Herman – The Friendship Cake

Ten days ago my friend Sarah handed me a tupperware box and a sheet of instructions. In the tupperware box was a living and breathing Herman. Let me explain, Herman is a starter for a cake, a bit like a sourdough starter. You sit him on the sideboard in a large bowl and stir him daily, (talking to him is optional), and feed him occasionally.  After ten days of love, care and chatting you add more delicious things to him, pour him into a cake tin, put him in a hot oven and then eat him. Poor old Herman.  There is still some of the original starter though for you and two of your friends, so don’t feel too bad for Herman, he lives on.

I love the concept of Herman and I wonder how old my starter is and where it originated and how many people have lovingly tended to him in their kitchens and enjoyed his cakey loveliness.

My spare Hermans are going to my friend Nichola and my niece (the latter doesn’t know about it yet, so I hope she is ready for some Herman love).

If you would like to start your very own Herman so that you can spread cake happiness this is how:

460g plain white (all purpose flour)
500ml warm milk
230g sugar
90ml warm water
2 tbsp easy bake yeast

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl, cover loosely with a clean tea towel (it will need the wild yeasts in the air to stay alive), and place in a warm place.

Once you have your starter, either your own or one from a kind friend then you need to follow these instructions.

Day One
Make sure Herman is in a large bowl, loosely covered with a clean cloth and in a warm place
Day two and three
Give Herman a good stir with a wooden spoon
Day Four
Herman needs feeding.  Add the following ingredients:
1 cup (120g) plain (all purpose) flour
1 cup (225g) caster sugar
1 cup (225ml) milk
Stir Herman well and cover again with his cloth.
Day five, six, seven and eight
Each day give Herman a good stir with a wooden spoon
Day nine
Herman needs to be fed again so repeat the ingredients from day four and give him a good stir.

Divide the mixture into four portions, save one portion for making the cake on Day 10, give two portions away to friends and save one portion so you can make Herman again in ten days time.

Day 10
Make Herman into a delicious cake.

You will need to add:

1 cup (225g) caster sugar
2 cups (240g) plain (all purpose) flour
2 eggs
two-thirds cup (150ml) cooking oil (I used groundnut)
2 heaped tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 cooking apples, peeled, cored and chopped

Then you can add any of the following:

2 tsp cinnamon (I did)
2 tsp mixed spice
¼ cup (40g) nuts (I added hazelnuts)
1 cup (150g) raisins or sultanas
½ cup (60g) chopped chocolate (I did but won’t next time, it just isn’t to my taste with the apples and the cinnamon)
pineapple chunks, cherries, or anything else that takes your fancy.

Mix everything together well, pour into a large greased tin (my instructions say a large roasting tin, I used my cake tin that measures 26cm x 26cm)

Sprinkle ¼ cup (80g) melted butter and ¼ cup (3 tbsp) soft brown sugar over the top of the cake and place in a preheated oven at 180°c, gas mark 4 of the middle shelf of the baking oven of the Aga for 35-45 mins until it feels springy to the touch.

Leave to cool in the tin for ten minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack.  Taste the love in every bite.

Thank you Sarah for giving me Herman.

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59 thoughts on “Herman – The Friendship Cake”

    1. Ooh Flavia, do you know I don’t have the answer to that question. I guess the starter for your sourdough isn’t as rich as this one, with its milk and sugar. But you could compensate for that in the recipe perhaps. Otherwise it just wouldn’t be so sweet. But actually my answer is that I have no idea. If you try it let me know. If anyone else has an answer to this question please let Flavia know.

  1. Sorry to be the doom-monger here. Herman lived with me once. I loved him too. But really, how many cakes can a family eat? And how many friends want to be given their very own Herman? Not many in my experience. Shh. Don’t tell anyone. I went on holiday eventually, and ‘forgot’ to have him lovingly looked after…….

    Now the living breathing presence of a sourdough starter is something different. I fostered one of those for simply ages, back in the days when I too had an Aga. That really was a perfect marriage!

    1. Ha ha, poor Herman! No, you are right and I don’t think you need to feel (too) guilty about letting him die. I think I will make one more because I want to tinker and then I will try to find the whole lot a new home or mine might too face a sad end ;).

