Naked Fruit Cake aka Mrs Milne’s Christmas Cake with Pineapple

The naked fruit cake

I never knew that fruit cake could be offensive.  That is, until Kiley, an American friend of mine, explained that in the U.S, there’s this tradition that people tend to ‘re-gift’ fruit cakes because they don’t like fruit cakes.  Hence those receiving the cake are kind of being told, “Here I’ve brought you a cake.  I mean, I don’t like it and someone gave it to me.  I guess you probably won’t like it too but hey, now it’s your problem.  And no, I didn’t like what you got up to at the office party.”  Hence, there’s offence in the giving and receiving of fruit cakes in the States.

The ease with which one can buy pineapples, ready to eat (or bake with!) in Cambodia.  This is at the Russian Market, Phnom Penh

Lining this 8inch cake tin for its looooong bake.

Not so in the UK.  I mean, some Brits really dislike fruit cake and would spit it out.  However, most like to eat fruit cake at any given time, from celebrating marriage with a rich boozy fruited wedding cake covered in marzipan and icing to the everyday cup of tea with a sticky slice of fruited malt loaf.  Shall I even mention Christmas cakes, Easter simnel cakes, Dundee cake..?  My mum used to make a fruited tea loaf which was delicious when toasted and buttered.

Perhaps (if I may venture a guess without causing offence) this clear cultural divide over fruit cake is because the majority of Americans have never experienced a good moist fruit cake?  I can relate!  I never really enjoyed eating fruit cake very much either growing up.  Much like how I didn’t really enjoy mince pies.  Too rich, too sweet, too dry, too much whiskey!  But I tolerated them because they were synonymous with Christmas.  I’d peel off the royal icing, give it to my brother and nibble away at the marzipan (which I loved even as a small child).  Sometimes I picked out the fruit when there was too much of it and the dried fruit was really dry and almost bitter.  Or the alcohol overwhelmed the cake.  But, from time to time, a homemade fruit cake would redeem all the bad ones for me.

Then one day at Mrs Milne’s* house, she gave us a slice of her christmas cake.  Oh it was glorious in it’s moistness, flavour and simplicity.  Not overly sweet.  No royal icing.  No marzipan.  No alcohol in this one either.  Just. a. naked. fruit. cake.  Mrs Milne told us that it was the addition of pineapple that set this cake apart, and I believe her.  Whenever I’ve used pineapples in a cake, they often  impart moisture, rather than pineapple flavour to a cake.

Now, over a decade later, it’s still my go-to fruit cake recipe.  I used it as my marathon training cake this time.  It seemed apt to fuel up on.  I left it a couple of weeks in a sealed container in the fridge while I went on holiday to Penang and 4 weeks on, it was still moist and moreish. I baked it for Christmas for Paul, one of my colleagues, because he’d been hankering after fruit cake for as long as I’d worked with him.  3 months on, he still requests I bake him one, once a fortnight, and then complains that he can’t stop himself devouring it.  He likes royal icing but not marzipan, so that’s how I make it for him.

What I love about this recipe is the lack of planning required.  See, I just can’t be bothered with the whole affair of soaking and feeding the fruit weeks or even days in advance.  I don’t have the fridge space for it and I definitely don’t want to leave it out for the ants, cockroaches and rats now that I live in the tropics.  I can pretty much make this cake from start to finish within 2-3 hours, depending on which cake tin I use.  (more on that below).  And now that I can source almost all of the dried fruit here in Phnom Penh, there’s nothing stopping me making this cake all year round.  I still have difficulty finding mixed citrus peel and currants, but it’s so much better compared to 3 years ago.  You can buy bags of mixed dried fruit in Thai Huot but they look weird with chopped red and green cherries perhaps?  So I came up with my own measurements, based on looking at the proportions of the ingredients of a Sainsburys bag of mixed dried fruit.

Anyway, what’s stopping you.  Go on, I dare you not to like this.

If you do add brandy, or whiskey… Then do tell me what you did.  I’ve never bothered, but I might like to one day.

