by Sarah Lyon and Gordon Nary
Blaise was a fourth century physician and bishop of Sebastea, Armenia. According the legend, he was martyred by being scourged, tortured by what what known as carding, and beheaded. Carding was the use of large iron combs which were used to scrape the flesh from the body. St. Blaise is one of the most popularly venerated saints and his feastday is marked in many countries with the ritual blessing of the throats with crossed candles. This tradition is based on a legend in which St. Blaise saved a little boy from death who was choking on a fishbone that had lodged in his throat. This legend resulted in Blaise's appellation as the patron saint of throat disease.
The cult of St. Blaise did not develop until the 8th century, more than 400 years after Blaise's martyrdom. The original cult of St. Blaise placed more emphasis on the saint's ability to cure a variety of animal diseases since his legends also portray him as the precursor of St. Francis, and was able to communicate with wild animals. One of these legends claim that when Blaise was arrested prior to his martyrdom, he was found in the woods surrounded by wild animals who had come to him for healing. In medieval celebrations of St. Blaise's feast, a specially blessed jug of water called St. Blaise's water was distributed to farmers and herdsmen to use in the treating of diseased or injured livestock.
The use of crossed candles to bless throats was primarily a French and Germanic tradition. In Central Europe and many Latin countries, the distribution of specially blessed bread sticks (Pan bendito or St. Blaise's breadsticks) replaces the blessing of throats with candles. Whenever someone has a sore throat, they break off a piece of the Pan bendito and chew it and the sore throat is often said to diminish, a phenomenon known in medical science as the placebo effect.
We suggest enjoying Pan Bendito while watching the Endless Breadsticks episode of TV's Robot Chicken: (Season 3, Episode 6).
Pan Bendito (St. Blaise's Breadsticks)
1 cup warm water (90 degrees)
2 TB active dry yeast
1TB olive oil, plus more for greasing the dough
1 TB honey
1 tsp salt
2 cups flour, plus more for the work surface
Semolina, for forming the breadsticks
Combine the water, yeast, oil, honey and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer (fitted with a paddle attachment); beat at medium-low speed to incorporate. Add the flour a handful at a time until it is all incorporated. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 5 or 6 minutes, until a smooth and supple dough is formed.
Liberally flour a work surface. Transfer the dough to the surface; pat and fold it over on itself to shape and form a neat rectangle measuring 2 inches deep by 16 inches wide. Transfer the dough to a large baking sheet and coat the dough with oil (to keep a crust from forming). Place in a warm spot free of drafts; let it rest for about 30 minutes or until the dough has doubled in size and is puffy. Sprinkle lightly all over with semolina, then gather enough semolina to form a small mound at one of the short ends of the dough.
Position oven racks in the lower and upper thirds of the oven; preheat to 450 degrees. Have ready 2 large baking sheets lined with silicone liners.
Starting at the end of the dough next to the mound of semolina, use a 6-inch dough scraper to cut 1/2-inch-thick strips of dough, pushing them through the semolina to coat well. Gently transfer the strips to the baking sheets, stretching the dough into 16-inch strips. Repeat to use all the dough.
Bake immediately for 12 to 15 minutes, until nicely browned and crisp; rotate the baking sheets top to bottom and front to back halfway through baking. Transfer the breadsticks to a wire rack to cool slightly before serving. Bless before serving/
Makes 24 breadsticks
© 2017 Gordon Nary