Joe Flynn of the Trappist Monks’ Specialty Bakery
The Cistercian abbey in New York is well known for its baked goods and snacks.
Located in a picturesque rural area in Piffard, New York, the Abbey of the Genesee is where contemplative monks of the Order of Cistercians (Trappists) pray and take part in manual labor. The Abbey is also well known for its baked goods, starting with the popular Monks’ Bread made in the onsite bakery starting in 1953. Today’s bread flavors include white, whole wheat and cinnamon raisin.
But the monks in 2011 decided to found a specialty bakery to prepare snack foods, such as biscotti and fruit-and-nut energy bars. Its second bakery, Monks’ Specialty Bakery, was not to compete with the bread bakery but to allow the older monks who had trouble working the 8-hour bread shift to participate and contribute to the “welfare of the community, but with work that is not so rigorous,” explained Joe Flynn, the manager of the specialty bakery.
“When I was hired,” he said, “the manager was a monk, and running the bakery took too much out of his time. So I manage the operation for day-to-day baking and in the event that baking needs to be scheduled around prayer time. If biscotti is in the oven, one cannot go off to noonday prayer.”
He explained that the recipes he oversees were all created by Father Isaac, Genesee Abbey’s current novice director, who has done many other tasks in the abbey.
“Now most of the recipes he found online,” said Flynn, “and he tweaked them because many were created for home use, and we have large-scale equipment. All the recipes have evolved over time, depending on the steps in the process, whether processed by hand or by machine. I constantly keep adjusting the flavor and the right size and shape to keep them as strong as possible. We ship to people, and we do not want them to get broken in shipping.”
Until recently, Flynn said, the most popular pastry was the cranberry-orange biscotti. But now the dark chocolate chip biscotti is outselling everything else. As for the energy bars, he said, the monk who started the bakery was also a marathon runner and a huge athlete, so he wanted an energy bar with no artificial preservatives.
“He came up with this idea to mass produce energy bars,” he said. “These energy bars come in two flavors: chocolate espresso with Brazil nuts and dried dates and the cranberry-almond bars with dates, cranberries and chopped almonds. The chocolate espresso is the most popular.”
A native of Long Island, New York, and part of a very Catholic family, Flynn attended Genesee State University.
“I got to know some of the monks then,” he said, “and was involved in the Newman Community on campus. We would talk about books, and then when they wanted an assistant manager in the specialty bakery, they gave me a call.”
Although not a professional baker, he credits his mother with teaching him about cooking.
“My mother taught me when I was growing up,” he said. “I loved baked goods, and she taught me about making her pies and lots of cookies. My family recipes included chocolate chip bars and banana bars. … When I visit my mom, I ask her what to bring. Her favorites are the sunflower bread and the dark chocolate biscotti.”
Flynn noted that visitors to the abbey can go to the gift shop or go online and order baked goods there. He also said that Brother Sylvester was the name of the monk who invented Monks’ Bread. He was a baker for the U.S. Navy before he became a monk, and he gets the credit for founding the bakery.
Father Isaac’s Granola Recipe
As Flynn said, “Here is a granola recipe Father Isaac has been developing this year. It is not commercially available but made only for the Monks’ Kitchen. … This recipe makes 2.5 lbs.”
- 4 cups rolled oats
- 1 cup almonds
- 3/4 cups dried cranberries
- 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
- 1/3 cup soybean oil (can substitute vegetable oil)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1/3 tablespoon orange oil
- 2 teaspoons orange powder zest
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 320 F.
- Lightly grease a 9x13 baking sheet.
- Stir together all ingredients and distribute evenly on the baking sheet.
- Bake for 20 minutes, removing halfway to stir. Granola should be lightly golden.