Wednesday, June 12, 2013

St. Anthony's Bread On The Feast Of St. Anthony

One custom on the Feast of St. Anthony, June 13th., is known as "St. Anthony's Bread" and goes back to the year 1263 A.D., when a child drowned near the Basilica of St. Anthony in Padua as it was still being built. The mother besought St. Anthony and promised that if her child were restored to life, she would give to the poor an amount of wheat equal to the weight of her child. Of course her son was saved, and her promise was kept.
Another reason for the practice is traced back to Louise Bouffier, a shopkeeper in Toulon, France. A locksmith was prepared to break open her shop door after no key would open it. Bouffier asked the locksmith to try his keys one more time after she prayed and promised to give bread to the poor in honor of St. Anthony if the door would open without force. The door then opened. After others received favors through the intercession of St. Anthony, they joined Louise Bouffier in founding the charity of St. Anthony Bread.
"St. Anthony's Bread," then, is the promise of giving alms in return for a favor asked of God through St. Anthony's intercession (the custom also takes place throughout the year when parents give alms after placing their baby under the patronage of St. Anthony). In some places, the custom has a literal parallel in that loaves of bread might be blessed and given away at church or, generally, to the poor. The practice of distributing St. Anthony's Bread recalls his concern for the poor.

Below is a recipe for an Italian bread that may be shaped into individual loaves for you to pass out at church, among friends and family, or to the disadvantaged in your community.

St. Anthony's Bread
(Yield: 16 mini-loaves)

3 cups flour, divided
2 packages active dry yeast
1 Tsp. dried Italian seasoning
1 Tsp. dried parsley flakes
1 1/4 cups milk
1/4 cup water
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tsp. garlic salt
1 egg
3/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese, divided
2 Tbsp. butter, melted

In a large mixing bowl, combine 1 1/2 cups of flour, yeast, Italian seasoning, and parsley flakes. In a saucepan, heat and stir the milk, water, butter, sugar, and garlic salt just until warm (120-130º) and butter almost melts. Add milk mixture to flour mixture. Add egg and beat with electric mixer on low or medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping the bowl constantly. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in 1/2 cup of the Parmesan cheese and as much of the remaining flour as you can.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining flour to make a moderately soft dough that is smooth (3-5 minutes total). Shape the dough into a ball. Place it in a lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease the top and bottom surfaces. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size (about 45 minutes).
Grease baking sheets or a 13” x 9” x 2” baking pan. Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide dough into 16 portions, shaping each into a round mini-loaf. Place mini-loaves on sheet or pan. Brush tops with 2 tablespoons butter and sprinkle with remaining Parmesan cheese. Cover and let rise in a warm place (about 15 minutes).
Bake in a 375º oven for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.