RogerBW's Blog

Biological Warfare Cake 02 June 2016

My wife went to a wedding recently, and came back with a Thing.

It is an off-white, largely fluid Thing, which claims to be "Herman the German Friendship Cake". It comes with a sheet of instructions covering its care and feeding for ten days, at the end of which it's ready either to be turned into real food or to be broken up and given away to one's friends.

Let's say they're one's friends. At first, anyway.

I can't help thinking of it as an old-fashioned chain letter, of the sort that ends "… 46,656 cakes. But beware – one man broke the chain and now they can't find his house under the pulsating yeasty mass."

As far as I can tell, it's what's generally known as a sourdough starter, only with a better PR campaign. I can't help feeling that by the time you have added to this bowl of gloop:

3 cups sugar
4 cups plain flour
2 cups milk
half tsp (teaspoon) salt
⅔ cup of cooking oil (sic)
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 cooking apples cut into chunks
1 cup raisins
2 heaped tsp cinnamon
2 heaped tsp baking powder
¼ cup butter
¼ cup brown sugar

I'm not convinced you've saved very much effort compared with simply, er, making a cake. Mind you, all those cups lead me to think it's probably an American recipe, and they generally regard baking as something really difficult that normal cooks need help with. (I think it's because they don't have kitchen scales.)

We tried bread. It didn't rise in the slightest. I think this thing has eaten its own yeast.


  1. Posted by chris at 11:45am on 02 June 2016

    I did try keeping him in the hot airing cupboard for a bit, in case this house was too cold for an innocent young yeast (which wouldn't have surprised me: it's June, of course we need the heating on, but I am stubborn) but Herman was definitely Dead, so I have given him water-burial and reclaimed the mixing bowl that he had been occupying. I wish I could say that he had been making sinister glooping noises to hold us at bay, but he didn't; he just sat there, doing nothing whatever.

    It was seriously suggested that the "bread" might be used as a doorstop, possibly with a crocheted cover or something in needlepoint, but I felt that after a bit it would smell, and in any case we already have a door-sheep called Henrietta, and my grand-daughter would be sad if Henrietta were deposed by a German sourdough brick. Or even by a New England sourdough brick, which is probably what he was. How did someone smuggle him into the country? There must be a law about foreign livestock. Maybe they had him in quarantine for six months and that was why he'd died.

    The horrible oily taste was my own fault: I ought to have known better than to use oil in bread, and stuck to using butter.

  2. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:00pm on 02 June 2016

    I use oil in the onion bread I do for you barbies!

    My commiserations on the passing of your houseguest.

  3. Posted by RogerBW at 12:06pm on 02 June 2016

    Which oil, though?

    I was using olive oil for a while in my home-made bread, but butter just worked better for me.

  4. Posted by Owen Smith at 11:04pm on 02 June 2016

    This reminds me of the Ginger Beer Plant we had when I was a child. That worked so well it outgrew our capacity to drink the stuff, and some of the ginger beer was so pressurised (the Ben Shaws refundable lemonade bottle tops were going domed) that we only dared open them in the garden. The second worst stripped the thread as we unscrewed the top and nearly took my dad's finger with it. The very worst we simply hammered a spike through the bottle top and retreated to a safe distance to admire the ginger beer fountain.

  5. Posted by John Dallman at 06:13pm on 05 June 2016

    There were regions of Trinity College in the 1980s where the ginger beer plants left recognisable spoor on the ceilings.

  6. Posted by Chris Suslowicz at 11:03am on 19 June 2016

    My ginger beer production was a 2-gallon batch process from "Peggy Hutchinson's Home-made Wine Secrets" as I recall. It worked very well with the only disaster being the use of a triangular "Grants" whisky bottle on one occasion - it exploded of course, fortunately in the cupboard under the stairs, when nobody was about. I still have the recipe committed to memory, though it may be difficult to get the proper "Essence of Ginger" these days.

    ISTR Dave Langford having has a bottle of something explode in the pantry once and dye everything pink. One of thehe hazards of home brewing.

  7. Posted by Chris Suslowicz at 11:56pm on 19 June 2016

    On the subject of "Herman the German", that's also a restaurant/cafe/fast food joint in Soho. (It's either in Old Compton Street or past the dog-leg junction and in Brewer Street.) I smile at their "Our Wurst is ze Best" slogan every time I pass it - usually on my way to The Vintage House (to ask if the Elmer T. Lee is back in stock) or the Algerian Coffee Shop for some decent loose tea.

    Chris.

  8. Posted by RogerBW at 09:58am on 20 June 2016

    There's also the Bavarian Beerhouse on City Road near Moorfield's, which I gather is expensive but rather fun. Must give it a try some time, especially now that the Wenlock has gone for the trendies.

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