It all started so casually with a simple question: “Ever had hummingbird cake?” An image of four and twenty blackbirds in a pie immediately started to swirl through my mind. But I knew that wasn’t the correct answer.
No, I’d never even heard of it.
Kathleen Cwirko, the talented stylist who helped to orchestrate the photo shoots for my upcoming cookbook gave me a quick smile and wrote down the name of the cake on a little piece of lilac paper. She handed it to me and I tucked it away and promised to look it up when I wasn’t in the middle of finishing a cookbook.
Finally, after much too long a time, I started to research the cake: I discovered that many people consider it the southern equivalent to carrot cake; I found that it harkened back to the mid-1800’s here in this United States, and that the recipe had evolved over time; I read about the folk legend that says it’s so good, people will hum with happiness after they take a bit.
Southern Living ran a version of hummingbird cake originally submitted by Mrs. L. H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina in 1978, and it went on to became the most requested recipe in the magazine’s history. And in 1990, that same recipe was heralded as their recipe of the year.
Some of you in-the know-southerners might be licking your lips right now. But if you grew up north of the Mason-Dixon Line, like me, you may not have been introduced to the magic of hummingbird cake. So let me fill you in. That original Southern Living recipe made a rich, three layer cake that featured pecans, ripe bananas, crushed pineapple and ground cinnamon. It’s really like a pecan spice cake laced with banana and a touch of pineapple. The cake is frosted with a sweet, cream cheese frosting, and then chopped pecans are sprinkled over the top. Hmmmmmmm.
Southern Living knew they had a good thing, and they ran several variations over the years that included a “mile high” version, a “lightened” version, and a Bundt cake version with a cream cheese glaze. The Bundt cake looked mighty good, so I decided to give it try.
I started with the wheat-based Southern Living recipe and tweaked it a bit to create my gluten-free version. Their recipe made a large cake that called for using a 14-cup Bundt pan. But I cut it in half and was able to use a smaller, 10-cup Bundt pan. I adjusted the ingredients, added a little bit of xanthan gum and into the oven it went. What a delicious cake!
See the original Southern Living Hummingbird Bundt Cake here.
I served it to my family and several unsuspecting dinner guests (all northerners) at a dinner party over the summer. My guests were admittedly a bit suspicious, and maybe even a tad bit hesitant about trying such an unknown “delicacy,” but they all succumbed once I told them about the legend. I cut slices and passed them around. Soon my table was filled with melodic humming and requests for seconds. Success? Well maybe. I knew it was delicious, but was it the real thing?
I made it again and brought a big piece of my gluten-free hummingbird cake over to Kathleen to make sure. I nervously watched her take the first bite as I contemplated exactly how many very ripe bananas I had left on the counter at home, in case I had to go back to the drawing board. She gave me one of her big smiles and said, “This is it! This is my grandmother’s cake!”
Want a little music at your next dinner party or brunch? Make this cake and let the humming begin!
And thank you Kathleen Cwirko for introducing me to the magic of hummingbird cake!
Hummingbird Bundt Cake
Makes one 9-inch cake
1 cup pecans
1 1/2 cups Brown Rice Flour Mix
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon xanthan gum
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup finely chopped or mashed, very ripe bananas, at room temperature (about 2 medium bananas)
1/4 cup well-drained, crushed pineapple (from an 8-oz. can, save the juice)
3 tablespoons pineapple juice
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1/4 cup canola oil
Cream Cheese Glaze (recipe follows)
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Position rack in center of oven. Bake pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet for about 6-8 minutes, until lightly toasted and fragrant; stir once or twice, as needed. Cool pecans and then coarsely chop.
2. Lightly grease a 10-cup Bundt pan (9 inches across the top x 2 1/2-inches) with cooking spray.
3. Whisk flour, 1/2 cup of the chopped pecans, baking powder, baking soda, xanthan gum, cinnamon, and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.
4. Beat eggs in large bowl of electric mixer until lemon colored. Add granulated sugar; beat until smooth and thick. Add bananas, pineapple, pineapple juice, and vanilla and mix until well combined (you can leave tiny pieces of banana in the batter). Scrape bowl. Add flour mixture and oil and beat at medium-low speed for about 30 seconds; scrape bowl to incorporate all of the flour mix. Do not overbeat.
5. Spread batter into prepared pan. Place in center of oven and bake about 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center of cake comes out clean. Do not open oven for first 40 minutes.
6. Cool cake on a rack for 8 minutes. Carefully remove cake from pan and cool completely on rack. Move to cake plate and spoon Cream Cheese Glaze (recipe below) over top of cake and let it drip down the sides. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup chopped pecans.
Serve at room temperature. Cut with a sawing motion with a serrated knife. Can be made a day ahead. Store cake in refrigerator, covered tightly with plastic wrap. Can be covered with plastic wrap and then with foil and stored in freezer for up to two weeks. Best when eaten within three days of baking.
Cream Cheese Glaze
2 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 tablespoon milk
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, sifted if lumpy
1. Beat cream cheese in large bowl of electric mixer until smooth. Add vanilla and milk, then gradually add powdered sugar and beat until light and creamy. Add more milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, to thin as needed.
©2014 by Annalise Roberts