Herman, the German Friendship Cake

Ten days ago, I was the lucky recipient of a bag of goop, a.k.a. a starter mix for a Herman, the German Friendship Cake. A little online research tells me that Herman originates from the Amish people, who would give a type of sourdough bread to the needy and sick.

When Herman is in your possession, you are supposed to nurture and feed him for ten days, by the end of which he will have quadrupled in size. You then divide your goop into four, giving three away to friends (along with a copy of the instructions) and keeping one to bake. Herman is a sourdough cake whose recipe dates back centuries. The instructions are very simple, and read as follows:

Herman, the German Friendship Cake
I am a sourdough cake. I am supposed to sit on your kitchen 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: put me in a large mixing bowl and cover loosely with a tea towel
Day 2: stir well
Day 3: stir well
Day 4: I am hungry. Add 7oz sugar, 5oz plain flour and 250ml milk and stir well.
Day 5: stir well
Day 6: stir well
Day 7: stir well
Day 8: stir well
Day 9: I am hungry again. Add the same as day 4, then divide me into four portions. Keep one and give the other three to friends with a copy of these instructions.
Day 10: stir well and measure out the following:

7oz sugar
½ tsp salt
10oz plain flour
160ml oil (vegetable or sunflower are best)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cooking apples, cut into chunks
250ml raisins
2 heaped tsp cinnamon
1 heaped tsp baking powder

Mix everything together and put into a large greased baking tin. Sprinkle with brown sugar and a bit of melted butter. Bake for 45 minutes at 180C. When cold, cut into finger pieces.

Herman freezes well, and is delicious served warm with ice cream or cream.

I didn’t take any pictures of Herman in goop form, which was a little remiss, but he bubbled and grew over his time on my kitchen counter, all the while remaining a sticky goop of a creamy colour. He was also a little stinky. It’s not an unpleasant smell but it’s a noticeable one, especially in the first 24 hours after you bring him home.

So, on baking day, I had Pink Lady apples in my kitchen so instead of buying cooking apples, I used 2½ of these (on the grounds that they’re smaller) and I whizzed it to mush instead of adding it in chunks. As Pink Ladies are sweeter than cooking apples, I cut down the sugar a bit and used cranberries instead of raisins, as they would cut through the sweetness a bit.

I hadn’t the patience to melt the butter before sprinkling it over the cake (and I’m not entirely sure how one sprinkles melted butter, anyway) so I just dropped little tiny bits of soft butter over the top instead:

My Herman took 25 minutes longer than the recipe suggests – my advice is just keep baking in 5 or 10 minute bursts until a skewer comes out clean.

Baked Herman was highly popular with my friends at work, who demolished him very quickly, but I must confess that I didn’t particularly enjoy him myself (I feel like I’ve betrayed him…), though he was very juicy and his apple-cranberry-cinnamon flavours made me feel Christmassy, which is no bad thing in mid-November.

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