I came into Herman ownership only recently, but it seems as though he has always been there, bubbling away on my worktop. My dad rang me to ask if I wanted him. He had been given a starter by a friend, and now it was time to pass him on. At first I thought it was a nice idea, and something for my baking-mad three year old to get involved with, so I agreed. Now I can’t quite believe I have lived this long without without him! And suffice it to say, Herman is now ‘mine’, and not my daughter’s! (Although she loves to eat him!)

In the early days (and was that only a few months ago?? It seems much longer!) I stuck to the ‘rules’ I had been given, never daring to veer away from them, except for the one rebellious act of omitting the chopped nuts. And as I decided quite early on in my Herman adventure that it was something I wanted to carry on, I knew at some point I would have to experiment or it could get pretty boring!

I am an average cook and baker, although my (rather biased!) husband might say differently. I get by. I can turn my hands to most things in the kitchen. But, let’s be honest, I am never going to challenge Nigella. I had never come across sourdough before; much less bake it, so if I wanted to be successful I knew I would need a little bit of help. So off I went to scour the interweb searching for inspiration.  And there was quite a bit around. Mostly on American sites, it has to be said, so I pretty soon decided to invest in a set of measuring cups, and ditch the good old English metric system, and it is so much easier!

So far we have had ‘normal’ Herman, chocolate Herman, apple and oat, apple and apricot, and banana Herman. Herman pancakes, and the latest was Herman bread. And that’s just for starters, in a matter of months. I’m sure there’s more to come. Especially since I took my apple and apricot Herman cake in to work last week and it was literally gone in 60 seconds!

I have been baking and cooking with him for only a short time, but I am learning all the time. And this is what I have learned so far:

  • You have to use plain flour. Self raising makes him a little bit too yeasty.
  • Life is too short to sieve the flour. It makes no difference. Give the lumpy batter a really good stir, and the yeast will take care of the rest.
  • Granulated sugar works just as well as caster, even in the final bake, so unless you have it in your store cupboard for other uses, don’t bother to get in it specially.
  • Ditch the scales and go with the measuring cups. I had trouble with this one at first too. My Englishness and deep seated memories of mum and grandma both carefully weighing ingredients just wouldn’t go away. It took a while to get comfortable with it, but it really does make life easier.
  • Use loaf tins to bake him, rather than a single large roasting/baking tin. He cooks more evenly and doesn’t burn before his middle is cooked. There is enough batter for two 1lb loaf tins.
  • If you wrap him in baking/greaseproof paper, and store in an airtight container, he will last for a few weeks. Unless he is eaten first, of course! This is handy to know if you are at the bake stage well before you want to eat him (but omit the sugar on the top as it might go a bit sticky and soggy)
  • You are stifled only by your imagination and the contents of your kitchen. Forgotten to buy apples? Use the over ripe banana in your fruit bowl instead!
  • He really does make the most delicious pancakes ever!

I’m sure I will learn more about him as my adventure with Herman continues. My next batch of starter will be ready in 5 days. I wonder what he will become!

by Helen Gallery of Raindrops ‘n’ Roses