Make a Classic Southern Dessert: Hummingbird Cake
It's a classic Southern dessert, and it's downright divine.
Photos by Molly Dunn
If you're from the American South, then there's a 99 percent chance you have heard of Hummingbird Cake. To me, Hummingbird Cake is like a cross between Pineapple Upside Down Cake and banana bread. When you add the sliced bananas and pineapple chunks to the batter, its texture is much thicker than an ordinary vanilla cake, more like that of banana bread, and when baked, it is caramelized and sticky like a Pineapple Upside Down Cake.
But, why is it called Hummingbird Cake? Do hummingbirds eat bananas? Pineapples? Pecans? Cream cheese frosting? The only thing I have seen hummingbirds eat is the red sugar water my mom puts in their feeder.
Some suggest that it's name comes from the joyful humming heard from those eating the cake. Others say that it is as sweet as the nectar or sugar water that hummingbirds drink. There's also a belief that when people hover over the cake in anticipation of having a slice, it is like hummingbirds hovering over flowers. But, history aside, this cake tastes amazing and might be my new favorite flavor -- sorry, chocolate fudge.
Southern Living magazine debuted the first Hummingbird Cake recipe in 1978 as one way to "make the best of bananas." To this day it is the magazine's most requested recipe, and this is why I am sharing it with you.
No need to pull out your heavy stand mixer from the cabinet or pantry, because this recipe does not require you to beat the cake mix. Hallelujah! (You will need to use it for the cream cheese frosting, though, unless you decide to use canned cream cheese frosting, and there is no shame in that!)
Don't panic if the batter looks like cookie dough; it will thin out as you add more ingredients.
The recipe begins with combining all of the dry ingredients. Sift 3 cups of all-purpose flour, 2 cups of granulated sugar, and 1 teaspoon each of salt, baking soda and ground cinnamon into a large mixing bowl. Stir. Once everything is properly mixed, it's time to add the wet ingredients. Pour 3 large -- slightly beaten -- eggs into the dry ingredients, followed by 1 cup of vegetable oil.
As you mix these ingredients together you might grow worried, because the batter will congeal, like cookie dough. Don't worry. This is supposed to happen. You'll make the batter much thinner with the addition of the next set of ingredients.
You'll love the slices of banana dispersed throughout the cake.
Stir in 1.5 teaspoons of vanilla extract, one 8-ounce can of crushed pineapple (with the juice), 1 cup of chopped pecans and 2 cups of sliced bananas. Yes, sliced bananas. Don't mash them into a puree; you want the thin slices to bake into the cake so each bite is soft and smooth. I used about two and a half large bananas.
After all of the ingredients are combined, the batter will be much thinner and won't look like a dense ball of cookie dough. Pour the batter into three greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. At 25 minutes, insert a toothpick into the center of each cake; if it comes out clean the baking is complete.
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The cake layers will be golden when they finish baking.
Let the cakes cool in the pans on cooling racks for ten minutes, then invert onto the racks to finish cooling. You can begin frosting them as soon as they are no longer hot, but if you have time, after they cool, wrap each layer in plastic wrap and place them in the refrigerator overnight. Your cake will be much firmer and easier to frost the next morning.
Preparing the cream cheese frosting is the next step. Beat an 8-ounce package of softened cream cheese with ½ cup of softened butter in an electric stand mixer on medium speed. Then, once the cream cheese and butter are blended , slowly add a 16-ounce package of sifted powdered sugar with the mixer on low speed. Add a teaspoon or so of vanilla extract once the cream cheese frosting is fluffy and light.
To assemble the cake, simply place one cake layer on a serving plate, then thinly frost the top. Repeat this step until you place the final cake layer on top, then cover it and the exterior of the cake with the remaining cream cheese frosting. Finish decorating the cake with a sprinkling of chopped pecans on top, then place it in the refrigerator until you're ready to serve. But, if you can't wait, immediately cut yourself a slice -- I don't blame you.
It's got a lot of fruit in it, so it's healthy, right?
At first I thought this cake would be quite dense, what with the addition of bananas, pineapple chunks, lots of flour and pecans. But, it is quite airy, delicate and fluffy. Sure, three layers of cake with cream cheese frosting makes for one large slice, but the moistness from the pineapple chunks and soft banana slices makes it a delectable, comforting dessert. It's succulent and smooth from the fruit, and crunchy and chewy from the pecans, making a perfectly balanced combination. All you need is a big glass of milk.
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