, when stirred, looks cloudy in a light beige shade. If you add a little sugar (a food source for the yeast) to this water, it will dissolve more quickly and will bubble and froth. Exciting.

When the yeast is dissolved, add two cups of flour and the salt. Beat very well. This step begins the batter. Vigorous beating (you cannot beat it too long) at this stage develops the gluten in the flour and gives the bread a nice springy texture. Gluten is a protein, a long, twisted, stringlike molecule. It dissolves out of the flour when mixed with water. Energetic beating dissolves more of the gluten into the batter and helps all the strings arrange themselves. They form a honeycombed texture that holds the bubbles of gas given off by the yeast. A high-powered electric beater does the job nicely. You have beaten enough when the dough is stretchy and falls in long thick ropes from your spoon when you lift it out of the bowl. The surface will be slightly rough and shiny. This step may take three to five minutes.

Add the rest of the flour, a little at a time, beating it in well. When the dough is too stiff to stir any more and pulls away from the sides of the bowl, sprinkle a bit of flour on the counter and dump it out. Caution: You will have to stop using your electric mixer at some point unless you have a bread-hook attachment. Otherwise, when the batter becomes stiff, you will burn out the motor.

Now you start kneading. Kneading accomplishes two purposes. It works the last of the flour into the dough, and it develops the gluten even more. As you knead the bread it will gradually transform from a lumpy sticky mass into a silky smooth tight ball. The more flour you add, the harder and more crumbly your bread will be. The less flour, the softer (and less easy to slice thinly) the bread will be. You need a balance between the two undesirable extremes, but fortunately the in-between area is very large.

To knead bread, the basic movement is pushing down and away, then folding back and toward you. Give it a quarter turn each time. It can develop into a rocking movement, down and away, back and toward. Unless you are tall (about 5' 8" and above) a typical kitchen counter is too high to be comfortable. Try your kitchen table. Lightly flour your surface and begin kneading. If the bread dough sticks, sprinkle a little more flour on it. As the bread develops, it will become less sticky, so be careful not to add too much flour at the beginning; the bread may not need it. Rub your hands together (as if you were washing them) over the dough occasionally if the bits stuck to your palms bother you.

When the dough is kneaded enough, the surface will form blisters, bubbles that develop under the surface and break as the dough is stretched. It will feel smooth and bouncy and will be about the firmness of a baby's bottom. Really. If it is harder than that, more like a toddler's muscled bottom, you have added too much flour. If it feels like your belly immediately after giving birth, you have not added enough flour.

When you think you have kneaded it enough, put it back into the mixing bowl, which should still have some flour coating the sides, or into a clean, lightly greased bowl. Cover with a damp tea towel and put it to rise. If you put it in the refrigerator, it will rise very slowly and be risen enough in about eight hours (i.e.., overnight). If you leave it on your counter on a cool day, it will rise gently and be risen enough in about two to four hours (i.e.., long enough to go shopping or have a nap). If you put it in a warm place, in a gas oven with the pilot light on, on top of an electric oven turned on to 100°F (37°C), or in a warming closet (British moms will know what that is), it will rise in about an hour (i.e.., long enough to clean up the kitchen and start some laundry).

When the dough has risen to twice its size, give it a good punch. It will sigh gently and collapse on itself. This is the yeast bubbles collapsing. You are doing this because, while it has risen, there are not enough little yeast plants in it yet, and each bubble is too big to make nicely textured bread. You want more yeast plants and smaller bubbles. By punching it and kneading it again, you are giving the yeast more chance to grow and making sure that it is evenly distributed throughout the dough.

Knead the bread dough a few times, just enough to get it smooth and even. Cut it into two even pieces, and cover them again with the damp tea towel while you grease the loaf pans. If you do not have loaf pans, grease some cookie sheets or two frying pans or two large (48 fl. oz.) apple or tomato juice cans. Juice cans are especially good for large batches-eight juice cans will fit into an oven that will only take three or four loaf pans. Grease cans very well with white vegetable shortening.

Knead and shape each loaf into a smooth slightly cylindrical shape by patting it into a rough rectangle and folding it together. Pinch the long edge together and smooth the top side. If you are using a cookie sheet or frying pan, make round loaves.

Place the loaves into the pans. People from many Catholic countries make a sign of the cross over bread when it is set to rise. A Portuguese prayer says, "May this bread rise in the pan as the wheat rises in the field, O Lord. Amen."

Set the loaves to rise again until doubled. They will rise more quickly this time, so check them after about an hour. (More laundry and start dinner.) You do not want them to rise too much, because they will also rise in the oven at first, and if they go in too big, they will rise too far, overflow the pans, and generally look horrible. If your loaves over-rise, punch them down and start again.

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Bake the bread for 25 to 30 minutes. The baking time will depend on the size of the loaves, the consistency of the dough, and the age of your oven. Check them after 25 minutes. The loaves should have nicely browned tops and have shrunk slightly away from the sides of the pan. Take one loaf out of the oven and slide it out of the pan. Tap its bottom. If it produces a hollow "thunk" sound, the loaves are done. It will take some practice to distinguish the dull thud of an undone loaf from the hollow thump of a done one.

Remove the bread from the oven, slide the loaves out of the pans, and cool them on a wire rack. This is important; escaping steam can make the crust soggy and damp. If the crust seems too hard, you can brush the loaves with melted butter to soften it or cover the cooling loaves with a tea towel. When the bread is completely cool, put the loaves in paper or plastic bags and store in a bread box or in the refrigerator.

Recipe: Basic White Bread

Ingredients

Directions

Follow the directions given in the long text above, with these modifications:

Some Favorite Additions

For a two-loaf recipe use: