Initially I had no plans to blog this as it’s not from a book, but after live-tweeting its assembly I thought I might as well. I remember my mother being given some of this starter about 25 years ago and I (who didn’t have to stir it daily or move it when doing other things in the kitchen), loved the resulting cake. The internet seems a little conflicted as to the origins – certainly Amish Friendship Bread is very similar.
Anyway, I was very pleased when a friend gave me some Herman starter in a yoghurt pot, in a Liberty’s bag, along with the strict advice that it was Day 3, and a piece of paper stating:
Hello, my name is Herman.
I am a sourdough cake. I’m supposed to sit on your worktop for 10 days without a lid on.
You CANNOT put me in the fridge or I will die. If I stop bubbling, I am dead.
Day 1 You get Herman and put him in a large mixing bowl and cover loosely with a tea towel.
Day 2 Stir well
Day 3 Stir well
Day 4 Herman is hungry. Add 1 cup each of plain flour, sugar and milk. Stir well.
Day 5 Stir well
Day 6 Stir well
Day 7 Stir well
Day 8 Stir well
Day 9 Hungry again. Add the same as day 4 and stir well. Divide into 4 equal portions and give away to friends with a copy of these instructions. Keep the 4th one.
Day 10 Herman is very hungry. Stir well and add the following:
1 cup sugar
half tsp (teaspoon) salt
2 cups plain flour
2/3 (two thirds) cup of cooking oil
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 cooking apples cut into chunks
1 cup raisins
2 heaped tsp cinnamon
2 heaped tsp baking powder
Mix everything together and put into a large greased baking tin. Sprinkle with a quarter of a cup of brown sugar and a quarter of a cup of melted butter. Bake for 45 minutes at 170-180C. When cold cut into finger pieces. Cake freezes well and is also delicious warm with cream or ice-cream.
If you want to make the starter yourself, you can find a recipe here and there are some excellent suggestions for alternatives to the apple and raisins here. (I remember my mother put cherries in it). Herman was recently been written about in the Guardian and mentioned on BBC Radio 4 on 1st January 2012, but not when I was awake to hear about it.
It must be said that if you have mastered the all-in-one sponge, Herman is going to seem like a lot of work in comparison. My kitchen has so little counter-space, that it sat on top of the bookcase in my sitting room and while I was out at work and my flat was unheated, I left last night’s hot water bottle resting against the bowl, which meant that for those ten days, I was envious of a bowl of dough, which, by the way, being raw fermenting dough, smelt like raw fermenting dough (which I don’t mind, but others may).
I was a little sceptical assembling the cake – there seemed to be an awful lot of oil, which first pooled in the mixture and then gave it a greasy look. The whole mass was quite hard to stir, although one doesn’t have to worry about beating the air out of the batter as one would with a regular sponge. It ended up rather stiff, so I added a splash of rum. (This is my answer to improving almost everything pudding-related.) I would recommend cooking at a lower temperature, so that the top doesn’t burn before the bottom has set.
The texture was light and soft, the mid-point between a cake and an open-crumbed loaf of bread. The flavour was similarly mixed – vanilla and cinnamon, but also with a slight, pleasant undertone of brown toast. The great thing about the fairly large amount of oil, is that slices of this cake do indeed freeze very well, not noticeably changing in flavour or texture after thawing and re-heating. In fact at the rate I’m eating it, Herman will keep me in cake for 6 weeks, and how many Victoria sandwiches can say that?
Have you been offered some Herman starter? Did you accept or decline? What did you add to the batter and how did it turn out? Did you give away all 3 portions or did you keep a batch and are now a champion Herman maker?
Stirred by Elly