In the South, Maybe the Far South

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:Closed Star Tip

Decorate the cupcakes with frosting and garnish with pineapple and a whole pecan, if desired.

NOTES:

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.

 

51 thoughts on “In the South, Maybe the Far South

    1. Much appreciated, Rachel! Thanks to the wonders of our modern global supply chains, all those ingredients are available year-round, too. Meaning, no matter whether the fancy strikes now ,or in November, we’re in a position to satisfy it.

      And yes, “satisfy” pineapples, pecans and cinnamon certainly do!

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Good, Rachel, now you see it coming. First it starts with the occasional curiosity, building to a sense of wonder and eventually, to a question. “Well, what if…?” How long is it before you remind yourself, “If Keith can do it, I certainly can!”

        From there, the kitchen is yours, an there’s no telling who you’ll impress. May the ingredients continue to build that inspirsation!

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Hah! I don’t think I have quite a high enough opinion of myself, nor anywhere near a low enough opinion of you, to dare use that particular reminder. Nay, the kitchen is yours; But perhaps one day I’ll learn to guest star now and then.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Thanks, Rachel!

        Of course, you haven’t given yourself a chance yet. Thus, who knows what you’ll accomplish when you set your mind to the task?

        As of now, you’re content to watch. That’s cool. Eventually, though, there will be a recipe. an ingredient, that will draw you to the kitchen. We both know it’s (or, they’re) out there. We just have to find it (them).

        Fair enough?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. Plus, he tends to get violent with those strike his ire. Even his PR agent admits that.

        Then again, it may not be a worry, as last I heard, Cap’n Rosy is adrift aimlessly in the Sargasso Sea, unable to leave because he did away with half his crew.

        Not a breeze stirs Cap’n Rosy’s sails.
        Survived for nothing, his crew wails.
        If Rosy does have a corset, maybe he has a fan.
        Anything to get us sailing again
        Until then, an ill-tempered captain is least of our travails.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. See, Rosy should’ve allowed his crew its fun,
        Instead of silencing their questions with a gun
        Now, a full-scale mutiny they plan,
        For if Rosy has a corset, then certainly a fan.
        And they’ll ransack his cabin until they find one.

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Never seen hummingbird cake done as cup cakes … here its one round cake!

    They certainly are yum, never heard this debate about who ‘founded’ them before 🙂

    Made a caramel mudcake which has gone over well with the train of visitors I’ve had the last couple of days … restrictions are easing so people can visit each other again 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank, Kate. Actually, the cupcake notion arose from a desire to do things a little differently from what “everyone” is trying.

      That, and the fact that cupcakes are far easier to bring into the office and distribute than is a whole cake. Sure, right now most people still work from home, but the line of thinking has survived.

      Caramel mudcake? Yum…and yes, please! Yet still, Kate, you insist you’re not a cook. Your supplementing a visit’s sweetness with a cake’s, proves otherwise!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. a packet cake if you will, add water and eggs 🙂
        I can cook, just not a passion … I have been feeding myself many years and managed to avoid starvation or poisoning so far 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      1. Actually, Eliza, as you’re preparing mini cupcakes, mashing the bananas probably would work best. After all, bananas “melt” into the batter anyway as they bake. Thus, taking trouble to dice them first would be pointless. Ripe, bananas that just are starting to soften will suit perfectly what you’re doing. Just peel them and smash them with a spatula or even the back of a soup spoon.

        Don’t waste time dicing. The less prep work there is for you, the sooner you and your friend will enjoy the cupcakes. Less talk, more rock!

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Good idea, Eliza! Well, first of all, thank you for your comment.

      As far as mini cupcakes are concerned, why not? After all, today’s recipe already is scaled down from a full layer cake. By all means, then, stick with the theme, them.