*Mrs Milne was my singing teacher from when I was 14-18 and one of those wonderful, life-giving, energetic, charismatic, generous Scottish women.  I don’t know where she got this recipe from, so I attribute this recipe to her.

Ingredients for Naked Christmas Cake from Mrs Milne.

  • 7oz/200g plain flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 8oz/225g tin crushed pineapple (drained) or 1 fresh small pineapple, skin and eyes taken off.  One weighs between 250-300g here in Cambodia.
  • 2oz/50g glacé cherries, quartered
  • 5oz/150g butter, cubed and softened
  • 4½oz/125g soft dark brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 12oz/350g mixed fruit or
    • 170g sultanas or golden raisins, as they’re called in Cambodia
    • 68g black raisins
    • 62g currants
    • 50g mixed peel
  • Brandy if required.

Method

  1. Chop up the pineapple* very finely and put it into a medium sized bowl.  I guess you could also blitz it in a food processor for speed, but I don’t have one so it’s a knife and the chopping board for me.  *If using tinned pineapple, drain the crushed pineapple first before putting it in the bowl.
  2. Measure out the dried fruit and add them to the pineapple.  If you’re going to add brandy, then add it in now.  Give it all a good stir so that they mix well.  Leave it as you get on with the rest of preparation.  As the dried fruit sits with the pineapple, they’ll get a chance to plump up as they soak in the liquid.
  3. Preheat the oven to 160ºC/320ºF/Gas Mark 2½.  Prepare your cake tin.  Because of the long baking time, I wrapped the outside of my baking tin with newspaper, tied it up with some string.  I also lined the bottom and sides of my cake tin as well.
  4. Measure out the flour in a medium sized bowl and add the chopped glacé cherries to the flour and coat them in flour.  This helps the cherries not to all sink to the bottom of the cake.
  5. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl.  I use a hand mixer on high speed for about 5 minutes.  Next beat in the eggs one by one.  Then lower the speed and mix in the flour with the cherries.  Finally, add the fruit.  You can continue with the hand mixer, or using a spatula, fold in the fruit or give it a good stir.  Whichever way you choose, make sure it’s evenly mixed in.
  6. Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and level the top with the back of metal spoon or the spatula.  Then pop it in the middle shelf of the oven and bake… I do recommend checking on the cake to make sure it doesn’t burn on top.  I’ve put suggested timings below according to cake tin sizes.

I have used various sized cake tins to make this and of course the baking time differs.

  • 8 or 7 inch tin = 1hour 45mins.  Check on it at 1 hour 15mins
  • split the mixture into two 6inch tin = 1 h – 1h 15mins.  Check on it at 45 mins
  • split the mixture into two 2lb loaf tins = 45mins-1hour.  Check on it at 40 mins.

My colleague, Paul, wanted it with royal icing but without the marzipan. So, this is what he got.

Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns

IMG_8934
The best hot cross buns in Phnom Penh!

If my previous post was months in the making, this has been years.

This time 3 years ago, my friend Rachel posted a beautiful photo of her freshly  baked hot cross buns, complete with twinkly fairy lights in the background.  What got me was that she commented on how incredibly delicious they were, much more than any shop bought variety.  She’d used Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns recipe from BBC Good Food, which she said was overly long (two rises).  Regardless, I  promptly tried it out and the resulting buns were life changing to say the least.

I will never buy another hot cross bun again.

IMG_2592
The life changing hot cross buns!

These home made hot cross buns had bags more flavour and were so moist compared to any Best, Finest or Taste the Difference version.  That year (the only year I made two batches of hot cross buns), I must have raved about the experience so much, that I talked another friend, Sarah into baking hot cross buns for the first time.  We tried out Paul’s slightly simplified (one rise) version on BBC Food.  Boom!  What a taste sensation.

