July 17, 2008

an unanswered question

I foolishly thought you could find the answer (perhaps an answer would be more appropriate) to any question on the internet. Not so, people. I have absolutely scoured the web for the reasoning behind calling certain sourdough starters Herman and I can find nothing.


If you know the origins of the name, please do tell. However, even if there turns out to be a legitimate reason, I refuse to rename Eb. He's an Ebenezer, through and through.

Eb's latest accomplishment is a coffee cake. Since I was in a questioning mood, I wondered to myself just what defined a coffee cake. My go-to source for such inquiries says that a coffee cake is "a cake served with coffee or eaten at breakfast...typically flavored with cinnamon, nuts, and fruits" and that "sometimes has a crumbly or crumb topping called streusel." Ah, streusel. Even reading the word makes me swoon.


I should really remove all paraphernalia from my table before the photo session begins. Yes, that's a banana in the background. It's ripening nicely.

So according to that definition, this is definitely a coffee cake. It was a)eaten for breakfast, b)eaten with coffee, c)flavored (abundantly) with cinnamon, and d)streuseled. (I'll bet you didn't know streusel could be used as a verb. Now you know.)

I chose this particular recipe because it calls for two whole cups of starter, and I needed to use quite a bit since Eb was outgrowing his jar. Plus, even though I just made that phenomenal (all modesty aside, of course) cinnamon cake, I figured a little more cinnamon aroma in the apartment couldn't hurt. Also, unlike the cinnamon cake [that one was mine, all mine! (insert evil laugh here)], I'd be sharing this one.


Look at that crater. You could fit an entire Riesen chocolate chew in there. Awesome.

I only made one change to the typical coffee cake. Instead of having the streusel on top, I put it in the middle in hopes of creating a lovely, aesthetically-pleasing ribbon of buttery, cinnamon-happy goo. I also increased the streusel component since I figured that two cups of starter might be a bit overwhelming (and because it's butter, flour, sugar, and cinnamon--come on!). Ultimately, I think the sourdough flavor was still a bit strong, but it was undoubtedly a delicious cake.


Sweet and Sour Coffee Cake
(based on this recipe)

Cake:
2 cups Eb, activated
2/3 cup oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar

Streusel:
1 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup butter, softened

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat a mini loaf pan (or your more traditional 9x13" pan) with cooking spray.
In a large bowl, whisk together Eb, oil, and eggs. In a separate bowl, stir together the flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, baking soda, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and stir until combined.
For the streusel, stir together the brown sugar, flour, and cinnamon. Cut in the softened butter until the mixture resembles very coarse crumbs. Try to refrain from digging in with a spoon.
Divide the cake batter evenly into the loaf forms, filling them about 1/3 full. Sprinkle each with the streusel and top with the remaining batter.
Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until the toothpick test is passed. (No, Floyd County footballers--not that toothpick test.) Cool on a wire rack.

48 comments:

Kim said...

I am with you on the internet, as I have tried to research something and have been shocked I couldn't find the answer. Back to the good old public library for the answers. I remember Herman but not where he's from.

Peter M said...

MOIST....nothing else to describe this.

Sharon said...

Herman, huh? I never knew. I also had no idea sourdough starter was such a versatile thing.

Cinnamon happy goo makes me a happy lady.

StickyGooeyCreamyChewy said...

Oh, wow! I'm sitting here with my coffee (and no doughnuts) and I have to see this! Stop taunting me with pictures of scrumptious cakes!

Albany Jane said...

I've got the same theory on toppings. That initial figure is a good guideline, but just a place to start! :D

Steph said...

Mmmmmmmmm. Since you said you planed on sharing that, send some down to me.

[eatingclub] vancouver || js said...

I looooooove the crumb of that cake, and I can just imagine how moist it must be. I'm bookmarking this one to make real soon. Or get somebody else to bake it. ;)

Paula said...

Oh yummity yum! That coffee cake looks good to eat all the time, not just for breakfast! Yum!

