I got a very unusual text message from a friend the other day.
“Would you like to meet Herman the German?”
Not being one averse to making new friends, I asked
“Hmmm what’s he like?”
She didn’t know how old herman was, but told me he liked to travel the world making new friends. His favourite thing to do, she said, was to hang out in the kitchen.
He sounded like a pretty interesting guy, so I asked her to bring him over.
In the following 10 days Herman stayed with us, I found out that he was a mess of contradictions. He was quite a sour little fellow but could at times have a rather bubbly disposition… I suppose, like most of us, it all depended on the day you saw him.
He was however, the easiest house guest I’ve ever had. He only wanted to be fed twice, made no mess, and by the end of the 10 days all this sour little guy wanted to do was to be shoved in the oven.
Who the hell is Herman?
Herman, if you haven’t guessed already is a sourdough starter that sits on your counter for ten days before being baked into a cake.
Named Herman the German Friendship Cake it’s origins seem to be a bit unclear. The idea is most likely taken from Amish friendship bread. This was a bread made from a starter of wild yeast, milk, flour and sugar which was fermented and then baked into bread for the sick and needy.
The idea somehow evolved in the 70’s to use bakers yeast instead of wild. Instead of passing it around to the sick and needy, you now passed the starter around to your friends and told them to bake their own (that’s progress!). Much like a smelly chain letter, Herman continued to proliferate around the globe until he got right to my doorstep.
What I like about Herman
Besides being a form of chain letter that doesn’t sit in my inbox telling me something terrible will happen to me if I don’t pass it on; Herman brings people together – physically!
In a world full of Facebook, Instagram and instant messages we don’t get enough FACE time! It may be the old fogey coming out in me but I really think it’s important for our children to see us interacting – and not just on our iPhones. Sharing a meal is a great way to take time out and de-stress with friends and family.
It’s also a great way to get kids in the kitchen. I’ve had a sourdough starter for quite awhile now and much like Herman, Frankie and Imi have had so much fun feeding and naming their different sourdough starters. A few names they’ve come up with are:
Sourdough starters are the easiest first pets!
A great introduction to working with sourdough starters
As far as sourdough starters are concerned, Herman is pretty easy going. He doesn’t need to be fed daily and he’s a pretty hardy starter.
I think the reason Herman is so hardy is because as oppose to being fed with flour and water, Herman is fed with flour, sugar and milk. This would give the yeast more sugar to feed on and therefore would not need to be fed as regularly. This gives you a bit of leeway while you’re getting into the habit of caring for a sourdough starter.
How to care for Herman
There is a great website http://www.hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com/ where you’ll find how to care for Herman, recipes for turning the finished starter into bread, or even starting your own starter (incase you accidentally kill Herman).
My experience with Herman
Herman came with a set of instructions which told me just what to do to keep him happy for the next ten days. It also had a recipe to bake him into a cake.
He arrived at my house on day three. The instructions said he needed to sit on my counter without a lid on so he could breathe. If he ever stopped bubbling, he was dead.
I transferred him to a large jar and put a tea towel over the top so no curious insects contaminated my Herman.
Besides smelling sour and viewing a few bubbles on the surface, nothing much was happening.
Feeding time! I mixed one cup each of sugar, flour and milk into the starter. I worked out all the lumps and then tucked him into his little tea towel and said goodnight.
When I checked on him before bed herman had doubled in size, bubbling up to the top of the jar.
After his voracious feed Herman has slunk down to the bottom of the jar again. I gave him a mix and left him for the day.
Gave him a mix.
Gave him a mix
No bubbles! is he dead? I gave him a mix to make sure and some little bubbles came popping up to the surface phew! all is well.
Gave him a mix. Still doing his sour bubble thing.
This time I fed Herman the same amount as day four. I then divided him up into four portions(each portion contained just over 1 1/2 cups of starter.
Three of the portions were to be given to friends to make more little Hermans. The fourth portion was to be kept and made into my own delicious cake. Very exciting! I tucked Herman and his little Herman Jnrs in for the night and went to sleep dreaming of batter and icing.
Herman was looking bubbly and ready to go. You can flavour Herman with whatever your heart desires, and there are some great looking recipes on the Herman website. Since I’d never baked a cake with a sourdough starter before (only bread) I thought I’d use the basic recipe that was given on the instruction sheet, but changed it a little.
I decided to use spelt flour and almond meal, cut the sugar, use butter and flavour it with pistachios, cranberries and apples.
I mixed all my chosen ingredients up in a big bowl (forgetting to use the almond meal) and sweetened it with 1/3 cup of maple syrup. I had been feeding Herman so much sugar during the week I figured he didn’t need much more.
The batter was quite thick when I had finished mixing. I added a splash of milk to make it less doughy and poured him into a lined spring form cake tin, ready to pop into the oven.
The finished Herman
Herman was finally smelling good….This is what he turned out like.
The combination of cranberries, apples and pistachios was just delicious. He was still a little bit sweeter than I would have liked. I’d used regular cranberries from Coles instead of the unsweetened ones I usually buy from the health food shop. I think that combined with the sweet starter made it just a bit too sweet for my liking,
What did the rest of the family think?
Iain was a bit disappointed….he thought I was making a HeMan cake. Imi and Frankie tucked in straight away and fought over the crumbs. Herman was eaten within a few days so all in all I’d have to say our German house guest was a huge success.
Herman the German Cranberry, Apple and Pistachio Cake
- 2 cups spelt flour
- 1/3 cup maple syrup
- 1/2 tsp himalayan salt
- 2/3 cup melted butter
- 2 eggs
- 1 tsp vanilla essence
- 1 cup cranberries
- 1/2 cup pistachios
- 1 medium sized apple cut into chunks (I used a pink lady)
- 1 1/2 tsp mixed spice
- 2 heaped tsp baking powder
- 2 tbs milk
- Preheat oven to 170 degrees centigrade. Line and grease a 22cm springform cake tin with butter and baking paper.
- Combine flour, salt, mixed spice and baking powder into a large mixing bowl and stir to combine.
- Whisk eggs and combine with other wet ingredients. Add to dry ingredients and mix into a smooth batter. Add extra milk if batter is too doughy and will not combine well together with a spoon.
- Add pistachios, apples and cranberries and fold into mixture. Pour mixture into springform cake tin and bake for 45. Test the middle with a clean knife; if it comes out clean it is done. If not cover your cake in tin foil and bake for another 20 minutes until cooked through.
The future of Herman
Unfortunately Hermans children didn’t survive. None my friends were interested in cultivating a Herman of their own, so Herman dies with me.
Albeit a sweet death, it was still sad to see him and his little progeny go. We shall therefore honour the memory of Herman by eating the crumbs we find in our couch over the next few weeks.
Rest in pieces Herman – you were too yummy for this world.
Have you ever made a Herman the German Friendship cake? would you be interested in making one? Why the hell not?