About forty years ago, a recipe appeared in Southern Living magazine, and it soon took the region, then the country, by acclaim. Thus, Hummingbird Cake was introduced to the culinary world. One bite of the lusciously moist cake is enough for many to proclaim it the best cake ever. Easy to understand why, what, with a pecan-laced spiced crumb moistened with pineapples and bananas and topped with a buttery cream cheese frosting.
Chef Art Smith adapted the cake for service at his Florida restaurant Homecoming, and the preparation soon gained fans as diverse as poet Maya Angelou and songstress Lady Gaga. In turn, the Disney Food Blog featured instructions on its pages for fans to try at home.
The cake has become wildly popular on the Southern dessert menu, yet some note the two main fruit ingredients, pineapples and bananas, hail from the tropics far beyond the American South. As the hummingbird also is Jamaica’s national bird, this identifies the island nation as the cake’s true source.
Hold on, retort Dixie advocates, you can’t get much more Southern than pecans and cream cheese frosting, and it was Southern Living that discovered the cake. Besides, “hummingbird” refers to how its fans hover over the cake, then quickly swoop in to devour, much as hummingbirds do.
Well then, we have ourselves a tasty little culinary debate, don’t we?
What’s beyond contention, though, is that the recipe also makes great cupcakes, perfect for feeding hungry coworkers, family and friends. The recipe below has been configured thusly. Also, a word about the batter, which is surprisingly thick for cupcakes, almost resembling a dough. At first, it seemed there was a mistake somewhere, but the bananas “melt” as they cook, and everything works out in the end.
More than just “work out,” these things are spectacular! Let people squabble about whether American Southerners or Jamaicans invented the Hummingbird Cake. We’ll be over here, eating the evidence.
Chef Art Smith’s Hummingbird Cake
For the cake:
- 3 cups flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 cups chopped ripe bananas (*1)
- 1 cup crushed pineapple (*2)
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 cup finely chopped pecans (*3)
For the frosting:
- 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
- 1/2 cup (one stick) butter, at room temperature
- 4 and 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350°. Line a cupcake tray with liners.
Start by making the cupcakes. Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a large bowl. In a medium bowl, whisk together the bananas, pineapple, oil, eggs and vanilla.
Pour the wet ingredients into the dry and fold together with a spatula until just smooth. Fold in the pecans. Fill the cupcake liners until they’re about 80% full. Bake on the oven’s middle rack for half an hour.
While the cupcakes bake, make the frosting. Place a stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment in the freezer. After fifteen minutes, remove them and attach them to the mixer. Put the cream cheese and the butter in the bowl and turn the motor speed to low. Slowly pour in the powdered sugar, taking care not to be is too much of a hurry, else the sugar will land everywhere but the bowl. Add the vanilla extract. Once combined, gradually increase the motor speed to high and whip until fluffy, about five minutes.
When cupcakes are finished cooking, let the cupcake tray cool on a wire rack for ten minutes, then remove the cupcakes and let them cool individually on the rack for another ten minutes.
Load the frosting into a pastry bag fitted with a “star” tip, as pictured below:
Decorate the cupcakes with frosting and garnish with pineapple and a whole pecan, if desired.
1 – To a large degree, the uglier the bananas, the better, as you want them to be heavily spotted and starting to soften (just a bit). Remember, you’re not looking for a “picture perfect” eating banana, but something more than a little overripe.
2 – Canned pineapple is perfect for this application, but be sure to get the variety packed in natural juices, not syrup. If you “accidentally” pour some of the juices into the batter, all the better!
3 – For a greatly-enhanced taste, lightly toast the pecans in a skillet set over a low flame, stirring them constantly. Don’t let them burn, of course.