The idea behind Amish Friendship Bread is that you bake two loaves, give one to a friend, along with a portion of the starter. Frankly this is the kind of obligation-heavy gifting that I frown upon. I don't know many people who would be grateful to receive the gift of sourdough starter unasked.
Starter takes a fair amount of work. Yes, it makes a better bread than what you can find in the stores. But I think it's instructive to consider why we all started buying bread from the store in the first place. And I say this as someone who has been baking my own bread exclusively for the last two years or so.
So the "bread" part is obvious enough. It bakes into a loaf similar to pumpkin bread or banana bread. The "friendship" part makes sense I suppose. Although I dare say if you go around giving people sourdough starter, you won't have friends for much longer. Particularly if you're the sort of person who cheerfully inquires about "how that starter's going" a few months later. I'm just saying.
What I cannot wrap my head around is the "Amish" part. I have seen "Amish" tacked onto a variety of recipes, for no apparent reason. Wikipedia agrees with me, saying that "There is no reason to think that the sweet, cinnamon-flavored bread has any connection to the Amish people."
A lot of people think of "wholesome living in the historical, community-driven sense" when they think of the Amish. I think of community-silenced sexual assault, puppy mills, and extreme religious intolerance. (What else would you call it, when you cut off all contact with your child if they choose a different religion?) But hey, pie!
I didn't feel like making a loaf of "real" bread out of my sourdough starter this week. When I went looking for other recipes, I stumbled across this one. I just used my regular starter, without bothering to switch it over to milk and sugar. At such small amounts, I can't imagine it makes much difference.
The recipe I chose bakes two loaves. (That's kind of the deal.) Since I only have one 9x5 loaf pan, I originally planned to bake one loaf and then the next. I had to quickly revise this plan after the final mixing, because the batter started foaming up with the chemical reaction between the sourdough and the baking soda. I ended up baking the second "loaf" alongside the first, in a 9x9 brownie pan.
After making my bread, I learned that many (most?) people add a box of vanilla pudding mix to their bread. I can see this helping the flavor and overall deliciousness immensely. My loaf turned out heavy and somewhat dull, even with the addition of lots of fresh minced apple bits.
I had originally planned to give one loaf to a friend. But after eating the first loaf, I decided against it. This is one of those recipes where everyone has their own variation, and I obviously picked the most boring one!
Photo credit: Flickr/Kristin Breneman