I don’t remember what my first batch of friendship bread tasted like, but I remember the smell: Sweet and sour, with a bit of cinnamon. It was reminiscent of the inside of one of the loaves of sourdough we sometimes bought at the farmers market, but more like dessert. My mom got a bag of friendship bread starter—a fermented mixture of yeast, water, milk, flour, and sugar—from a friend at work. After feeding our bag of starter for 10 days, it quadrupled in size. We divided the mixture into bags and passed them out to a few of my elementary school buddies. Hopefully, each one also fed the mixture until it grew, then shared the spoils with friends.
I usually feel the same way about sharable dough starters as I do the email chain letters of the early 2000s. You know, the ones that swore you’d be smited by seven years of sadness if you didn’t pass the message along to 20 other people. When given a classic sourdough starter, you’ve entered into some sort of binding covenant with your giftee that not only will your promise to keep this lumpy mass of flour and water alive indefinitely, you also need to start baking a very time-consuming bread on at least a quasi-regular basis. Friendship bread starter, thankfully, though similar to sourdough in terms of ingredients and distribution method, is a much lower-stakes project. Friendship bread is essentially a quick bread, and comes together so easily you’ll think you may have missed something (a loaf of sourdough, on the other hand, takes days to finish).
To make a friendship bread starter, begin by pouring ¼ cup warm water into a medium glass, ceramic, or plastic mixing bowl. Sprinkle 1 packet (¼ ounce or 1¼ tablespoons) dry active yeast over the water and stir gently to combine. Set the bowl aside and let the yeast bloom for 5-10 minutes.
Grab a large glass, ceramic, or plastic bowl and whisk together 1 cup flour and 1 cup granulated sugar. Next, whisk in 1 cup whole milk, and then the yeast mixture. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until the mixture begins to bubble.
While you’re waiting, write these 2 sets of instructions on 4 gallon zip-top bags (or type it and print a bunch of copies). Follow them to finish off this recipe. Hand out the bags of starter immediately, or note to your friends which day (of the 10-day process) they've received it.
Friendship Bread Starter
Contains: yeast, water milk, flour, sugar
Today is Day 1. Do not refrigerate. If air gets into the bag gently open to release.
Day 1: Do nothing
Day 2: Mash the bag.
Day 3: Mash the bag.
Day 4: Mash the bag.
Day 5: Mash the bag.
Day 6: Add to the bag: 1 cup each all-purpose flour, sugar, and milk. Mash the bag until well combined.
Day 7: Mash the bag.
Day 8: Mash the bag.
Day 9: Mash the bag.
Day 10: Pour the starter into a glass, ceramic, or plastic bowl. Add to the bag: 1/2 cup each of all-purpose flour, granulated sugar, and milk. Mix together with a wooden or plastic spoon. If you’d like to keep the friendship bread going, before you make, write these instructions on 4 zip-top bags and place 1 cup of the dough in each bag. Keep the last cup of dough in the bowl for your bread.
- Preheat the oven to 325ºF.
- To your starter, add 3 eggs, ½ cup whole milk, and 1 cup vegetable oil. Mix well.
- In a small bowl, whisk together: 2 cups all purpose flour, ¾ cups sugar, 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons baking powder, ½ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon kosher salt, and 1 box of vanilla instant pudding. If you’d like, add ½ cup each of chopped nuts and dried fruit.
- Add the flour mixture to the starter mixture and combine with a wooden spoon.
- Grease 2 8-inch loaf pans with butter.
- Mix together 2 teaspoons cinnamon and ¼ cup granulated sugar. Pour a few spoonfuls of the cinnamon-sugar into the loaf pans and shake the pans around until completely dusted/
- Divide the batter between the two loaf pans. Sprinkle mores cinnamon-sugar over the top of both loaves. Bake the breads for 55-60 minutes, or until a toothpick stuck in the center comes out clean.