My mom gave me a starter batch of "Amish Friendship Bread" in a Ziploc baggie thinking that it would be a fun activity for me to do with my son Cash. Knowing that I am very social, she thought I'd enjoy handing the starter out to friends. I ended up cursing her and pissing off my friends.
By the end, when we were driving around delivering the squishy packages, Cash quipped, "Maybe they call it Amish Friendship Bread because you lose friends."
He wasn't kidding. I'll concede that it is something like a chain letter. And my friend Ted called me out on it immediately, sending me an e-mail saying, "Thanks for the Amish Ponzi Scheme Bread" after we left it with his wife. Danielle, my friend and co-conspirator on the blog, tried really hard to lose her batch, leaving it in my car overnight after I gave her a ride home, and then temporarily "misplacing" the recipe. And I'm pretty sure my friend Naomi just ignored the package.
The idea is to follow the Amish traditions, which do not allow the use of metals or refrigeration. You begin with a bag of "starter," a mix of yeast, water, flour, sugar and milk, and follow what would appear to be simple instructions but require you to at least read ahead and plan for the final steps, something that is not my strong suit. At the end, you take out three cups of the starter to separate into three bags and then bake your own bread.
I fell down on the job by Day 2. It would have been on Day 1, except that on the first day the instructions say, "Do nothing." Done!
But from Day 2 to Day 5, you are supposed to mush the bag. I wanted Cash to do it, but I kept forgetting to remind him. The bag of starter looks and smells a bit like vomit so my husband kept trying to throw the bag away. I had to stash it away in the pantry, where it was always out of sight. That meant out of mind. Finally, we managed to mush the bag a few times. Maybe because of the yeast, the bag kept bloating and I'd go into the pantry to find it nearly ready to burst. That would be nasty, so try not to ignore yours as much.
We were a little late -- OK, maybe about a week late -- on following the instructions for Day 6, which calls for adding one cup of flour, one cup of sugar and one cup milk to the bag. Cash loves measuring so he got involved after his initial reluctance to come along on this journey to a simpler life.
After that, you have a few more days of mushing the bag.
On Day 10 is when things get bad. My mom tried to make it easy on me by leaving three baggies with a note that Day 10 was imminent when she came over to babysit. I was busy, so I missed the date and let a few more days slip by before looking at it again. I planned that we would make the bread one evening after dinner. But because I hadn't looked carefully at the recipe, I discovered that it requires a 5.1 ounce box of instant vanilla pudding. Of course I didn't have that on hand and because I was home alone with the two kids and have no parking at our apartment, there wasn't a chance I was going to venture out to get it that night.
I tried again a few days later, after I bought the pudding. But then I found that I didn't have baking soda, other than the package that had been deodorizing our refrigerator for months. For a few minutes, I contemplated using that but then decided it wasn't worth poisoning my family. By then, what difference did a few days make anyway. After I got that, I tried again. But then I could not find my cinnamon after looking for 15 minutes. By this time, I was angry. I dragged the kids back down to the local store and paid way too much for cinnamon. Later in the day, as I was getting something out of the pantry, a big bottle of cinnamon almost literally jumped out at me. It was almost as if it was mocking me. Clearly I needed to clean out my pantry. Just the fact that this bread made me do that, made me even madder.
I heard an interview on Fresh Air this week with Michael Pollan who said that when cake mixes were invented, American housewives didn't like them because they felt like they were cheating when all they had to do was add water and bake. So the cake companies took out the dehydrated eggs. The simple step of cracking an egg made the women feel like they had actually cooked the cake, he said.
I'm not sure I need that validation. But still, this Amish Friendship Bread offers a break from our processed food culture. It slows you down. Despite our negligence, the bread turned out perfectly, demonstrating its resilience. And in the end, the resulting bread was so tasty (the million cups of sugar it calls for helped, I'm sure) that my husband couldn't resist eating about half a loaf, even though he had tried to throw away my smelly bag of goop several times.
If you can't find a "friend" who has the starter, you can find the recipe here.