My friend Cecelia, whom I absolutely love (and who blogs here and is one of the bravest bloggers I know) put the bag on my desk a little over two weeks ago. It was a gallon size plastic bag with some pale glop in it. Alongside the bag of glop was a sheet of instructions to make "Amish Friendship Bread."
You know what I am talking about. These recipes have been circulating for decades. My beloved late mother-in-law, Ellen, had one tucked away in her cookbook with a note that it came from Betty Meyers next door. Somewhere in my long ago past, I was even on the receiving end of one of these recipes. I was unsuccessful back then: my glop turned rancid and moldy.
The whole friendship glop thing is not unlike a chain letter. You feed the batter, you nurture the batter, then you beef it up and pour off cup portions of it to give to friends.
It never stops.
All the same, I was intrigued. What Cecelia gave me was about a cup of potential sourdough starter. I have always been interested in baking with starters, but never went beyond envying people who baked with them. Given my extremely limited and highly unsuccessful experience with glop in the past, I never tried my hand at a starter.
So here I was, with glop from someone I truly, truly like, which meant I couldn't just toss it away. And it was starter. So I squeezed it and fed it and nurtured it just like the instructions called for. By the miracle of fermentation, the glop actually did what it was supposed to do. It developed bubbles and froth and had a nice tangy odor when I opened the bag.
Today was "make more glop to give to people and bake the bread with the remaining glop" day. I just popped the "bread" into the oven. I have a large bowl of starter, which I may just be selfish and keep for myself. We'll see.
But here's my take on the "Amish Friendship Bread" recipe. Somewhere there are a group of Amish women laughing their heads off.
I don't know why the recipe calls for starter, except to make middle class white women (who I imagine are the only ones who ever, ever make this stuff) feel they are baking something authentic and earthy. They may be communing with their Little House on the Prairie alter egos (and who among us doesn't do that?) but trust me, this is not a recipe that needs starter. There are more than enough ingredients (eggs, baking powder, baking soda) to make it rise on its own without the starter.
But I digress. The real reason this recipe is still making the rounds is that "Amish Friendship Bread" is a sugar fest from the word go. Even cutting back on the sugar, there is more than enough in the dough (especially after you add one LARGE box on instant pudding) to stun a horse. And that was before I sprinkled the cinnamon sugar combo on the top. As it bakes, I can smell the sugar rising through the house. While traditional Amish baked goods do call for a lot of sugar (because this is a community that does everything manually and they need the calories), I doubt there is an Amish woman anywhere in this country who ran to the general store in her little community and popped a large box of instant pudding into her basket so she could make this little treat.
I won't be making "Amish Friendship Bread" again. But I DO have a lot of starter now and see no reason it cannot be used for real bread. And I'm willing to be the butt of the joke in the meantime. Because I know darn well that somewhere out there is a whole bunch of Amish women laughing their heads off at us all. "Oh, ja, that's what we bake all the time," they assure us, waiting until we turn the corner before clutching one another in gales of laughter.