I am the baker and these are the hands that I use to make the bread that I make for Communion.
I am so grateful that my friend allows me to make her Communion bread. I love trying to come up with ways to make the bread reinforce the lesson. And I am grateful also that Nadine is open to my ideas. She feels the same way I do. If Communion is supposed to be a celebration of a miracle, the miracle should taste good. Communion should be looked forward to with eager anticipation, and it makes my heart smile knowing that her congregation approaches the sanctuary on Communion Sundays wondering what sort of bread will be blessed, broken and shared.
Each time I make the bread, it is my hope that the congregants all say “oooh!” when the bread is presented. Oooh, a sound of joyful and eager anticipation.
In talking with Nadine about what sort of bread we should make for last week’s service, I asked her about her lesson and scripture for the week. She was going to be talking about Lazarus. Rebirth. Spring.
Spring has been shy this year. Noncommital and oblivious to the date on the calender. Peeking out. Playing the Hokey Pokey. Maybe putting an elbow in and then taking an elbow out. Not ready to put its Whole Self in.
We decided that we would pack every ounce of Springtime that we could think of into the bread, mirroring rebirth and sunlight and also hoping to coax Spring to commit.
Pure and abundant olive oil, oil that not only adds flavor and richness but also anoints. Lemon, whose brightness recalls warmth, sunshine and vibrancy, even in the winter. Tarragon, whose mild minty green sweetness is like a Springtime kiss. Fennel pollen, whose complex flavor adds so much as it amplifies the tarragon. And what better harbinger of spring than pollen?
All these flavors met and rose together in a starter-based focaccia. As an extra nod to the Lazarus story, after languishing in the cold, dark refrigerator, the starter is coaxed back to life.
Yes, we really do put that much thought into the Communion bread. It seems only fitting to us both. It is not just about symbolism, though. The bread itself must be delicious. Something to be savored and enjoyed. Something unexpected yet anticipated. A mystery.
There is no mystery about how to make this bread, though. I want you to make it. Maybe it will help Springtime finally commit. I do hope you enjoy it!
PS You may have noticed how much I love fennel pollen. I get mine from Pollen Ranch.
For the Starter
- 1 pound (16 oz) bread flour (8 oz)
- 13.7 oz water, (6.85 oz)
- 1/2 teaspoon active dry yeast, (1/4 teaspoon)
For the Bread
- 1.3 pounds (1 pound, 4.8 oz) starter (10.4 oz)
- 1 pound , 13 oz water, (it does not need to be warm) (14.5 oz)
- 1 oz kosher salt, (1/2 oz)
- 1 teaspoon active dry yeast, (1/2 teaspoon)
- 2-3 Tablespoons fresh tarragon, , chopped (1-1 1/2 Tablespoons)
- zest of 3 medium lemons, (1 1/2 lemons)
- 3.3 oz extra virgin olive oil, (plus extra for the pans and the top of the bread) (1.65 oz)
- 3 pounds bread flour, (1.5 pounds)
For the Topping
- 1 Tablespoon Citrus Fennel Sea Salt, (or a combination of fennel pollen and flaky sea salt) (1 1/2 teaspoons)
For the Starter
- Stir the flour, water and yeast together very well in a very large bowl.
- Cover and let sit at room temperature until bubbly and light and about doubled in volume.
- Stir down the starter. At this point, you can proceed with the recipe or refrigerate the starter overnight. You'll get better flavor development if you can refrigerate it, but the bread will still be delicious if you skip that step.
For the Bread
- Put the specified amount of starter and all the rest of the ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer.
- Fit the mixer with the dough hook and mix on low speed (I used Speed 2 on my Viking) for 12 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, very extensible and clears the sides of the bowl. It will still stick in the bottom of the bowl, and that's just fine. This dough is supposed to be pretty slack, so resist the temptation to add more flour.
- If you are making the dough by hand, use a bench knife to help you with the kneading.
- Place the dough into a large oiled bowl and oil the top of the dough. Cover and let rise until doubled. This could take several hours, so give it time.
- Glug about 1/4 cup olive oil into your jelly roll pan/pans or 1 full sheet pan (if you are lucky enough to be using a commercial-sized oven).
- With oiled hands, divide the dough in two (or not), and plop it onto the oiled pan/pans.
- Stretch and pull the dough so it fits into the pan/s more or less completely. If the dough springs back, cover it for 5 or 10 minutes and then come back and stretch it some more.
- Dimple the dough all over with your fingertips.
- Drizzle on a liberal amount of olive oil, brushing it across the dough and letting it pool in the little dimples you made with your fingers.
- Evenly sprinkle on the fennel pollen sea salt.
- Cover and let rise until nearly doubled again, about 1-1 1/2 hours.
- Bake at 375F for about 30-35 minutes, or until the internal temperature of the bread has reached 200F.
- Remove bread from the oven and let cool in the pan/s for 5 minutes before turning out onto racks to cool completely.
Tonight is the first night of Passover. To all my readers and friends who celebrate, Chag Sameach and Happy Passover. To all my friends and readers who will be celebrating Easter on Sunday, Happy Easter to you.
Spring holidays are as filled with joy and rebirth as the season itself. Joy to you all.
Thank you so much for reading. Have a lovely day.
My Other Communion Bread
For those who are interested:
- Milk and Honey Communion Loaf
- Herb Bread with Lemon and Rosemary-Infused Olive Oil
- Herbs de Provence Whole Wheat Crackers (a variation of the posted recipe)
- Saffron Crackers with Citrus Fennel Sea Salt