      Just remember to reduce the cooking time, and to keep an eye on them too, as they’re liable to burn if you forget about them. Plus, remember, when you pull them from the oven they won’t be cool enough to handle right away, meaning they’ll remain in the tin for a while. Thus, they’ll continue baking even after they leave the oven. Consequently, try to pull them from the oven when they look not-quite-done. It all will work out in the end.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. As a stopgap pitch-in, Eliza,, you could order one from Amazon

        Sure, it might take a while to arrive, but the recipe still will be here. Oh, and don’t forget cupcake liners!

        Like

  2. Hummingbird cake is the best! Such a delicious combination and I love that you made pretty cupcakes. (Also, the dietitian in me really wants to say something about how cupcakes are a good way to get a portion-controlled serving of dessert. lol)

    Food origins can be so tricky. Google recommends listing cuisine for SEO purposes but I tend to hesitate. I’ve seen debates erupt in the comments of popular food blogs over the origins of certain dishes. Being forced to choose a single option from the multiple-choice list in the recipe card is really an invitation for conflict. lol

    By the way, beautiful job with the piping! I appreciate how difficult it can be. I’d give 5 stars if you had a ratings system here 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh wow, wonderful words, Summer!

      You’re so right that addressing origins quite often provokes the hornets. After all, we humans are so bloody mobile, especially in an era in which planes reduce even the vastest distances to hours. The internet, meanwhile, reduces it to no time at all. There’s so much cross-cultural pollination, who can tell what’s what anymore?

      Sure, I do seek archetypes, those dishes that thoroughly represent their cultures and places, but those cultures and places are themselves the result of earlier admixtures. Really, if you insist on only “pure” culinary expressions, you’ll have to settle for the wild roots the first hunter-gatherers collected, because everything after that results from people visiting the next valley over, and adding those ideas to their techniques.

      And when people from different valleys married, forget it. Two original cuisines were lost, and a much greater hybrid replaced them. Now, multiply that by the, what?, ten billion times that’s happened since we first grasped humanity, and you have modern cuisine.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Wise words! I’m so glad I dropped back in to check on this post because WordPress did not let me know you responded. (I really dislike when that happens!)

        Yes, I bet marriages have created a lot of fusion cuisines. I know even in my household we have incorporated things that we each remember from growing up into our meals. My husband and I both largely have British ancestry and we grew up in the same upstate NY neighborhood. Imagine the couples who grew up on opposite sides of the planet! There’s a lot of potential there for wonderful, unique dishes.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks so much for sticking to it, Summer, despite WordPress’s passing tantrum. As I may have told you, WordPress hasn’t informed me for months of anything happening on your site. Not new posts, not responses, not even Likes. Nothing. Lucky for me, I have your site bookmarked and your iridescence draws me back daily.. Else, as far as WordPress is concerned, “You’re on your own, pal.”

        You’re so right about marriages and their effect on cuisines. Sweeping changes, as we both have observed, propel cooking forward.

        So too, tough, do subtle refinements.

        “Have you ever thought of adding a little cinnamon to those apples? My family always did.”

        “Of course. Brilliant! See, this is why I married you!”

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Actually, I’ve heard of that phenomenon before, Summer, or at least of its species.

        The thinking, I believe, is that the pickle is meant to be a true appetizer, sharpening the appetite for all else on the table.

        As though anyone needs an incentive to eat more on Thanksgiving.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. He has some Eastern European ancestry and I think having the pickled veggies relates back to that line. I have a feeling the earlier members of his family weren’t having gherkins but that’s what it eventually became as it carried forth into future generations like an old game of telephone. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Interesting, Summer. While some friends are of Eastern European descent, I lack similar ancestry myself. Thus, this is the first I’ve heard of that angle. A fascinating panorama nonetheless, which just added a layer to the rich culinary narrative.

        Think of your son, combining those influences, and yours. Then what if, in years hence, he attracts someone of East Asian ancestry? Think of all the culinary traditions in that particular family!

        Not to get too punch-drunk, as I still prefer “pure” culinary exemplars, but really, didn’t everything food-wise evolve from all manner of hybrids? Still, food does speak loudly of the lands and cultures which sustain it.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. My husband and son are so funny because they have very different food preferences. If I made everyone happy, I’ve really won! I wonder sometimes what my son will take away food-wise from our household. One of the reasons I like having the blog is that he’ll have easy access to some of his favorite snacks and dishes, wherever he ends up.

