Following are the questions we’re most often asked with respect to Amish Friendship Bread and the novel. If you don’t see your question here, go to the Kitchen Table, our community forum, and post your question on our FAQ Discussion board. We promise to answer it as soon as we can.
Q: These instructions I received with my bread and starter are so confusing. Help!
A: Basically there are two parts: the care and feeding of your starter, and then the actual baking. Days 1 through 10 are about caring for your starter. On Day 10 you add the final flour, milk, and sugar before dividing into equal portions of 1 cup each (the original instructions that are floating around say 4 portions of 1 cup each, but because many people make their starter from scratch, they tend to end up with more as brand new starters are always more “enthusiastic” than ones that have been around the block).
The recipe for the actual baking of the bread is the list of ingredients that begins with 1 cup of starter and ends with you sliding two loaf pans into the oven. So if someone gave you a bag of starter, which should be about 1 cup, the day they gave it to you is Day 1. You go through the ten days and then on Day 10 you bake.
Q. What type of yeast should I buy?
A. We recommend active dry yeast which comes in 1/4 ounce packets or jars, but you can also use rapid rise yeast or fresh/compressed yeast.
Q. I’ve made my starter but it’s been 10 minutes and nothing’s happened. What should I do?
A. Check the expiration date on your yeast. The starter is also slower to activate in cooler kitchens, so make sure you have it in a place that’s warm and draft-free. If you’re convinced your yeast is still good, then cover the bowl with plastic wrap and give it a little more time. If by the next day nothing has happened, toss out your starter and buy some new yeast.
Q. Is there a starter recipe that is gluten-free or vegan?
A. We’re still working on perfecting the ideal GF and/or vegan starter, but we have one recipe in our Recipe Box that you can try–our Pineapple-Papaya-Coconut Macaroon Friendship Bread Mini Muffins use a coconut milk-based starter. We also welcome your GF and vegan Amish Friendship Bread recipes, so if you have one, we’d love for you to share it with us! Click on “Submit Your Recipe” for details.
Q. Can I make the starter using whole-wheat flour?
A. Yes. Rye is another popular flour that seems to do well in starters.
Q. I’m lactose intolerant. Can I use lactose-free or rice milk?
A. Yes. Many sourdough starters rely on just flour and water, so milk gives it an extra boost of (sometimes but not always) lactobacilli/probiotics and sugars, not to mention a little flavor. Rice, soy, and other non-dairy milks may work as well–experiment until you determine what works best. In baking it’s certainly not a problem but keep an eye on your starter and make sure it stays fresh and doesn’t spoil. We’ve also heard Kefir milk is a good alternative but haven’t had a chance to try it ourselves.
Q. I do not like using commercial yeast. How can I make the starter without the yeast?
A. You can omit the yeast in the starter. You will have to rely on the wild airborne yeast in the air to metabolize your starter. Results do vary with this method but there are lots of great discussion groups about this at The Fresh Loaf, one of our favorite bread sites. There is also a great post about this at the Wild Yeast Blog.
Q. How long will this starter go on?
A. Indefinitely unless it gets contaminated. Once you get a healthy starter going, consider putting some aside in the freezer (1 cup in a Ziploc bag) as a back up, but we’ve been maintaining a starter in the Kitchen from 2006 and 2009 and they’re doing great.
Q. How do I make the starter? Does anyone have one they can send me?
A. If you don’t have anyone to give you a starter, you can make your own by clicking here. Please exercise caution and good judgment when accepting a starter from someone you don’t know–usually a good sniff will tell you if the starter is any good (and if there is anything bad in there, it will probably contaminate the starter anyway), but better to err on the side of caution and make your own or ask someone you know to share theirs.
CARING FOR YOUR STARTER
Q. I’m afraid my bag of starter is going to explode! Could that happen?
A. Yep, it sure can! If your bag starts to puff up, just open up the bag and let out the extra air. If you keep your starter in a container and it looks like it’s about to spill over, just give it a good stir. You’ll see more activity on warmer days, too.
Q. Can I keep my starter in the refrigerator?
A. Yes, but it will slow down the fermenting process and lengthen the feeding cycle. If you are starting a new starter from scratch, it’s best to keep it at room temperature so the yeast has a chance to do what it needs to do. Most sourdough starters are kept indefinitely at room temperature.
