Saturday, January 24, 2009

Amish Friendship Bread

What a scam! I've been doing research on this topic all morning and have found myself laughing in disbelief. To be fair, I am a trained pastry chef. Fermented foods are not magic to me. Starters are not mysterious. Though I don't have an in-depth knowledge of starters, I know where to find reliable information to answer immediate questions I have. (I was never a baker. There is a BIG difference!) So, J gave me a mini-loaf of Amish Friendship bread, a bag of starter and an instruction sheet. The first thing I noticed was that there is a "box of instant vanilla pudding" on the recipe list for the finished bread. What the hell? Since when do the Amish recommend using a box of instant pudding. "Pa, hitch up the buggy. I ran out of instant pudding. Go on out to the fields and see if you can dig up any instant pudding tubers from last year!" I cannot take it. The whole purpose of making something at home is so you can use simpler ingredients. The only time I use FD&C yellow no.5 is when I'm coloring icing. What is the point of adding that to my baked bread. None. Next, the whole "Day 5/Day 10" thing. If a starter has been going for a while, then there is no day 1 or day 10. It's every 5 days or so. Logistically, what's the difference if you bake on day 5 or day 10, besides the fact that you are using up more starter when you bake? It seems silly to me.
Step 1: Find a recipe that doesn't use that vile concoction.
Step 2: Figure out how to keep the starter alive while also not making a gallon at a time.
Step 3: Eat my loaf!

Well, I've found a few pudding-free recipes that I will try, and after researching starters, have decided to feed my starter every 7 days, and bake on Saturdays. I don't believe that the starter needs to be fed in between using it. Once you add new stuff to it, you've just diluted the flavor of lactic and acetic acid created by the lactobacilli who are feeding on the metabolism products of the yeast. Another thing that bugs me is why would I feed it when I'm about to use it? It is, in essence, a flavoring. More than one person has come to the conclusion that the starter in this recipe could be replaced by buttermilk, another acidic liquid. I will try my new strategy, using up all my starter from today, save for 1 cup to give to a co-worker who is interested, and 1 cup to perpetuate in my lab, er, kitchen. Lastly, for those who wonder about the baking soda vs. baking powder thing; the baking soda is effective at leavening acidic mixtures containing such ingredients as buttermilk, molasses, lemon juice, yogurt, and cocoa. Baking powder is used when the base is more neutral, such as a pound cake, yellow cake, banana bread, etc. Keep this in mind when looking over prospective recipes.

Oh my goodness! I'm still going on about this damn bread! I read somewhere that the baking soda would neutralize the acid, thus making it flavorless. I had my doubts, so I tried a simple experiment. I put some vinegar in a cup, and added baking soda, a pinch at a time. After the first pinch, the acid flavor was definitely reduced. After a while, all I could taste was baking soda (salty) flavor, not acid at all. There must be a fine line between optimal leavening power and flavor reduction. I will look into that...

She is finished! A shining, scented, bundt cake of an Amish Friendship Bread. The finished product surpassed my expectations! (To be fair, I haven't tasted it yet.) The cake was level when I took it out. It did not sink, like many have experienced. It smells so #*@&!^% good, I want to stick my nose in it and breathe it in all day long! Can't wait to eat!


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