Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Hummingbird Cake

I know, I know.  I post WAY too much about cakes here.  Sorry for that.  But this is just too good not to share.

We attended a fundraising event for Georgia Organics this past weekend.  My friend Annie was the coordinator for the whole thing and oh my, what an incredible job she did.  It was held at Woodland Garden, which is a farm near Athens.  What amazing work they do there.  Celia, the owner, took us on a tour and explained how she is so very focused on organic and sustainable growing.  It was a revelation.  We are completely in awe of what she does and how she does it.

As we took the tour (all 100+ of us, split into small groups), there were "pit stops" along the way.  That would mean snacks and beverages from some of the best chefs in Atlanta.  Stuff like Caramel Corn, Sea Salt, Pecans, Peanuts served with Spiced Ellijay Cider with High West Rye and Agave from Rosebud.  Or Black Pepper & Rosemary Gougere with Gus Russet - Bulleit Bourbon, Basil, Lime Spiced Tea from Joe Truex at Repast.  Need I say more?

I won't even begin to describe dinner.  We were seated at two veerrrrry long tables (each seating 52) in a big greenhouse.  Gorgeous.  Wish I had a picture to share.  Let's just say Lobster Pie, Pulled Pork, Wild Shrimp, Veal Meatballs and Mom's Mac and Cheese.  Much, much more but you had to be there.  Sorry you weren't.

And then there was the Cake Walk.  An old southern tradition, made modern by Annie Quatrano.  About 20 chefs/pastry chefs made cakes for this.  Oh yeah, and I made one, too.  At the end of the supper, the cakes were paraded down the aisle (between the long tables) and placed on a buffet table at the end of the greenhouse.  Guests were invited to come up and help themselves.

I avoided the whole thing (haha, I'm still on this diet.  Well, sort of that day).  We were seated at the far end of the long table row, at the opposite end of the "cake buffet."  I had no intention of going there.   But after 30 minutes or so, my curiosity got the best of me.  I HAD to check it out.

This is Carla's Appalachian Apple Cake
as she drenched it with caramel glaze

Here's a partial list of what was there:  Wine Sponge Cake with Pecans and Cherries, Sticky Toffee Pudding Cake, Chocolate Layer Cake, Caramel Cake, Tres Leches Cake, Coca Cola Cake (complete with the Coca Cola emblem artfully etched in cocoa on top of the cake), Spiced Pumpkin Cake with Sage Icing and a Warm Currant Reduction, Appalachian Apple Stack Cake (this was unbelievable; see photo above), Autumn Harvest Cake, Pumpkin Cake (crafted by an artist slash pastry chef to look like actual pumpkins), Jonah Gold Apple Spice Cake with Sour Cream and Maple Glaze and Apple Spice Cake.

And then there was my humble Hummingbird Cake.

You already know about my decorating skills (or lack thereof).  So I kept it simple.  Just covered with cream cheese frosting (not too sweet) with chopped pecans adorning the sides.  It was beautiful in its simplicity but it was no match for so many of those artfully decorated cakes (sigh).  I thought about not even bringing it, but I didn't want to disappoint Annie.

So I brought it.  And then cringed in the wake of all those "professional" cakes.

When we finally made it to the cake tables, we saw that each cake had a tent card with the name of the cake, the name of the chef and the name of their restaurant (mine was labeled "Hummingbird Cake - Liz Lorber").  I immediately saw that several cakes only had a slice or so missing.  I did not even want to look at mine.

Okay, I'll dispense with the drama.  I looked at it and GUESS WHAT??? It was eff-ing WIPED OUT!!!!!!!  Nothing left but a few crumbs.  Annie had the bad luck to walk up at that moment as I grabbed her (as much as I could while jumping up and down) and giving her the news.  Mine got wiped out FIRST!

Oh, what a moment!

So I'm not an artist and I'm not a professional chef, but I can clearly hold my own against both.  Here is my recipe.  It's pretty easy and it will never fail you.

Hummingbird Cake (adapted from Cakewalk by Robbin Gourley)

3 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 T. baking soda
1 t. salt
1 t. ground cinnamon
3 extra-large eggs
1 cup canola oil
2 t. pure vanilla extract
8-oz. can crushed pineapple, drained
1 cup chopped pecans
 2 cups chopped ripe bananas

Preheat oven to 350-degrees.  Grease 3 9-inch cake pans and line bottom and sides with parchment.  Grease again (I use PAM for this).

Place flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl.  Use a wire whisk to blend well and break up any lumps.  Add eggs and canola oil and mix with a wooden spoon to blend.  Do not beat.  Stir in vanilla extract, drained pineapple, pecans and bananas.

Divide batter evenly among pans.  Rap each pan sharply on counter, then place in oven.  Bake for 30-40 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in center comes out clean.  Place pans on a rack and cool for 20 minutes, then turn out onto another rack and cool completely.  Frost with cream cheese frosting.  If desired, decorate sides of cake with chopped pecans.

This cake is great the first day, but I think it is even better on the second and third days.  Here is the frosting recipe.

Cream Cheese Frosting
3 lbs. cream cheese, softened
1 lb. unsalted butter, softened
1 lb. confectioners sugar
Pinch of salt
                                                         1 t. pure vanilla extract
Place cream cheese and butter in an electric mixer.  Beat well on high speed for at least five minutes, scraping bowl down often until no lumps remain.  Add sugar in three parts, beating well each time and scrapimng bowl as needed.  Add salt and vanilla and blend well.  Try to resist eating too much as you make it.

One more thing:  this recipe makes way too much frosting.  Of course, I'm the kinda girl who thinks there is never such a thing.  If you are a normal person, you might halve the recipe.

In the box, ready to make the 1 hour drive to Athens.
(I held it in my lap and bitched to Henry
the whole way about his driving).


  1. this is my all time favorite cake!!! Glenn got me into it & I so miss it!!! Do you think you could figure out a vegan/whole wheat version for when I come back from my health/wellness program :( xoxo

  2. Liz-- What a treat to read your blog. This is my first time checking it out, but definitely not my last! Now, I'm counting four prepared cake pans in that picture! Did Henry swipe a layer? Is it somewhere here on the Manor? Can't wait to read more.

  3. Is the tablespoon of baking soda correct or a typo? The old Southern Living Hummingbird Cake recipe is similar, but it only calls for a teaspoon of soda.

    1. Many thanks -- can't wait to try it for Easter!