Just after Christmas, my friend Heather messaged me about this “starter thing” she had. It was for something called “Amish Friendship Bread.” With this starter you only had to feed it once, mash it up in a bag a couple of times, and then you got to make a warm, cinnamon-filled loaf of deliciousness with it. Being a fan of cool baking projects, I said yes without even reading the full instructions. Bread + cinnamon + something to do with my kids = instant love. She knew the way to my heart.
It was also a way to finally get into the homemade starter trend that began during the pandemic, but with way less work. Don’t get me wrong, I love a hunk of fresh sourdough to soak up a brothy soup, and I use it every year in my holiday stuffing. But some of the starter recipes I researched at the time just intimidated me. That was all about to change.
My first starter
Heather dropped the Amish Friendship Bread starter off on New Year’s Eve, which was an appropriate date considering my new, starter-accepting journey in 2022. What I wasn’t expecting was for her to plop down a Ziplock bag filled with a substance that looked like forgotten breast milk (as another girlfriend referred to it). “Okay,” I thought to myself. “This is probably like the ugly duckling, and it’s going to transform into a beautiful swan.” If swans are… bread? I’ve never been great at analogies.
Over the next few days, I carefully followed the directions. For the first five days you just make sure to mash the bag so that everything stays nice and mixed. Then, on day six you add one cup of flour, one cup of sugar and one cup of milk. Easy peasy. On days seven through nine you go back to mashing the bag. The only two things you need to remember are to not put it in the fridge and to not let it touch any metal or stainless steel.
Then on day 10, that’s when the real magic happens. You feed your starter 1 ½ cups each of milk, flour and sugar. Then you take one cup out for your bread and divide the remaining four cups into Ziplock bags to either keep for yourself or gift to friends. Think chain letters, but for baking.
The Amish Cinnamon Bread
One of the main differences between a regular sourdough starter and an Amish Friendship Bread starter is that the latter is sweet, so I made sure to stock up on sugar before making the bread. (I already had a giant Costco-sized tub of cinnamon on-hand, because cinnamon is life.) I also made sure to grab a couple of packs of vanilla Jell-O pudding mix, which is surprisingly required in the making of this bread.
Was it as delicious as we’d hoped? Oh, it was amazingly good. Like, it was gone-in-a-day type good. But it also tasted more like a coffee cake than bread. Usually we’re into more savoury recipes around here, but I was still hooked. So I started doing a little research and as it turns out, there’s an entire community dedicated to this unexpectedly easy starter.
Branching out… And then losing it
Once I started looking up this friendly little starter online, I realized you can do all sorts of things with it. Since New Year’s I’ve done easy dinner rolls, a basic white bread and yes, even a version of sourdough. I’ve also seen recipes for cookies, muffins, myriad other loaves of bread, pudding, scones and even biscotti.
Then, of course, life got in the way and I (gasp!) forgot about my starter. I skipped a couple of feeding days, then I just didn’t have time to bake anything on the day it was bubbling and ready to go. Since then, I’ve discovered you can actually freeze this starter by pouring a cup into a gallon-sized Ziplock bag and dating it. When you’re ready you just pull it out, let it thaw, then treat the thing as though it’s on day 1 or day 6—dealer’s choice.
I didn’t know that at the time, and eventually the starter separated and I had to throw it out. I know, insert the wah-wah music here. But I was still hooked and wanted to try again. So I finally decided it was time: and I made my own starter.
Since then it’s been a busy time of experimentation. My starter was sweet and bubbly, so I marathoned three sourdough loaves and a focaccia, with lots of yummy rosemary and salty black olives. Maybe next week I’ll feel a little lazier, and I’ll just plop some starter with a few choice ingredients to throw together some cookies. Or, maybe I’ll freeze it for a couple of months until I feel like baking something different. That’s the real beauty of this starter: you can do whatever you want with it. And that alone is giving me life as we plow on in 2022.
Curious about making your own Amish Friendship Bread and starter? Get the recipe!