If you’re following me on Facebook, chances are you’ve been hit—more than a few times—with images and posts from my new Facebook page, Friendship Bread Kitchen. Friendship Bread Kitchen is my new virtual kitchen, but unlike Café World (an addictive Facebook application that lets you run a restaurant and cook lots of fun things and put your friends to work for you), I experiment with recipes in my real kitchen on the Big Island of Hawaii. While food, family and friendship are important themes for me in my books, I don’t consider myself a cook or even someone who spends a lot of time in the kitchen.
Not so anymore.
In the Friendship Bread Kitchen I’m not trying to be all things to all people. In other words, I’m not making soufflés or braised lamb shanks or roasted brussels sprouts drizzled in lemon juice (wait, I actually did make that tonight). In the Friendship Bread Kitchen, it’s all about—you guessed it—Amish Friendship Bread.
Now chances are you or someone you know has had Amish Friendship Bread or received its ubiquitous starter. The friendship bread itself is a sweet bread or quick bread, similar to banana bread (or, as one news reporter put it, a pound cake inside of a pound cake in terms of its moist richness—it definitely isn’t for people watching their cholesterol!). The starter is a sourdough starter though I’ve never been able to discern the sourness in any of the friendship breads I’ve made.
Amish Friendship Bread is essentially a culinary chain letter. You receive a baggie of starter from a friend, mash it for ten days (adding more flour, sugar, and milk on day six), then feed it again before splitting it into four portions of 1 cup each (by the way, my yield has always been more than 4 cups by the time I’m ready to start baking). You bake with one portion and give the other three to friends with instructions on how to care and feed the starter so they can bake and share theirs in 10 days. If you’re wondering whether or not the recipe is actually Amish (which, to my knowledge, no one has been able to confirm nor deny), I will say that the “1-2 boxes of instant pudding” in the list of ingredients is somewhat suspect.
A running joke is that “friends don’t give friends Amish Friendship Bread”—it’s a needy kind of recipe that most people don’t have time for. Because the recipes use so much sugar (and instant pudding), the fact that it’s made from a starter seems a bit irrelevant.
But it IS fun, and it is delicious, and passing it on has its charm. People either love it or hate it (see this recent post on About.com by Carroll Pellegrinelli: Friendship Bread – A Blessing or a Curse?) but I will tell you that if you were to walk into my kitchen on a day while I was baking friendship bread, you would swoon. My kitchen smells AMAZING when there’s friendship bread in the oven.
And you don’t have to pass it on—it’s just as easy to refrigerate or freeze the starter (or the loaves), or to feed it less so it doesn’t proliferate as quickly. You don’t even need to make the starter to end up with a similar result, but people will argue that it’s not the same. There’s a lot of TLC that goes into a bag of friendship bread starter which, if you believe it (and I kind of do), finds its way into the bread. You can make loaves, muffins, pancakes—the choices are endless. Even Martha Stewart gave it a whirl. See the video here.
So what is Friendship Bread Kitchen about and why am I doing it instead of cranking out my next book? Honestly, it was a small idea that blew up into a big idea, really really fast (kind of like the starter itself). I want Friendship Bread Kitchen to be a gathering place for people who love Amish Friendship Bread or who want to find new recipes or tips. I have over 50 GORGEOUS (did you get that? GORGEOUS!) photographs from food bloggers who have put their own style and stamp on the bread. There’s also vegan and gluten-free variations—I’m experimenting with two starters right now at the request of a couple of people (see? Join the page and you can actually get me to bake for you! Though you will have to come to Hawaii to get the bread).
While the Friendship Bread Kitchen has been taking on a life of its own, I have been writing like crazy in between uploading said gorgeous photos and hanging out with my three kids and husband. Book four is currently with my very cool and super smart rock star agent, Dorian Karchmar of William Morris Endeavor (and did I mention that she’s really, really nice? She is!). I’m revising and editing and smoothing and all that fun stuff (it’s actually not that fun, but I do truly love it). So I hope I’ll have some news for you soon but in the meantime, please swing by and say hi if you’re on Facebook. I have a giveaway going on right now at the Kitchen for an Emile Henry loaf pan from Williams-Sonoma. Even I don’t own one yet!
If you want to know more, here are a few links. And while the basic recipe rocked (we added raisins and walnuts), I am leaving you with a parting shot of the lemon poppy seed friendship bread muffins we made with our second batch of starter. It brought the kitchen down.