Sunday, April 26, 2009

Deb's Bread Adventures

(Or: They Can't Do This One On Iron Chef)

At my place of employment, we have a loose confederation of employees who participate in "Fun Friday." On "Fun Friday," we each bring a component of a meal and then share the meal together. As is usual in such arrangements, the sign-up sheet for desserts usually fills up first, because you can just get it at the grocery store/donut shop/backseat on the way to work Friday morning. (I say "backseat" because Sven's backseat currently contains approximately 1,234,456,677 M&M's, which could certainly count as a dessert, provided one had the diligence of 1840's California gold miners and a fairly laissez-faire attitude towards lint-festooned candy.)

One week, a very memorable homemade dessert was brought, labelled "Amish Friendship Bread." I took a piece, and was delighted to discover a rich, sweet bread that really was like nothing I'd tasted before. From that point on, it began appearing in our break rooms and lounges, labelled with a staff member's name to indicate who made it. I was intrigued.

I mentioned to one of our paraprofessionals, Samantha, that I would like to learn the recipe. Samantha said something about having a "starter," and asked if I would like one. I stammered an acceptance, too proud to admit I had no idea what she was talking about.

The next day, I was presented with a Ziploc bag full of bubbling goo. It smelled like the bottling room at the winery where I worked at one time. I held the bag of goo in a manner similar to the one I use to handle Dexy's particularly artistic diapers, and asked, "What is this?"

"It's the starter," Samantha explained. "Here are the instructions." It turns out that the starter must be squeezed, mushed, fed, and burped for ten days, again reminding me of various aspects of parenting. At the end of 10 days, you have enough goo to add to your batter, plus four more starters. You are supposed to give three away and keep one, which is, I suppose where the "friendship" part comes in. (You must be friendly with someone to accept a bag of goo that makes your classroom smell like a fraternity house.)

Honestly, just between us, I had no intention of actually making the bread. I took it home and read the instructions with trepidation. They looked like this:

Day 1: Mush the bag.
Day 2: Mush the bag.
Day 3: Mush the bag.
Day 4: Mush the bag.
Day 5: Mush the bag.
Day 6: Add to the bag 1/2 c. each of milk, sugar, and flour
Day 7: Mush the bag.
Day 8 Mush the bag.
Day 9: Mush the bag
Day 10: Follow the recipe below.

I got the bag on day 2, so I kept it around, thinking it couldn't be too hard; all I had to do was manhandle the bag a bit for a few days, dump some stuff in, then follow a simple recipe. So I plunged in to try it.

I'm not domestically gifted. I'll be the first to tell you that Sven does the cooking in our house. I have a few recipes that I do very well, and the rest will be so inedible that I hesitate to mention specific examples for fear of litigation. I fully expected the bread experiment to end in failure, since I've never made a yeast-based bread that worked. (My bread machine bread even failed 75% of the time.)

To make an already long post a bit less so, I just tasted my finished, cooled bread. I didn't realize until I was ready to pour the batter that I don't have any loaf pans, so I have two very unequal Corningware casserole-shaped loaves. I sent Sven to the store twice and still missed an ingredient. I also added my own ingredients to the recipe, thinking that it would enhance a faint flavor I had tasted in others' versions of the bread.

My bread was awesome. I'm serious. I limited myself to one piece and came up to blog, but I could have eaten the whole small casserole-sized loaf by myself.

The bread has a cinnamon-and-sugar crust, and has cinnamon in the recipe, but I always tasted a bit of a citrus undertone in the bread I had sampled, so I put in the zest of one orange (I zested! I never zested before!) and dried cranberries instead of raisins. It is very, very tasty. I'm very proud of myself.

Of course, now I have four bags of goo on my kitchen counter. According to the chain-mail-style recipe, I must give three of the bags away to keep the starter going; apparently "only the Amish" know the secret of the starter, so I can't let it die. My fear now is that I won't be able to find someone to take the goo, so I'll be making eight loaves next time, then something like 32 (I don't do math after midnight) then hundreds. My house will be the "stinky one" where you can get good bread.

I know I won't let it get that far. But, if you're one of the people who reads my blog and knows me in real life, let me know if you want some goo. Because now, or later, I'll have some for you, and then you'll be in this cycle of endless deliciousness.

Just like me.


Kristina P. said...

Look at you go! I would never add anything to the recipe. I can't even make bread in a bread machine.

Other than that, I'm a decent cook.

Deb said...

I'm a pretty bad cook. I'm all right on baking, but only simple recipes. I make great pumpkin bread and was once locally known for chocolate-chip-cookie-cake, but ask me to make dinner and I'm stumped.

Boy Mom said...

My Bestest friend gave me a package of bubbling goo a couple years ago. I must confess that after an unknown number of days bubbling away on my cupboard, I chucked it. "Great," I thought, "The Amish reach out in friendship and I single handedly drop the goo ball , and send years of diplomatic efforts to unite our cultures gurgling hopelessly to the landfill.

I am relieved to discover that some alert Sanitation Engineeer discovered me awful secret, took the orphaned Ziplock home to his wife who baked it as her own and passed a few gooey little bundles on.

Now we just have to determine which religion gets to claim Amish friendship bread the miracle.

Deb said...

That is a beautiful story of cross-cultural friendship. I think Lifetime should make it into a movie immediately, starring Rosie O'Donnell as the bag of goo.

Barbaloot said...

Free goo isn't high on my list of things I'm wanting to get...

Thanks though:)