Herman – the German Friendship Cake

A couple of months ago, Herman came to stay.  From Germany, he was a great house guest.  He was quiet, both entertained and educated the children, and he made me drool.  No, he wasn’t a gorgeous German man with a six pack – though my husband tells me he smells rather like a six pack of beer – he was a delicious sourdough cake.  Or, to be more specific, he was a sourdough batter/starter mix.

Herman the German Friendship Cake

Perhaps you’re fortunate enough to have had Herman come stay with you, or maybe you’ve just had a nibble at someone else’s but more than likely you’re just like I was and completely unaware that such a divine offering was circling your neighbourhood so I’ll let you in on the secret.

What is Herman the German Friendship Cake?  Quite simply, it’s a sourdough batter containing yeast that you “grow” over a period of nine days then bake on the 10th.  Just before you bake it you divide your mixture up and give it away to 3 friends who go through the whole process again, spreading friendship, love and tasty cake along the way.

How does it work?  At the same time as I was presented with my wee ice cream tub with some gloopy stuff in, I was given some instructions.  “Hello!” they said.  “My name is Herman.  I am a sourdough cake.  I am 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.”  There was a lot of talk of death for a cake, and given my ability to kill plastic plants I was more than a little nervous.  It didn’t help that I was surrounded by harbingers of doom who told me horror stories of Herman’s that they had known.

“They stink your house out!” 

“My friend’s exploded in a cupboard and went everywhere!” 

“Mine died.”

Still, my generous friend had given me some of the finished cake to taste as well as the starter mix and it was DELICIOUS so we ventured forth.

The instructions are very detailed:

Day 1 – Receive Herman and put him in a large mixing bowl (he’s going to grow) and cover him 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 – Herman is hungry again.  Add the same as you did on day 4 and stir well.  Divide Herman into 4 equal portions and give 3 away to friends with a copy of these instructions.  Use the 4th portion to make your cake tomorrow.
Day 10 – Herman is very hungry.  Stir well and the rest of the cake ingredients listed below.

Really, there was no way to go wrong.  It became the Monster’s project.  Every morning he’d come down (with clean hands!) and get to stir Herman.  Yes, there was a smell, but other than day 2, he never mentioned it.  After Herman had been fed for the first time he started to bubble and rise quite spectacularly and the Monster was desperate to get to it each day to pop it back down.  He loved watching it all shrivel up.

The Monster Loved Herman

Herman the German Friendship Cake Herman the German Friendship CakeHerman the German Friendship Cake  Herman the German Friendship Cake

Feeding HermanFeeding Herman

I found it hard going to feed Herman without him going lumpy but a) using a hand mixer and b) the action of him growing each day seemed to knock the lumps out of him.  I know other people who stuck to stirring once a day but I would peek again at night and give him an extra stir to prevent him overflowing.

When the time came to bake him we followed the given, traditional flavours – cinammon, apples and raisin.  I generally hate fruit cake but my friend’s had been so tasty that I decided to stick with it.  The apple goes so soft and melt in your mouth, and the caramel topping oozes through the cake.  One suggestion I make is to make a caramel with the demerara sugar and melted butter to pour over the top rather than sprinkling them over separately.  It is definitely tastier.

Herman the German Friendship Cake Herman the German Friendship Cake Herman the German Friendship Cake Herman the German Friendship Cake

 No Need to Wait

It’s an exercise in delayed gratification – yes, you’re going to have delicious cake but I’m going to make you wait for 10 days before you can eat it!  I know that that puts a lot of people off.  For us, it was part of the fun but if you really couldn’t wait you are free to skip straight to day 10 when you are given the mix and bake him straight away.  You’ll get all the same great taste but none of the sharing friendship mixed in.

In fact, I only gave away 2 quarters of my Herman.  We’d enjoyed it so much that we wanted to do it again but because we were going away for the weekend in the middle of the process we were either going to have to ask someone to Herman sit for us, or somehow take it 400 miles away with us.  (I should point out that we had trailed the first one 30 miles with us for a weekend with my parents but that’s much more manageable…)  In the end, I found the website www.hermanthegermanfriendshipcake.com which not only has lots of alternative recipes, it advised that it was possible to freeze him!  Given that the fridge would kill him, I was a bit dubious about this but I can confirm that not only did he freeze just fine, he came out more alive than when he went in and made a delicious cake for us to share with the Monster’s teachers and to take away on holiday with us at the end of June.

I hope that you manage to find someone to give you a starter batter so that you can join in, too.  However, if you don’t, the website above has a recipe that lets you create your own starter and then you can get one going in your area.  In fact, as my son has just gone gluten and dairy free, I’m going to have a go at starting one that suits his needs – if it works, I’ll let you know how it goes.

One word of advice though – when taking a quarter to your friends, make sure your child doesn’t decide to dive across it in the car, knocking the batter all over your passenger seat.  Take it from me – it’s a nightmare to get out of the fabric.


9 responses to “Herman – the German Friendship Cake

  1. I had a Herman. Enjoyed looking after him but I was disappointed with the end result. Caramel would have greatly improved it! Hope you are well hon! x

    • And yes, caramel makes a big difference. We gave my in laws a starter mix but my husband forgot to tell them about the caramel part. You could definitely taste the difference. He must have also forgotten to highlight the part of the instructions that say, “share with friends,” because they baked two cakes at the same time (and froze them in portions) and poured the rest down the drain. They didn’t even offer any back to us which was originally why we gave them a portion! Ah well, we won’t make that mistake again.


    Hi! my name’s Hannah, I am a previous parent to Herman and have made it my mission to document his journey from here. Currently a BA Hons Book Arts and Design student at London College of Communication I am taking this journey on as my final project and hope to collate a family photo album of Herman in all the new families in all the new homes he finds himself in.
    Once you have taken him in as your own and raised him until the end I would be so grateful for a family portrait to add to the collection. Just send a photo of yourselves with Herman in whichever baked form he takes with you to my email: hannahmfincham@gmail.com.
    I will let you know when it is done so you can keep an eye out for your family portrait!
    Thank you and good luck with your temporary parenthood.

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