      1. I stuck my Herman in the freezer, until such time as I’m ready to try him out again. Only trouble is, not sure exactly where he is now or what he’s in!

  2. I read about Herman in an online newspaper….and I did wonder how many friends you could manage to give some to, before they were giving some to each other! I’d love to try making one cake at least, though….it does look truly delicious! Does it have a bit of a tang, like sourdough bread? Is the texture different because the flour has been worked on? I suppose the only way to find out is to make my own starter as you are too away to get a Herman from!

    1. Hi Wendy, it doesn’t have a noticeable tang. It is very moist, with the addition of the apple and the butter poured on top before it goes in the oven. I wish I could send you some, but I think he might have died by the time he gets to Kuala Lumpur.

  3. I am totally loving this concept and think I may need to start my own Herman. The cake looks mighty fine too so its good to know that there is a lovely treat at the end of it for everyone too ;0)

  4. I have read about Herman but have never come across a recipe before using a starter to make a cake. He must be worth it, your cake looks delicious. He does seem to need a lot of attention though!

  5. Just cooked my second Herman (a cousin of your one I think) and it went down really well with the family again. Bit of a problem with 3 year old helper delaying me a bit, leaving me with not quite enough cooking time before the school run. I cooked it for 30 mins and then had to turn off the oven and go out. Very slightly stodgy in the middle as a result but I think I got away with it as it’s a moist cake anyway. Boys had it for pudding with Custard.

    I’m going to do one more then put him into retirement as it’s a bit of a faff (for me) after a while. I think what I need is a Herman replica recipe that I don’t need to plan 10 days in advance. Needs apple, raisins, cinnamon and brown sugar and butter on the top. Any suggestions?

    1. Ah Simon, I recognise a challenge when I see one. I will give it some thought and present you with an alternative. By the way, I can’t believe that particular three year old os any trouble at all.

    2. Lesley-Ann Boshoff

      When you get tired of stirring and feeding BAKE 2 Herman cakes and freeze the 2nd one for emergencies!

  6. OK, make me a Whisky and Honey Cheesecake and you can have that particular three year old. I know you like a challenge!

    1. Aw thanks for caring VBB. All is well. I have been cooking and baking but just things that are already posted here. I am trying to reduce some inches from the growing waistline so baking has been limited to the kids’ favourite things which I have invariably already posted about. I am working on a cake though and will post again soon I promise. xx

  7. I admit my face fell when my friend Emily thrusted a plastic tub of yeasty smelling goo at me. Herman had a bumpy ride home in the footwell of my car and is currently festering on a window sill. I admit to a certain amount of trepidation but your yummy picture fills me with hope. I shall definitely try the nuts etc. Lovely website Kath, keep up the good work X

  8. Hi Kath
    Glad you like Herman, I love him because even I can get a perfect cake every time, no matter what I put in it. I am going to try a cherry and almond/coconut one next but will leave out the cinnamon. Enjoying yours and everyones tips

  9. OMG!!! My son brought home a box of Herman, my first thoughts were.. is it a sour dough starter? When I went through the accompanying A4 sheet of paper with instructions, thought it was a nice idea, but was sceptical about the whole ethos of passing it on to friends. So it is lovely to see that Herman has travelled, and quite well at that.

    Herman presently is waiting patiently in the freezer as I have been away on holiday!

    Enjoying browsing through blogs on the site, and reading through the comments.

  10. Lesley woollven

    Some 35 years ago when my children were little ‘the friendship’ cake did the rounds and was a big success and now I have recently been given a ‘Herman’ again. Can report that he will survive even if you forget to give TLC on the appropriate days. Ask him to forgive you and he comes up trumps. I’ve played about with the sugar content too because he seemed too sweet and the results were scrummy. Now, I’m very interested in the starter recipe as I have laid Herman to rest again-you get fed up with cake even if you mess about with the recipe. I’d also be interested to know if the defrosted portion works again?

  11. Lynne Worsfold

    Was given Herman by a friend next door-but-one and read the instructions with fear, although I have kept him going until the third day and am planning to feed and cook him on Wedesday (10th day). Sadly he won’t have any brothers to pass on the magic.

  12. Does anyone know the shelf life of the Herman starter goo? I was given some and followed the instructions, made a lovely cake for my family to eat on day 10, but have been very lax about sharing him with my friends…does it matter if it’s gone way beyond the 10 days? He looks just the same as when he arrived but a bit bigger!

