Herman the German Friendship Cake

I suspect many people will be reading this just to find out what the heck the title is about… essentially it’s a sort of “pass-it-on” cooking challenge. A chum of mine (the excellent Jess Brown) passed on a “starter” for a German sourdough cake (the “starter” being a mixture of yeast, water, flour, sugar and milk) which has to be nurtured over 9 days as the yeast grows and does its magical thing. In order to get bread to rise, you need to leaven it - biological agents such as yeast are capable of doing this, creating bubbles that make all the little air pockets in a loaf. In a sourdough starter, a stable culture of yeast and bacteria do this gradually over a period of days, providing a distinctive sour taste in the final product. It’s an ancient method that probably dates from Egyptian times, so it’s a pretty exciting thing to try for yourself. At the end, you save a little bit of the mixture (to pass on to someone else – so essentially, your starter contains a tiny bit of all the other starters in the chain) and then add various scrummy things to it (including apples and cinnamon, mmm) before baking the final product. Now that I come to research sourdough and write all this down, I’m aware that using the word “bacteria” is not always the best way to promote a recipe – but in one form or another, the stuff is all around us, and makes all sorts of nice things like this possible!

At the moment, my Herman is still in the early stages – the original starter is resting in a big bowl covered with a tea towel, and slowly producing bubbles (if the bubbles stop, I’ve killed him!). Over the next seven days I will be “feeding” him and gradually working towards the final cake, so I’ll update you as he progresses!