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November 25, 2011

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

August 10, 2011

Sicilian Caponata (Sicilian Aubergine Relish)

Sicilian_Caponata

I fell in love with antipasti when I holidayed in the north-western tip of Sicily last September. In the past, I'd completely avoided antipasti: the magazine diet pages advise against eating antipasti for their hidden calories. I'm not entirely sure what changed my mind, but I had definitely ditched that notion of avoiding antipasti by the time I went on holiday. And I'm glad I did, because it certainly made for a glorious gastronomical adventure.


menu del diaantipasti


breadsicilian restaurant

On our final night we stopped by the beautiful seaside town of Castellammare del Golfo, which was dressing itself up for a feria. Sarah and I both love good food so we wanted to finish our holiday with a delicious italian meal. We chanced upon this newly-opened restaurant and entered on the recommendation of an italian man (who was also a chef!) we bumped into at the corner of the street. He spoke english, having worked in England for a few years, and he was holidaying with his family in the area. I do love those serendipitous moments. I think of them as God showing me favour. Others might call them fortune or chance. I absolutely recommend this restaurant to you, but I'm not sure where it is. Maybe the photo will help you find it. We were served a delicious menu del dia. However, truth be told, I was full after the antipasti. I was ever so apologetic to the chef for leaving food on my subsequent platas.

Before we left the beautiful island, with the aquamarine shoreline, I began to dream up an time when we could eat sunny, sicilian food in the backdrop of a wet, grumpy, english winter. The occasion presented itself when I arranged a sicilian evening with my friends Helen and John, who had been to Sicily earlier in the year. Helen and I decided that we'd only serve antipasti, bread and dessert. We didn't plan a main course. The benefit of hindsight from our holidays.

Helen made tasty parma ham rolls stuffed with cream cheese and mango and a flavourful french bean, sundried tomato and feta cheese salad. My contribution to the evening: homemade caponata and sicilian bread. (I'll write about my tentative endeavours into bread making another day.)

sicilian evening


Caponata isn't much to look at; it tastes spectacular. How do I describe the flavour? Sweet, tangy, a bit crunchy, moreish. Perhaps, one would bluntly call it an aubergine chutney, but that doesn't sound very appealing to me. The juices from the vegetables makes a beautiful sauce and the aubergines soak it up. Yum. It was one of the antipasti that was constantly served to us when I was out there.

When I found this Antonio Carluccio recipe(which is in his Italia cookbook), one of the things that almost put me off making this dishis the looooong list of ingredients. But then I remembered my resolution to push my culinary self. Besides, I realised that I had most of the ingredients and I only needed to buy capers and olives... and celery and aubergines and tomatoes.. It really does taste pretty special and it is a very simple dish to make. Admittedly the list of ingredients is on the long side. There's just quite a bit of prepping and chopping at the start.

The recipe recommended you want the pale violet aubergine that is native to Italy. I found it tricky to source in Coventry so I satisfied myself with the deep violet variety.

Oh, and something else to note. Use a really large, deep frying pan, or a large wok. I started out with a frying pan, then swapped it for a stock pan because of the quantity of the ingredients.

Ingredients

  • 600g aubergines (about 3 medium sized aubergines), cut into 1 inch cubes
  • Salt
  • 6-8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, or just olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 celery hearts, cut into little chunks
  • 500g ripe tomatoes, chopped
  • 100g pitted green olives
  • 60g salted capers, rinsed
  • 100g slivered almonds
  • 2 ripe but firm pears, cored, peeled and sliced
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground cloves
  • 50g caster sugar
  • 50ml white wine vinegar

Method

1. In a large bowl, immerse the cubed aubergine in salted water for 1 hour. Then drain and press down firmly on the aubergines in order to squeeze as much water out. Transfer the aubergine onto a clean tea towel and pat the aubergine cubes dry. Prepare a plate with a few sheets of kitchen paper.

2. Heat most of the extra virgin olive oil in the frying pan, or stock pan and fry the aubergine cubes until it's a golden colour, rather than a bit burnt like mine. Transfer the fried aubergine onto the plate with the kitchen paper, so that as much oil is absorbed. Leave to one side.

fried aubergine caponataadding everything else caponata


simmering caponataadding aubergine, sugar and vinegar

3. Add more oil, if necessary, and fry the onion until soft. Add in all the other ingredients, except the caster sugar and white wine vinegar (really important you leave these out for now). So, that's the celery, tomatoes, olives, capers, almonds, pears, cinnamon and cloves. Simmer for about 20 minutes.

4. Add the aubergines to the pan, with the sugar and white wine vinegar. Season with salt, if required. Cook for another 10-15 minutes. Take it off the heat and let it cool down.

Caponata can be eaten warm, and believe me, I couldn't resist a wee taste of it. But it is, oh so delicious, when served cold.

sicilian caponata

This made A LOT. I had loads leftover from the sicilian evening. I took it to a friend's birthday party later that week, by which time the flavours had matured and we kept going back for some more. I gave some to a sicilian student, I stirred it through pasta to make packed lunches, and finally finished it off with a friend of mine with some bread and salad. It's really handy to have a few jars of this in the fridge for a delicious lunch, or a contribution to a dinner.


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