Amish friendship bread is made from a yeast-based sourdough starter that requires a full 10 days to mature. A batch of this starter -- usually shared in a zip-top bag -- comes with a set of instructions that, when properly followed, produce a fragrant, sweet bread often gifted during the holidays. The starter functions like other sourdough starters, and can be used in other recipes calling for starter or stored for later use.
What Is Starter?
Starter is naturally fermented yeast made with simple ingredients such as milk, flour and sugar. You leave the starter out at room temperature to promote the growth of good-for-you bacteria, such as the kind found in yogurt. This replaces the yeast when baking. The fermentation action of lactic acid-forming bacteria present in the mixture prevents the growth of “bad” bacteria, while allowing the yeast to grow and eventually leaven your bread.
During the process of making Amish friendship bread, you are asked to “feed” the starter by adding equal parts of milk, flour and sugar. Starter is essentially a living organism and as such it can turn bad if neglected for too long without food. A good Amish friendship bread starter is bubbly, with a sweet, tangy smell. Your starter might appear quiet with noticeably less bubbles right after being fed. This is normal and the bubbles should reappear by the following day.
With traditional starters, you can refrigerate or freeze them once they have completed the fermentation process because cold slows the growth of the natural yeast. Amish friendship bread starter can be stored in the freezer at any point during or after the 10-day process. This will release you from the job of having to feed it, and is a good way to maintain starter. If you have more than 2 cups of batter, divide into 1- to 2-cup portions and freeze in zip-top bags.
When you are ready to bake your bread, take your starter bag out of the freezer and bring it back up to room temperature. Giving it a good feeding will help to "wake it up," but wait until after it's thawed out before feeding. For 1 cup of starter, feed it 1/2 cup of milk, 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup sugar. Once it begins to revive and bubble, you can either bake or proceed with your 10-day process. Depending on your recipe, it may be necessary to adjust the amount of subsequent feedings. If your starter seems lifeless, it might be that your kitchen is too cool. Try moving it to a sunny spot or an area free from drafts.
If you forget or are too busy to bake your bread on the 10th day, your starter can wait. It will be fine to use on the 11th or 12th day, but if you have to wait any longer, it's best to freeze or feed it to keep the starter from turning bad. Do not taste your starter batter, and throw away any starter that smells bad, turns reddish or orange, or grows mold. In addition, food safety experts recommend making "from scratch" starters only with buttermilk or yogurt, rather than raw or pasteurized milk. If you're given a starter, ask what the original ingredients were, the University of Idaho Extension Service Recommends.
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