10 Baking Tips Straight Out of Amish Country
If you're a fan of Amish sugar cookies, you'll love these baking tips, passed down from generation to generation.
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When it comes to scratch-made foods, it doesn’t get much more authentic than the Amish kitchen. Characterized by communities that eschew materialism and avoid modern conveniences and technology, many Amish bake bread in wood-burning stoves, preserve pies in iceboxes and beat their eggs without the aid of electricity. While you may not want to adopt the complete Amish lifestyle (taking a buggy to the grocery store could be a tad inconvenient), you can still take some tips from their time-tested vault of secrets. Here are 10 takeaways for any clever baker.
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1. Use Vinegar in Cherry Desserts
From homemade salad dressings to unorthodox pie fillings, vinegar lends a pleasant bite to all kinds of foods. According to The Amish Cook columnist Elizabeth Coblentz, the acidity plays up the tart taste in cherries, so she made vinegar a staple in her cherry baked goods.
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2. Keep Your Cookies Fresh
Without refrigerators, the Amish have to be careful when storing food. They’ve learned, for example, that cookies stay fresh longer when stored in an airtight container with a little piece of bread (it’s also a great tip to soften up cookies that have gotten too crunchy). And it doesn’t have to come from a loaf of Amish potato bread; plain sandwich bread will do the trick.
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3. Always Make More than You Think You’ll Need
Amish community dinners have to feed as many as 600 people, so people are accustomed to making food in large quantities. But even when they’re just cooking for immediate family, Amish bakers typically double the recipe. Pies or cakes are such delicious delicacies that they get eaten quickly—and, like many of us, the Amish enjoy snacking on cookies after church service on Sundays—so they make extra batches to eat throughout the week.
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4. Brush the Top of Your Bread with Butter
Making friendship bread, a treat synonymous with Amish baking, can be tedious. Noted for its incredibly moist texture, it takes an entire week to make, with specific instructions detailed for each day. If you can’t imagine devoting this kind of time to bread, there’s a trick to giving other homemade breads an Amish flavor: Brush melted butter across the top before baking. This will make the bread softer and give it a golden appearance and crispy crunch.
Terrified to make bread at home? These 33 non-scary bread recipes are easy enough for anyone to bake!
5. Break up the Brown Sugar
While rock-solid brown sugar might seem inevitable, the Amish found an easy way to make it soft again. Place a small piece of bread or apple in the bag with the sugar and leave alone for a little while. When you come back, the sugar will be soft again.
(A slice of bread is more utilitarian than you’d think! Here are some other tools you’ll need before you start rolling dough.)
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6. Add a Little Spice
While you might like to add a dash of cinnamon to bread or a sprinkle of cocoa to cookies, the Amish are known to use hot peppers to add spice to their foods. Adding a bit of hot pepper can make any boring dish exciting. A common example is hot pepper butter, which adds a thrill to even the most basic bread loaves.
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7. Pay Attention to Color
When preparing your food, don’t live and die by the recommended cooking time. Instead, closely monitor the color of soups, casseroles and baked goods to tell when they’re done. Crisp edges or a boiling surface can indicate when food is ready. The Amish know to remove things from the heat when they reach the appropriate color or texture, and this leads to more satisfying results than simply setting a timer and walking away.
For more old-fashioned cooking know-how, see 12 timeless tips we learned from Grandma.
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8. Never Serve Plain Butter
The Amish don’t often indulge, but they rarely serve butter plain when there are so many varieties to enjoy. Common types include apple, grape, red pepper and various herb butters. Take a page from the Amish book and add flair to your dinner table by trying these scrumptious holiday butters.
9. When It Comes to Celebrations, Start Early
The Amish start meal planning for large occasions weeks in advance. They make plans for shopping, and they prep ingredients and dishes that freeze well, such as casseroles, broths and simple cookies. And they begin gathering gifts, putting decorations together and doing other small tasks as early as possible.
Eliminate holiday stress by making a shopping list, making sure you have the necessary recipes on hand and getting ready to bake before it’s actually time to begin. (Inspired to plan in advance? Start now with our 14 easy steps.)
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10. Save Every Great Recipe
Amish or not, passing down recipes from one generation to the next is a tradition that holds people together. Whenever you make something that your family loves—whether it is an original recipe or adaptation of someone else’s—be sure to copy the ingredients and steps, and save them somewhere safe.
When your children grow up and start their own families, there is nothing more special than passing down treasured family recipes. Begin teaching them how to prepare the dishes when they’re little. Cooking with your kids is a great way to bring the family together.
Now that you know the secrets to baking like an Amish cook, try your hand at this famous Amish sugar cookie recipe. It’s one of the most popular desserts on our website, and it’s no surprise why: The time-tested, melt-in-your-mouth taste is simply unparalleled.