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Making Herman – The Sweet Sourdough Starter

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Herman is the sweet sourdough starter that can be used to in many different recipes – from cakes to bread to pancakes. Making Herman is fun and rewarding experience. Try with kids for an even more wondrous experience!

Herman - the sweet sourdough strter for friendship breads, cakes and such

Herman is a sweet sourdough starter that can be used to make bread, cakes, pancakes, English muffins and a variety of other yum goodies. Making a Herman starter requires only a few ingredients and is a good kitchen science experiment to do with little kids.

The Tradition of Friendship Bread

Bakers have been making and handing down starters for ages. One reason is that a mature starter has more distinct and complex flavors than a fresh starter. Starting out with a mature starter makes it easier to get that coveted sourdough flavor.

A pure wild yeast sourdough starter has just 2 ingredients – water and flour. When combined these two create the perfect breeding ground for wild yeast and certain bacteria. Over time with proper maintenance, this becomes the magic ingredient that makes your ordinary white bread into something exceptional.

Herman, on the other hand, is a sweet sourdough starter. There is active dry yeast, the commercially available yeast, which kick starts the fermentation. There is plenty of sugar, which provides enough food for the yeast, and finally, there is milk. I am guessing that the presence of milk is to provide lactobacilli, but I am no microbiologist.

Sniff and See

The milk the starter will cause some concern to the food safety experts. But when properly maintained the acidity in the mixture will prevent harmful bacteria from taking hold in the mix. You could do a ph check, but I don’t.

I rely on my nose and eyes. A good starter should smell good – tangy to sweet depending on the acidity level. If it smells foul, into the trash it goes. Similarly, the starter should be white or off white, but never orange, red, blue, gree…… All these indicate the presence of mold or other bacteria taking hold. There are instances when you might want to grow these, but Herman is not one of them. Again into the trash, it goes.

The starter in the above picture looks off white – closer to yellow than white. This is because I use raw sugar and unbleached flour, and this is OK . But if it begins to turn orange or orangish red that is a sure sign that something has gone wrong.

Once you spot mold, discoloration or foul smell do not try to salvage the starter. Chances are the mold spores and the bacterium has already spread through the mix. It is time to seek out  Herman lovers – or go to the herman project . Those guys might be able to help you.

My First Herman

I was introduced to it by a friend, who was handed down a starter that she could not maintain any longer. The recipe was for ‘Amish Friendship Bread’. It was intriguing as the recipe called for taking care of the starter and distributing it to your friends. Kind of like a culinary chain letter.

 At this point I have to confess – I did not do a good job of taking care of Herman. I did not like chain letters either!

Why Herman, Why Not Harry or William or Krishna

Bakers are odd people – if I may so. We love to nurture things that don’t talk back to us. And once we get attached to something we are it – Yes, my regular sourdough starter has a name too. But this guy is Herman, and yes it is HE.

So anyway someone named their sourdough starter Herman and it struck a chord with the recipients. Maybe the recipe that accompanied Herman was extra special – maybe there was a story that was handed down. Maybe it was just the simple idea of creating your own Herman story.

Ingredients to make herman starter

Herman Recipes

There are plenty of Herman recipes. The ingredients and method are pretty much the same. Quite often these recipes come with this warning “DO NOT USE METAL SPOON”! I remember this warning when I got my first starter.

These recipes were handed down generations to generations. A properly cared for Herman can live to be centuries old. Quite possibly when the recipes were first perfected and handed down the metal utensils would have been of the reactive/corrosive variety. These would have interfered with the acidity of the starter and the chemical reactions would have leached aluminum compounds (or whatever were used at that time) into the starter. Hence the warning.

Fortunately most cookware today are not reactive. I make my sourdough dough in the KA steel bowl and many of us who regularly make no-knead bread let the dough slow rise in a metal bowl for days – with no adverse effects. So I guess the key is “USE NON REACTIVE UTENSILS”.

Another thing that the recipes used to say is “Do not refrigerate”. From a food safety standpoint, refrigeration is advisable, but not always needed. Read on …

Into the Fridge or Not

That depends on where you live or what the weather is like. If it is warm say the mid 70s or more refrigerate Herman an hour or two after feeding. This has given it enough time to get active. If the room temperature is cold say less than 70 it is pretty safe to leave it outside. In any case, once the starter is bubbling vigorously transfer to the fridge to keep it healthy. If you choose to leave it at room temperature, check on it every day just to make sure.

One of the most popular recipes to make with Herman starter is the Amish friendship bread. But here are two other recipes for you to be excited about – Sourdough Pancakes and Herman Cake.

Daily Care

Most recipes ask you to check and stir Herman every day. It will not ruin the starter if you don’t do it every day, especially if it is refrigerated. When not stirred daily there is a chance for the flour portion of the starter to coalesce. Eventually the liquid begins to separate. It is not a big issue as with a bit of elbow grease the solids can be stirred back into the liquids. The regular stirring prevents some of the separations. It is also a fun way to keep the bubbling in check.