Sarah piping crosses onto hot cross buns
Year 1: Initiating Sarah into baking hot cross buns

Then of course I moved out to Cambodia where you can’t buy hot cross buns anyway and baking is a bit of an adventure.  My first year, Sarah and Joe sent me mixed peel because it wasn’t available in Phnom Penh then but the yeast had died so the buns were lumpy fruit rock cakes.  The second year, they tasted good but they looked anaemic: I hadn’t figured out how my oven worked.  This year, post-long bike ride, unaware that it was Good Friday (which is easy to do in Cambodia), I baked my best batch of hot cross buns, since moving out to Cambodia.  It wasn’t until my housemate (another) Sarah was sinking her teeth into a hot freshly baked bun and said, “It’s definitely Good Friday.  It’s definitely Easter”, that I remembered again why we eat hot CROSS buns on Good Friday.  Duh – seriously, where has my brain wandered off to?

IMG_8925
“It’s definitely Good Friday! It’s definitely Easter!” – Sarah

IMG_8921

But seriously, I don’t know why I don’t bake hot cross buns more often.  Oh, yeah, I remember.  It’s an Easter thingy.  And it’s in the weird time of Lent where all my friends have decided to fast from sugar and all that, so by the time I get round to baking them, I only manage to bake the one batch.  Well, this year, I’ve decided that I’m going to try out a tropical version with mangoes, ginger and lime during Khmer New Year.

IMG_8926
One way to keep the ants off your food in a hot country – create an island!

I’ve adapted Paul Hollywood’s recipes a wee bit to add a bit more spice and replace the apricot jam glaze with an orange syrup one.  No reason really, except this last time, I was too lazy to buy apricot jam didn’t want another jam jar cluttering up my fridge.  I reckon it works pretty well.

And I swear that at one time, I watched a Bake Off Masterclass, in which Paul Hollywood baked these and recommended mixing the fruit into the dough inside the mixing bowl.  It’s much more efficient and you don’t have any bits of fruit trying to escape.  It’s not very explicit in his instructions so I’ve changed that too.

IMG_8892

Paul Hollywood’s Hot Cross Buns, adapted from his recipes on BBC Food and BBC Good Food

Ingredients for Hot Cross Buns

For the buns

  • 300ml/10fl oz whole milk
  • 500g/1lb 2oz strong white flour
  • 75g/2½oz caster sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 7g fast-action yeast
  • 50g/1¾oz butter
  • 1 free range egg
  • 150g/5oz sultanas
  • 80g/30z mixed peel
  • 1 apple, cored and chopped
  • 2 oranges, zest only
  • 2tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1tsp mixed spice or 1/2 tsp ground ginger, 1/8 tsp ground cloves, 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg, 1/8 tsp ground coriander, 1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
  • sunflower/vegetable oil for greasing

For the cross

  • 75g/2½oz plain flour
  • about 5 tbsp of water

For the orange syrup glaze

  • 1 tbsp sugar – caster or granulated
  • juice of half an orange.

Method

1. Bring the milk to the boil and then leave to cool until it’s hand hot (i.e 37°C) .  Heating the milk creates a softer dough.

2. In a bowl, measure out the sultanas, mixed peel, cinnamon, mixed spice, orange zest and chopped apple, and then mix them together.

IMG_8895 IMG_8896

3. In a large bowl, mix the flour, yeast, sugar and salt.  Then rub in the butter to the flour, like you’re making short-crust pastry.  Then add the egg and slowly add the milk until you form a sticky dough.

4. Knead the dough for about 10-20 minutes (by hand always takes longer) until it becomes smooth and elastic.

IMG_8897 IMG_8899

5. Now mix in the fruit.  Add the fruit into the large bowl and then spread the dough on top of the fruit so that the fruit is fully covered by the dough.  Then gently try and wrap the dough all around the fruit so that the fruit is fully enclosed.  Don’t worry if you can’t entirely.  Then gently massage the fruit into the dough so that the two are thoroughly combined.  Empty it out onto the side.

IMG_4889IMG_4890IMG_4891

6.  Grease the large mixing bowl using a tablespoon of sunflower/vegetable oil, add the dough back in the bowl and cover it with cling film.  Rest the dough for about 1-2 hours until it has doubled in size.