Q. Will a cold kitchen affect my starter?
A. Yes. If you find that your kitchen is cold or drafty, store your starter in an unheated oven or microwave, or move it to a sunny spot. Plastic containers are warmer than porcelain or glass. A cold kitchen won’t hurt your starter if it’s cool or cold, but it will make the starter less active or even go dormant (that’s why people who are trying to control their starter will put it in the fridge or freezer). Just warm it up and it’ll be fine.
Q. I was supposed to bake the other day and forgot — is my starter spoiled and should I start over to be safe?
A. If you have a healthy starter (bubbles, yeasty), then you also have a hardy starter. Most starters live on indefinitely as long as they are fed, so either (1) bake with it now and treat it as Day 10 (even if it’s really Day 14) or (2) freeze it until you’re ready to bake with it (for more on freezing your starter, read on).
Q. I just fed my starter and now it doesn’t look like it’s doing anything at all. What happened?
A. Starters are sometimes “quiet” after a feeding. Keep it in a warm, draft-free area in your kitchen and cover it with plastic wrap (if in a bowl). In a few hours and certainly by the next day it should be back to it’s normal self, possibly bubbling over with happiness.
Q. Why isn’t my starter isn’t rising with the artificial sweetener?
A. The yeast in your starter needs sugar. Sugar is a carbohydrate and that is what yeast needs to metabolize and grow. Artificial sweeteners are amino acids and won’t help your starter rise and ferment. During the baking process it’s easy to find heart-healthy substitutions but it’s a bit trickier with the starter, though people have said they’ve used sugar alternatives in their starter and it’s worked fine (remembering, too, that the flour converts to sugar as does the milk, so there are still sugars in your starter). We’ll be doing some diabetic recipe testing in the Kitchen so we’ll keep you posted with any new recipes and diabetic-friendly variations!
Q. Can you use the starter in a recipe on the first day of making the starter?
A. The reason the recipe asks you to wait for 10 days is so the starter (comprised of flour, milk, sugar, yeast) has a chance to ferment and get a tangy, sourdough flavor that complements the sweet bread that you’ll be making in 10 days. So while you can certainly bake the bread at any time, what you’ll lose is the fermented batter — essentially you’ll be making a quick bread. And the way sourdough starters work: the longer it gets to ferment, the better the flavor! But there’s another part, too: while it’s true the starter you received may have been fermenting in someone else’s kitchen so it is, in theory, already fermented batter, the new ingredients you add (on Day 6 and Day 10) need time to break down plus there’s something magical about YOU caring for your starter for 10 days. It may sound strange, but I have seen the same starter act differently in different kitchens (and have their good days and bad days in both!). In the end, after 10 days or more, maybe it’s simple TLC, or just maybe the starter gets to know you and your home and picks up the flavor of whatever it is that makes you happy. Whatever the case, if you can wait to bake and give the starter a few days in your home, I think you’ll be find it be much more rewarding and fun!
Q. I’m tired of this starter controlling my life! How do I get rid of it?
A. If you need a break or if you are going away from home for an extended period, just store it in the freezer (1 or 2 cups of the starter per bag). It won’t freeze completely (it’ll be more like a semi-firm slushie) but you won’t need to feed it until you’re ready to use it. If you store it in the refrigerator, you will need to feed it periodically though not as often as if it were on your counter. When you feel ready to bake, just pull the baggie out and let it come to room temperature on your kitchen counter, usually an hour or so, then give it a good feed (if you want to have some starter left over) and/or start baking!
Q. I don’t have anyone to pass my starter on to!!! How do I maintain it so that I can use it when I need it?
A. The best way to maintain your starter is to freeze it, then give it a feeding before you bake. If you freeze one cup of starter then feed it 1/2 cup flour, 1/2 cup sugar and 1/2 cup milk once it’s thawed, it’ll start bubbling soon as it returns to room temperature and then you’ll have enough to bake and put the remainder back in the freezer.
HEALTH & SAFETY
Q. What should my starter smell like?
A. Your starter should smell like yeasty–sweet, tangy and fermented. It reminds some people of beer. Fermenting batter is, well, fermenting batter so it may not smell like roses but it shouldn’t smell bad. If it has turned colors (it should be a creamy neutral color) or smell suspicious, throw it out.
