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Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking

Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking

by Rick Curry

In the tradition of The Tassajara Bread Book, Brother Curry combines 80 mouth-watering recipes for bread—gathered from Jesuit brothers around the world—with his spiritual insights on meditation through bread-baking.


In the tradition of The Tassajara Bread Book, Brother Curry combines 80 mouth-watering recipes for bread—gathered from Jesuit brothers around the world—with his spiritual insights on meditation through bread-baking.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
Curry, a Jesuit brother and founder of the National Theater Workshop of the Handicapped, has also gained a reputation as a bread baker. His unusual, often absorbing book presents 80 recipes of all sorts along with anecdotes about the Jesuit community, the history of the order, and prayers and blessings. Some of the recipes are Curry's own, several are the daily breads he made as a novice, and many come from other Jesuit brothers and priests from Italy, Ireland, Mexico, and other countries. The recipes are good, and Curry writes well and engagingly; most baking collections will want this.

Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
7.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.64(d)

Read an Excerpt

Advent, which stretches across the month (including four Sundays) before Christmas, is a time when we prepare for the great celebration of Christmas, when we accept the gift of God in the Christ child. It is also a time that people pray for refugees and for the homeless, since that certainly was what Mary and Joseph were.
Advent in the novitiate was not as severe a time as Lent, but the Novice Master did recommend that we give up something. In the Jesuit community—as in the rest of the neighborhood—there's an air of real anticipation all during the month. It's also a time people think about returning home for the holidays, but we were allowed to see our parents only four times a year, and it might not include Christmas, so the novices were given lots of busywork to combat homesickness. When I was in my first year, I noticed a certain amount of frenzy, but if any first-year man asked or inquired about it, he was graciously told it was a secundi secret—a secret of a second-year man. You would know only after you had been there a year. I think it was a way to motivate us; if we persevered for a year, all truth would come to us—or at least the second-year men acted as if they had all truth.
I think of fall and Advent as a continuum. Fall is the time when the luxuries and beauties of summer are stripped away; a more austere time of the year is about to take its place. Advent makes the bridge from autumn to winter. The breads included in this section are breads that can be served throughout the fall as well as during Advent itself.

Steam Power
Many people maintain that you can't make real French bread without steam inside your oven. I think I spentmuch more of my youth as a Jesuit trying to create steam while baking than I did at any other task. But when I visited the Poilane bakery in Paris, I realized they had an automatic system building up steam in a whole separate section of the oven and then pumping it inside the stove, and that I could never duplicate the effect in my home oven. A kitchen oven just doesn't have that much heat. Putting a pan of water under your bread in order to create steam creates a nice illusion, but it doesn't help cook the bread any better.
Noble Masi, my instructor chef at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York (the former site of a Jesuit novitiate, St. Andrews), taught me an alternative to steam. Using a plant sprayer, spray the bread with plain white vinegar right before you put it in the oven and again after you've baked it for ten minutes. The acid in the vinegar gives the bread just the right crisping kick.

French Bread
Brother Dennis Lonergan, S.J., spent most of his life cooking for Jesuits and thought that how you baked bread was more important than what you put into
it. He also believed in the proper rhythm of baking: He was a master at using
the heat of his wood-burning oven efficiently, baking those items that needed the most heat early in the morning and those that took much less heat, such as pies and cakes, at the end of the day.
1 package active dry yeast (see note)
11/4 cups warm water
2 teaspoons salt
3 to 31/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
Combine the yeast and 1/2 cup of the water in a large mixing bowl, stirring until dissolved. Set aside for 5 minutes.
Add the remaining 3/4 cup of water, salt, and 2 cups of the flour and beat vigorously for 3 minutes. Beat for another 5 minutes, continuing to add the remaining flour until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Turn out on a lightly floured surface. Knead for 8 to 10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic, adding flour as necessary to prevent stickiness.
Lightly oil a large bowl. Place dough in bowl and turn to coat on all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in the refrigerator for 10 to 12 hours or overnight.
Let dough come to room temperature. Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.
Turn out again. Divide into thirds, shape into baguettes, and place in trays.
Cover with a tea towel and let rise until doubled in bulk—about 20 minutes. Spray with vinegar. I sometimes throw poppy seeds on the baguettes at this point.
Make the seven traditional slashes in each baguette. (I don't know why there are seven, but authentic French baguettes all have that many.)
Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown, spraying again with vinegar after 10 minutes of baking. Transfer to wire racks to cool for at least an hour.
Note: One school of thought says you don't add sugar to French bread and another school says you add a little sugar to get the yeast activated. I don't use sugar in my French bread recipe.
There are six or seven different ways to present French bread: baguettes, rolls, the epi (sheaf of wheat), daisy form, heart-shaped, the corona, the ring shape, and the pan de mie.
Often I divide this bread into twenty-four sections instead of three, roll them into tight little balls, and let them have the second rise. Right before I put them in the oven, I slash them, spray them again with vinegar, and throw poppy seeds or sesame seeds on them. They bake into luscious, really chewy dinner rolls.
Yield: Three baguettes

The Church, in all her wisdom, has always been careful that throughout the year she dotted her calendar with festive days. These are days to celebrate great people who have gone before us, marked with that sign of faith to show us the way. For every feast day we always had a special Mass and a very special meal.

Preparing and eating particular foods with particular feasts and holidays helps set those days apart for everyone.
The Church also understood human nature very well and realized that the enjoyment of the feast could be heightened through anticipation, and the vigil the day and night before marks the official anticipation of the feast. A vigil and its accompanying preparations don't have to mean a solemn watch from a pew. Think about planning the menu, inviting the guests, choosing recipes, gathering ingredients, putting them together, all as part of the enjoyment of the feast.
At the center of every celebration of a Jesuit feast was the meal. The refectory (dining room) would be filled with about 125 young men, scholastics and young Brothers, and then about 40 older people, the older Brothers and the priests. The meal began with a very short Gospel passage reading, after which the rector, in a very loud voice, would give the deo gratias, a Latin term meaning thanks be to God. When the deo gratias was given, the entire dining room erupted in a great roar of male voices as we broke silence and responded, "Semper deo gratias et mariae." The feast had begun.

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