Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Chain Letter of Baking: Amish Friendship Bread

The day after Thanksgiving, The Girl’s boyfriend brought us a loaf of cinnamon-smelling bread and a gallon-sized bag of goop. Then he handed me a page filled with instructions, under the heading “Amish Friendship Bread.” The name made sense in relation to the gift, but I found myself confused by the bag full of pasty pudding. Why was his mother sending me goop? What had I ever done to her?

Then I read the instructions, and I discovered that I’d been given a sourdough starter to share with my own friends—and to bake my own loaf of Friendship Bread.

A little bit of research revealed that this recipe has been in circulation for a long time, though I’d never heard of it; the moment I told friends I’d received a loaf, they were asking for some of the starter and telling me how much they loved this recipe. Mr. Picky gobbled up our loaf of bread within the first two days we had it, so that tells what you need to know about how good it is. My research also revealed that Amish Friendship Bread doesn’t actually have its roots in the Amish community—I’d suspected this because the instructions called for the sourdough starter to be kept in a plastic bag while it’s fermenting, and I really can’t imagine the Amish are fond of Ziploc bags. Still, the bag has made a perfectly serviceable container for this kitchen-based science experiment.

The sourdough starter (you can make your own–just Google “make your own sourdough starter” and choose one of the billion recipes that pops up)  needs to be fed and fermented for ten days before you start baking this bread.  After that, divide the starter into one-cup portions and give them to friends–hence the name of the recipe–along with a loaf of the bread. Alternatively, you can keep the portioned starter in the freezer and thaw it whenever you’re ready to start a new batch.

A few additional bits of information: Keep the starter at room temperature, not in the refrigerator.  Cold temperatures will slow or stop its growth.  The starter will bubble, thicken and ferment as it grows; when air starts to accumulate in the bag, open the top and let it out. Finally, and most importantly, do not use any metal spoons or bowls for mixing the starter. Contact with metal will cause a chemical reaction and kill the yeast colony that’s keeping the starter alive.  

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Amish Friendship Bread

Ingredients:

See below.

Directions:

Day 1: This is the date that should be written on the bag of starter. Find a cozy spot on your kitchen counter where it can park for the next ten days.

Days 2-5: Squeeze the bag to mix the starter. Release any air that's accumulated in the bag.

Day 6: Add 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup milk to the bag. Squeeze to mix all the ingredients.

Days 7-9: Squeeze the bag to mix the starter.

Day 10: Pour the entire contents of the bag into a plastic or ceramic mixing bowl. Add 1 ½ cups flour, 1 ½ cups sugar, and 1 ½ cups milk to the batter. Mix well with a wooden or plastic spoon. Measure out 4 one-cup portions of the starter (there will be some left in the bowl); place each portion in a gallon size plastic bag with a zipper top. Mark all bags with the date. Give 3 to friends and keep the 4th as a new starter for yourself.

Preheat your oven to 325 degrees.

To the remaining starter in the bowl, add the following ingredients and mix well with a wooden or plastic spoon:

1 cup oil
1 cup sugar
1 ½ tsp. vanilla
3 eggs
½ cup milk
1 large box instant vanilla pudding
½ tsp. baking soda
1 ½ tsp. baking powder
2 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon
½ tsp. salt

Grease 2 large loaf pans, 4 small loaf pans, or an 8-well mini loaf pan. In a small bowl, mix ½ cup sugar and 1 ½ tsp cinnamon. Dust the greased pans with half of this mixture.

Pour the batter evenly into the pans. Sprinkle the remaining cinnamon/sugar mixture over the top. Bake 1 hour for large loaf pans; 30-35 minutes for small loaf pans; 20-25 minutes for mini loaves. Your bread is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool for 10 minutes, or until the bread loosen easily from the pan.

In case you're up for experimentation, here are some variations on this basic recipe:

Lemon Friendship Bread: omit cinnamon from the batter and dust pans with sugar only; use lemon pudding instead of vanilla; add 2 tsp. lemon zest and ¼ cup poppy seeds.

Chocolate Frienship Bread: reduce cinnamon to 1 tsp. in the batter and dust pans with sugar only; use chocolate pudding instead of vanilla; add ½ cup chocolate chips.

Cranberry Frienship Bread: Add 1 cup dried cranberries and ½ cup chopped pecans to the basic batter.

Low-Fat Friendship Bread: Use ½ cup oil and ½ cup unsweetened applesauce when making the batter.


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