Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Friendship Bread

Mandira from Ahaar recently mailed me a plastic bag filled with a gloopy gooey mixture. Was it some sort of a gag gift?? No, in fact, it was a precious Amish Friendship Bread starter. The idea is that you grow this live active starter for 10 days, then use some of it to bake a delicious sweet bread, and pass the rest on to a few friends, who in turn bake and pass it on. The concept of sharing the starter, and everyone making bread from the same starter, is what gives it the name Friendship Bread.

The instructions are pretty simple- you let the starter grow at room temperature, feeding it every few days, and then use it to make bread. But I was startled to read that the starter is a sweet and rich version of sourdough- it is fed with protein-rich milk, sugar and flour, and *never* refrigerated! Can this be safe? Well, two websites answered most of my questions, and in the end, it is clear that is the starter smells nice and yeasty, it is fine to use, but it is smells or looks "off", then it should be discarded. I had absolutely no problems with my batch.

Mandira made a delicious Banana-Raisin bread and I wanted to try something different, so I made mine with chocolate and pecans. Here is how I went about making it:

DAY 1 This is the day you receive the starter. It is never refrigerated, just left on the kitchen counter or wherever.

DAY 2-5 Mash the bag to mix up the contents.

DAY 6 Feed the starter: Add 1 C all-purpose Flour, 1 C Sugar and 1 C Milk (I used 2%) to the bag. Squeeze the bag a few times.

DAY 7-9 Mash the bag to mix up the contents.

DAY 10 Place starter in a bowl. Add 1.5 C flour, 1.5 C sugar and 1.5 C milk and mix well. Now I placed 1 cup starter into each of 5 bags, and used the remaining to make 1 loaf of bread.

To make the bread: mix the starter with 1 C flour, 0.5 C sugar, 1 egg, 0.5 C oil, 0.5 C chocolate pudding (made at home using Alanna's fool-proof recipe), and salt, baking powder, baking soda and vanilla extract. I stirred in 1/2 C chopped pecans and 1/2 C chocolate chips into the batter, then baked it in a loaf pan.

The Chocolate-Pecan Friendship Bread was utterly delicious! It was cake-like, the perfect accompaniment to a cup of coffee. The starter gave this sweet bread a light and airy crumb. The sliced bread was promptly shipped off with V to his workplace (they are the sweet and ever-obliging guinea pigs for all baked goods that emerge from my kitchen).

At one point during this 10 day procedure, my patience was being taxed :) and I was reminded of how we live in an age of instant gratification. This bread was a great way to take a break from the express-rapid-instant-i-need-to-have-that-right-now way of life that seems to wrap around me. Sometimes it is good to learn to wait. I was also reminded of the fact that people can and do cook without refrigerators. I am paranoid about food spoilage and tend to shove everything mindlessly into the refrigerator (and am hopelessly dependent on this appliance). But if done in an intelligent and logical way, and by harnessing microbial power in the right way, food can be preserved very well at room temperature. But the Friendship bread also raised some questions: why is there no "final rise" before the bread is baked? Why is baking soda and baking powder added at all? With all the ingredients that are added in the end (including quite a bit of oil, eggs, pudding), are we really using the starter to its full advantage? To me, the real miracle of starters are when they transform plain flour and water into a spectacular bread. In any case, my interest in bread-making and starters has been piqued, and I look forward to messing around with starter cultures some more.

Another thing I would change about this bread is, I would like to avoid using those large plastic bags to grow and distribute the starter- they just end up in the trash after use. The bags are ideal for shipping, I agree, but if the starter is to be distributed locally, I will use recycled yogurt tubs or some such non-metal container in the future.

For anyone who dearly wants to try this bread and has no access to the starter, there are recipes on the internet for making the starter- for instance, here and here. I don't know if this particular starter that I used started with wild yeast (like a true sourdough) or Baker's yeast.

I have sent this edible "chain letter" to...
1. Suganya (Congratulations on your winning photograph)
2. Linda (I'm amazed at your expertise with Indian cooking)
3. Bee (Thank you for all the baking inspiration)
4. My friend H in St. Louis who will be baking bread for the *very* first time!
5. My friend R in St. Louis, a fellow volunteer at CK and cooking enthusiast par excellence!

