Amish Friendship Bread

Who doesn’t love fresh, homemade bread? There’s something so comforting and homey about cutting a slice while the load is still warm. What is even better is when a friend or loved one bakes a batch and gives you one of their loaves. But sometimes you have to start the trend (give in order to receive) and the perfect thing to get the bread-baking started is Amish Friendship Bread. It’s more than just a delicious, sweet bread. It is also a way to bond friends together by sharing countless loaves of bread baked by many different hands in many different kitchens.

The Amish are a group of traditionalist Christian Church fellowships closely related to, but distinct from, the Mennonite churches, with whom they share Swiss Anabaptist origins. The Amish are known for their simple living, plain dress and reluctance to adopt many conveniences of modern technology. The history of the Amish church is interesting, and began with a schism in Switzerland within a group of Swiss and Alsatian Anabaptists in 1693, led by Jakob Ammann. Those who followed Ammann became known as Amish. In the early 18th century many Amish emigrated to Pennsylvania for a variety of reasons, including religious wars, poverty and religious persecution. The first Amish went to Berks County but later moved, motivated by land issues and by security concerns (related to the French-Indian war). Many eventually settled in Lancaster County. As of 2000 over 165,000 Old Order Amish lived in the United States, while only about 1,500 resided in Canada (mostly Ontario). But, by 2010 the Amish population in the US had grown to 249,000. Amish church membership begins with baptism and from that point the rules of the church, the Ordnung, must be observed by every member and covers most aspects of day-to-day living, including prohibitions or limitations on the use of power-line electricity, telephones, and automobiles.

While that is all very fascinating, indeed, you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Amish Friendship Bread. It turns out, very little actually. According to Elizabeth Coblentz, a member of the Old Order Amish and author of the syndicated column “The Amish Cook”, true Amish Friendship Bread is “just sourdough bread that is passed around to the sick and needy.” Essentially, there is no real reason to think that the sweet cinnamon-flavored bread has any connection to the Amish people, although its name is taken from them. The recipe for Amish Friendship Bread may have been first posted to the internet in 1990, but the recipe itself is several decades old.

You will hear reference to “Starter”. This is basically just yeast, water, flour, sugar and milk. This is what starts the cycle of the Amish Friendship Bread. A common cycle is based on the addition of one cup each of sugar, flour and milk every five days with bread baked and extra started shared every tenth day. The ten-day cycle produces five cups of starter, which must be used to either bake bread, given away, or used to start a new cycle. The most common suggestion is to bake one load of bread, give away three cups of starter and save the remaining one for the next cycle. Although it is not necessary to wait the “canonical” ten days before using one cup of starter, it is part of the tradition and if starter is used early, it will result in a smaller quantity at the end of the cycle.

The recipe for Amish Friendship Bread is unsurprisingly simple, as are the instructions. It may seem like you are waiting ‘forever’ in order to cook and eat your bread, but once the cycle is started and your friends start baking and sharing bread, there should be plenty of fresh loaves being passed around!

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