Monday, September 9, 2013

Herman the German Friendship Cake

The weekend before last, some of my Sydney posse made the trip south for a girls' night. Over lychee martinis and sparkling wine, we cooked and we chatted and we ate, oh, we ate. Amidst all the excitement, one of the ladies - a fellow knitting-baking type - poured  a beige substance from a plastic container into a bowl, covered it with a tea towel and set it on the sideboard, muttering something about feeding schedules and fridge avoidance. I didn't think much of it. We were already heavily into the gyoza and peking duck pancakes.

The next day I came across the bowl and the printed instructions beside it. It didn't take me long to realise this was the cake equivalent of a chain letter, or those emails that you have to send to 10 friends within 30 seconds lest your head explode. Only this chain letter had an element of suspense and the very real prospect of a tasty reward at the end.

It was a weighty responsibility. For 10 days I attended to Herman. I stirred him daily and fed him when the instructions told me to. He fermented and bubbled away with an air of nonchalance. At one point a couple of days ago, I noticed an unusual aroma and wondered if someone might have left an open beer bottle lying around. And today, day 10, I got to turn him (or a quarter of him, at least) into a cake - a sourdough German Friendship Cake.

Dense, dark and chewy, filled to the brim with apple and walnuts and cinnamon, Herman was every bit the fresh-baked delight I had hoped for. I am so smitten that instead of giving away the three remaining portions of the sourdough to friends today, as instructed, I kept one for myself to tend to for another 10 days. And the two friends I chose to pass on the duty bounty today, both keen bakers, took on the challenge with some bemusement, but mostly a good old-fashioned muck-in attitude, aware of the responsibility they were being given and keen to take it on.

I often bake cakes for friends, on special occasions or just because. And I'm getting good at handing out wedges of cake to people when I've got too much at home, due to a recipe or photo commission. That's what I think of when I think of friendship cake. But this - this is entirely different. "Here, friend, take this tub of bubbling ferment, my gift to you. You need to look after it, don't let it die whatever you do. And guess what - in  10 days it will be a cake...except you have to bake it yourself. Enjoy!" 

And enjoy I did. Thank you, lovely Beth, for the experience. I'm wondering if this might have been the trial run I needed to finally get a start on my own sourdough bread.

Have you heard of the German Friendship Cake? Has it passed through your town? Have you made it before?


  1. Oh, that's so great! I kept a portion for myself too. Though yours look so much yummier than mine. A friend only added half the sugar and another left the sugar out all together and made bread. So! sourdough coming right up! It does make the kitchen smell lovely. I think I'll do a variation for my next bake and see if the kids will eat it next time. xx

  2. We call it Amish bread here. If you get stuck with some, you have to sneak the pass-alongs into other people's bags. I'm not sure why it's such a furtive thing--the bread is really good--but I think that's just part of the game.

  3. I have heard of it! It passed through my childhood home when I was a wee teen, and I remember taking good care of it too. The only problem was, being a teen, I had no one to really give it too. Perhaps thats why my head exploded. :-)


  4. That looks gorgeous although I'm still drooling over Lychee martinis xo

  5. Oh I love this cake! I remember my mum making it when I was little and in the last couple of years I've been given two or three. I love the flavour and always omit the nuts for as many glace cherries as I can reasonably fit into the cake. You can never have too many cherries in a cake, I think. It's delicious. And people's reactions to being offered some of the starter dough range from "Yes please!!" to "What the hell is that smell? No thanks." So funny. xx

  6. Ooh this looks amazing, never heard of a 'pass a bit of the batter on to a mate' cake before. mel x

  7. Dearest Greer, I had not heard of this bread until I read this book: Friendship Bread, by Darien Gee and this is what it's all about - the starter, Amish bread, cooking and friends!! I think you'd love it, has recipes inside too, try and get yourself a copy! look forward to hearing what you make with it next :) love lisa xxx

  8. That looks amazing! I actually did make sourdough last year but the starter was killed (tragic) and I still haven't got round to another, although it's definitely been on my mind. I followed the river cottage instructions which were really clear, and documented it if you want to have a look: xx

  9. Hello! Yummo...can you send recipe??? Wolly

  10. I've never heard of this cake. It does sound like quite an experience. Love your blog by the way.


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