What the heck is this goop?
A few weeks ago, one of my sweetie's coworkers sent him home with a Ziploc bag of goop and a sheet of paper with instructions for "Amish Friendship Bread." The goop in the bag was starter that had to be tended to and fed for 10 days before it could be used to make bread. The recipe on the sheet was not particularly appealing as it called for a full cup of oil, eggs, and instant pudding mix. We don't use much oil around here and definitely would never dream of pouring that much pure fat into three loaves of bread.
Making this vegan was going to be a challenge. It would be easy to substitute for the eggs but instant pudding mix contains gelatin (an animal byproduct) and there is no simple substitute. Not only that, the instructions said to feed the starter twice during the 10 days. Its diet was 1 cup of flour, 1 cup of sugar, and 1 cup of milk each time. Obviously, I was not starting with a vegan product. Curious about the whole thing, we decided we'd use it but substitute soymilk for our two feedings, hopefully cutting back on the overall dairy content significantly.
It was time to do some research online about Amish Friendship Bread. I started by looking for vegan versions of the starter and found very few references. One gal did the same thing I was planning to do, figuring that over time the dairy content would become negligible as she fed her starter nondairy milk.
Although I'd never even heard of Amish Friendship Bread before, I discovered it was nothing new. References to it are all over the Internet. My real interest was in finding a better recipe than the one we'd been given. All of the recipes called for oil but most only asked fortwo-thirds of a cup rather than the full cup in ours. Unfortunately, like ours, many of the recipes also call for the instant pudding mix.
With time and persistence, I stumbled across a few recipes for making Amish Friendship Bread without the pudding mix. Another one at allrecipes.com led me to the realization that the possibilities for variation were vast, especially as I read the comments after each of their recipes. Many people successfully substituted applesauce for the oil and I knew I could use my flax seed mixture to replace the eggs. I pulled together some recipes to have for my future reference and to have with the starters to give away.
First baking trial
As the ten days passed, I debated about what recipe I was going to try first. I decided to forgo all the bread recipes and head straight for dessert. This chocolate cake recipe sounded intriguing. (The recipe was submitted by Robert Hamilton, Jr. of Adelanto, California - originally from Robert's friend Sally Lou of Colorado.) I am going to share my version with you as I made a number of changes to lower the fat, make it vegan, and correct what I believe to be a typo (reversing amounts of baking soda & powder from the original recipe posted in the link above).
Chile's Chocolate Cake
using Amish Friendship Bread Starter
1/3 cup Earth Balance or other vegan margarine, softened
3 tbs prune puree
1 1/4 cup sugar
9 tbs flax egg mixture
1 cup Amish starter (recipe below)
1 tsp vanilla
2/3 cup cocoa powder
2 cups whole white wheat flour (such as King Arthur brand)
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
3/4 tsp salt
2/3 c cold water
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Cream together Earth Balance, prune puree, and sugar.
Add flax egg substitute, starter, and vanilla. Beat for 2 minutes on medium speed.
In another bowl, combine dry ingredients.
Add flour mixture to batter alternately with cold water.
Beat 1 minute on medium speed.
Pour into greased and floured 9x13 pan. Bake for 30-40 minutes.
The cake was scrumptious. The texture was good and the flavor very nice. I gave pieces to my friends who received starters so they would be encouraged to keep it going.
Making a Vegan Starter
The starter we received was in a plastic bag with instructions to mush it around every day. This worked fine until the seal broke and some of the starter oozed out. I transferred it to quart glass jar but after I fed it, it became clear very quickly that it would outgrow the space. I transferred it again, this time into a 2 quart glass jar which worked perfectly.
As a result of losing some of the starter, I ran short at the end. One gifted starter will, by the end of the process, yield 4 equivalent starters. I made the cake with one and gave two away but was left with only half a starter batch. This seemed a good time to make more of a switch to a vegan starter.
I'd found a recipe for the starter, also at allrecipes. However, it was time again to give it my own personal stamp. Here is my recipe for vegans. I made this and stirred in the small amount left from the original gift, just to get the fermenting process going faster.
Vegan Amish Friendship Bread Starter
1 (1/4 oz) package active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water (110 degrees F)
1 cup (x 3) whole white wheat flour
1 cup (x 3) organic granulated sugar
1 cup (x 3) soymilk (or other nondairy milk)
In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Let stand for 10 minutes.
In a 2 quart glass or ceramic container, combine 1 cup flour and 1 cup sugar. Mix thoroughly.
