Trappist Brother Philip of Monks’ Bakery — With a Recipe for Pumpkin Flan

‘The bakery provides a unique environment inside the monastery,’ he says. ‘It is so different because we are contemplative and cloistered.’

Brother Philip (r) prepares food in the monastery bakery
Brother Philip (r) prepares food in the monastery bakery (photo: Monastery of the Holy Spirit)

Leading a quiet and prayerful monastic life at the Monastery of the Holy Spirit in Conyers, Georgia, Brother Philip also manages the monastery’s bakery, Monks’ Bakery Goods. As the monastery’s website notes, “We monks begin our workday in the bakery with prayer. We then inspect all ingredients to ensure they meet the highest quality standards. We then combine ingredients and bake them with care.”

A native of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Brother Philip was born into a Catholic family, attended a Catholic elementary school, and was an altar server at Sacred Heart Parish in Pittsburgh. Although he worked several jobs in his 20s, Brother Philip felt called to the monastic life.

“What caused the appeal for the monastic life and the development of spiritual life, that took a lot of time to figure out,” he said. “It got to the point that I was convinced my life should be dedicated to service to God. At first, I tried working with the mentally handicapped, but I finally got the courage to look into monastic life. I found this is where I belong, and the call God has given to me.

“I have been here 11 years,” he said. “and my family has been very supportive. … They can visit once a year because we have a guest house where they can stay for five days … and if we have elderly parents who cannot travel, we have permission to visit them every other year. As a monk living in a Trappist/Cistercian monastery, I pray the Divine Office with the monastic community in the abbey church at fixed times throughout the day, beginning with Vigils at 4 a.m. … I am also the director of our monastic guest program, which allows men to live, work and pray inside the monastery for a month-long period.”

And, as it turns out, Brother Philip has been also the manager of the monastery’s bakery for seven years, overseeing the three-days-per-week baking program. He also cooks the main meal for the community every Saturday.

“I learned to cook from my mom (who is a great cook) and when I was a teenager, I began cooking dinners for my family,” he said. But after high school, Brother Philip honed his cooking and baking skills by receiving a degree in pastry arts at Pennsylvania Culinary School in Pittsburgh and working at a Phoenix, Arizona, hotel, then moving back to Pittsburgh to work at an upscale Italian restaurant and then working for two years as the overnight baker at several local bakeries.

As Brother Philip noted, “We are baking three days a week, and that includes one day of preparation,” he said. “We are very busy right now because of the holidays with local parish sales. We ship all over the country to keep up with orders.” He adds that the novices and younger monks are those who work in the bakers, though some of the older monks contribute too. “We have about 12 brothers who work in some capacity. A typical work crew for production involves six or seven monks.

“Our biscotti is very popular because it is a unique recipe created by our Brother Guerric,” he said. “It has a soft chewy texture, as opposed to the traditional crunchy, hard biscotti. Our biscotti contains local Georgia pecans, almonds, pistachios, cranberries, blueberries and dried cherries. Our fudge flavors are chocolate, chocolate walnut, Southern Touch (chocolate with dried peaches and pecans) and maple walnut.”

The monastery sells its products online at HolySpiritMonasteryGifts.com, its on-site store, and to local parishes during the holidays. “Parishioners and the Knights of Columbus take our product to local church parishes where there are lots of sales.”

Brother Philip concluded, “The bakery provides a unique environment inside the monastery It is so different because we are contemplative and cloistered. So the atmosphere is different … we begin every day with prayer and have a quiet, peaceful setting.”


Recipe: Pumpkin Flan

This recipe is from Brother Phillip. Makes 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 5 eggs, beaten
  • One (14-ounce) can condensed milk
  • 2 cups whole milk
  • 1 cup puréed pumpkin
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1/4 teaspoon ginger

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place 1 cup sugar and the water in a saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar. Place over medium heat and boil the sugar, without stirring, until it starts to turn a honey-brown. Around 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. Remove the caramelized sugar from the heat and pour into a 9-sinch cake pan or into individual ramekins, swirling to coat the bottom. Place the cake pan or ramekins in a baking pan large enough to hold them without touching.
  3. In a large bowl, beat together the eggs, condensed milk, whole milk, pureed pumpkin 1/2 cup sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and ginger until smooth. Pour into the cake pan or into each of the ramekins. Fill the baking pan with enough warm water to come about 2/3 of the way up the sides of the cake pan or ramekins.
  4. Place in the oven and bake until a knife inserted into the center of the flan comes out clean, about 45-50 minutes. Remove the flan from the water bath and chill for at least 2 hours. Run a knife around the edges of the flan, invert over a serving dish and serve.
Edward Reginald Frampton, “The Voyage of St. Brendan,” 1908, Chazen Museum of Art, Madison, Wisconsin.

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J.R.R. Tolkien’s mystic west was inspired by the legendary voyage of St. Brendan, who sailed on a quest for a Paradise in the midst and mists of the ocean.