I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that the package makes it to the first three...I'm counting on you, USPS.

Many thanks to Mandira for letting me be a part of this sweet baking tradition!


  1. I can't wait to bake mine. Eagerly awaiting the package. Thank you so much for this opportunity, Nupur. Much appreciated.

  2. Hi Nupur, your chocolate Amish Friendship Bread looks wonderful! I agree about the ziploc bags -- just bought my first-ever pack of these to do the bread. Yogurt containers is a great idea.

    Thanks for your kind words, and for letting me in on the fun. Can't wait for the mailman! :)

  3. That's so neat Nupur. The whole process reminds me of Kombucha Tea that my cousin made for a while. She received the starter via mail too and it sounded similar. Quite a process indeed.
    Your bread looks so delicious Nupur - so moist, rich and dense. Great going.

  4. Oooh that looks that a delicious version of Friendship Bread! I'll have to try that next time. (and I'm glad my research was helpful! :))

  5. Hi Nupur, this is a beautiful dish...and an equally beautiful name!! I've tagged you for a meme...check my blog for details and get ready to write your own!!:)

  6. Cool Tradition, but I just dont have the time to wait! Your recipe looked too good!


  7. Ooo that looks sooo good! And I can't believe, what a creative way to add moisture and chocolate flavor to your bread: chocolate pudding!!

    BTW this is another very 'American' thing, you're really lining them up!

  8. your questions are very pertinent, nupur. i haven't met a bread with a starter with baking soda or powder. this is totally new to me. thanks for thinking of me to pass it on.

    your bread looks fabulous, and the split on the top of your loaf is just the way it should be.

  9. Chocolate -pecan friendship bread looks perfect...This is an absolute treat for a chocolate lover like me :)

  10. The friendship bread seems to be a wonderful idea....guess who started it.....your bread looks wonderful and perfect accompaniment for a cup of tea

  11. I saw this at Mandira's blog & thought it was such a neat idea.
    Your CPFB looks absolutely gorgeous. Like you, I too am paranoid about food spoilage and cannot imagine life in the pre-refrigeration era.

  12. Wow that looks likes one good friendship bread. great to see the chain going... Nice pics and I can munch on those nuts anytime and surely its worth all the time it consumed in the making!

  13. I remember reading about a friendship bread like this many years ago. How nice to have the tradition revived!

  14. I wouldnt mind being one of V's colleagues! How did you find the will to pack that delicious bread for others??!

  15. This idea is gr8. I saw this bread in Mandira's post. Your bread looks perfect.
    I am also scared to use something which is stored outside refrigerator :D
    Btw, you can make those paneer tikkas in microwave too using the grill option :)

  16. Nupur - what a yummy twist on the recipe - your bread looks delicious!

  17. Awesome...I wish I could get some [sigh]

    This also reminds me that I had planned to get my sourdough yeat plan going this monsoon season...

  18. Hi Nupur!
    The bread is looking delicious! the color of the bread is very nice!

  19. Nice info Nupur. Unfortunately could not see the photos. Viji

  20. Suganya, hope you enjoy it!

    Linda, this was my first ever (and hopefully last ever) pack of ziploc bags too! Have fun with the starter!

    Laavanya, I had no idea about Kombucha tea...I read up on it and it sounds very interesting! Wonder how it tastes...

    Kimberly, thank you for your well-crafted response to that question!

    Mansi, I'm always lazy about writing memes :D will try and do it!

    Tom, sometimes one just has to wait!

    Alanna, the addition of pudding to bread was really unusual but it worked! It really was fun to try something very "American" but I hear that this concept is very popular in Germany too, called Hermann bread or something like that.

    Bee, I bet the starter could be used to make more conventional is just a matter of trying. Yes, I was thrilled with the way the loaf rose, with the prized streak and everything :)

    Tee, yes, there is something about the combination of chocolate and bread that I just love, it feels decadent and luxurious :)

    Bhags, it was wonderful with a cup of tea!

    TBC, we are pretty spoilt with the refrigerator, aren't we?? I guess without refrigerators, a cook has to be much more alert in the kitchen.

    Padma, in the end, sure, it was worth it!

