The Dominion Post
FRIENDSHIP cakes are also called Herman cakes (often simply called ‘‘Herman’’). Unlike most cakes, this one uses a live ‘‘starter’’ as the base, much like a sourdough bread. The starter is made from yeast, flour, milk and sugar and is left to ferment for 10 days. Because of the amount of yeast it contains, it smells distinctly of beer.
Part of the live starter is used to bake a cake and the rest is passed from person to person (like a chain letter) so they can make their own cakes. One starter can, in theory, last indefinitely.
Herman cakes became popular in the 1970s and seem to be having a bit of a resurgence now. Fermented foods are on-trend right now, but Herman’s popularity may also have something to do with the culture of sharing the starter among friends.
When someone receives Herman (the starter) from a friend, it will typically be presented in a small jar or plastic tub along with a set of instructions to guide the recipient through the next 10 days of fermentation. I recommend using a plastic container to pass it on as the starter has been known to explode if left too long in a hot place with a tight lid!
Your friends will need to grow the starter enough for it to be shared with friends. It should sit somewhere warm to ferment – refrigeration will kill it. Cover the starter loosely with a tea towel during fermentation so it can ‘‘breathe’’ and stir it occasionally.
On the 10th day of fermentation, the Herman is divided and turned into a cake. Many ingredients can be added to give variety to the final Herman cake; anything from cinnamon to chocolate or cherries.
The instructions with the starter usually go something like this:
‘‘Hello, my name is Herman. I am a sourdough cake. I’m supposed to sit on your bench 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. Makes 1 cake Preparation: 10 minutes. Cooking: 45 minutes-1 hour Herman starter 1 cup sugar 2 cups plain flour teaspoon salt cup (160ml) cooking oil 2 eggs 2 teaspoons vanilla essence 2 cooking apples, cut into chunks