Making Herman With Kids

This is a great activity for elementary to middle school kids. It is a good way to introduce food safety principles to ph values. Here are a few ideas

  • Have litmus paper handy and check the ph value over the course of 10 days.
  • Have the kids watch and stir down the starter every day. Mark the height of the starter before stirring.
  • Let a portion of Herman stay on the counter for 10 days, while the other gets refrigerated and fed on the 5th day. Observe both starters.

Even without a planned activity making Herman starter can be an interesting project for kids. Bake the Herman Cake as a reward.

Herman - the sweet sourdough strter for friendship breads, cakes and such

Herman Sourdough Starter

By Syama
This is the sweet sourdough starter used to make friendship breads, cakes and many other baked and fried treats. It is a hybrid starter as it uses active dry yeast to start the ball rolling. It is a little sweeter than usual sourdough starters and makes excellent breakfast toasts.
5 from 2 votes


Starter Base

  • 1 C Water
  • 1 C Flour
  • ¼ C Sugar
  • 2 ¼ Tsp Active Dry Yeast


  • 1 C Flour
  • 1 C Milk
  • ½ C Sugar


  • Glass or any non reactive container large enough to hold 8 cups of liquid.
  • Non reactive spatula/spoon.


Making the Starter Base

  •  Add 1 C water, 1 C Flour, ¼ C Sugar and 2 ¼ Tsp active dry yeast  into the non reactive container.  Mix well using a wooden or  any non reactive spoon.  Cover lightly, Do not tighten the lid (Notes) . Set aside loosely covered. 
  • If you are in a warm climate refrigerate the starter after a few hours,else it can be left on the counter for a day. Take the starter out on the third day. Stir down and return back to fridge. On the fifth day take the starter out, stir down and divide into two equal portions.

Feeding the Starter

  • Day1 –  Add 1 C milk, 1C Flour, and ½ C sugar to half portion starter. Mix  well and set aside. Refrigerate the starter after a few hours or when the starter begins to show lots of bubbles(see blog for more). Check on every (other) day to see the activity stir down if it has risen too much and on the fifth day it is ready to use.
  • Day 2 –  Check  on the starter and  stir with a wooden spoon or do nothing. 
  • Day 3 – Check on the starter and stir with a wooden spoon or do nothing. 
  • Day 4 – Check on the starter and stir with a wooden spoon or do nothing. 
  • Day 5 – Check on the starter and stir with a wooden spoon. 
    Divide and repeat the feeding process if you want to maintain the starter, or use in a recipe.


  • During the fermentation process  excess  gases (CO2) is created.  A  tight lid will cause the gases to build up and  might lead to unwanted  spill and explosive conditions later. 
  • If you give away the starter include the feeding directions.
  • The refrigerated starter can be safely left unattended for 5 to 6 days.
  • The strength of yeast activity reduces as it stays longer.
Keyword sourdough, starter
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Starter Safety

Those who grew up with cultured foods would find safety concerns a bit absurd, but starters can pose a health hazard when not taken care of properly. Fortunately, most health concerns, though not taste concerns, are alleviated by cooking foods to the proper internal temperatures. Here are a few things to keep you healthy and the starter thriving.

  •  Use high-quality organic ingredients when making a starter
  • Observe food safety rules – clean utensils, no cross contamination
  • A good starter will tangy in a good way – not overpowering.
  • If you spot mold, reddish/orangish liquid or coloring throw it out and start over.
  • The above rule is the reason to be extremely careful when using fruit juices in the  starter.
  • After a few hours on the counter at room temperature keep the starter in the fridge.
Herman starter is used to make cakes and breads

Recipes using Herman Starter

Need more sourdough ?

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26 thoughts on “Making Herman – The Sweet Sourdough Starter”

  1. My Dad used this when I was younger. He would keep it in a bean pot with lid in the frig until he was going to use it. He would put it out on the counter the night before, use it the next morning, feed it , stir it & back in the fridge until next time.

    • Wow, did anyone else in the family bake these as well? If he had a starter chances are there were some heirloom recipes as well. Now is as good a time as any to try them 🙂

  2. 5 stars
    Calling your sweet friendship starter Herman became popular in the Netherlands in the 1980’s, because there was a famous rock singer and painter called Herman Brood (“bread”), now unfortunately deceased. The name stuck, and also applied to the finished cakes, called Herman breads.

  3. I am excited to create a sweet sourdough starter! I have a question regarding the step where you divide the original starter into two equal parts. (Step 2/Day 5) I may have overlooked it in the instructions, but the 2nd portion of beginning starter, is that just basically discard or is that utilized?

    • Hi Stacie,
      The second half is used to create another batch of starter – as in Day 1 of Step 2 , that is if you want to maintain a continuous supply of starter or gift to someone. Otherwise it becomes the discard.
      Personally I hate throwing away starter. So when I am taking a break from baking I dry the starter and store it in airtight containers.
      Hope that answers your question.
      Oh and please don’t forget to tag me on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest when you make it.
      Happy Baking!