7. Line a baking tray with baking paper.  Once the dough has risen, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface, and strengthen it.  Bring one side into the middle and press firmly with the palm of your hand, do the same with the other side, then both sides together and press firmly.  Roll out a bit to so that it’s easier to divide.  Divide into 3 equal parts and into 5 again, so that you have 15 pieces altogether.  Lightly flour the surface in order to roll each piece a smooth ball.  Arrange the buns on a baking tray lined with baking paper, leaving just enough space so that buns touch when they expand.  Lightly cover with oiled clingfilm or a damp tea towel.  Leave to rise for an hour.

Top tip: to roll the balls, turn the sides into the middle, then turn over so that the seam side is on the bottom.  Make your hand into a claw shape and roll the ball inside your claw and move your hands quickly in circles – et voilà, smooth balls!

IMG_4894IMG_4895IMG_4896IMG_8909

8.  Pre-heat the oven to 220°C/425°F/Gas Mark 7.

9. Meanwhile, prepare the mixture of the crosses.  Measure out the flour.  Add in the water, 1 tablespoon at a time, until it forms a smooth, thick paste.  It needs to be pipe-able, not too thin so that it disappears when it bakes and not too thick that it’s impossible to pipe.  Put the paste into a piping bag.

10.  Once the buns have risen, pipe crosses onto the buns, by piping a line along each row of buns and then repeat in the other direction.  The crosses want to hug the sides of the buns.

IMG_8910IMG_8913IMG_8914

11. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.

12.  Measure out the sugar and orange juice into a small saucepan and melt the sugar over a gentle heat.  Brush the orange syrup over the warm buns and leave them to cool.

IMG_8919

13.  Gently break the buns apart and enjoy.

Verdict?  They were the best hot cross buns in Phnom Penh!

IMG_8936
The perfect easter breakfast – coffee and hot cross buns!

Understudies in Nigella’s Chocolate Banana Bread: Introducing Whiskey and Currants

img_1846.jpg
I know this is a rather strange title for a recipe: this is another one of my cakes that appeared, as it were, from the magic created when the actors of a recipe are not there, one looks for the understudies and BOOM! the result is far better than the original. I say ‘another’ because it isn’t the first time that I’ve improvised with ingredients whilst baking. My baking history is chequered with them, for example the courgette and walnut cake when my cupboard lacked most of the ingredients in and the carrot and pinenut cake that was created when I put baking powder in the wrong bowl of herman…

img_1818.jpg
The smell of this banana cake, that I conjured up, is of Christmas. No wonder as I used sloe whiskey and currants to substitute the called for dark rum and sultanas, respectively.

Have you ever come across – ? No! Have you ever tasted a banana cake that’s like a Christmas cake? You’ll now start posting recipes in my comments box to tell me of various banana cake recipes that do 🙂 *giggle* I would welcome them.

While I’m asking – do you know what makes a cake into a bread? I don’t know. Why is it that most banana cakes call themselves breads? Is it to do with the loaf tin that they are made in?

mixing egg
So… a confession. I made this cake because I was being made to pack up house, again! Do you remember the previous times that I moved flat and I found myself just having to make two lemon and ginger cheesecakesand bramble jelly? My fellow resident tutors and flat movers, David and Lucy, were really worried about the lengths that I went to avoid putting things away. So now, I’m very aware that I bake to distract myself from the pain of packing boxes; there’s always good reason. This time, I had a hoard of frozen bananas, 12 as it turned out, that needed to be used up. Well, why not strike a compromise with the chore of packing and this golden (brown) opportunity, and try out quick and easy banana bread recipes.

So, I did with Nigella’s and Deb’s (from Smitten Kitchen).

 

According to Nigella (How to be a Domestic Goddess), ‘[T]his is the first recipe anyone hesitant about baking should try: it’s fabulously easy and fills the kitchen with that aromatic fug which is the natural atmospheric setting for the domestic goddess.’Well that sold it to me… as if I needed any convincing. Nevertheless, there are even easier, equally enticing banana cakes out there. Cue: Smitten Kitchen’s Jacked Up Banana Bread. I made her banana bread at the same time that I made Nigella’s and it is just a tad easier to make. I’ll post that recipe later, because this variation of Nigella’s banana bread recipe, with the whiskey and currants, supersedes it in taste, flavour and richness.