Sarah said...

That looks so good! Nothing is better than a good coffeecake!

Ann said...

Ooh... sour dough coffee cake! And the oozing goodness of it all... *swoon*

Vera said...

Grace, honestly, I've never tried sour dough coffee cake. But since I love all the components separately I'm pretty sure I will enjoy them together as your cake. Thank you for the recipe. Your cake does look incredibly delicious.

Dawn said...

What say me?
Goooood Lordy Ms. Scarlett that looks perfect.
I alos have to say I just love that little squirrel playing the guitar. Everytime I see that I chuckle.

Elle said...

Damn, I was hoping someone someone would have had the answer already. Ah well, I'll just have to check back.

Looks freaking amazing, Grace!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

lol, Herman or Eb--whatever the name, this looks delicious! You have me thinking I'm not giving cinnamon enough attention these days. I'd love to start my day with this

Pam said...

That is so gooey and good!

Erinn said...

You've challenged me grace.
Part of my job is research, and I SO want to find the reason it's called a Herman, I mean, what the heck is that all about?
And you've taught me something, I too didn't realize sourdough starter could lend itself to anything, but, you know, bread!

Deborah said...

That first photo seriously has me drooling - and I'm not even into sweets right now!

Ann said...

Good GOD, woman - that looks like sin incarnate it's so moist. It's like the centerfold of cakes. Very naughty. :)

Colleen R said...

First I say: I have just discovered food blogs in the last few months, and I am especially enjoying yours.
What great photos and instructions! I have fun cooking, but am definitely a beginner when it comes to baking. I almost hesitate to ask, but I WANT to make this coffee cake, and I have no "Eb" of my own. Can you help? How do I start a starter? And, do they all eat potato flakes!? Thanks in advance for your advice!

Grace said...

colleen r:
thanks for your kind words!! i'm thrilled that i've had a part in inspiring you to make your own eb. :)
this site should be most helpful. the only difference from what i do is in the "starter feeder" section. i feed eb, let him sit on the counter overnight, and then immediately mix up my bread rather than refrigerating him for 3 to 5 days before doing so. also, i can go up to 14 days (rather than 3 to 5) without feeding him again. also, don't forget that metal utensils shouldn't be used. if any of this is unclear or if you have other questions, i'm happy to try and help--feel free to email me at asoutherngrace@gmail.com. :)

Jeena said...

FABULOUS! FABULOUS! and FABULOUS! :-D

The Blonde Duck said...

I could eat this for breakfast, morning snack, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner and midnight snack. All in one day.

Kevin said...

That coffee cake looks so moist and good!

noble pig said...

Okay the crater made me laugh out loud. I really think your crater is talking? I want to know what his voice soinds like...I imagine it all slow motion like and distorted. Ha!

Anonymous said...

Huh, now you have me wondering about the Herman connection.... time to break out the books?!


Ari (Baking and Books)

dobetter said...

That looks so good!

Veronica said...

OK so here's my theory: a Herman sourdough starter is also known as a pre-ferment. "Ferment" sort of sounds like Herman-I think it's a classic case of telephone-somewhere along the line some slightly hard of hearing person thought the (possibly French) pastry chef was saying Herman instead of ferment. I don't know, sounds plausible to me! Your cake looks divine!

Shreya said...

very inviting picture.. i wish i could have this...

the Aspirant Abecedarian said...

This looks delicious! I want some for breakfast this morning, but I'm at the office :( Thanks for sharing.

Madam Chow said...

This sounds wonderful. You should consider sending links for items like this over to Susan at Wild Yeast Blog - she does a weekly roundup called YeastSpotting.
http://www.wildyeastblog.com

Becky said...

love this! perfectly moist with oozing sauce. this is divine.

LyB said...

Why don't I have a piece of this right now, in front of me, instead of this flavorless computer screen? I'm dying here! :)

Katie said...

This looks so delicious. How can a moist cinnamony, streusely (another verb) and caramel drizzled cake not be!

giz said...