Q. What should my starter look like?
A. It should look like pancake batter and on warm days may be very thick and bubbly. You may see a separation of starter and fermented liquid at times–just give it a good stir. If the starter looks moldy or turns any color from the first day of your starter then it has been contaminated but this doesn’t happen very often so don’t panic. Here are a few pictures to help put your mind to rest (L-R: from the Campbell Kids, Friendship Bread Kitchen, Catholic Kitchen):
Q. Why can’t I use metal with my starter?
A. The original instructions for Amish Friendship Bread clearly states that you should not, under any circumstances, use metal bowls or utensils. The reason is because there’s a chemical reaction that occurs between the fermenting starter and metal. You’ll know this has happened because your batter will turn color, usually green or sometimes pink, and while some people have said the bread still tastes fine, there is a definite metallic-y taste to it. Now if your metal utensils and bowls are stainless steel or coated, for example, you’re probably fine (so yes, most KitchenAid mixers shouldn’t be a problem). But if they’re scratched up in any way, it will turn–and spoil–your starter almost instantly.
Q. How should I store my starter?
A. You can store your starter in a glass, ceramic, or plastic mixing bowls, jar, and of course Ziploc bags. Just make sure there’s enough room for the starter to grow and expand, otherwise you could have a mess on your hands.
Q. When a recipe says “1 cup Amish Friendship Bread starter,” I am confused. Is that what it is in the Ziplock bag on Day 10, or is Day 10′s contents, plus the cup milk, sugar, and flour that you add on Day 10?? Help!
A: If you don’t keep a running starter (some that’s always on hand), then on Day 10, AFTER you add 1 1/2 cup milk, 1 1/2 cup sugar, and 1 1/2 cup flour and mix it together, then put 1 cup each into Ziploc baggies to give to friends, whatever is left over for you to bake with (usually much more than 1 cup — people can end up with 4-7 portions depending on how active their starter is) is what you would use.
So you can scoop out a cup of your remaining starter for this recipe, and if you still have some left over, you can leave that in the bowl and feed it again on Day 6 and then again on Day 10 (stirring everyday!), and then start all over again. You can also just store the leftover starter (in a Ziplock if it’s easier) and bake with it whenever you want — you don’t have to keep sharing it every 10 days. After the first 10 days you can bake with your starter at any time, just don’t forget to feed it about once a week.
Q. Can I use my hand or counter-top mixer to help mix up my batter?
A. As long as the metal is coated and not scratched up, you should be fine.
Q. Can I use metal pans to bake my bread?
A. Yes, as long as they are coated and scratch- and rust-free. The disposable loaf tins seem to be fine as well, as are porcelain and silicone bakeware.
Q. Do I have to use pudding in my bread?
A. The instant pudding gives the bread a flavor boost and keeps it moist. One of the wonderful things about Amish Friendship Bread is that you can make a lot of substitutions, additions or deletions. So experiment to figure out what works best.
Q. I don’t have any instant pudding on hand but I have Jell-O. Will that work?
A. Well, it will work but it won’t taste quite the same! Gelatin and pudding are two very different things, but we’ve experimented with it before and found that it does give a color boost but ups the sugar content as well and makes it a little crackly/crusty, too. Some people have experimented with flavored Jell-O AND a box of vanilla pudding to achieve a certain color or flavor to their bread with good results. To look at the Cherry Amish Friendship Bread cupcakes we made using only Jell-O, click here.
Q. I need to cut out sugar in my baking. Can I use Stevia or any other sugar substitute?
A. If the sugar substitute says it can be used in baking, yes.
Q. Have you ever baked your bread before Day 10? A. In theory the flavor of the bread is improved by the older/longer you’ve had the starter. But technically yes, once your starter has “started,” you could bake before Day 10. There starter is very flexible in this way, and there are no hard-fast rules. We will say, though, that there is something magical that happens when you care of your starter for the 10 days before baking with it that first time — the ten days are sort of like a “getting to know you” period. It’s part of what makes Amish Friendship Bread so special!
Q. I baked the cinnamon rolls according to the directions given. Why did mine turn out dry?
A. As with any dough, if you over work the dough it will turn out dry when baked. Try to mix the ingredients just until incorporated or mix your wet and dry ingredients separately in different bowls and then add them together, careful not to overmix.
Q. Do I have to grease and flour the pan?
A. Greasing and flouring the pans makes it easier for the bread to pull away from the sides of the pans while baking, making it easier to remove when cooled. Amish Friendship Bread uses a mixture of sugar and cinnamon to flour the pans which also gives it an extra crunch.
