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May 25 2009
Amish Friendship Bread an urban legend?

Okay - I'm probably going to be labeled a curmudgeon for this, and maybe that's deserved, but I'm still going to say it: Amish Friendship Bread is a more or less a hoax. It's a friendly hoax that results in rather nice breakfast bread, but all the trouble with growing the "starter" for 10 days is unnecessary. The leavening is provided by the baking powder and baking soda in the recipe, not the "starter." The starter is also not a secret that only Amish people know, as the recipe claims, and it is highly doubtful that any starter you receive is from an unbroken chain of people back to the Amish.

here's a link to the recipe I received:

For those of you haven't heard of this yet, Amish Friendship Bread is a recipe that people pass from one to another like a chain letter, except along with the recipe comes a cup of "starter" - a mixture of flour, milk, sugar, and yeast. The instructions tell you to leave the starter on your counter top, stir it every day for several days, feed it more milk, flour and sugar on day 6, stir every day until day 10, feed it again and dole out 4 aliquots for 3 friends and yourself, and use the rest in the recipe to make two loaves of the bread. A co-worker of mine brought some in to work and it was tasty and the starter sounded interesting so I asked for some.

So when I saw the recipe three things made me skeptical right away: (1) like all chain letters, it quickly runs out of participants. If the directions are followed, everyone in the world will have some in less than 6 months. (2) the recipe calls for a package of instant pudding mix - not a very traditional ingredient for an Amish farmhouse to have (especially considering that making homemade pudding from cornstarch, sugar and milk is really easy) (3) baking powder and soda are leavening agents,so why do you need a yeast starter?

SO I DID AN EXPERIMENT. I followed the directions and made a loaf as directed, AND at the same time I made a loaf with all the same ingredients except in place of the starter I added an equivalent volume of a fresh mixture of equal parts milk, flour, and sugar. These were baked side by side in my oven, but in different shaped glass pans (b/c I only own one glass loaf pan). Here is a photo of the results. Can you tell which is which?


The one WITHOUT starter was baked in a round pan and is on the right. It's shorter because it was in a bigger pan, but the density is the same as the loaf with starter on the left. Some of my family said the one with starter had a richer taste. Personally, I couldn't detect a difference, but my sense of smell is lousy. The textures were indistinguishable. So it's not a bad recipe, but you can skip the rigamarole with the smelly starter on your countertop for 10 days and add sour cream instead.

There you have it. I'm a kitchen curmudgeon! I can't help it.

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