Sunday, February 21, 2010

Best. Amish. Friendship. Bread. Ever.

The week before last, during all the snow, a neighbor came by to borrow a cup of oil, and in exchange she gave us some Amish Friendship Bread starter. We thanked her politely, but inwardly I groaned. I've been on the AFB train before, and it's a lot of pressure and responsibility to properly care for such a gift.

For those who are not familiar, the starter is yeast-based and the cycle from receiving the starter to finished product is 10 days. Each day you are responsible to take some action to maintain the brew on your counter. On days five and ten, you have to feed the starter with milk, sugar and flour, but on the other days you only need to stir and burp the gassy goo. It sounds relatively simple, but even so, you run the risk of the whole project taking over your kitchen if not a good portion of your free time. It bubbles and expands, and depending on the container, it pops the lid and spills over onto the counter.

Once you've fed it on day five, you have an even larger fermenting presence to deal with, and frequent clean-ups are not uncommon. When you arrive at day ten, you are charged to feed it once again and then split the resulting batter into four parts-- one to bake with, one to keep, and two for a couple of your friends. And then it all starts again...

After a few cycles, you run out of friends to bestow the starter upon, and frankly? I'm not so sure the ones you've given it to already are so happy with you. The bread itself, a product that, to its credit has almost endless variations, isn't really all that yummy, plus, the recipe inexplicably calls for pudding mix, which cancels out any homemade, non-processed benefits this high-sugar, high-fat dish might otherwise claim.

Even though I have a couple of bags of previous starters in the freezer from other friends (and none of us are even Amish! --but it seems somehow disloyal to throw them away), I took this batch to the end. Over the years I have made many, many variations on the recipe-- butterscotch, chocolate chip, peanut butter, blueberry, chocolate cherry, apricot almond, and more, but I wanted this to be really, really good in order to counteract that nagging resentment I was feeling toward my neighbor.

So here's what I did: I made a ton of cinnamon pecan streusel, and I layered it in with the batter and packed it on top of the loaf pans, and then I baked those suckers off. And you know what? It was delicious! But I still put the extra starter into the freezer.

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