Amish Friendship Bread

Many of you have either received or know someone who has received "Amish Friendship Bread." I think that this is a horrible misnomer; it should be called "Chain-letter Obligation Bread." I doubt its origins have anything to do with the Amish aside from they fact that they also use sourdough to make bread. And a true friend would bring over the bread AFTER it had been cooked, not while it's still a lump of bubbly goo.

Nomenclature aside, I received a bag of this sourdough starter from my next door neighbor 11 days ago. When I received the starter, I had no idea how much work it would be! Roberta from my work--the one I built the fence with--had mentioned that she never liked dealing with "friendship bread" unless it was during the Christmas holiday, and now I know why.

Days 1-5 are easy: just mush the bag and release some of the gas if the bag gets too big.
Day 6 is not too bad: Add 1 cup each of flour, sugar, and milk, then mush the bag.
Days 7-9 are easy too: mush the bag some more and release gas so the bag doesn't pop.
Day 10 is a different story altogether.

You feed the starter some more flour, sugar, and milk, and mix it up some more. No big deal.

Then, you split the starter into four 1-cup batches. Put one in a bag and care for it for 10 more days for your next batch of bread. ("If you don't save one batch," the chain letter cautions, "you'll have to wait until you receive another starter from a friend, as the Amish are the only ones who know how to create a starter." Not true at all; you can make a new starter with about 2 cups of water, 2 cups of flour, and a week of time. Just Google "Sourdough Starter.") Put another starter in a bag for a "friend." Use the remaining two cups of starter to make your bread.

Not having made this kind of bread before, I figured I'd try it out myself before subjecting a friend to a potentially bad recipe, so I had three cups worth of starter to work from. Little did I know that each recipe delivers 2 to 3 loaves of bread.

So I got to work on the first cup of starter using the recipe in the chain letter, but I committed the #1 worst mistake when baking with a new recipe: I didn't read the whole recipe through before I started. When I got to the very end, I saw that this bread recipe calls for 1 large box of...instant vanilla pudding? Huh?

I scrounged in the cupboards for the pudding mix that I knew I didn't have, and after a fewe minutes came up with one small box of sugar-free chocolate instant pudding mix. Well, it would have to do. So I added it and a 3/4 full bag of chocolate chips I found in another cupboard, and hoped for the best. Into the oven went the first two loaves.

For the second batch, I used two smashed bananas in place of the pudding. It went just fine.

For the third batch, I didn't have any pudding or bananas left, and all I had was a scant 1/2 cup of oil, if I used up the rest of both my vegetable oil and olive oil. (Time to go shopping.) So I found a recipe online for plain old sourdough that is started with this kind of starter. This morning, I punched down the dough and divided it into 3 loaves...and it didn't look good. The dough was thick and sticky, and did not look at all like it was going to end well. I left them to rise while I went to work.

When I got home, the three lumps were exactly the same size I left them. Oh well. Two out of three ain't bad.


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