        Liked by 1 person

      7. That’s a great way of looking at things, Summer! Yes, of course, your blog will be for your son, now and henceforth, “Mom’s Cookbook, Being Largely a Taste of My Youth (Sigh).”

        Kudos to you for bringing together disparate preferences. How much of your son’s culinary uniqueness do you imagine is due to his being a supertaster?

        Liked by 1 person

      8. It’s hard to say. He’s a bit unpredictable at times. Sometimes I’ll serve something that I think is sweet (like roasted turnips) and he’ll say they taste incredibly bitter. But then he’ll go right for the broccoli slaw while everyone else makes a beeline for the corn and ribs (that was what happened on the 4th). Hopefully he’ll just keep trying different things when he goes off to college.

        Liked by 1 person

      9. Oh, of that we can be confident, Summer. What else is college, after all, other than a open invitation to try all sorts of new things? Foods most definitely included.

        “Oh Mom, the Caveman Diet was last week. Today it’s vegan.” After all, we have potential dates to impress.

        Broccoli Slaw, huh? Sure, I like broccoli, but to the exclusion of corn and ribs? At a July 4th cookout, no less? Well, as though we needed any more proof this supertasting thing is for real…

        Liked by 1 person

      10. All of the colleges I’ve ever attended do offer good options, they just aren’t what tends to be in demand. You may have seen the bacon jalapeno mac and cheese incident at UConn that made national headlines a few years ago. Embarrassing for the boy’s family for sure, and also for the school.

        I was a student there at the time. I guess the demand went up for that menu item after the incident. It was a pretty good lesson about how not to behave when you go to college. lol

        Liked by 1 person

      11. Oh definitely, Summer. The incident may have demonstrated what not to do, though it’s a lesson the bacon jalapeno kid didn’t heed. apparently, as he’s been in and out of jail ever since for various tirades/tantrums. Then again, Mr. Jalapeno didn’t learn, obviously, but how many others did?

        Many have criticized dining hall food, including (ahem) me at times, but given the enormity of the task, they (ah, that vague pronoun again!) do a good job. Think of the thousands of people that walk through the doors each day, and at some of the larger schools, tens of thousands.

        You’ve got to keep the public satisfied and willing to come back again. All while making allowances for countless dietary, cultural, and even whimsical, restrictions. Try doing this too, while the school is looking for a pretext, any pretext, to divert money from you. Well…

        Much more is required to cook three times a day, every day, for 27,000 people, than it is to spend a week putting together a meal for a few dozen blog readers.

        Dining hall cooking. I mean, really, how hard can it be?

        Plenty, actually.

        Like

    1. A wonderfully achievable task, if you ask me, Deeksha.

      If you’re so inclined, you make want to toast the pecans ever-so-slightly before incorporating them. Go just a bit past the “warming” stage, and I think you’ll like the result.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Most flattering, JoAnn. Thanks!

      Let me tell you, the combination of pineapples, pecans and cream cheese really does hit it out of the park! This too, from someone who isn’t exactly among cheese’s greatest admirers.

      Oh, and in a connection you might appreciate, the cupcakes are based on a cake chef Art Smith developed for his restaurant, Homecoming, in Disney Springs. In the text I just mentioned the restaurant being in “Florida,” but I figure someone from Orlando would be a little more savvy.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I love cheese… probably a little too much. Gotta be careful.

    Savvy? Not sure about that… I know a little about a little. I have not tried that restaurant but it would have to be great considering his reputation! Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So, Smith has cultivated a certain…infamy? I admit to not knowing much about him, and largely what I read when researching hummingbird cake.

      Pity. Still, apparently, Gordon Ramsay isn’t quite the SOB his image suggests.

      Which means…you win one, and, it seems with Smith, you lose one. I suppose celebrity chefs have to do something to maintain their appalling reputation.

      Liked by 1 person

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