The news is full of discord these days, so if your feelings of anger and resentment towards your fellow human beings are at an all-time high, we have a culinary solution.
Enter friendship bread. It’s a simple concept that almost anyone can be a part of (well, maybe not the gluten-free folks). The idea is that someone starts a friendship bread base, which takes yeast, flour, water, sugar and 10 days. It’s like a sweeter version of a sourdough starter. Then, that person uses some of the base to make bread, cake or cookies, and passes part of the starter on to friends.
How much starter you make will determine how many people you can initially share with. It’s often divided into thirds, so the person who starts the project takes one-third of the base, then passes one-third along to two friends.
Then, as each person adds their own ingredients to the base, they do the same thing: use some to make baked goods, and pass some of the starter along.
If nobody you know has any starter, you can make your own by following the simple instructions in the video above.
Remember what we have in common
The idea is that by sharing bread, we remember what we all have in common, which can bring us together in fraught times.
“In communities where the starter is actively passed around, touching different households and very different lives, it reflects the commonality among us,” Darien Gee told NPR. (Gee wrote a novel based on the concept, called “Friendship Bread.”) “We are doing this together, we are in this together. This starter exists because we are all playing a part in this process.”
I remember doing this with my friends in the late 1980s, the last time this idea was so popular. My friends and I got into a baking frenzy over several weeks, and it was fun to find new people who didn’t know what the project was all about — and then follow up with them later to find out what they’d made and who they’d shared their starter with.
Sometimes, it would come right back around to you.
Of course, this isn’t a new idea, and that’s part of the joy of it.
“The concept behind it is really old, and there are recipes for friendship cake, instead of friendship bread, that date back to the 1860s,” Anne Byrn, author of “American Cake,” told NPR. “Before the invention of baking powder in 1855, starters were made with wild yeast just gathered from the air, and they provided the leavening for cakes and breads.” (Byrne researched hundreds of recipes to track down the history of friendship cake for her book.)
The beauty of friendship bread starter is that when you run out of people to give it to, you can just use it up in a last batch of cookies or cake — secure in the thought that some of your original starter is still out there, doing its thing.