Saturday, 14 April 2012

The cake of many colours

'Would you like a Herman?' asked the Chief of All the Numpties, all cheerful and pleased with himself. Unwilling to commit to something without knowing anything about it, I requested further details. 'It's this cake that you grow, you feed it and stir it then you cook part of it and give some away and keep some to feed and stir the next week.' I had a dim memory of mum having something like this when we were little, and more recently I remembered my own nurturing of a ginger beer plant, which produced wonderful ginger beer and elevated our weekly sugar consumption to dizzying and unsustainable heights. Enhanced cake consumption would also probably be rather a bad idea, but I quite fancied giving it a go for a bit.

On the Day of Herman Giving, I arrived at work to discover a cheerful orange carrier bag on my desk, and nestling within it a former vegetable soup tub now housing 100ml or so of beige gloop. This was Herman. He was accompanied by a printed note announcing who he was, forbidding his being placed in the fridge lest he should die, and a schedule for his care, cooking and consumption. I pulled the lid back a smidge and was immediately hit with an aroma which combined beer with bakery. Result!

Throughout the day, as I checked on him, I could see that he was growing and growing. After my return from lunch, having forgotten about him, I heard a rustle from my left hand side. I peered across to my next-door colleague but he wasn't there. The noise must therefore have come from Herman. This spooked me just a little bit. Tentatively, I pulled away the carrier. The soup tub was completely full, and the previously flat lid was alarmingly convex. Without thinking, I broke the seal, and with a commendable pop, the buildup of gas within ejected a quantity of Herman over my hands, the bag, and my desk. I may have squeaked in surprise just a little bit. My colleague-in-opposition squealed like a girl, leaped to his feet, muttered in alarm about 'the spores, the spores!' and ran to open a window.

I left him with his lid at a jaunty angle for the rest of the day, and with no further incidents got him home in one piece. I decanted him into a bowl and covered him with a linen cloth, giving him quite the air of mystery and discretion. I introduced him to Junior by telling him that he'd been an only child for long enough and would he like to meet his new brother. He looked alarmed for a second and enquired whether he'd need to share his inheritance with the new arrival; reassured that he wouldn't, he welcomed him in anticipation of baking time next week...

Herman's schedule was based around a ten day cycle. I followed this for the first week but then, not having access to a decimal week, I decided to train him to adapt to a seven day cycle - I can't be doing with baking on different days each week

He gets fed twice a week - one cup each of sugar (I mostly use demerara), plain flour, and milk (I use soya milk). After the second feed he is split into four equal parts: one to keep for next week, one to bake, and two to give away to any willing victim you can find. I have had some success with the Brazil Nut, although she was rather worried about caring for him all week. In the end I pointed out that I can just give her a portion every week and she can go ahead and bake it, and this seemed to her to be an excellent arrangement. If I don't have a recipient for the second giveaway portion, I just make two cakes...

The new arrival

Feeding time at the zoo

All full up

The mixture for my first bake - oil, flour, raisins, baking powder, sugar, eggs and two apples (which I loosely interpreted as meaning 'any old fruit that's lying around and needs using up' which explains why you can see apple, pear and chopped up grapes, one of which looks a bit like a slice of leek but isn't, I promise.

The recipe instructed me to scatter sugar on the top of the cake then to chuck melted butter on before baking. As I would be turning my cake out of the ring mould, I bunged some sugar and butter in the base. Turned out the butter was irrelevant but the sugar has been a constant fixture in subsequent bakes.

Just out of the oven

My First Herman

A slice through an apple and cinnamon delight

His second incarnation, banana and blueberry

Number three - coconut, lemon and apricot

Number four - a reprise of apple and cinnamon

And number five - ground almonds, grated apple, dates and ginger


  1. I've made Herman ginger cakes/loaves this week. Delicious! (lots of chopped stem ginger and sultanas) I always bake Hermans in loaf tins as I found they tended to be soggy in the middle and this cured the problem.

  2. Hi Liz - he does suit ginger rather well doesn't he? The Chief of All the Numpties warned me of the soggy middle so I dusted off my ring-shaped tin. Feels a bit more German too... :)