I wonder how you'd get rid of that strong taste of sourdough. The pictures are great and the cake looks pretty amazing.

eatme_delicious said...

Ooo great idea putting the streusel in the middle! Looks yummy. It seems like any uniced non-pound cake can be called a coffee cake!

cookinpanda said...

Ohhh gooey and delicious looking photos! Really good photos. These are really making me hungry!

Lorraine E said...

You definitely had me at " increased the streusel component"! Increasing streusel is definitely a good move, for anything really!

I had no idea that it was called Herman, let alone why. Perhaps they needed to keep the starter alive so they gave it a human name?

diva said...

this cake looks really great. gooey, sticky and moist! mmmm. it must be great to have it at tea with a gorgeous cuppa. x

Leslie said...

Will you just look at that goooo coming out! That looks out of this world!
And thanks for your comment on my video post!

Sarah said...

So, so good this looks. I just recently made my first coffee cake with streudel, and after reading this recipe, I think I have to try this one as well! Thanks Grace.

Jessica@Foodmayhem said...

Streuseled? I love it. I'm going to go practice my streuseling now.

Lore said...

Yay gooey and moist...these two definitely describe a good cake to me!

foodhoe said...

holy toledo that is some serious food porn... my own mother had a herman in the fridge when I was growing up! That was back in the stone age, I can't believe he is still around!

My Sweet & Saucy said...

What an interesting recipe! Looks absolutely delish!

Jaime said...

i love goo :) and i wouldn't have noticed the banana if you hadn't pointed it out!

Sandie said...

Ok... so I'm a month late to this post. That said, I have fond memories of Herman (a.k.a Eb) from my childhood.

My mother was an elementary school teacher in a small Midwestern town. Back in the day, various mothers (of her students) would bring in baked breads and Herman starters as a way of saying thank you for a job well done (small town = lots of starters to go around.)

Anyway, I can remember a big debate between her and my aunt about how Herman starter got its name. While the world may never know definitively, there was one general story everyone seemed to agree on... and it went something like this (the following story was also corroborated on hungrybrowser.com):

"Herman is a name that was given to a sourdough starter many years ago when a young girl (probably in San Francisco) watched her mother making sourdough.

The mother explained that the starter was a living thing and needed to be feed and watered. The little girl, in the way of little girls everywhere, decided that it needed a name like everything else that was alive. After due consideration, she bestowed the name "Herman" upon it.

The mother wanted to share the starter with her friends, so along with the starter went the anecdote of her daughter's naming the starter. As friends gave this starter to other people, they also provided the story of the little girl. To this day, "Hermans" seem to pop up among sourdough aficionados everywhere, all due to a little girl and her need for everything to have a name."

Now, if that story isn't enough of a stretch for you, there happens to be a cookbook called, The Best of Herman Sourdough Herald, by Dawn Watland Johanson & Harlene Hayer Watland.

Some 236 pages in length, the cookbook features instructions on how to make and share Herman starter; Herman recipes for breads, cakes and cookies; AS WELL AS the history of Herman starter.

If you find a more definitive answer, please share!

Veronica said...

I just love the idea of streusel in the middle...it's like getting a little surprise.

Anonymous said...

Here is the Origin of the name "Herman" for the sour dough starter.

"Herman is a name that was given to a sourdough starter many years ago when a young girl (probably in San Francisco) watched her mother making sourdough. The mother explained that the sponge was a living thing and needed to be feed and watered. The little girl, in the way of little girls everywhere and everywhen, decided that it needed a name like everything else that was alive, and some things that weren't. After due consideration, she bestowed the name "Herman" upon it.
Like most good things the mother wanted to share the starter with her friends. Along with the starter went the anecdote of her daughter's naming the sponge. As friends gave this starter to other people, they also received the story of the little girl. To this day "Hermans" seem to pop up among sourdough aficionados everywhere, all due to a little girl and her need for everything to have a name. "