 

banana and chocolate cake ingredients

 

Ingredients (and a suggestions box of other substitutes for the dried fruit and liquor at the bottom of this post)

  • 100g currants.
  • 75ml sloe whiskey, or any whiskey
  • 150g plain flour
  • 25g cocoa powder
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g unsalted butter, melted
  • 90-100g soft brown sugar
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 large or 4 small very ripe bananas, mashed (about 300g in weight with the skins off)
  • 60g chopped walnuts
  • 100g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

Method

1. Put your chosen dried fruit and liquor into a small saucepan (I measured the currants and whiskey directly in the saucepan for ease) and bring to the boil. Now, remove from the heat, cover the saucepan and leave for an hour or so, in order that the currants can plump up as they absorb the most of the liquid. After which, Nigella says, to drain the currants. I decided it was a waste of the sloe whiskey, so I ended up adding it all, currants and whiskey, to the cake mix at the appropriate step. I’m rushing ahead of myself here. While the currants are plumping up, move on with the rest of the recipe.

2. Preheat the oven to 170°C/325°F/gas mark 3 and line a 2lb loaf tin. I only have a 1.5 lb loaf tin and it just about manages it.

banana and flour
3. Measure out the plain flour, cocoa powder into a medium sized bowl. Now add in the bicarbonate of soda, baking powder, salt and give them all a good mix with a metal or wooden spoon. This means that you don’t get any lumps of salt, cocoa powder or bicarbonate of soda in the eventual cake.

4. Melt the butter. I’ve used both methods of carefully zapping butter in the microwave (um, careful and zap don’t seem to be natural partners but what other word describes what happens in a microwave?) and melting it in a saucepan. Both work. If you are going to zap it in the microwave, choose a large pyrex bowl that is big enough to make the cake mixture in, as it will save on the washing up later.

stirring butter and sugaradding the banana - looks really yummy!
5. Once melted, add the sugar to the butter and stir well until the sugar is well blended into the butter. It should look almost toffee-like in colour because of the brown sugar. Follow with the eggs. Beat them in, one at a time, to the sugary buttery mixture then add the mashed bananas and beat well.

6. Now add the currants and the remainder of the liquid in the saucepan, along with the walnuts, vanilla extract and the chopped chocolate to the mixture and stir well.

adding the chocolate, nut and fruitadding flour to chocolate banana mixture
7. Add in the flour mix (see 3) but do it a third at time, stirring well after each addition. Once all of the dry mixture is mixed in, add the cake mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for 1 hour. I check after 40 minutes and if the cake looks like it is browning at the top too quickly, then I cover it with some baking paper to protect the cake from burning. Sometimes the cake takes a little bit longer to bake, so don’t worry if it needs an extra 15-20 minutes in the oven. You’ll know when the cake is done when you insert a cake tester, or I use a sharp knife, into the cake and it comes out clean.

adding flour to chocolate banana mixwet banana and chocolate cake mix_1wet chocolate and banana cake mix_2
8. Leave the cake in the loaf tin to cool down completely, before slicing it up to eat. It does smell absolutely heavenly at the point the cake leaves the oven, but the inside of the cake steams up and collapses if you cut into it when it’s warm. Trust me. I made that mistake last week at Baking Club when we were far too impatient to wait because we were experimenting with various liquors and naturally wanting to taste the different flavours.

Verdict? Scrum-dili-O-cious. Honestly, this version is truly scrumptious and rich in flavour. I’ve made a few variations (listed below) but there is something to be said about how the flavours of whiskey, chocolate and banana complement each other and stand their ground against each other in this cake. You know how I said to leave the cake to cool down completely before cutting into it. I discovered that this cake gets better with age. The chocolate, whiskey and banana mature well together if you can bear to leave it a day or two before eating it and you’ll have a more complex flavour to savour. Leave the cake in an airtight container for at least a week and it won’t dry out… if it lasts that long!

