Maybe you've heard of Friendship Bread? Basically, it's a "starter" dough that one person feeds, according to a recipe, then uses some of the starter to bake their bread and passes the rest along to a "friend". That friend feeds the starter til it grows and ferments and becomes ready to use in baking; then takes a little of the starter and passes the rest to the next "friend" and so on, and so on. When I was in college we had one that made it's way around the whole campus and back again. Frankly, it can be fun - or it can be a pain (and NOT the french word for bread.)
My mom, in North Carolina, was given one of these cups of starter by my sister-in-law a few months ago. I got a phone call when my mom was worried about what to do with the rest of the starter she had fed.
[Read the following with a sweet ultra-southern accent] "Cathy, I don't have any friends that want to make this friendly bread, I can't give it back; that would be rude, and I've cooked just about as much of this, and in as many ways as my brain can come up with. I've frozen it, I've fried it, I've made it to muffins, and I'm just sick of my friend bread. There's nobody that wants mine."
My mom is a soft southern 76-year-old with a sing song accent, but I would describe her as either 3 years old or 99 years old. She lives alone and has for years and years. Lots of times she seems like she's MY kid; pouty with a little girl's tiny voice asking for a favor. Other times she seems like she's wise beyond time, but somehow barely hanging on because of this ailment or the other. A common phrase of hers is "well...with my horrible bad luck..." Now, before you think I'm just being mean about my mom, let me assure you; I love this lady with all my heart. She was a single Mom (Dad, not so great) in the 70's to my brother and me. She worked as many jobs as possible. She gave up her own bedroom in our 2 bedroom apt. so I could have my teenage room to myself while she slept on the fold-out couch. She was at every play, majorette parade, and show I ever performed in as a kid. She's also crazy as a salted June Bug, sometimes.
My mom still lives in the small little city she was born in and most of her friends have moved on (one way or the other). She is a child of the Depression and now lives on a fixed income of less than 12,000 dollars a YEAR. The idea of wasting anything, even a cup of starter dough is beyond sinful to her. And, let's face it; who could deal with that little pleading voice telling you that "nobody wants mine". So, I did what every good daughter would do; I told her to send it to me.
I live in Southern California. I visit Mom about every 3 months and my amazingly wonderful brother lives near her and is constantly helping. I'm often searching for ways that I can be of service since I'm the one who "left" town. So, in my mind, I just wanted to fix the emotional. I didn't need to knead bread, ya know? Mom seemed convinced that this AMISH FRIENDSHIP bread was a "secret starter dough". She almost whispered it, "If it stops, nobody knows how to make it again. It started with those Amish people many years ago." To be honest, I probably half listened. I was just bent on fixing the problem. "Oh, yeah that's cool, so just send it to me and I'll make a loaf and that way I can be a part of your Amish Friendship bread thing, too. Is that good?" As I do constantly, I waited to hear how I, wonderful me, had solved all her worry and NOW she was happy. But, her worry became about how to get it to the Post Office, it can't go but 24 hours before the next recipe step, and how she just couldn't pay for that. "No problem, Mom, whatever it is - and how bad can it be - I'll just send you the money back, right away." And that was that. It did make her excited that I would be participating. She started giving me ideas of how she added chocolate chips to it, how important it was to massage the plastic bag of starter exactly as the recipe stated. She was really into the idea. It was great. She would send me a cup of starter, over-night-it, as soon as it got to the sharing point of the recipe again.
A week later, I had just completed a giant project that had me working every day, my youngest son was on school break and my husband had a rare day off; we were taking a holiday at a nice hotel. I was sitting by the pool sipping a Pina Colada, taking in the sun and pretending this was my everyday life. I was in a zone. My cell phone rang and it was Mom. "Cathy, honey, I hope this was okay - I just left the Fed-Ex place and sent off your Amish Starter, but honey it was a lot. Are you sure that was okay, it will make a lot of loaves, but still and all - your brother said you were crazy, but I told him you said to do it, so honey, I did...and it was 84 Dollars."
I spit my half-chewed rum soaked pineapple out of my mouth. 84 DOLLARS? For bread? I could hear her child-like panic that somehow she had done something wrong and worse it had to do with money. "Well, I thought that was a lot, but I figured you knew what you said, did I mess up?" I knew it wasn't her fault, she just did what I so "cooly" told her to do. My brother was right; I was crazy. I tried to pass off my shock by calling it mild surprise at the delivery rates our country is charging these days, yada, yada, yada.
So, story mostly over except this extra salt in the wound. If you google - "Amish Friendship Bread" - you will find hundreds of starter recipes just like the one I paid 84 Dollars to use. When I got the bag and read through the daily instructions I got a giant laugh. After 10 days of massaging and feeding the starter the recipe for the bread began. One of the ingredients was powdered Vanilla Pudding, like from a box? I'm not sure, but I doubt the age old traditions of the Amish actually included boxed Vanilla Pudding Mix. I left that part out; forever destroying the secret Amish starter.
I have to admit, this made an amazingly moist caramel bread. It had that sweetness that comes only with fermenting and maybe a little bit of humble pie.
Starter Recipe given is one that I've tweaked from many sources to give you one that is simple and fun to start your own Friendship Bread.
AMISH FRIENDSHIP BREAD STARTER:
1 TBL. dry active yeast
1 cup warm water
1 cup sugar
1 cup flour
1 cup warm milk
In a non-metallic bowl; sprinkle yeast over 1 cup of warm water (110F). Stir to dissolve yeast and wait about 5 minutes til frothy.
Add sugar, flour and warm milk. Stir to combine, then pour mixture into a sturdy ziplock bag and keep at room temp. for 10 days while you follow these directions.
Days 1,2,3,4 - Release pressure in bag and massage ingredients in bag.
Day 5 - Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar and milk. Close bag, massage and hold again.
Days 6,7,8,9 - Release pressure in bag and massage ingredients.
Day 10 - Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar and milk. Massage ingredients and pour into a non-metallic bowl.
Use 1 cup of batter for making your own 2 loaves of bread. You will have about 3 cups of batter left (2 to share and 1 to keep for your next 10 days/ or 3 to share).
AMISH FRIENDSHIP BREAD
1 cup of starter
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 cup sugar
2 cups flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. vanilla
pinch of salt
*optional: pinch of cinnamon or nutmeg/ caramel chips, choc.chips, nuts, raisins
**optional: 1 small box of vanilla pudding
Mix together flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, and baking soda in a bowl.
In another bowl - beat eggs with oil, vanilla and starter, then add in the dry ingredient mix and optionals.
Pour batter into 2 well buttered loaf pans (or you may choose muffin tins). Bake at 325F for 1 hour (muffins require less time.)
Don't forget to give the recipes and instructions when you share your Friendship Bread. This makes a very fun gift for the holidays.