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Good things come to those who knead

Dominic Garramone, a Benedictine monk and TV host, finds the physical task of making bread good for the spirit.


© St. Petersburg Times, published March 7, 2001

TAMPA -- You'll forgive Father Dominic Garramone if he's never used a bread machine.

The host of the PBS cooking show Breaking Bread With Father Dominic admits the convenience of the counter-top machine that mixes, kneads, proofs and bakes all while the operator does something else. He kindly understands that for people physically unable to work dough, a machine may be the only way to enjoy the taste and smell of homemade bread.

For Garramone, though, a bread machine negates almost every benefit of making bread, not the least of which is being wrist deep in glorious, yeasty dough.

"There is a kind of sameness to bread machine bread," Garramone says. "By hand, bread is imperfect . . . like people."

Garramone, a Benedictine monk at St. Bede Abbey in Peru, Ill., swung through Tampa recently on a publicity tour for the award-winning show he hosts. Of all the duties he attends to in his busy life, the publicity tours are his least favorite. They pull him away from his cherished monastic life and the comfort of St. Bede's kitchen.

"I get tired of praying in planes," Garramone says.

We spent a recent morning with Garramone at Pane Rustica, an artisan bakery in Tampa owned by Karyn and Kevin Kruszewski. The doors are closed on Mondays to the public, but Kevin Kruszewski opened them for us, letting us talk in the restorative surroundings and giving Garramone a tour of the bakery.

Garramone, 40, is as comfortable talking about bread as he is about matters of spirituality. His mother taught him how to make bread, and he is one of five siblings who cook, though the only one with a TV show. Spend time with Garramone, and he'll fill you with baking knowledge and a little bit of peace by way of his reassuring demeanor.

He is chairman of the religion department at St. Bede Academy, the abbey's high school and also heads up the school's drama department and summer theater program. Several weeks a year are spent on the road and in the St. Louis TV studio where the show is taped.

"When I joined the monastery (in 1983), I made it clear to God that I was giving up the theater," Garramone says, "but God gave it back to me."

Inclined to decline

When he was first approached to do the show by producers at PBS station KETC in St. Louis, who found out about him from a friend, Garramone says he was inclined to decline. Being on TV wasn't what he was about, he says. Did being the host, never "star," he says, of a TV show fit into his monastic life?

"Then the abbot and I talked about it, and we agreed," he explains. "We decided this was a way to show people what a 21st century monk looks like. The real reason we said yes was to get the wide audience."

A Converse convert

A 21st century monk, at least this one, has black Converse All-Star high-tops peeking from underneath his black robe. Garramone is on the lookout to snap up as many pairs as he can since Converse's January bankruptcy announcement.

The toes of his everyday tennies are white-tipped; he's got black tips for church. He calls them his Stealth shoes, and this 21st century monk puts Winnie the Pooh and X-Men figures on top of the studio cameras so he knows which ones to talk to during filming.

"I had a hard time knowing where to look," he says. "So now instead of saying "Look at camera one,' they say, "Look at Tigger.' "

Garramone's quick smile and hearty laugh punctuate his conversations, in person and on the show. Though Breaking Bread With Father Dominic is not a religious show, it is spiritual, he says.

"Making bread re-integrates you," Garramone says. "We get pulled away by all sorts of stimulus; our spiritual selves are fed in one place and drained in another. Bread requires all of our attention, all of our physical selves. Then after we are by ourselves, we fix ourselves up and go back into the community and offer the bread we have made."

A prominent symbol

He points out that the Latin translation of "companion" is "with bread," which helps explain why bread is such a prominent symbol in Christianity. Over and over, bread is used as a metaphor for spiritual nourishment. "Give us this day our daily bread," Christians recite in the Lord's Prayer. In many churches, bread is used during communion to represent the body of Christ.

Garramone says he believes that if more people made bread they would have fewer problems.

"We can work on other problems as we knead the bread," he says. "It's a great time to pray or to meditate."

That seems fine for a monk whose job it is to meditate, but what about the rest of us who can't seem to get dinner on the table three nights a week?

Garramone feels our pain but reminds us that he is a busy guy, too. It's all a matter of priorities, he says, and if you want to bake bread once a week you'll figure out a way to do it. He is amused that the Christmas holidays is the time people choose to bake bread.

"Why the holidays? The busiest time of the year is when you bake bread? What are you doing in July?" he chides. "This underlines my point of baking bread to unfragment yourself."

