Herman the German

Herman the German is quite a new discovery of mine which you probably haven’t heard of before and is obviously, the subject of this new post.

My Granddad got given a split of culture recently from his very good friend and hairdresser Mike, and he grew it and made a delicious German sourdough cake with it, and quite successfully. When the time came for him to split his culture, he passed some on to me and I have been having great fun cooking with it.

What is it?

It’s essentially just a yeast culture that you grow for ten days and you have to remember to stir it daily and you have to feed it twice with 1 cup of milk, flour and sugar. Then you can make a cake with it. At the end of the ten days you split the culture into four and give two to your friends. You keep the other two to yourself, one to start a new culture with, the second to bake a cake. Each time you split the culture, you have to start it as on day one of the instructions.

It’s really easy and is a great excuse for people to go and see family members and friends face to face (as you have to find some people to unload your split cultures on) and you can talk experimenting, give tips and exchange advice and so on.

And it is made all the more worthwhile by its delicious results.

I also think that this would be a fantastic project to start with small children, especially in winter. If you like to grow herbs and small plants with them in Summer, then why don’t you grow culture and bake cakes in Winter with them? It makes great sense and seeing that it’s alive, it bubbles and gets bigger each day, it should definitely be very exciting for them to play with.

To start –

You can easily make a Herman culture at home and grow it to be used in a cake; or you can wait for a friend to give you a quarter of their culture for you to grow yourself.

How to make the culture –

Ingredients –

  • 140 g / 5 oz plain flour
  • 225 g / 8oz castor sugar
  • 1 packet of active dry yeast (2tsp)
  • 235 mls / Half a pint of warm milk
  • 59 mls / 2 fl oz. of warm water

Method –

  1. Dissolve the yeast in warm water for 10 minutes then stir.
  2. Add the flour and sugar then mix thoroughly.
  3. Slowly stir in the warm milk.
  4. Cover the bowl in a clean cloth.
  5. Leave in a cool dry place for 24 hours
  6. Now proceed from day one of the 10 day cycle.

Now that it’s made, you can start growing it!

The Herman the German Cake Instructions –

I recommend that you bake a double cake if you can’t find enough/or any people who want some of the culture. But if you don’t want to do that, then there is still hope. You can actually freeze the culture for a couple of months. Just ensure that you take it out and give it a day or two to thaw so you can see it’s still bubbling, because if it isn’t then it’s dead! Then use as on day 10.

Or restart it on day 1 if you’d like. It’s a pretty cool culture.

If you’d like to find out more about Herman then simply type him into your search engine and it should come up with the official Herman the German Friendship Cake website, which is dedicated to the cake and gives you tips and new recipes, even ones for bread!, and it allows you to engage with other bakers and talk experimenting.

This is just the recipe for the basic cake. My Granddad and I have adapted it though as we found the recipe on the official website to be far too gluey and, actually, not very nice, so we’ve dropped the quantity of flour by half. That’s all we did.


Recipe –

Ingredients –

2 cups of flour, sugar and milk (skim or full-fat. DO NOT USE TRIM THOUGH! Trim is beyond revolting and tastes like watered down white wash. Honestly, use slim milk! I cannot say this in enough capitals.)

Method –

Stir each day for 10 days. Leave uncovered on your kitchen bench, or somewhere where it won’t get knocked over. Leave covered with a paper towel (if you have cats or rabbits in the house, also cover with a wire cooling rack. It should keep them off it). On the fourth and ninth days also add 1 cup of flour, sugar and milk and stir thoroughly.

On the 10th day split the mixture into 4, give two parts away, keep one to start a new culture and use the last to bake a cake. See recipe below.

Note –

If you are not very confident in the prospect of forcing two spare cultures onto your friends and relatives, or in being able to hand it over and have it received gladly even; then there is hope! You don’t have to just bake a double cake and freeze some if you don’t want to. I came up with the idea of not adding the cup of flour, sugar and milk on day 9 and splitting into two on day 10. You effectively have two cultures as opposed to four and the weights roughly add up. I pulled this off quite successfully. But if it doesn’t for you then please comment at the bottom.
German Sourdough Cake
Ingredients –
1 cup of raw or brown sugar (225g, 8 oz)
1 cup of plain flour, sifted (150g, 5.3 oz
2 tsp of baking powder
1/2 tsp of flowing salt
2/3 cup of oil
2 eggs, pref. free-range and at room temp.
2 tsp of vanilla extract
2 tsp of cinnamon
1 cup of raisins or sultanas
Large handful of crystallised ginger cut into chunks (it may say glacé ginger on the packet)
1 split Herman the German (on day 1)

To top – (optional)
1/4 cup of brown sugar
1/4 cup of melted butter

Vary by adding whatever you’d like. Walnuts, apple chunks, dessicated coconut, citrus peel, anything you have on hand that you think would suit. Change essence to compliment.

Method –

Combine everything in a large bowl, preferably in that of a cake mixer, and mix well to combine. Line your chosen baking tin with baking parchment and pour in the mixture. Drizzle over the butter and brown sugar, if using, and bake at 180 degrees C, 350 degrees F in a fan-forced oven for 45-60 mins. When it’s been in for 45 test with a skewer to see if it’s cooked (so no bits of gungy mixture) and if it comes out clean – you’re away laughing. A nicely cooked and delicious cake! If not, pop it back in for a few mins, check again and keep checking until it’s ready.

Important to note –

If you notice that the top of your cake is looking a little too brown  or just perfect and you don’t want it to brown further, simply cover with either baking paper or tin foil. This will prevent it from colouring further.

This cake freezes well and should be kept for no longer than 1 year. Check on it after 3 months though. Wrap carefully.