Meet Herman, the cake

A few weeks ago there was a knock at the door on Saturday afternoon….who could it be? Too late for the postman, no guests expected….I sent lovely husband to find out, just in case it was a salesperson ;o

It was the next door neighbour with a plastic tub and a piece of paper and muttering something about Herman…..husband, I believe, looked bemused so she said ‘give it to Linda she will know what Herman is’ and thrust the box and paper into his hands.

And so it came to pass that we were the recipients of a Herman the German Friendship Cake sourdough starter. The chain letter of baking.

Herman's care program

I had seen mention of Herman by a few other bloggers over the last year and not being a cake baker or eater was rather hoping he wouldn’t land in my kitchen. But land he had.

In common with most chain letters the friendship element is somewhat undermined by the way in which you feel compelled to do as the letter asks or feel guilty for breaking the chain. A sort of low grade emotional blackmail that I hope doesn’t exist in real friendships! In the case of Herman the the emotional pull comes from the fact that you might apparently kill him if you don’t look after him:

‘You cannot put me in the fridge or I will die. If I stop bubbling, I’m dead’

Oh good, not so much as a gift more a kind of burden. Apparently you also have to do everything on the exact right day or it won’t work.

That said it does feel quite nice to be given something by the neighbours in a world were we mostly only say hello in passing.

Probably if you have read much of my blog or if you happen to know me then you’ll know I’m not one to follow a recipe without making tweaks. And so it was with Herman.

I decided it would be sort of fun to see if he worked and also fun to see if he would still work if I broke some of the rules. After all I know from my bread baking that you don’t kill sourdough by putting it in the fridge you just slow it down and you don’t kill it if you don’t quite feed it to program and if it looks like its breathing its last you can usually revive it.

So I sort of followed the instructions but as day 10 (the day to bake the cake) was going to fall on a work day when I was with a client I mashed it up a bit and just extending the process so that I could make the cake at the weekend. I also knew that on day 9 I was unlikely to see anyone to share the starter with (plus I wasn’t sure I wanted to oblige a further 3 people to make a cake) so the surfeit of Herman starter is in the fridge and he looks a little listless but he sure isn’t dead.

Finished cake

The cake mix seemed a little dry so I added some extra milk when mixing it, possibly a mistake as the resulting cake although cooked through was so moist and soft it fell apart when you tried to slice it. I baked for the longer time as most people seemed to think this gave a better result. Taste wise it was really good a little on the sweet side for me (look at all that sugar in the instructions). As ever we only got about half way through before we forgot about it only to find it a week later alive and kicking with mould.

Verdict:

– if you like cake and you want to experiment with sourdough this is an easy way to start

– if you like the idea of sharing cake mix with neighbours then you’ll love this

– don’t believe the emotional blackmail of Herman dying –  he won’t and you don’t have to pass him on, breaking the chain is never a diaster

You can find more about Herman here should you want to start your own, or receive one and need to find out more.

Scandilicious buns…

Today I got to sample some of ace baker Scandilicious buns.

She’s been madly baking test batches of recipes for possible inclusion in her next cookbook (out next year and all about Scandi baking).

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Wow.

I’m not renowned for my sweet tooth and neither is my husband but these were just the ticket with our morning coffee (we shared one of each so there are some left for tomorrow).

The round one with custard is a Skolebolle and the other an almond twist.

We particularly loved that they were sweet enough but not crazily so whilst the dough had a lovely gentle spice to it.

I’m hoping they make the cut for the book.

(And big thanks to Sig for the bag of free buns)

Use yer loaf….

At the weekend I saw Dan of @FoodUrchin was disputing the kneading technique that I favour and that I learnt from @dan_lepard (yes two Dan’s already).

He didn’t belive that you could get a great loaf with such minimal kneading (3 lots of 10 seconds).

Those in the know on Twitter told him to try it and see.

He later came back with impressive results.

And it reminded me I hadn’t baked in a while so yesterday I decided to make the same recipe.

Well sort of.

I adapted it a bit with guidance from @dan_lepard to 50:50 wholewheat and white flour.

Brilliant stuff.

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For a 50:50 loaf you only need 3/4 tsp fast action yeast and rising takes less time, just let it increase by 50% rather than doubling.

And really tasty.

Lovely lavender biscuits

Reading several other blogs recently (particularly ‘Domestic Goddess in Training’ talking about Bara Brith) made me think it was about time I did a little bit of baking. And visitors scheduled for later this week clinched the deal. What better to offer with tea or coffee than homemade biscuits or perhaps a fruitcake?

First up the biscuits – I fancied cooking something that would have a hint of summer to come and so I hit on one of my favourite tried and tested recipes (and, I know, well liked by these particular guests). The recipe is from Sybil Kapoor’s Simply British – a lovely book of unusual recipes using classic British ingredients.

You will need:

4oz/115g softened butter (I prefer to use unsalted though it doesn’t specify that in the recipe)
2oz/55g caster sugar
zest 1 unwaxed lemon
3 teaspoons of lavender flowers stripped off the stem (hopefully ones from your own lavender bushes that you have dried and saved or I’ve found them online at Phytobotanica)

6oz/170g plain flour
caster sugar for dusting 

Heat the oven to Gas 2/150C/300F and have 2 greased baking sheets ready – you’ll get about 16 biscuits.

Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest until it’s pale and light in texture. Then mix in the lavender flowers followed by the flour – use your hands as this will keep the butter warm and help incorporate the flour. You are aiming for a stiff but not too crumbly ball of dough – it will take a while to get to this stage (5 minutes or more). 



Then roll out the dough between two sheets of baking paper until it’s only a few millimetres thick. Cut out the biscuits in whatever shape pleases you (yesterday I had to use an unturned wine glass because I couldn’t find the cookie cutters – it still worked). Place the biscuits on the trays using a palette knife – they are quite fragile so take care. Obviously use up all the scraps of dough, which will mean a few odd shapes for the cook to try later. Bake in the centre of the oven for 25-30 minutes until lightly brown – I usually start checking after 20 minutes to see how things are going. Transfer to a cooling rack immediately and dust with caster sugar. 

They are wonderfully crumbly, melting in the mouth, the lavender flavour is quite rich and the lemon zest helps balance this nicely. Eat with abandon – though I defy you to manage more than 3 in a sitting.

Now lets just hope I haven’t eaten them all before my guests arrive……..