He understands the intimidation of baking bread. The time commitment plus working with yeast, the living organism that makes bread rise, is worrisome for many home cooks. Garramone, the TV host, soothes the savaged cook.

Bread is forgiving

"Bread is very forgiving," Garramone repeats like a mantra. "The things that can go wrong can be easily fixed. For most people, the No. 1 problem in baking bread is killing the yeast."

Yeast is activated by moisture and feeds on sugar. Most recipes call for active yeast to be dissolved in warm, not hot, water. The temperature of the water should be between 100 and 110 degrees, which is comfortable to the touch, tepid really. If the water is too hot, the yeast dies and the bread won't rise.

"You have to pay attention when baking bread, and in our society we are not very good at that," he says.

Another hurdle is kneading, he says. Bread dough is kneaded, from 5 to 20 minutes, to develop the gluten in the flour, which gives bread structure. It should be a comfortable, rhythmic process, not a manic pushing and pulling of the dough.

"Fold, push, turn; fold, push, turn -- that makes you feel like you're working with the dough and not against it. Especially, don't press down too hard or the dough will tend to tear and stick to your hands," Garramone writes in Breaking Bread With Father Dominic, the companion book to the second 13-week series of the show. (A third series will likely go into production this summer.)

When Garramone kneads dough his movements are measured, precisely the same every time. He turns the dough a quarter after each push and then flicks the fingers of his left hand toward the dough. Over and over, the dough turns, the fingers flick. It's enough to send viewers into a zenlike trance. Garramone says many people comment on his "monastic groove." The movement actually pushes flour into the dough, he says.

Two recipes tried

We tried two recipes from Garramone's book, including one for Cibatta, an Italian bread that needs little kneading and yields very showy results. The recipe makes two small loaves, and on the second baking we made one bigger loaf and were happier with the results. The dough is slack, halfway between a cake batter and a stiff dough, and is made from a yeast starter that ferments for at least six hours. It's important to handle the dough carefully to keep the air bubbles intact. The resulting bread had wonderful pockets and a tremendously earthy flavor.

The Raisin Walnut Bread is another good recipe and an easy one for new bakers. It's a sturdy bread containing white flour, rye flour and molasses. We found this flavorful bread needs to be eaten the day it's made or frozen as soon as it is cooled. Homemade bread stales fairly quickly because no preservatives are added. Also, make sure you knead the raisins and walnuts thoroughly into the bread so that they are well distributed. Our loaves were bottom heavy.

Now, back to those bread machines.

Bread machines

Most recipes call for a range in the amount of flour needed, 3 to 31/2 cups or some such. The reason for this, Garramone says, is that the moisture content in flour varies from bag to bag, brand to brand, as does the moisture in the air day to day. These factors affect how much flour is needed, though air conditioning stabilizes humid condition in most Florida kitchens. One way to determine whether enough flour has been added to the dough is by feel. Since the machine is doing the kneading, it is sometimes difficult to determine this. Most machines suggest you monitor this portion of the process; otherwise, your results may be unsatisfactory.

The tiny oven in bread machines also bugs Garramone. "The air circulation around the dough while it's cooking is part of the quality of the bread," he says.

Garramone understands the draw of the machines. Still, he thinks we would be better off working with our hands.

"Bread is one of the best ways to connect with people," he says. "What better way to share with others than to break bread with them?"

Especially when it is handmade.

At a glance

Breaking Bread With Father Dominic airs at 11 a.m. Fridays on public television station WUSF-Ch. 16. For recipes and breadmaking tips, log on to

Raisin Walnut Bread

1 cup lukewarm milk

1 cup lukewarm water

2 packages active dry yeast

2 tablespoons light molasses

2 cups rye flour, divided

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

11/2 teaspoons salt

3-31/2 cups bread flour, divided

2 cups raisins

1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts

Combine milk, water, yeast, molasses and 1 cup of the rye flour in a large mixing bowl; stir to mix well. Let stand 5-10 minutes. Add oil and salt; mix well. Stir in the remaining 1 cup rye flour. Let dough rest 10 minutes; the rye flour will absorb moisture.