  13. Kath – I was given a Herman at the weekend – well 2 actually, 1 to bake and 1 to feed. I made the classic apple and cinnamon which was delish and went down v well at work. But there are some disattisified cinnamon-haters. So for next week’s cake I was thinking of trying pear and chocolate chunks, but I think it needs another flavour to compensate for the lack of cinnamon. What do you think to vanilla extract and possibly chucking in some ground almonds? I get the feeling that I can’t really go wrong with the Herman, but I might be wrong and would value a second opinion before I get my apron out!

    1. Hi Gail, I agree that you can’t really go wrong. Pear and chocolate sounds like a lovely combo and both vanilla and almonds would be delicious in there. I think I would be tempted to use flaked almonds rather than ground though to give a nutty bite to it. Or how about chopped hazelnuts? Ooh the possibilities are endless. Just make sure that you avoid the cinnamon with chocolate mistake that I made. I love cinnamon but not with chocolate. Won’t be doing that again. Enjoy!

  14. Thanks Kath, will have a go with flaked almonds and let you know what it turns out like. I agree cinnamon and chocolate just clash, not good. Now I’ve just got to wait another 4 days til he’s ready for baking. This is not good for my waistline, I’m still eating the last one up.

  15. For those of you saying that after a while you get fed up of making the same cake over and over, why not sit your final Herman in to four, as instructed, but just give away all three of the four, (or all four if you don’t want a cake!) sourdough starters, and then you will be rid of him forever!

  16. hello, im interested in making your herman cake, can you please tell me what kind of sugar is used to start herman? caster? brown?

    also on day 10- what size eggs are used? and what kind of oil can you use besides groundnut? sunflower oil? or veg oil?

    also are your measurements uk ones or american ones?
    if they are american can you tell me what they are in cups/ tbsp/tsp as i know these are universal.


    1. Hi Louise,
      I would use caster sugar or you could use light soft brown sugar. The latter will make for a more caramel flavour and colour to your cake. The eggs I use are from our own chickens and are all different sizes, but I would recommend medium sized eggs to keep things consistent.
      You can use sunflower or vegetable oil, whichever you have in the kitchen.
      The measurements given for the starter are UK metric. These were the ones given on my instruction sheet and they don’t convert well to American cups for some reason. Then the feeding measurements are given in American cups and UK metric.
      If you don’t have a metric scale then I think the following will work for the starter:
      3 cups flour
      1 cup caster sugar
      2 cups milk
      quarter cup of warm water
      2 tbsp easy bake yeast.
      You want it to be just about pourable off a spoon. So add a splash more water if you think it needs it.
      Then just following the cup instructions for the feeding measurements.
      I hope it tastes lovely and enjoy the process.

      1. hi thanks for the reply, but i thought cup measures were universal? spoke to a lady from america and she said cups were the same there as here (uk)?

        My scale measures in ounces, not grams- uk. Any idea what the gram measurements (for the starter and for feeding) will be in uk ounces?

        Also Iv got some easy bake yeast in my fridge in the small tin it came in, but iv had it for several months i think- it looks ok but how long does yeast last?

      2. Hi Louise,
        The best reference to use is http://www.deliaonline.com/conversion-tables.html. Delia shows the conversions for grams, cups and ounces. Cups are universal in a sense, you can use any size cup as long as you use the same one throughout the recipe but when it comes to conversion to grams a cup of flour weighs differently to a cup of sugar or a cup of rice etc. Delia will show conversions for all three on the link above (thank goodness for Delia!). If I were you I would invest in a new tin of yeast. The cool temperature of the fridge may have killed it. If you don’t use yeast very often you might find the 7g sachets are your best buy as they are sealed. Good luck and please do let me know how you get on. Kath

      3. lol thanks just looked at delias conversion chart-its not gonna be much if any help, because it doesnt say the exact measurements for the flour, so if i use your adapted recipe of: 3 cups flour, 1 cup caster sugar, 2 cups milk, quarter cup of warm water, 2 tbsp easy bake yeast, for the starter then can i use the cup measurements throughout- will that work?

  17. oops lol didnt see that last bit you put about following the cup measurements for the feedings! ignore my last comment.

