Posted in baking

Questioning Conventional Wisdom: Amish Friendship Bread

This is a dish which is perpetuated as follows: somebody gives you a baggie full of yeasty batter, and you feed it and burp it over a period of ten days, and then you mix it with the rest of the ingredients and make several batches of batter, and then you bake one and give the rest away so the cycle can start again.

My personal opinion is that everything in the name except for friendship should be in scare quotes. Number one, exactly how Amish is a recipe involving instant vanilla pudding mix? Number two, exactly how breadlike is a recipe involving such massive quantities of sugar, as well as chemical leaveners? By bread, I mean something that has a lot of gluten in order to trap the gas slowly released by yeast. Cakes and quickbreads are different. But in fact, “Amish” friendship “bread” is a quickbread. The slowest quickbread ever, perhaps, since you’re supposed to breed yeast for 10 days before baking it. So let’s rename it Slow Friendship Quickbread, and discuss what it accomplishes and what it definitely doesn’t.

First, there’s the issue of gluten. Gluten cannot form in the presence of a lot of sugar. This recipe, and indeed even the starter you get from your friend, before you decide to add anything, contains too much sugar for serious gluten development.

Why can’t I have a bread that’s light on gluten? you ask. Because gluten is what makes yeast-risen breads work. Without it, the long rises needed for yeast-risen breads would result in the gas floating out of the batter/dough (and this is a batter – another reason it’s light on gluten), and the rising power would be largely lost.

“That’s ok!” you say. “I’ll just use baking powder and baking soda instead of yeast to leaven my dough.” Yeah, that’s exactly what the author(s) of this recipe did.mBut then why do you still care for this yeast for 10 days?

I can see three possible reasons. One, because the people who changed the recipe didn’t know better. Two, because that’s where the friendship part comes in, and if you took out the friendship part, well, not only would there be nothing true left in the name, but it would be a much less extraordinary recipe.  Just Vanilla Pudding Quickbread. Three, because, perhaps, just maybe, you’re also raising flavor-creating bacteria. I’m not sold on this, because 1) instant vanilla pudding mix is not an ingredient usually found in recipes that seek to put subtle flavors on display, nor are large amounts of sugar usually a factor in sourdough breads, and 2) we grow the yeast in a bag, and I don’t know if bacteria are ever really invited to the party (Alton Brown-ism!) except by accident. But I like to give people the benefit of the doubt.

Slow Friendship Quickbread is a yummy thing to eat and a fun thing to pass on to your friends (although I suggest you halve the recipe unless you really have a lot of friends who are dedicated to baking). Not to mention the slowest quickbread ever and the only chain letter I know of that is either edible or living. So enjoy it for what it is, and don’t worry about waiting ten days to make it.

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