Wednesday, 5 September 2012


Today I baked an apple cake. No biggie, you may think. And, indeed, you'd normally be right. But the basis for this cake was a sourdough starter called Herman the German. (Not to be confused with Herman ze German, the excellent wurst shop in Villiers Street, which you simply must go to if you're in the area and in need of some sausage. Anyway, back to the cake.)

Essentially Herman is a chain letter but in cake form: altogether less pointless and irritating and infinitely more satisfying.

The way it works is you receive a portion of the sourdough and then "feed" and keep it "alive" it for 10 days (I find the anthropomorphisation of a yeast-based starter a bit weird). On the last day it's divided it into four portions, one of which you keep and bake and the other three get passed on. There was a little bit of mix up with my donor so I only received it on day nine (yesterday).

No bad thing for me as it meant I got cake sooner rather than later, but it did mean I had to find some recipients pretty quick smart.

The cake first (after all that's all we're interested in really).

Right, first up this cake is very tasty. The yeast gives it a pleasant tang. It had quite a dense crumb but the huge chunks of apple I used meant it was quite crumbly. It was a touch oily on the bottom, but I think this was because of the butter that had worked it's way down from the top. It would have been even better with demerera sugar on top as that would have given a crunch.

I was quite surprised to have to add baking powder. Surely the point of the yeast is that you don't need baking powder?

The fact that the resulting cake was good strengthened my resolve to pass the sourdough on. Fortunately I have a couple of friends who are quite keen on baking and (more importantly) nearby and easily accessible! The remaining portion is in my freezer as an experiment to see if the yeast will survive in a state of suspended animation.

One of my mates, works with a few Germans and so he brought the subject up with them. Obviously they don't know it as a Herman (I wonder if it was called that because it rhymes with German?). Apparently the Germans were waxing lyrical about friendship cakes:
“I remember the special taste.”
"Honestly. I had one for a while at home. You can bake cakes all the time without big effort.”
My favourite:
“I liked it.”
The thing that intrigued us most was just how old and how many people the sourdough has gone through. There's a part of me that would like to keep track of where my Herman goes. In theory it should multiply quicker than rabbits...

So, if you get the chance to make one it's worth it.

Here's the recipe, which is on the website along with everything else you need to know. Mind you, you'll be getting instruction so you shouldn't even need this!

1 cup of sugar (8oz or 225g)
2 cups plain flour (10oz or 300g)
1/2tsp salt
2/3 cup of cooking oil (5.3oz or 160ml)
2 eggs
2tsp vanilla essence
2 cooking apples cut into chunks
1 cup raisins (7oz or 200g)
2tsp cinnamon
2tsp baking powder
2oz demerera sugar
1oz melted butter

1. Mix everything together and put into a large greased baking tin.
2. Sprinkle with a quarter of a cup of brown sugar and a quarter of a cup of melted butter.
3. Bake for 45 minutes at 170°C. Cover in tin foil and bake for a further 20 minutes to make sure your Herman is cooked properly in the middle.

PS Just as I received this I got a Baking Mad newsletter which featured Herman as the headline recipe. I also found out Herman had been in the Daily Mail. It looks like I'm just a few month behind the game and that Herman is really quite well known. And there was me thinking I'd found out about something not many people know about!

Herman ze German on Urbanspoon

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