Thursday, February 21, 2013

A Valentine's Surprise and a Book Review

Hello all! And a happy belated Valentine's day! Let me preface this by saying that I am not a huge fan of Valentine's Day as a holiday at all. But in the spirit of doing something nice (and cheap) I decided to make the Amish Friendship Bread that my boyfriend loves so much. Followers of this blog will remember that I have talked about this recipe before. However, I didn't just think of baking this bread out of the blue. There's a backstory!

Recently, I read a novel called "Friendship Bread" by Darren Gee. It's your pretty standard chick lit but I needed something light to read to refocus my brain a bit. In the book, the characters receive bags of the Amish Friendship Bread and talk about how baking brings them together and changes lives and whatnot. It actually took some turns that I wasn't expecting so I was fairly impressed considering the genre. Overall, I would recommend the book as a light read and it was on the better side of mediocre. More importantly, when I was reading the book, I was overcome with the desire to bake this bread again. They kept talking about using the starter dough for variations on the original recipe and freezing the dough so you're not baking every 10 days (I didn't know you could do that!) and then, as an added bonus, included actual recipes at the end of the book! So that's all I needed for motivation.

Tidbits: Apparently the Amish Friendship Bread isn't actually Amish. It's an evil ploy by the Girl Scouts or something like that. Also, the novel has a website where people can contribute recipes and tips all about the friendship bread. So, that's where I got my recipe for the starter ( and some tips about freezing the dough for later use.

So, in planning my Valentine's surprise, I had to subtract 10 days from Valentine's to allow the starter dough to do its whole starter dough-y thing. This was almost a problem because my yeast was actually dead (because it was super old) and I really didn't want to go out to the store in the snow to buy some. But I did because I am a good person. The other issue here was that since it was a surprise, I had to find places to hide my starter dough so my boyfriend wouldn't see what was going on. In hindsight, I probably could've left it on the kitchen table and he wouldn't have noticed. So for 10 days, I was hiding a bag of dough in a variety of places including (but not limited to) a big pot with a lid and the oven itself. The oven was a bit of a risk but he never turns it on anyway so I wasn't too concerned.

Things worked out perfectly because on Valentine's eve, my boyfriend had a hockey game that he left for at 9 pm so that gave me a solid three hours to bake the bread, make the house smell like cinnamon sugar, and go to bed at a reasonable hour. Let the baking commence! The last time I made this, I think I really screwed up the ratio of starter to ingredients. This time, I was very careful and did the good math and have 3 bags of starter now chilling in my freezer for future use. From there, it was a simple ingredient adding with no real problems. The dough was a little lumpy and hard to mix but otherwise, I'm practically a professional baker when it comes to this bread.

Observe where my confidence gets me. The bake time and temperature are wrong. After an hour of baking, the bottom was starting to burn but the center of the bread was not fully cooked. Keep in mind, it's nearly midnight at this point and I'm exhausted. Sadly, it took another 15-20 minutes of checking and rotating and generally trying to will my bread to bake properly and I still ended up with a slightly burned bottom. Sad. Also, one of the loaves got stuck to the pan (which has never, ever happened before!) so I lost the bottom of one of the pieces. On the bright side, this meant I got to taste it! So delicious. I used the variation that included French Vanilla pudding mix and chocolate chips and it was glorious. Moist and yummy and mmmmm.... I can't wait to try more variations with the starter dough. In a nutshell, my boyfriend was surprised and delighted and good bread was had by all. Here's some pictures of the final outcome for you to drool over:

Any tips on modifying cook times and temperatures to avoid my problem here would be much appreciated. Sadly, there will be no Disney moment this post because I want a chance to watch a few more before I post more. Don't worry though! Disney is still in my heart. I gave Disney stickers to my students who did well on a worksheet this week.