Here's what to know about the sharable starter.
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Chef John's Sourdough Starter
Chef John's Sourdough Starter
| Credit: Chef John

Some recipes are so practical that it's almost criminal to keep them to yourself — that's the case with Amish friendship starter.

Read on to learn all about Amish friendship starter, including how to make it, which foods you can make using it, and remedies for common Amish friendship starter mistakes.

What Is Amish Friendship Bread Starter?

Amish friendship bread starter is a type of sourdough starter that is made with flour, sugar, milk, yeast, and water. Since it involves sugar and milk, Amish friendship starter has a sweeter taste than standard sourdough starter, and it does require commercial yeast to take off, but its principle is still the same — share what you have with others.

What Can You Make With Amish Friendship Bread Starter?

Almost any baked good can be made with Amish friendship starter, says Darien Gee, author of Friendship Bread and founder of the Friendship Bread Kitchen, an online community offering tips, support, and more than 250 friendship starter-based recipes to bakers. The most popular recipe using Amish friendship starter is a cinnamon-sugar bread, but it can also be incorporated into cakes, biscotti, cookies, traditional breads and rolls, cinnamon buns, cookie dough, pizza dough, crackers, and more.

How to Make Amish Friendship Bread Starter

"If you're making your Amish Friendship Bread starter from scratch, you'll want to go through one 10-day cycle to make sure your starter is off to a good start and has a chance to develop its signature sweet, tangy flavor," Gee says. This isn't exclusive to friendship starter — using any sourdough starter too soon will harbor flavor and yeast development.

Ingredients:

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, divided
  • 3 cups white sugar, divided
  • 3 cups milk

Day 1: Dissolve the yeast in a small bowl and let stand for 10 minutes. Thoroughly combine 1 cup flour and 1 cup sugar in a 2-quart glass, plastic, or ceramic container. Slowly stir in 1 cup milk and the yeast mixture. Cover loosely and let stand until bubbly. Leave loosely covered at room temperature.

Days 2-4: Stir starter with a spoon.

Day 5: Stir in 1 cup flour, 1 cup sugar, and 1 cup milk.

Day 6-9: Stir starter with a spoon.

Day 10: Stir in remaining 1 cup flour, sugar, and milk. Remove 1 cup of starter to make your first bread and share 2 cups with friends. Store the remaining cup of starter in the refrigerator, or begin the process again.

How to Maintain Amish Friendship Starter

Amish friendship starter can be maintained at room temperature, and Gee says most home bakers keep theirs in a large jar, bowl, or zip-top bag on their counter.

You'll need to keep your starter on the same 10-day feeding schedule — it must be stirred or mashed daily, and fed a 1:1:1 ratio of flour, sugar, and milk on days six and 10 (which becomes day 1). For every cup of starter, you'll need the same amount of flour, sugar, and milk.

"One of the biggest challenges is people underfeeding their starters," Gee says. "While that might seem to work for a while, eventually the yeasts in your starter will starve and die off, or you won't get the necessary rise in your recipes."

How Long Does Amish Friendship Starter Last?

If it's properly cared for, Amish friendship starter can be maintained indefinitely. "It is heartier than most sourdough starters because the sugars in the added milk and sugar give the yeasts extra food to survive, but other things like ambient temperature and contamination could alter your starter," Gee says.

"There should always be a yeasty kind of smell and the color tends to stay a pale white/off white, but the minute the smell gets too sharp, the color changes, or you notice mold, it's best to let it go and start over again," she adds. Gee suggests that newer bakers stick with the "when in doubt, throw it out" mantra to prevent the risk of foodborne illness. "After a few rounds, however, most people know how to evaluate their starter and can tell if something is off."

Can You Freeze Amish Friendship Bread Starter?

If you ever need to take a break from using your friendship starter, freezing it is a great solution. Freezing an active, robust, and recently fed starter essentially puts it on hold. Gee recommends that newer bakers keep one to two bags of frozen starter in case they ever have to throw their current starter out. Active Amish friendship starter will keep for up to three months in the freezer.

"You can also pop your starter in the fridge, but you can't forget about it like you can with freezing your starter," Gee says.

Common Amish Friendship Starter Mistakes and How to Fix Them

  • Underfeeding your starter: Gee says the most common mistake people make with Amish friendship starter is underfeeding it. "It should be bubbling, almost doubling in size, within 24 hours after a feeding."
  • Keeping it cold: Another common mistake is trying to maintain a starter in a cool or cold kitchen. If the ambient temperature around your starter is too cool, it'll basically put your starter to sleep (or at least a light snooze), which means it's not working hard to metabolize the sugars in the flour, milk, and sugar. When the yeasts are active, they release CO2 which accounts as a leavening agent.
  • Using an inactive or underfed starter when you need an active one: You won't have active starter for your recipes, and they're likely to fail or not achieve proper rise.

"Bread baking is an art form and takes some skill to develop, and it takes patience to understand your starter," Gee says. "You will have some fails, especially if you are trying to make a more traditional bread recipe."

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