Baking Club came round last Wednesday laden with various liquors. We tried a few out.

  • Banana, Date and Toffee Bread: 100g chopped up dried dates, 75ml of butterscotch schnapps, subsitute half of the soft brown sugar with dark brown sugar. I’d also leave out the 25g of cocoa powder with replace it with plain flour so that the toffee has a chance of coming through.
  • The original Banana and Chocolate Bread: 100g sultanas, 75ml dark rum – this is Nigella’s original recipe. Tastes alright but the whiskey and currants one tastes even better. I might try this one out later without the chocolate and compare it to Smitten Kitchen’s version.
  • Banana, Apricot and Chocolate Bread: 100g chopped up dried apricots, 75ml apricot brandy. – gave this one away before tasting it.

chocolate banana whiskey currant bread
 

An alternative to Christmas cake, perhaps?

A Carrot, Sultana and Pinenut Cake with a secret – he’s Herman!


carrot, sultana, pinenut muffins
This is my favourite Herman cake recipe because it is so flavoursome and moist.

I have never been honoured with so many requests for this recipe from foodies, which confirms my suspicions that this is the BEST variation on Herman cake. So, here it is, by popular demand. (Plus, this medium has the added benefit of being far more convenient than sending the recipe multiple times via text or email to my colleagues and friends who have been asking me for this recipe.)

This cake is a wonderful example of how you can improvise successfully when baking (another example would be the Courgette and Walnut Cake). This time, I made the mistake of putting baking powder in the wrong bowl of mini herman, had run out of apples and was thus forced to improvise an alternative Herman cake, with ingredients I had on hand. Thus, the delicious Carrot, Sultana and Pinenut Cake was born, and proved far tastier than it’s apple/pear and cranberry counterpart.

The inspiration for the pinenuts is probably from my love of korean and italian cuisine: it would appear to be a popular ingredient in both countries. Essentially, it is the pinenuts that make this cake what it is, so please don’t scrimp and omit them.

Perhaps some of you, who have tended to Herman for a few cycles, have similar sentiments to my own towards Herman. I find it restricting to be tied into baking a Herman cake every 10 or so days. Then the thought of baking the same cake over and over again, kills the joy of baking with such a quirky ingredient. I’ve spoken to enough of you herman cake bakers to know that you empathise with my need to deviate from the standard apple/cinammon/sultana cake. So, for all of you attentive Herman carers out there, this is a recipe is dedicated to you.

Ingredients

  • one measure of Herman (a cup)
  • 150g self raising flour
  • 100g demerara sugar
  • 1tsp mixed spice
  • 1tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 2 eggs, beaten (see note below referring to doubling the recipe)
  • 100ml vegetable or sunflower oil
  • 2 large or 3 small grated carrots, which is approx. anything between 150g-200g.
  • 50g pinenuts
  • 50g sultanas

Note: For a double batch, rather than use 4 eggs, I did the vinegar and bicarbonate of soda trick of substituting an egg. Austerity measures are required when baking endless cycles of Hermans.

Method

1. I like to soak the sultanas first by putting them in a small heatproof bowl and covering them with boiling water. If you’re super-organised, then do this a few hours beforehand. This will mean that your sultanas are plump and juicy once baked, rather than dry and hard.

2. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4 and line a 2lb loaf tin, or line a muffin tin with paper cases. I think that it will make about 18 muffins, depending on how high you fill the cases.

3. Measure out the flour, sugar and spices and make a well in the middle. Add in Herman, the vegetable oil and the beaten eggs. Mix thoroughly.

dry ingredients hermanadding hermancarrot cake herman batter
4. Drain the sultanas and add the sultanas to the mixture, along with the grated carrots and pinenuts. Give it a good mix.

herman loaf tinherman muffin tin
5. Pour the mixture into the loaf tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 50 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. Check at 40 minutes and if the top is browning too quickly, cover it with baking paper or foil. If you are going to make the muffins, then dollop a tablespoon of mixture in each of the cases. This way, there’ll be space to put on the optional cream cheese frosting. Bake the muffins for 20-25 minutes, or until the cake tester comes out clean. Leave the cake/muffins to cool for 5 minutes and then let it cool completely on a wire rack.