  18. Hi Kath, the pear, almond and chocolate cake is a huge success. Me and the kids are munching through large slices now… I omitted the cinnamon and Apple, replaced it with 2 tspns of almond essence, 2 roughly chopped conference pears, about 50g of chopped milk chocolate (as I had some left from Easter eggs!) And about 50g of ground almonds. Yes I was going to use flakes as per your original suggestion, but when I came to bake it I realised I had none left. So instead of mixing it altogether, I sprinkled the almonds into a sort of middle layer. It worked really well, but I think the almond essence made it. Marvellous. Now I’ve just got to eat it….

    1. Ooh I like the sound of the almond middle layer. I made a pear and almond cake this week too, which I am sure was inspired by our discussion. Really glad that you are enjoying it. Can you send me a piece over the ether?

  19. I wish I could, these Herman cakes are so huge there’s plenty to go round. Glad you are inspired, I feel useful. Have you got your baking mojo well and truly back? I hope so. The almond has also inspired me by reminding me of Delias Lancaster lemon tart. For something from Britain its got all the flavours of southern Italy and is magic with mascarpone cheese. It’s in her complete cookery course book. Let me know what you think 😉

  20. Elizabeth Squires

    I was given a Herman starter by a friend and she also gave me a sample of the cooked cake which was delicious, very spongy and almost a muffin like texture. I couldn’t wait to get started. I had an exciting 10 days nurturing the bubbling mix and then cooked him. I followed all the measurements exactly using a measure which had an English cup section on it. I was surprised at how big the mix was. I had to use my Christmas cake tin and decided to line it with greaseproof paper to prevent any overcooking round the edges. I cooked at Gas 4 in the middle of the oven and tested after 50 mins but it was still visibly soft on top so kept him in longer going back regularly to check and eventually took him out after 2 hrs!! He looked promising but when I cut into him once cool, find he is undercooked and gooey. I am so disappointed. What have I done wrong and is there any salvage possible? I was wondering about putting a slice in the microwave to see if it will cook more then serve as a pudding. I have kept some starter so will try again and maybe use a roasting tin as I am wondering if the cake tin was too deep/big. Any advice? Elizabeth

    1. Hi Elizabeth,
      I am sorry to hear about your trouble with Herman. It is a big cake. Did you split the starter into four at the start? My instructions said a roasting tin and the tin I used is a large square one and it meant that the cake depth was fairly shallow. I think your Christmas cake tin might have meant that the cake was too deep to cook all the way through. I would definitely recommend trying it again and cooking it in a roasting tin. I would certainly give the microwave a whirl, you have nothing to lose and you might just find yourself with a delicious dessert. Don’t give up on your remaining starter and give it another go. Let me know how you get on the second time around and whether microwaving worked.

  21. Hi, I’ve cooked a few Hermans, didn’t much like the apple one (too stodgy) but came across a double choc recipe which is amazing, like a giant chocoloate muffin! I’d like to try a coconut/almond/cherry version, does anyone have any ideas of quantities I should use please?

    1. Hi Poodle, I think the Herman is quite forgiving with quantities. I would add 100g of ground almonds, 60g coconut, 40g cherries and see how that goes. I haven’t tried it myself so can’t vouch for it, but I am sure it will be delicious.

  22. Hi Kath. 2 tablespoons of yeast for a pound of flour sounds like a lot? I looked on Delia and she uses teaspoons so now I’m wondering if it should be teaspoons… which ever it is, can you post the weight? I’d like to use fresh yeast. Doves have a good conversion chart but it’s by grams.

    1. Hi Wendy, thanks for the question. When I made this cake I was handed the starter and the instructions for making it were as listed but with my experience in yeast cookery since I made this cake I agree that 2 tbsps of yeast does sound like a lot. If I was making it now I would use the absolute minimum of yeast, especially in a starter, if any at all really. I would probably try to get it started with wild yeasts. If you don’t feel comfortable doing that then I would recommend that you use either a scant teaspoon of easy bake yeast, or 10g or half an ounce of fresh yeast to get your starter activated. Thanks for pointing this out to me, I am going to make a new starter using the scant teaspoon to test out the method so that I confidently change the recipe. I do appreciate you bringing it to my attention. Let me know how you get on with the fresh yeast. Very best Kath

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