About this blog

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Wales, United Kingdom
In autumn 2010, my husband Ian and I both quit our jobs, sold our house and left the flatlands of the east for the mountains of Wales. Our goal is to create a more self-sufficient lifestyle in a place we actually like living. Whilst Ian will continue to earn some money as a freelancer, my part of the project is to reduce how much we spend by growing and making as much of what we need as possible. The purpose of this blog is to keep friends updated with how the grand project is progressing, but all are welcome here. If you're not a friend already, well perhaps you might become one.

Monday, 18 June 2012

Things living in my kitchen

And when I say Things, I mean yeast.


I have bread dough rising...


... the dandelion wine is still bubbling away merrily, and in that bowl is living Herman the German friendship cake starter.

Some friends came to visit a few weeks ago and brought me some friendship cake starter along with a finished cake. I have to say, the cake was very nice but as one of the friends said (that is, she brought me the cake and starter, he made the comment): You take some of that, mix it with all the ingredients to make a cake, then you have a cake. When I saw the recipe, I had to agree. The starter didn't seem to make a very big contribution to the finished cake. The recipe even includes baking powder, for goodness sake!

There was another problem with Herman. Although I liked the cake very much, it's a fruit cake and with the exception of applesauce cake*, Ian doesn't like fruit in cakes. Luckily, there are lots of recipes available to use with Herman (all including baking powder, which I refuse to use in a yeast cake recipe) so I had plenty of scope for trying alternatives.

Before I could get near baking a cake, though, I had to follow the instructions for nurturing Herman. Although I'm not used to measuring dry ingredients by volume, I do have an American cup measure, so I used that to measure out the first feed, and was struck by just how much flour, sugar and milk I was putting in. This is one hungry cake! Of course, with the increased volume he quickly escaped the one-litre pot I had him in. I decided that these quantities were ridiculous (the cake our friends brought was huge, too) so scaled down to my smallest cup, which is 5 fl oz, as opposed to the American 8 fl oz cups. Even with reduced quantities, he escapes fairly often. After I took the picture above, I stirred and took another photo so you can see just how much of that volume is air.


Herman takes up far less space when the air is stirred out.

My first experiment in cooking with Herman was scones. I reasoned that these are pretty close to bread anyway, but enriched with milk and sugar, so should work quite well with the starter. I was wrong. The result wasn't at all like a crumbly scone, but rather chewy. Scone fail.

I continued feeding Herman at appropriate intervals, but instead of the standard ten day cycle which ends up four portions, I baked every four or five days, using half the mixture each time. Remembering my mother's experience with German friendship cake when I was a child, you can very quickly run out of friends if you give portions away every ten days!

My next experiment was chocolate cup cakes, which were quite good but a bit on the tough side. A similar result came from plain cup cakes - OK, but a bit chewy and not as nice as my usual recipe. I finally tried applesauce cake, as the only fruit cake Ian likes, and hopefully fairly close to the standard Herman recipe.


Attempt at applesauce cake.

Notice how the edges look ragged? Well I might not have greased the lining paper as well as it needed, but I have never met a cake that hung onto its paper so determinedly. Notice also how the middle looks rather dense? Well after one hour the cake had risen and a skewer came out clean, but it quickly fell back flat. Maybe if I'd cooked it for a lot longer it would have been OK, but this cake was seriously indigestible. To salvage the ingredients I mashed up the stodgy middle bit, added an egg (I only had one), some milk and a teaspoonful of bicarb, and cooked as cupcakes. These also got about an hour cooking (I tested after 20 min, they weren't done, then I spotted my neighbour in her garden and went over for a chat...) and looked very brown, but were quite nice.

At this point I'd had enough of Herman. My neighbour had expressed an interest, so I went over (yes, whilst cooking cup cakes) and asked if she'd like some starter, adding, In fact, would you like all of it, and do you know what you're letting yourself in for? Once I'd explained what German friendship cake involves, she decided she didn't want any after all. However, she did suggest bara brith as a likely recipe. This is a traditional Welsh cake - well, sweetish bread - with dried fruit. I'd only seen recipes with baking powder, but she had a traditional one using yeast. This isn't going to be the recipe that make German friendship cake suitable for Ian, but I like bara brith a lot, so I was persuaded to give Herman one more go.

As I type, there is a tin of bara brith mixture failing to rise in the kitchen. It's not a promising start...

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* This may seem odd to readers in America, but this style of cake isn't widely known over here. My sister told me about it, and she heard from a friend of hers who's married an American and moved to the States.

1 comment:

  1. We had the same problem with a Herman - I don't like fruity cakes either but John does, so managed it/baked with it. He liked the sour tang of the starter but like you, was a little annoyed how little (of the hungry starter and the flavour) ended up in the finished cake. Plus, if he made a cake at each 10 day interval, it resulted in more cake than he needed/wanted to eat, so it felt like it was either excessive or a waste.

    He made a few different cakes, and gave away a few rounds of starter, before using up the rest of his starter in one final big cake.

    A similar thing happened with our ginger beer plant - it made more fizzy, sugary pop than we could handle - and was pretty hungry to keep alive for the once in a while bottle.

    I think we've got enough friends in hippy circles that if we wanted to give either a go again, we'd be able to get hold of more starter/plant - but I don't think we'll do either for a while.

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