Q. Does it matter what type of eggs you use for baking? Can I use egg substitutes?
A. No and yes. You can use any egg substitute that is approved for baking. We’ve also used ground flax meal as an egg replacement (1 egg=1 tablespoon flax meal plus 3 tablespoons water). It will result in a slightly drier bread.
Q. Am I supposed to prepare the instant pudding or just add it dry to the ingredients?
A. Just pour the dry instant pudding mix in with the other ingredients as listed.
Q. My add-ins (nuts, chips, fruit) keep sinking to the bottom of my batter! Why?
A. Ah, the eternal question! Here are some simple solutions: (1) toss your add-ins in 1 tablespoon of flour, (2) chop your add-ins into smaller pieces, (3) make sure to gently fold your add-ins into well-mixed batter at the end of your mixing, or if all else fails, (4) reduce the liquid content of your batter. Since everyone’s starter is a little bit different (some are wetter, some are creamier), try leaving out one egg. Another option is putting your batter in the fridge and letting it thicken before you pop it into the oven.
Q. I’m trying to make the traditional sourdough bread recipes with my starter but my dough isn’t rising. Help!
A. There are a couple of factors that may be contributing to this: (1) how active is/was your starter? Active, happy starters are key — it should have had at least one cycle in a 10 day period where it was very bubbly (other days of being quiet or even flat are ok, as long as you do see a period of activity, especially within 24 hours after feeding on Day 6 or Day 10). An active starter tells you that the yeast is thriving. (2) The water temperature needs to be warm. If it’s too hot, it’ll kill the yeast in your starter. Also, if you live in an area with heavily chlorinated tap water, the chlorine has also been known to kill the yeast in your starter — it’s indiscriminate when it comes to killing good or bad bacteria and in our case, it’s killing the good stuff. (3) Keep it warm! Cold kitchens are the bane to Amish Friendship Bread, especially if you’re trying to rise dough. Keep the dough warm and draft-free. In sum, traditional sourdough bread baking that relies on a starter can be tricky at times, but my guess is you’ll still have a delicious result, but possibly a bit dense or even doughy.
Q. I live at a high altitude and the recipes aren’t coming out right. Why?
A. You need to make adjustments for high altitude baking: leavening agents, baking time, and baking temperature all need to be taken into consideration. For a helpful link on high altitude baking, visit King Arthur Flour: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipe/high-altitude-baking.html.
Q. I have a fabulous Amish Friendship Bread recipe that I’d like to add to your Recipe Box. How do I do that?
A. Click on “Submit Your Recipe” and follow the instructions! You’ll have the option of submitting a photo, too. You’ll receive credit in the Recipe Box for both the recipe and the image, along with a website link if you have one.
Q. Are there other things I can make with the starter other than Amish Friendship Bread?
A. You can bake bread, muffins, cupcakes, cake, pancakes, waffles, scones, cookies and biscuits with the starter.
Q. I’d like to print your recipe and pictures on my blog/website/Facebook page. Do I need permission?
A. We want you to share our recipes and images! You don’t need permission so long as you give proper credit for the recipe and images to Friendship Bread Kitchen and provide a link to our website (http://www.friendshipbreadkitchen.com). In some cases the recipes or images may be credited to a member of our Kitchen–in that case, you must give them proper credit as well. For the more generic recipes this is less of an issue (ie, use butterscotch pudding instead of vanilla and add a handful of butterscotch chips to batter), but for the ones we’ve spent time developing, we do get grumpy if people take them without the courtesy of asking. Images, however, may not be reprinted beyond basic web use without express written permission.
Q. How do I store my starter?
A. If you’re feeding and caring for it with the intention of baking in the next 10 days, leave it at room temperature on the counter. If you’re looking for longer term storage options, put your starter in a Ziplock bag and toss it in the freezer. You won’t have to feed it while it’s in there but do give it a good feed once you take it out and it comes back to room temperature. You can bake with it immediately once it’s thawed.
Q. Can you freeze the bread?
A. Amish Friendship Bread freezes beautifully and takes mere seconds to defrost. Wrap it in wax or parchment paper and put in a Ziplock bag or container. You can even freeze it sliced and take out a piece as needed. No need to worry about freezer burn with this bread!
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Still didn’t find what you were looking for? To post a question about your starter, baking, or anything else related to Amish Friendship Bread, please go to the Kitchen Table, our community forum, and post your question on our FAQ Discussion board. We usually respond within the day (no promises, though, but we certainly try!).