    Lydia, yes, it seems to be all the rage again :)

    Ashwini, that is the joy of not having a sweet tooth. I don't care about sharing these sweet treats at all. Now, if we were talking about a bag of potato chips or a packet of namkeen, well, you would have to prise it out of my cold dead hands to get me to share it :D

    Archana, I think the microwave question was asked by another Nupur and not me...she writes a blog called "Cinnamon Hut".

    Cathy, thank did taste wonderful (with the chocolate and pecans, it had everything going for it!)

    Anita, In India in this season, I'm sure sourdough will grow and flourish! That is something I want to try too...but it might be a tad too ambitious for me at this stage.

    Usha, yes, the chocolate gave it a deep brown color.

    Viji, it seems that some pictures are banned in the Middle East :(

    Shyam, thanks :)

  21. i got one too! i made this a very long time ago also, but i used it all up and never started another, so i was so happy to recieve this one. i like chocolate chips and coconut in mine!

  22. This bread look so wonderful. I missed being a part of this as I went on vacation and told Mandira I would miss the 10th day deadline.
    But now I see I would not have been able to do justice to it at all, I have never baked a bread before :)

  23. I love that you adapted your recipe with chocolate and pecans! What a great twist on an old favorite. Looking back, it's decades ago that I received some starter dough for this friendship bread. I wasn't yet as comfortable with baking, so I didn't make any changes to the recipe. How my baking has changed!

  24. That is some chain letter!
    The bread looks wonderful...chocolate-pecan is a nice combo. I've recently started pecans and like them a lot so far. My son requested a pecan-sheera for rakshabandhan; and it turned out simply delicious.
    Thanks for the Valrhona cocoa powder tip.

  25. the bread looks super delicious Nupur, you made the perfect bread! I wouldn't mind a piece of that :)

  26. Cinderelly, ooh, coconut and chocolate sounds like a delicious and unusual combination!

    Sandeepa, no, no, this whole scheme is perfect for first-time bakers, because the instructions are clear and precise. Hope you get a chance to make it sometime in the future!

    Anali, so true for me too, it is only very recently that I have started to take any kind of "risks" with baking! It is a slow learning curve for me :)

    Raaga, thank you, my dear!

    Cooker, pecans are basically butter iin nut form! They are so fatty and rich and delicious :) The idea of a pecan sheera is wonderful- I must say your son has gourmet taste. I have to say- Valrhona cocoa powder gives everything such a deep chocolatey taste (like in this case, couple of tspns of cocoa powder in the whole loaf- and this bread was SO chocolatey). At least this has been my experience.

    Mandira, thanks ever so much for this unusual baking experience!!!

  27. Nupur, look how great your bread come out. I want a thick slice with some tea :)

  28. It looks yum and it is such a sweet tradition!

    Nupur, I have a question, if im making the starter myself and it yields 4 cups, then how much of the starter must i use to make your bread and how of of the starter is sent to a friend? 1 cup or more?

  29. 1 cup as your bread and 3 seperate cups to friends as a starter. There are 2 versions of this bread and I have done both. In fact last month was the last time I finished my starters, I am waiting paitinetly for someone to send it back to me!

  30. This is one cool idea! I'll find some interesting creations of this Amish bread!

  31. mmm - this is something my grandmother used to make, and my aunt still regularly makes. it is always hands down delicious. last time my aunt made it, she put fresh raspberries into the batter, and it was seriously one of the tastiest things i've ever tasted. i've always been reluctant to keep my own starter just because it so exponentially proliferates, and i don't generally keep milk on hand. anyways - did you see this?

    much love,

  32. Cynthia, yes, it is the perfect accompaniment with tea!

    Nandita, out of 4 cups, use 1 for your own bread, and give away 1 cup each to three friends (or give away 1 cup each to two friends and keep one starter for yourself if you want to make more bread). Good luck :)

    Po,really? Would love to try other versions of this bread.

    Jyotsna, glad you like the idea :)

    LO, fresh raspberries...I am drooling! Now why didn't I think of that?? The starter does not proliferate if you give it all away. That is what I did, because I don't think I will have the time to bake every 10 days. Miss you, girl!

  33. I remember when my mom used to make this. I was 13 or so, and she always baked some for my teacher. I always got an A in that class until my mom stopped baking the friendship bread. Mysterious...


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