Herman the German Friendship Cake

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 eggs
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.

Text from: http://srroberts.hubpages.com/hub/German-Friendship-Cake-Herman

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

20 responses to “Herman the German Friendship Cake

  1. Oooh, looks delicious. You gave me some of your Herman starter and I promptly forgot about him and the poor thing was deaded almost instantly.

    This made me sad to miss out on cake and to confirm that I cannot be trusted to keep living creatures alive even when they are dough. I notice the mice moved out of mine around the same time too, obviously fearful….

  2. I wondered if you would be able to do all your Xmas cooking and squeeze in feeding poor, simple Herman!

    The experience has made me consider doing more fermenting and bread baking this year.

  3. There’s some bad doggerel in there, rhyming Herman with vermin – but enough of my problems.

  4. Amish Friendship bread is very similar to this, except all the versions I have seen include dry pudding mix in the final cake recipe. Which seems very non-Amish to me. It was very good when I made it though!

  5. Cindi…. pudding mix?! Least Amish thing ever!

    I recently heard that adding pudding mix to cakes is a surefire way to make them richer, though personally I usually go with an extra egg or some melted chocolate!

  6. Pingback: Another calling out « Schietree

  7. I’ve just recieved some starter! The herman cake I’ve already had was delicious, but once you’ve seen the instruction “then pour a quarter of a cup of melted butter over the cake”, you can gather that. I take Herman home tonight – I hope he doesn’t die! The pressure!

  8. My husband and I received Herman 10 days ago, he has made our house smell
    However we have commited to looking after him, we split him yesterday and gave two portions to friends, kept one to use again and baked one tonight, using vanilla extract and dark chocolate so hopefully he will taste good tomorrow as I were spliting him and both taking him to work to eat : )

  9. Yasmin – I hope the taste is worth it!

  10. Ive made a cake and saved the fourth portion and am feeding Herman the Second !

  11. Mine is really awful, tastes disgusting and made me feel a little sick – way too much sugar in this recipe for my liking.

  12. I’m due to bake Herman the 4th tonight. Yes, we are hooked. I’ve passed it on to friends, work colleagues and teenagers (they really seem to enjoy looking after Herman and get additional satisfaction from the finished product, since it took 10 days to complete it). I’m going to try a different recipe for baking it to give it another flavor. I’ve also found muffin recipes, which would be another good option.

  13. Bonnie – Muffins is a brilliant idea – I considered doing that for some of my batter, on the grounds that it would cook faster.

    Sam – Ah well, can’t win ’em all!

  14. Herman the First went wrong – really dry, and I’m not sure a roasting pan is really the thing to be baking him in. Herman the Second had enough apple juice added to him to make him into a really thick batter and went in a couple of loaf tins – very successful 🙂 Herman the Third got added to a scone recipe this morning, and it turns out he is the KING of scones! I have now run out of people to pass him on to, but have also discovered that so long as you use him when he is hungry – I reckon at least 24 hours after he’s fed – you can bake with him anytime and don’t have to wait ten days… this results in a fair amount of Herman to be eaten, but work colleagues are always grateful for cake 🙂

    Lastly, I love the blog – well done, thanks and I’ll be back for further reading!

  15. Rosie – thank you! I bow deeply to your Herman expertise.

  16. I was given my Herman starter recently. Never heard of him before, but glad I gave it a go. The first one I forgot to put the apple in, and it was a bit soggy in the middle. Not to be beaten I put it back in the oven for a lttle longer, covering the top with foil. It tasted delicious even without the apple. I made a second one with the apple this time and it too tasted delicious. Well worth the effort

  17. Good tip about using foil – glad you enjoyed your herman!

  18. Marvellous! I have been given some starter and wanted to know more about this!

  19. I was given a Herman and now on my second one. Gave one to a friend and she is hooked to great fun. I also covered mine with foil to prevent burning

  20. I could not refrain from commenting. Perfectly written!