The verdict?

Delicious, served on its own or with a dollop of icecream/greek yoghurt. I’ve frozen the muffins for another occasion and planning on topping them with a plain cream cheese frosting.

herman familydressing for work
On Sunday morning, I baked a double batch of this and produced a wee family of these cakes. In addition to the loaf tin, the mini muffin tin came out, and I borrowed some normal sized muffin tins from a friend. Later on the Monday, I dressed the loaf for work.

And what happened to Herman?

Well, Herman lives on in my flat: I didn’t have the heart to finish him off this weekend. I baked a double quantity of my favourite Herman recipe (the carrot, sultana and pinenut cake) and prepared batter for Herman pancakes before I realised that I wasn’t quite ready to say goodbye to Herman… yet.

p.s I couldn’t help but notice that Herman has been featured on the Guardian‘s Life and Style recently. It’s amusing how a yeasty goo mixture has madeit onto a national paper. I give props to Lizzie Enfield for pushing my teenage, red-haired, kitchen inhabitantinto the limelight. At some point I mean to write a blog post, entitled ‘100 days of Herman’ with photos of the various Hermans I’ve produced, from pancakes to streusel coffee cake (thanks allrecipes), by way of celebration. It would have be retrospective given that the 100 day mark has already passed us by. Watch this space.

Herman, the friendship cake.

Let me introduce you to Herman. He’s been living in my kitchen for a few months.

herman growing

If that hasn’t put you off, then read on.

Herman is a sourdough starter cake, aka Amish Friendship cake. David first described him to me, when one of his colleagues gave him a Herman:

David: “So, I leave him out in a bowl on the side for a few days. I have to talk to him! And feed him with milk, flour and sugar.

Me: “Can’t you put him in the fridge? Won’t the milk go off? Why do you have to leave him out?”…

A few days later, David told me that he has gotten rid of Herman. Herman was smelly and had been cluttering his worktop.

If I can be frank with you. I’d suggest that David’s colleague misjudged him in thinking that David and Herman would pair up well. David is a good cook but a ‘meat and 2 veg’ kind of guy. So, this type of cake didn’t stand much of a chance with him.

Well, a few weeks later, Emily asked me if I’d heard of Herman. She had one growing in her kitchen and reported that the herman cake she’d tried was alright. She was still alive, and proof that eating Herman is somewhat safe, even with the souring milk. So, I asked her if she’d entrust me to look after a mini Herman.

By this time, Herman had taken on a personality of epic proportions in my imagination. Naturally, he was german, with spiky red hair, freckles and (as he smells) adolescent.

I duly took care of my Herman and made it through 2 cycles until I went on holiday. I gave him away and thought that was the last of Herman.

Not so. One of my colleagues presented me with Herman at the end of the summer and, as you know, Herman is thriving in my flat. I think that he’s taken to my warm kitchen: he keeps bubbling away. I stir him once or twice a day and cover him with a tea towel so that he doesn’t dry out. As I don’t want to be forced to make a Herman cake every 10 days, I’m fairly relaxed about his feeding and will delay it a day or so, to draw out the cycle. Admittedly, he does smell of yeast. I’m looking forward to this next cycle as his penultimate one with me because I’d quite like to use that plastic bowl and wooden spoon for something else and reclaim the space he takes up on my worktop.

Herman is a great topic of conversation. He is a bit like marmite: people are either allured or repulsed by him. Nevertheless, everyone likes to eat him. Herman adds a tanginess to the cake and he does taste yummy, even if the texture is on the denser side. Below, I’ve given you the most common recipe, a cinnamon and apple version, with a wee makeover. However, my favourite is my carrot, pinenut and sultana cake.

There are a number of different Herman stories out there. This is my favourite one, which I have adapted.

Herman is a friendship cake which you cannot buy but can give away. Herman is alive and grows slowly but surely because of a yeasting process. It takes 10 days before you can eat him.

DO NOT put in the fridge as he grows at room temperature. You do not need a lid, just cover the bowl with a tea towel.

