Sunday, 21 June 2009

Frequently asked questions #2. What’s in a Hummingbird cake?

“Banana, pineapple, cinnamon, walnuts with a cream cheese icing” has become a mantra for staff at Lantana as it is our automated response to the 2nd question most frequently asked by customers (after "what's the difference between a latte and a flat white").

While these cakes may look sweet and innocent, they are the most misunderstood, lusted after and fought over item on the Lantana counter.

Misunderstood, because people think they are cakes that we’ve bought from the Hummingbird Bakery. I'm tempted to rename them Lantana cakes.

Lusted after, because you know that amount of icing can not be good for you so you deny yourself the indulgence of eating one every day.

Fought over because our chefs can’t bake and ice them as fast as we can sell them and I have seen grown men argue with each other over who should have the last cake.

The reason I put them on the menu is because they remind me of my childhood growing up in Queensland in the 70s/80s when tinned pineapple was a dietary staple, appearing on pizzas, in burgers, salads and in Mrs Fogarty's incredible trifle.

I always thought hummingbird cake was an Australian invention but after looking at some spurious websites have found that Americans claim it as their own.

According to ‘food historians’, in 1978, Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina submitted the recipe to Southern Living magazine, the "Southern belle bible of gracious hostessing", and the cake became renowned. "It is still our most requested recipe," says Donna, one of the writers for the magazine.

No one seems to be sure of the derivation of the name 'Hummingbird'. One theory is that people hum when they eat the cake. Another is that it refers to what these small south American birds like to eat as they are attracted to intensely sweet food. But I’d like to think that it is related to the ancient Aztecs who apparently wore Hummingbird talismans to draw sexual potency, energy and vigor. Imagine what happens when you eat one.

This is Mrs Wiggin's recipe. I haven’t had a chance to try it yet but see if you think it beats ours.

Mrs Wiggin's Hummingbird cake
3 cups flour
2 cups sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups salad oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, undrained
2 cups chopped pecans or walnuts, divided
2 cups chopped bananas

Combine dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl; add eggs and salad oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Do not beat. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, 1 cup chopped pecans, and bananas. Spoon batter into 3 well-greased and floured 9-inch cakepans. Bake at 350 degrees F. For 25 to 30 minutes; remove from pans, and cool immediately. Spread frosting between layers and on top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with 1 cup chopped pecans. Yield: one 9-inch layer cake.

Cream cheese icing
2 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
1 cup butter or margarine, softened
2 (16 ounce) packages powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Combine cream cheese and butter; cream until smooth. Add powdered sugar, beating until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla. Yield: enough for a 3 layer cake.

Mrs. L.H. Wiggins, Greesnboro, North Carolina
"Making the most of bananas," Southern Living, February 1978 (p. 206)


Boo said...

I adore your Hummingbird cakes! I was inspired to make my own having tried yours at Lantana. I was just given the Hummingbord Bakery recipe book for my birthday which has a version. Thank you so much for posting the recipe, I made one large cake and it wasn't a patch on yours!

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