With a non-metallic spoon, slowly stir in 1 cup soymilk and the dissolved yeast mixture.
This is the 1st day of your 10 day cycle.
Day 1: put the lid on loosely and leave at room temperature.
Day 2: stir starter and cover loosely. It may be starting to bubble a bit.
Day 3: stir starter and cover loosely.
Day 4: stir starter and cover loosely.
Day 5: stir in 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar and 1 cup soymilk.
Day 6: stir starter and cover loosely. It will have probably grown overnight.
Day 7: stir starter and cover loosely.
Day 8: stir starter and cover loosely.
Day 9: stir starter and cover loosely.
Day 10: stir in the last cup each of flour, sugar and soymilk.
You now are ready to bake some bread and prepare starters for your friends. Remove one cup of starter to make your first bread. Place one cup of starter each in large bags for two friends. Give them the bag along with the recipes you like. Let them know what day in the process it is when giving them the starter.
You can begin the 10 day cycle again with the last cup or store it in the refrigerator until ready to use. You can also freeze the starter in 1 cup portions for later use. Just thaw the frozen starter at least 3 hours at room temperature before using.
But is this really sourdough?
Now, I really enjoyed the chocolate cake that I made, and I find it fascinating that there are so many variations on the Amish Friendship Bread theme, but there is only so much sweet bread we need to eat. It was clear to me that we could really pack on some pounds if I kept starter going all the time. It therefore thrilled me to see a sourdough version. When my second batch was ready to go, I sent out starters to two friends and made sourdough bread with my portion.
I ran into a few problems with the recipe linked above, such as the instruction "Mix all the ingredients." This resulted in a very lumpy dough.
It also took forever for my dough to rise, but this was more the fault of a cold house than a problem with the dough. My friend stuck hers in a warmed oven and had no problems with it rising.
The end result was tasty. The bread was lighter than a quick bread but not quite like a yeast bread. It was sweet, but not too sweet.
It had a great crust and nice crumb. I see potential here.
I revised the recipe to account for the problems I ran into and just made another batch of it today. Because the taste was similar to my stollen, I decided to add cinnamon, nutmeg, nuts, and dried fruit to the dough to make a "mock stollen". It's baking right now.
Here it is fresh out of the oven. And my recipe with revisions to lower the fat and improve the mixing process.
Amish Sourdough Friendship Bread
1 1/2 cups hot water
1 cup sugar
1 tsp salt
1 cup Amish starter
1 tbs oil
3 cups bread flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
Stir in sugar and salt in hot water until dissolved. Let cool to lukewarm.
Put Amish starter in large bowl and stir in water mixture and oil.
Stir in 1 ½ cups of the bread flour. Whisk until smooth.
Stir in the whole wheat flour. Mix until smooth.
Add remaining bread flour and mix in by hand, kneading the bread in the bowl until all the flour is incorporated.
Oil the bottom and sides of large bowl. Place bread dough in bowl, oil the top and cover with a cloth. Let stand overnight in a warm place.
In the morning, gently punch dough down several times and divide into 3 equal balls. Knead each ball a few times, form into a loaf, and put into 3 greased and floured loaf pans. Brush the tops with oil and cover with oiled foil or plastic wrap. Set aside in a warm place all day.
Bake at 350 degrees for 30-40 minutes.
Note: The formed loaves can be frozen before rising the second time. To use, just place frozen dough in greased and floured loaf pan, brush with oil, cover, and let sit until thawed and risen. Then bake as directed.
I put two loaves in the freezer to send home with my mother-in-law so she can thaw and bake them whenever she wants.
By now, you've probably guessed that I'm having fun experimenting with this bread and starter. The problem is that it's burning through sugar and soymilk at an alarming rate, what with feeding the hungry starter a cup of each every 5 days. So, it's time for more tweaking of recipes. My intent with the starter is to use it primarily for the sourdough recipe, which is sweeter and richer than I need it to be. Therefore my plan is to morph the starter by changing what I feed it, starting with tomorrow's 5th day feeding.
Tomorrow, I will give it the usual 1 cup of flour - which, by the way, has been the locally grown whole wheat from my CSA. The sugar will be reduced by half, and water will be substituted for half of the soymilk. Depending on how the next batch of sourdough bread comes out, I may eventually eliminate the sugar altogether and use only water instead of soymilk.
Why don't I just give away all this starter and begin a real sourdough starter? Because that's just not as much fun as messing around with something new!