DAY 1: Today Herman is given to you. Congratulations, you must have a friend. Pour him into a big bowl so he can grow.

DAY 2: Stir Herman 2 or 3 times each day using a wooden spoon. You can leave the spoon in the bowl.

DAY 3: Stir Herman and talk to him.

DAY 4: Herman is hungry! You must feed him with:

  • 200ml milk
  • 150g plain flour
  • 200g granulated sugar

DAY 5: Stir Herman

DAY 6: Stir Herman. He really appreciates your visits.

DAY 7: Stir Herman

DAY 8: Stir Herman. Are you still talking to him?

DAY 9: Herman is hungry again! Feed him as Day 4.

Having been fed, he now needs to be split into equal little Hermans. Give away 4 of the little Hermans and a copy of these instructions.

DAY 10: Your remaining little Herman is absolutely starving after all that!

(experiment with different Herman cake recipes, such as carrot cake, streusel topped herman cake, apple cake – see below for my adaptations on the most common version)

Herman would now like to go to a hot resort, the oven will do. Preheat it to 170C (which is between 3 and 4 on a gas mark oven). With everything mixed in, pour him into a lined deeped baking tin. Leave him at the resort for about an hour. After all this care, attention and nurturing … eat him!!!

herman apple cinnamon cake

Ingredients for Herman Apple, Sultana and Cinnamon Cake (makes between 16-25 servings)

  • 1 measure of Herman (a cup)
  • 300g self-raising flour
  • 150g sugar (tastier with demerara sugar)
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • 2tsp cinnamon
  • 1tsp baking powder
  • 100g fine chopped nuts or a mix of dried fruit, such as sultanas, cranberries, cherries, apricots…
  • 2 chopped or grated apples – I think that it’s tastier when chopped to approx. 1.5cm sized chunks because it tastes like an apple cake
  • 100ml oil

Method

1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/Gas Mark 4. Line a deep 25cm square baking tin. I like to use my pampered chef square stone because I don’t need to bother lining it with baking paper.

Top tip: use a baking tin, it is better than a loaf tin. When I used a loaf or cake tin, the cake took much longer to bake and was a bit heavy. The cake I made in the pampered chef stone (baking tin would do the same) was tastier and lighter. Moreover, it would have taken much less time but I hadn’t misread the oven temperature and baked it at 130C! Oooops-a-daisy.

2. You can add all the ingredients and mix it thoroughly.

or, Alternatively, I found it easier to measure out the dry ingredients, then make a small well in the middle and add the oil, eggs and the mini herman and mix thoroughly. Lastly, add the chopped apples and dried fruit or nuts (or both) to the mixture and combine well.

3. With everything mixed in, pour him into a lined deep 25cm baking tin.

4. Now, to make the sugar/butter glaze. I highly recommend this step. It seems a bit weird thing to do and I had some doubts when I was pouring the melted butter over the cake batter. But the glaze really moistens the cake and enrichensthe flavour.

Ingredientsfor the glaze

  • 50g dark muscovado sugar (demerara sugar also works)
  • 50g unsalted butter, melted
  • sprinkle cinnamon on top (optional)
  • pecan or walnut halves to decorate on top

Crumble the sugar evenly over the top of the cake and sprinkle over with cinnamon. Pour the melted butter evenly over the batter. I tipped the sides of my square stone to ensure an even spread. Decorate the top with the pecan or walnut halves. Last time, I used 16 pecans but the portions were rather on the big side, so I’d use 25 next time.

prebaked herman apple cake

glaze topping

5. Now, it’s time to send Herman on holiday to a hot resort (namely the oven) for 45-60 minutes. Check on him at half time and if he looks like he is browning too quickly on the top, then cover him loosely with baking paper or foil to prevent him burning. I guess it acts like a sun umbrella, if we’re to continue the holiday metaphor. Herman is ready when you test him in the middle with a clean, sharp knife and it comes out clean. Let him cool for at least 10 minutes in the tin before cutting him up into squares.

Enjoy.

herman apple cake