        • To dry the starter spread it on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper or silicone mat. Spread into a thin layer and set out to dry. Depending on where you are you may be able to leave it on countertop for a day or pre-heat the oven until it is just warm(or bread proving setting) turn off, and leave the sheet pan in the oven for a few hours. Take care not to have the oven hot – as it will kill the yeast and bacteria. When dry the the starter will crack. Break into pieces and store in an airtight container.
          Regarding freezing, yes it can be done. Defrost in the refrigerator before adding flour to liquids to it.
          – Syama.

  4. Hi,
    I am confused with the amount of sugar in the starter base. Is it 1/4 tsp of sugar or 1/4 C of sugar?
    What is the rule of thumb to replace commercial yeast with Herman ?

    • Hi Meike,
      It is 1/4 C sugar. Thank you for spotting it, I am going to pop in and update it.
      When replacing yeast a handy guide will be to use half the weight of the flour as the weight of stater. So if you are using 4C flour use about 1C starter, or for 400g flour use 200g starter.
      Always use starter at its peak to get more predictable results.
      – Syama

  5. Hello!

    I am trying this recipe and am very excited for the outcome! I just wanted clarification on some steps.. I have completed the first step by adding the water, sugar, flour, and yeast and put into the refrigerator. Where do I go next? Do I leave it in the fridge until day 3 where I stir it and put it back in the fridge and then split it on Day 5 and feed it for the first time? I know a lot of other sourdough recipes call for feeding on day 1 and day 5.. am I supposed to feed on day one?

    • Hi Cassidi,
      The first part of the instruction is to create the very first batch from scratch. So yes you leave it in the fridge till day 3. On Day 3 take it out and stir it down and return to fridge. On Day 5 you divide the starter. From there on the the feeding regimen starts – the days 1 to 5 and every 5th day you can divide and repeat the process.
      Hope that answers your question.
      Happy baking,
      – Syama.

  6. Syama, I was so happy to find this after I googled “what is wrong with my starter”? I made Herman and kept the starter going for about 15 years. When we moved I let it go. So because of the Covid-19 Pandemic of 2020 I have started pulling out old recipes and found my Herman recipe. I happily made it and the first batch died because of the chlorine in my water. So I started a second batch using bottled spring water.

    So I am on day 3 and it has separated leaving a layer of liquid atop the starter. I thought that it had died until I came here and read that it will do that and not to be concerned. It does have the smell kind of a sweet vinegar. So I am assuming it is still okay. It has been too many years since I made it and didn’t remember that at all. I haven’t made it since 1994. So does this sound okay to you? Thank you for any advice you can give me. Now that I have found you I will keep reading and looking for interesting recipes here.


    • Thank you for your kind words.
      Starters are living things and change depending on the environment and what they are fed. Acidic smell is perfectly fine and as long as there is no mold there is nothing to worry about.
      Hope it helps,

  7. Hello, I am starting Herman today. I’m a little confused on the directions. I do live in a warm climate. Am I suppose to put in the refrigerator on the very first day for a few hours, pull it out for a day, and then put back in the refrigerator?
    I just need some clarification on that. Thanks.

    • Hi Anna,
      If it is warm in the house keep it in the fridge after an hour or so on the first day itself.
      when you check the starter the next day, if it hasn’t shown any activity leave it on the counter for a couple of hours to become active. Return to the fridge.
      Refrigeration is not an absolute necessity, but I look at it like an added insurance. This way no damage will be done even if you forget about it for a day or two or don’t use it on the 5th day itself.
      Hope this makes it clearer.
      – Sayma.

  8. Hey, Im confused on the Divide part. After I divide it and start one part feeding. The 2nd part… do I add anything to it? Just seems like it would get smaller and smaller. And I want to share it with my friends.

    Help in the kitchen,



    • Hi Kimberly,
      Once you divide, use on portion to cook with or give away and the feed other portion for the next batch. So you will end up with the same amount of starter before you divided it.

      The recipes will have instructions on how to incorporate the starter.

      Hope that makes it clearer.

  9. It sure does, so today is the day I cook it. Do you have a link to how to cook it?
    Im interested in Bread, pancakes & the cake.

    Thank you again for all your help!


    • The recipe links are added to the post – Herman milk bread and coffee cake use Herman starter. For the pancake – use the sourdough pancake recipe (link in the post) and substitute Herman Starter for the regular sourdough starter.

      Happy baking!

  10. Hi I was given a sourdough starter – but used to have a Herman in the 80s- and the recipes were easier and more versatile than the usual sourdough recipes
    Can I use regular sourdough starter in Herman recipes?

    • I am afraid the answer is not simple. Herman starter is sweeter and milder than regular sourdough starters, so a 1-1 substitution will change the end results somewhat. You may have to adjust the recipe to add more sugar and/or substitute milk for water and adjust the rising times to achieve the similar end results. You will be able to find a good substitution ratio after a few tries.


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