This sweet (holy) bread is just good! According to Chef Ramzi, in The Culinary Heritage of Lebanon, this recipe is at least 100 years old; how about dating back to the Byzantine period?
In the town of Deir el Qamar in the Shouf where our family originates,we would buy this sweet bread at the store; usually, we’d finish it before getting home.
It has no eggs, but all the best flavorings, mastic, mahlab, orange blossom and rose water, nutmeg and some milk. For the sake of authenticity, I used a mold I got online from a purveyor of Greek-based goods, as it is the same mold used in Lebanon. It has an inscription in Greek Christ is risen or something like that; ( I don’t read Greek!). According to Chef Ramzi, this holy bread recipe is from the Greek-Catholic church in Lebanon. It represents the body of Christ and is distributed at church, sold in stores and bakeries; traditionally it was made at home on certain occasions and given to the priest to bless, keep some and give out the rest.
- 6 cups of flour
- 1 1/2 cups of sugar
- 4 tablespoons of butter, soft (optional)
- 1 1/2 tablespoons of dry yeast, 1 teaspoon of salt
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 6 pebbles of mastic, ground with a teaspoon of sugar in a marble mortar (optional)
- 1 teaspoon mahlab (can substitute ground anise, or cinnamon)
- 1 cup of milk
- 1/8 cup orange blossom water
- 1/8 cup of rose water
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- Proof the yeast in 1/4 cup of water warmed at 110F and a dash of sugar.
- Mix the flour with the sugar, mahlab, ground mastic, nutmeg, dash of salt and baking powder.
- Add the rose and blossom water in a small container. Measure the milk and let it sit at room temperature or make sure it is not too cold. Ideally, you want it at 110F.
- Place the flour mixture in a mixing bowl and add the yeast, milk and rose water mixture and mix the dough until smooth. Let it rest one hour.
- Divide the risen dough into small balls. Let them rise 2 hours.
- Shape the balls into flattened disks and let rise one hour.
- Sift a thin layer of flour on the disks and press the mold firmly on each disk.
- With a toothpick, poke each disk 5 times all around to help prevent it swelling up while baking. (5 times to symbolize Christ who was nailed 5 times to the cross)
- Let the disks rest and preheat the oven to 400F or you can also use your gas grill, making sure the disks are placed on a heavy-bottomed sheet.
- Bake the bread for 10 minutes or so until golden.
The Coptic church uses a bread that is simply made up of the following ingredients:
- 4 cups of unbleached flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoon dry yeast (1 packet)
- 1 cup water
- 4 tablespoons sugar
Use the same method.