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Herman the German Friendship Cake (with UK measurements)

June 6, 2012

Is it possible for a cake to be famous? I’m not sure I’m comfortable with humanising cake (see this review of Harry Eastwood’s interesting but annoyingly written recipe book Red Velvet & Chocolate Heartache) especially if I’m going to eat it. Surely there’s something a bit wrong about that? Anyway, I digress. If it were possible for a cake to be famous, then I think that “Herman the German Friendship Cake” would be in the running, since it has its own website and has featured in the GuardianDaily Mail, Independent and Telegraph (talk about broad appeal).

Just in case Herman’s PR machine has not reached your corner of the universe, here’s a summary:

Herman is actually from an old Amish tradition and is a cake made using sourdough – a home cultivated yeast mixture. It is the baking equivalent of a chain letter as each batch can be split into 4, with the idea being that you pass 3 on to friends and use one to make a cake. In theory the sourdough starter has been passed along for generations, though it is possible to start your own. 

A bubbling Herman

The idea of using something in your cake when you don’t know where it has been or indeed when it has what is essentially rancid milk in it,  may weird you out. I know at least one person who has avoided the cake for this reason and I do have sympathy with it. However, if you do decide to forgo Herman then you will be missing out on a delicious and versatile cake.  I have made a caramel & banana version and an apple & dark chocolate one (too many people dislike raisins it seems). I imagine that you could use the starter in waffle and pancake mixtures too, though I have yet to try or find a recipe. The cake is very moist and as you can see from the photos, the recipe makes a very generous slab. 

Apple and chocolate Sourdough cake

Herman the apple and chocolate cake

Now. Go forth and find someone to give you a Herman…

How to look after Herman

Day 1: You receive Herman from a friend –  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 (converts to approx 110g), sugar (converts to approx 210g) and milk (converts to approx 250 ml). 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: Bake day Stir your 1/4 of Herman well and add the following:

Ingredients for the cake

1/4 of Herman (mine was 175g the first time I made it but more like 250g the second and both worked well)

1 cup sugar (approx 225g)
half tsp (teaspoon) salt
2 cups plain flour (approx 220g)
2/3 (two thirds) cup of cooking oil (approx 187 ml)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 cooking apples cut into chunks
1 cup raisins
2 heaped tsp cinnamon
2 heaped tsp baking powder
or…. any variation on the fruit, nuts etc

For caramel and banana, chop up 2 large bananas and drizzle caramel sauce in with the batter

For the topping (optional) or I reckon a crumble topping would work well
Sprinkle with a quarter of a cup (50g) of brown sugar and a quarter of a cup (56g) of melted butter. 
Bake for 45 minutes at 170‐180C. 

You may need to cover in tin foil and bake for a further 20 minutes to make you’re your Herman is done in the middle.
herman cake

A slab of Herman. Devour, with custard.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. June 7, 2012 11:49 pm

    Herman is very popular indeed as I keep seeing and hearing about him everywhere, I’ve also had the opportunity to taste a few and they are delicious! I love your flavour variations especially the caramel and banana 🙂

  2. June 8, 2012 12:45 pm

    Loved your recipe, its very detailed! =)

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