A couple of nights ago, my husband arrived home from work as I was happily baking away in our matchbox-sized kitchen. “What are you making?” he inquired, peering over my shoulder as he headed towards the shower. “Hummingbird cake”, I responded, absentmindedly pouring the thick batter into my lined cake tin. He smiled slightly, re-entering the room.
“How many did you put in it?”
I looked at him quizzically, licking some batter off my finger before sliding the cake onto an oven rack. “Uh… how many what?”
“Ohhhh. Right.” (my failure to identify this joke earlier in the conversation was rather abysmal, wasn’t it?)
Anyway, I’ll stop the conversation there, as it took a rather non-animal-friendly turn (think: comments about fried and baked hummingbirds, minced hummingbirds, the nutritional value of hummingbirds) but ever since that night I’ve been wondering how this moist, spiced banana, pineapple and coconut cake got it’s rather interesting name.
Enter Google (how I ever survived without this search engine, I’ll never know). A few clicks revealed that the printed origin of this cake dates back to February 1978, when a Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina submitted the recipe to Southern Living magazine. Since then, it’s been the most requested recipe in the magazine’s history, winning all-time favourite recipe in 1990 and collecting numerous blue ribbons at country fairs across the United States.
There’s also speculation that the cake existed long before being printed in Southern Living magazine. Variations exist around the world (with different quantities of fruit, nuts and spices) under names such as ‘Jamaica Cake‘ and ‘Granny Cake‘. Hm, I’ve just experienced an epiphany:
- The hummingbird is the national bird of Jamaica
- Hummingbirds like sweet things, especially nectar of fruits and flowers
- Grandmothers also like sweet things (well, at least mine did. She stole my Galaxy Minstrels on more than one occasion)
…it’s all starting to make sense! Well, uh… sort of.
Anyway, enough musing for one morning. Below you’ll find my recipe for the Jamaican Granny’s Hummingbird cake (I’m being all-inclusive here) which has been slightly altered from the original by substituting walnuts for pecans, organic coconut sugar for brown sugar and raisins for… well, an absence of raisins. I’ve also chosen to bake it as a single layer cake, cutting down the usual amount of frosting to a singular, thick layer on the top.
This version of Hummingbird cake is topped with a layer of crunchy, toasted coconut, organic coconut sugar and cinnamon. I think it adds a delicious dimension of flavour and texture that echoes those of the cake itself. If you’d like to be a traditional Southerner, I’d suggest substituting this for the more traditional topping of toasted walnuts or pecans. Yee-haw!
- 250g self-raising flour
- 270g organic coconut sugar (I use Coco’s Organic Blend from Gewürzhaus, however Loving Earth Fairtrade Organic Coconut Sugar is also fantastic… the added bonus is that they sell in bulk)
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1/2 tsp ground coriander
- 50g dessicated coconut
- 440g can crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained
- 2 ripe bananas, mashed
- 2 free-range eggs
- 3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 200ml sunflower oil
Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). Grease and line a 23cm cake tin, then set aside.
Sift your flour and spices into a large bowl. Add in your coconut sugar, dessicated coconut, raisins and walnuts, then stir to combine.
Lightly beat your eggs in a separate bowl, then add in your other liquid ingredients (mashed banana, sunflower oil, drained crushed pineapple). Add the liquid ingredients to your dry ingredients, stirring until well combined.
Pour the mixture into your lined cake tin, tapping it lightly on the bench top to remove any trapped air pockets. Bake for 40 – 60 minutes, depending upon the efficiency of your oven (it takes about 65-70 minutes in my little gas cooker!). Your cake is done when the top is light golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.
Cool your cake in the tin on a wire rack, then refrigerate until you’re ready to top it with frosting.
*the quantity of frosting below has been calculated to cover the top of the cake only. If you intend to fully cover your cake or build traditional layers, I’d suggest that you double or triple the mixture accordingly.
- 125g cream cheese
- 50g unsalted, organic butter
- 150g pure icing sugar, sifted
- lemon juice, to taste (I used about one tablespoon)
Beat the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar together until you have a smooth mixture. Add a little lemon juice, beat again, then taste. Add more lemon as desired. Refrigerate until you are ready to ice your cake.
To ice: place a pile of the cream cheese frosting in the centre of your cake. Using broad strokes with a palette knife or spoon, work the icing outwards until it reaches the edge. Continue smoothing the icing in a circular pattern, rotating the cake under your knife, until you have a smooth, even layer over the top of your cake.
Toasted Coconut Sugar Topping
- 1/2 cup coarsely shredded coconut
- 1 tablespoon organic coconut sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
Place the shredded coconut onto an oven tray. In a moderate oven (180 degrees C/356 degrees f), toast the shredded coconut until it turns a light shade of golden brown. Allow to cool slightly, then place in a small bowl. Add in the organic coconut sugar and ground cinnamon, stir to combine. Use to top your cake if desired.
- Coconut sugar is a minimally processed product made from the sap of cut flower buds from the coconut palm. It’s a soft, golden, dense sugar that tastes similar to brown sugar, with soft notes of toffee and caramel.
- Coconut sugar has a low gycaemic index (>35) for sustained energy. It’s a rich source of minerals including potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron (in comparison to brown sugar, it has 36 times the iron, four times the magnesium, and over 10 times the amount of zinc). It also contains B-vitamins and 16 essential amino acids.
- Due to it’s minimally processed nature, coconut sugar can vary slightly in terms of sweetness. However, in general you can use it as a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar in your favourite recipes. If you’re worried, taste your product before using it and add a little extra if it seems less sweet.
P.S. Today is the 26th January, 2013: Australia Day for all of those from the Great Southland! I just want to say a big ‘Happy Aussie Day’ to all of my fellow citizens, wherever you are in the world… especially those whom I count as beautiful friends and family. I love our country and I consider it a privilege to celebrate the foundations of Australia as we know it today. Have fun, whatever you’re doing (e.g. eating meat pies, drinking beer, watching cricket or baking lamingtons… come to think of it, I probably should have posted a recipe for lamingtons or Anzac biscuits today. Oh well… maybe next year).