Add 3 cups of the bread flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead vigorously 8-10 minutes, adding enough of the remaining 1/2 cup bread flour to make a firm (but not stiff) dough that is slightly sticky. Lightly oil surface of dough and put in the rinsed mixing bowl. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place 60-75 minutes or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down dough. Knead briefly to work out the larger air bubbles. Roll out dough to a thickness of about 1/2 inch. Sprinkle raisins and walnuts on top of dough. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Knead dough a few minutes to evenly distribute the raisins and walnuts. (At first the dough will be messy and seem to be falling apart, but be patient; it will all come together.)

Divide dough in half and shape each half into a loaf. Place loaves in lightly greased 81/2- by 41/2- by 21/2-inch loaf pans. Cover with a towel and let rise 40 minutes or until nearly doubled in bulk.

About 15 minutes before end of rising time, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 35-45 minutes or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Remove from pans and let cool on wire racks.

Note: If you prefer smaller loaves, divide the dough into 4 pieces and use mini-loaf pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 25-30 minutes.

Make 2 loaves or 4 mini loaves.

Source: "Breaking Bread with Father Dominic 2" by Father Dominic Garramone (KETC, St. Louis, 2000).

Basic Rolls

1 package active dry yeast

1/4 cup warm water

2 cups whole milk

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) butter

2 tablespoons granulated sugar

2 teaspoons salt

2 eggs, beaten

5-51/2 cups bread flour, divided

Sprinkle yeast over warm water in small bowl; stir to dissolve. Let stand 5-10 minutes or until foamy.

Heat milk in a saucepan until lukewarm; do not boil. Add butter, sugar, salt and milk; mix well.

Combine milk mixture, yeast mixture and eggs in large bowl of electric mixer fitted with dough hook. Add 2 cups of the flour; mix with dough hook until blended. Add 2 cups flour and mix until blended. Add 1 cup flour and mix on medium speed 2 minutes.

Remove dough from mixing bowl and place on a floured surface. Knead, adding as much of the remaining 1/2 cup flour as needed to form a smooth, elastic dough. Place dough in a greased bowl and turn to coat. Cover and let rise in a warm, draft-free place 1-11/2 hours or until doubled.

Punch down dough. Knead 2 minutes to work out air bubbles. Let dough rest 10 minutes. Shape dough into desired rolls. Place on lightly greased baking sheet. Cover and let rise about 30 minutes or until doubled.

When dough is nearly finished rising, preheat oven to 425 degrees. Bake rolls 15-20 minutes or until golden brown.




3/4 cup warm water

1 teaspoon active dry yeast (save the rest of the package for use in the dough)

1 cup bread flour

Pinch granulated sugar


About 11/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (the remainder of the package used for the starter)

1 cup warm water

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 teaspoon honey

21/2 cups bread flour

For starter: Prepare the starter 6-12 hours ahead. Pour warm water into a large, non-metallic bowl and sprinkle yeast on top; stir to dissolve. Add flour and sugar; beat until smooth. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place 6-12 hours.

For dough: Dissolve yeast in warm water in a small bowl; add to starter along with salt, oil and honey. Beat until smooth. Add flour (it's okay to add it all at once) and mix until thoroughly incorporated. The dough will be halfway between a batter and regular bread dough -- hard to stir but too wet to knead.

Let mixture rest about 5 minutes, then beat and fold dough with a heavy wooden spoon, plastic wrap and let rise in a warm, draft-free place 11/2-2 hours or until nearly tripled in bulk.

Heavily flour a baking sheet and have extra flour available to dust your hands. Very carefully turn out 1 piece of dough (it will be extremely soft and sticky) onto the floured baking sheet without deflating the air bubble. Run your fingers along the sides to plump the loaf and form the distinctive slipper shape. To make the more squarish "cushion" loaf, lift dough in center and allow ends to fold under. Repeat with second loaf on the same sheet. Let rise, uncovered, 30 minutes.

About 15 minutes before end of rising time, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Bake bread 30-35 minutes or up to 40 minutes if you prefer a crisper crust. Remove from pan and let cool on wire racks.

This bread is best eaten on the day it is made, but, if you must store it, use a waxed paper bag from the bakery rather than plastic to keep the crust crisp.

Note: You really do need to use bread flour for this recipe to turn out well. Bread flour is milled from harder wheat with a higher gluten content, so it can stand up to the long fermentation process and keep its shape even in such a slack dough.

Source: "Breaking Bread with Father Dominic 2" by Father Dominic Garramone (KETC, St. Louis, 2000).

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