September 24, 2007
About three months ago, my neighbor Marie-Paule gave me a starter batch of Amish Friendship Bread as a housewarming gift. In case you’ve never heard of it, Amish Friendship Bread is a cupful of gooey, yeasty-smelling sweet dough tendered in a pretty jar under the guise of “friendship,” along with a long sheet of instructions on how to stir it or add something to it every day—for ten days. Then and only then do you use 1 cup of it to make a cakelike sweet bread, give away 2 cups to friends (hence the name) and save the final cup to be nourished for another 10 days when you start all over again. Small wonder a good friend of mine once dubbed it “Amish Responsibility Bread.”
I’ve been given Amish Friendship Bread before and failed to even make it to the baking stage. I’ve flat-out refused gifts of the starter dough the same way I’ve refused to send on chain letters. But Marie-Paule’s present came the very day I’d read a something Elizabeth David (a fantastic British food writer) wrote about bread. She said, “It’s really a matter of arranging matters so that the dough suits your timetable rather than the other way around.”
Now, that’s the kind of thing the instructions need to say instead of the long-winded, complicated list of do’s and don’ts from day 1 to day 10. So I decided if I was going to make this work, I needed to take Elizabeth David’s words to heart. The Friendship Bread starter gets stirred whenever I remember it. (Usually every two to three days). The breads get made whenever I feel like it—up to two weeks after the cycle started. I say “breads” because I still can’t bring myself to burden a friend with the starter—but giving someone a sweet treat is another story.
And now that I’ve done away with the obligation factor, I’m actually having fun with it. Because the recipe is so basic, you can add anything you want to the dough: fresh or dried fruit, chocolate chips, nuts, and more. Google “Amish Friendship Bread” for the starter recipe and ideas.) The loaves baking while I’m home for lunch have apples and cinnamon in them. Who knows what’ll inspire me for the next batch in 10 (or maybe 14) days’ time?
—Mary Margaret Chappell, food editor