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)

Thursday, 11 June 2009

Aussie snubs Mayor

Last Saturday saw the rainy return of the Charlotte Street Festival after an 8 year sabbatical.

We were in the middle of our mid morning rush at Lantana when Jim Murray, organiser of the Festival, came in to tell me that he had the Mayor outside and asked me whether I wanted a photo with him while he was doing his rounds meeting and greeting the local business owners.

Boris is outside?” I asked excitedly.

No, Omar Faruque Ansari, the Mayor of Camden.

"Oh. Can he come back a little later? I’ve just got to clear a couple of tables, take some orders, seat these people…."

Jim rolled his eyes and muttered “Australians” to a woman standing at the front of the line waiting for a table. She was a Kiwi so nodded in agreement.

Fearful that the next edition of the Fitzrovia News might carry the headline “Aussie snubs Mayor” I decided the customers could wait and invited the Mayor in for a photo.

The first for our coffee machine of fame.

Wednesday, 3 June 2009

In Vogue

While some women may secretly fantasise about having their face on the cover of Vogue

I've always dreamed about having a cafe in Australia’s Vogue Entertaining and Travel.

Go on and pinch me because if I'm not dreaming that's Lantana striking a pose in the June/July 2009 edition of VE&T*.

*If you don't have a sister in Australia to post you a copy (thanks Helly) you can buy VE&T from some newsagents in London that specialise in international publications, like Rococo in Nottinghill.