Making altar bread


 decoupe hosties LT

The Sisters produced bread for the altar: an unleavened bread to be used in the course of the Mass being known as the host. It is a sort of a small waffle, very flat, for which we provide below the recipe of the time.

Recipe for Altar Bread 

cuisson-hostieLittle by little, one mixes flour with water. The flour should be of the best kind from very fresh wheat that has been finely ground. The water that is to be used should be sparkling (that is, have gas in it) and hard (that is, rich in minerals). The source of the water should be a fountain or a well. Rain water will not do. When the flour is well mixed, one takes a spoonful of it and pours it in the iron and then places the iron on the fire. The time for baking would be about that of an Ave Maria for each side when the fire is in good condition; because if the fire is not quite glowing it will take longer. If the fire is too much, it is necessary to retrieve the iron very quickly and place it on the edge of the stove and not open it until it is no longer giving off smoke. If a charcoal oven is being used, it is important that the wood being used is to be of an uniform heat. The breads are quite beautiful. It is very unfavorable to do this work during the hot season. It is preferable and much easier to do so during spring or winter.

The batter is baked over a gas oven between two iron plates: an iron mold to make for hosts, such as that being used in the photo above on the right by Marie of the Sacred Heart. These iron molds bear hollow reliefs that leave an imprint on the bread at the moment of baking: the monograms HIS and IHC or religious scenes from the Passion of Christ as one can see here below from another iron mold for hosts from the time of Therese. One can see there reliefs for large and small hosts. The “left overs” after being trimmed are sold as trimmings.



Manner of Polishing New Irons or old ones

It is sometimes difficult to manufacture these bread when using an iron mold that is new and has not been improved—when they are new and unused the molds are sometimes a bit rough. It is necessary to rub all sides with sand paper, then take the remains of a beaten and sifted brick in a wool cloth, wet it, and then vigorously polishing the iron with the mixture—then one polishes it again with a cleaning agent known as Tripoli sec. Sometimes, it is necessary to repeat over the course of three or four hours or more. Then after one has done all this polishing, one can test the irons to see how well they serve to make the bread. (Note from the period).


At the Carmel of Lisieux, there was one room within the cloister specially designated for the preparation and baking of hosts: the office of altar bread. There one would find a pipe of gaseous water. The Sisters would substitute for one another on the day of cooking, sometimes leaving to go to where the Community was gathered.

One should thoroughly clean the iron using brick powder that has gone through a sieve, also putting some olive oil on the iron with a feather. When the flour is good, one can go at times for many days without having to clean the iron so, but when the flour is too loose, it is important to clean the iron well every day and often twice per day. It is easier to clean the iron when it is hot than when it is cold. In addition, when the iron goes white the bread will be black and smudged, it will be necessary to grease the iron with a bit of tallow [afterwards].  The first breads that are made after the iron has been so greased will not be good except for the little calves (Note from the period).


Once cooked, the altar bread is dried and then cut with a small tool called roundeau, seen in the photo below left in the hands of Mother Agnes cutting small hosts for the faithful attending Mass. Below right is the hand of Celine cutting large wafers for the priest celebrating Mass.

decoupe petites hosties decoupe grandes hosties

The cutting out of the hosts is a very delicate operation that, when poorly done, can ruin all the prior work by causing the bread to crumble. As noted in the instruction manual from the time: Bread that shows much by way of designs is very difficult to achieve because the more the engravings the more susceptible it is to flaking.

emballage hosties

Sale at the Front Desk and to the Exterior

Once the altar breads are cut, they are placed in small cardboard boxes for sale. From these, Therese would take hosts to refill the ciborium for the next Mass. This was part of her duties as a Sacristan.

The altar bread destined for sale would be packaged and kept at the Turn for those who presented themselves at the reception desk of the Monastery. Despite the expense of the flour, the cooking materials, and water with gas, the sale of these altar breads brought in close to 1600 francs in revenue in the last years of the life of Therese.


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