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A friendship is started

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By Elizabeth Bridge, CBC Digital Archives

Baking is something I've always done for one of two reasons: because I need to (I've agreed to bring cheesecake to a potluck, or I must be sure exactly what's in my morning muffin) or because I want to (I came across an appealing bread recipe, or I just felt like making cookies).

Until this week, I've never baked something because it was on a schedule. But that changed after my colleague brought in a plastic container of sourdough starter and a recipe for something I'd never heard of: Amish Friendship Bread. For over a week I dutifully followed the instructions that came with the yeasty mixture, stirring it once a day and adding ingredients at prescribed intervals. On Day 10, the sourdough's schedule demanded that I bake the bread. Whether I wanted to or needed to mattered not.

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A bowl of sourdough starter and the Amish Friendship Bread it spawned.
(Elizabeth Bridge)

Amish Friendship Bread is something like a chain letter: the starter is passed to you, and after adding your own ingredients, you are expected to pass on more starter and the recipe to a friend. Some versions of the recipe claim you need the starter to make the bread, because the Amish jealously guard the method for making it. But glance at the recipe and it's pretty clear the Amish aren't behind this phenomenon: among the ingredients is packaged vanilla pudding mix.

Precision baking it isn't. Amish Friendship Bread (which is more like a cake) would appeal to novice bakers or non-bakers, because it's hard to get wrong.

Lacking any flavour of pudding in my pantry, I plugged "Amish Friendship Bread" into Google to find variations. They are legion (different flavours of pudding, added nuts or fruit, baked in a bundt pan), which made me confident that I could add or subtract almost anything and the bread would still turn out. In the end, I had two loaves of a sweet, dense, lightly spiced bread that made good french toast.

I also had three spare containers of starter. Now I just need to find some friends who want to do some baking next week.

Have you ever tried making Amish Friendship Bread? What variations worked for you?

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