Last weekend I travelled with my great friend Amanda to Daylesford and the Macedon Ranges in the Victorian countryside to visit the lovely Jane. We’ve all been friends for over 25 years and it was a much-anticipated visit as the three of us have not been together in the same place, at the same time, for over three years. Sadly Jane’s mother very recently passed away so it was something of a bitter-sweet reunion. Vale Vera. We’re taking good care of Jane and had a wonderful visit. We even made her laugh, perhaps you were laughing with us too.
What can I say? The Daylesford and Macedon Ranges region is true foodie heaven. Home to more markets, growers, producers, wine makers, providores, restaurateurs, cooks, chefs and publicans per square kilometre than you can ever hope to cover in an extended weekend. Thankfully, the farm gate community has had the foresight to band together and publish A Tasty Little Touring Map of the area. My advice? Study it carefully, choose wisely and drive!
I have so many wonderful food memories to write about from this visit but pride of place must go to Jane’s wonderful glace ginger, walnut and pear cake. I will preface this by saying that in the twenty-five years that I have known Jane I have never, ever seen her bake a cake. In fact, I don’t recall Jane having spent much time in the kitchen. Full stop. That’s her husband Russell’s domain.
When Jane rang me the night before our departure to say the weather had turned and to bring warm clothes, she casually mentioned in an offhand way she was baking ‘a cake thing’ and hoped it would turn out alright. That cake thing turned out to be her version of Hermann the German Friendship Cake.
I’d never heard of Hermann before, and to my uninitiated ears it sounds like the culinary equivalent of a chain letter. Someone presents you with a jar of yeasty starter dough, together with a sheet of detailed feeding and baking instructions which need to followed over a ten day period. On the tenth day you divide the mixture into quarters, share three with friends and, with the last bake yourself a cake. Sounds quite biblical to me. Connotations of manna from heaven perhaps?
A fellow teacher at school had bequeathed to Jane a baby Hermann sour dough starter. I’m not sure whether that colleague was unaware that Jane is not a baker or just plain desperate to dispose of her multiplying Hermanns. I’m not even sure why Jane baked the cake in the first place but I am glad she did. It was beyond delicious. The flavourings she used were 2 chopped pears, 1/2 cup chopped glace ginger, 1/4 cup chopped walnuts, and 1 tsp cinnamon.
The upshot is that I have now acquired a baby Hermann. I’ll nurture him and bake him. Perhaps with cherries and chocolate and almonds and a dash of rum. Don’t worry, I won’t inflict any unsolicited baby Hermanns on my friends. Except Amanda who was there for the first. After all we wouldn’t want to risk Hermann becoming known as the Unfriendship Cake. I won’t murder any unwanted baby Hermanns either. Ill just bake them and send them into school with my son.
Hermann the German Friendship Cake
Hello, my name is Hermann. I am a sour dough cake starter. I’m supposed to sit on your bench top for 10 days without a lid, covered with a clean tea towel. You can’t put me in the fridge or I will die. If I stop bubbling, I am dead!
|1||Put Hermann in a large mixing bowl and cover loosely with a tea towel.|
|4||Hermann is hungry! Add 1 cup each of plain flour, sugar and milk. Stir well.|
|9||Hermann is hungry again! Feed him. Add 1 cup each of plain flour, sugar and milk. Stir well. Divide into 4 equal portions and give 3 baby Hermanns away to friends with a copy of these instructions. Keep the last Hermann to bake.|
|10||Hermann needs a holiday. He likes to go to a hot resort. The oven is his favourite. Pre-heat oven to 180ºC (170ºC fan-assisted oven) and generously grease a cake tin. Prepare Hermann for his holiday by stirring well and adding the following:
1 cup sugar
½ tsp salt
2 cups self-raising flour
2/3 cup cooking oil
2 tsp vanilla essence
2 apples or pears, sliced into chunks
1 cup dried fruit or nuts of your choice, chopped
2 heaped tsp cinnamon or any spice of your choice.MIX everything together and put into a large, greased baking tin.
SPRINKLE with ¼ cup brown sugar and ¼ cup melted butter.
BAKE for 45 mins at 180 deg. C. When cold, cut into fingers.Hermann freezes well and is also delicious warm with cream or ice-cream