Thursday, June 26, 2014

Hummingbird Cake

Ever since I first flipped through the pages of The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook I was intrigued by the Hummingbird Cake. I had never heard of it before, but apparently it's a pretty traditional Southern cake and I can see why it's so popular.

The key components include banana, pineapple, and pecans with a luscious cream cheese frosting (is there anything more Southern?). Spiced with warm cinnamon, this layer cake is reminiscent of both banana bread and carrot cake.

If you like both, you will LOVE Hummingbird Cake. Between the sweet and tangy frosting and the crunch of the nuts, and even the tart bits of pineapple with are almost citrusy, there's a lot about this cake that reminds me of carrot cake (without all the tedious grating of the carrots of course).

Add a lot of mashed banana and you have a moist, decadent, sweet but not too sweet layer cake that is impressive enough for entertaining, and delicious enough for any family gathering. A halo of chopped pecans around the edges of the cake add a stunning touch that really makes this cake as beautiful on the outside as it is on the inside.

The original recipe calls for twice as much cream cheese frosting as what I feature here. Cream cheese frosting is one of my favorites, but it can definitely be on the sweet side. I felt that half the original recipe was plenty to fill and frost this cake. In all honestly, even my sweet tooth may not have been able to handle more. If you desire, feel free to double this frosting if you plan on being more indulgent with your frosting proportions.

My cakes barely domed so I didn't bother trimming them, just facing the slightly domed sides toward the inside so the bottom and top of the finished cake are both flat. If your cakes dome, definitely trim them to yield flat surfaces for a more elegantly finished cake.

Hummingbird Cake
Serves 10 to 12
(Adapted from The Back in the Day Bakery Cookbook)

3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups canola oil
3 large eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups mashed very ripe bananas (about 5 large bananas)
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, drained
1 1/2 cups chopped pecans

Cream Cheese Frosting:
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 1/2 to 3 cups confectioners' sugar

Position a rack in the lower third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees F. Butter two 9-by-2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with parchment and butter it as well. Lightly dust the pans with flour, tapping the pans on the counter to shake out the excess.

Sift together the flour, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat both sugars with the oil for 2 to 3 minutes, until smooth. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition, then mix for 2 minutes, or until light and fluffy. Add the vanilla, bananas, and pineapple, mixing until just combined. On low speed, add the flour mixture in thirds, beating until combined; scrape down the sides of the bowl as necessary. Fold in 1/2 cup of the pecans.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and smooth the tops with a spatula. Tap the pans firmly on the countertop to remove any air bubbles from the batter. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool for 15 minutes, then remove the layers from the pans and cool completely on a wire rack.

To make the frosting: in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, cream cheese, and vanilla until smooth and creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually add the confectioners' sugar, beating until light and fluffy, 5 to 7 minutes. The frosting can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 2 days.

To assemble the cake: if the cakes have domed significantly, level the tops of the layers with a serrated knife so they are flat. If they haven't really domed, leave them as they are and make sure the flattest sides are on the bottom and top of the assembled cake with the actual "tops" of the cakes facing the filling. Place one layer flat side down on a serving plate. Using an offset spatula or butter knife, spread the top of the layer with a dollop of frosting. Place the second cake layer on top, flat side up, and frost the top and sides with the remaining frosting. Decorate the sides of the cake with the remaining 1 cup pecans. The cake can be stored wrapped in plastic wrap in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Serve at room temperature.


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