Of all the new-to-me Southern cake recipes I encountered during my Southern Food Road Tour, Hummingbird Cake was unquestionably the most intriguing of them all. I can say this with absolute certainty because the afternoon I had my first taste of it, at Prince’s Hot Chicken in Nashville, Tennessee (original location), I had to narrow my choice down from a boggling array of other tempting Southern dessert choices.
And most of those I had never tasted before: a strawberry cream cheese chess square, a red velvet chess square, yellow butter cake with “old-fashioned pot-skillet caramel icing,” and a Mississippi Mud cake. As you’ll see in the video below, I had a really hard time sticking to just one dessert.
All of them were made by the “Cake Lady,” Irene Long, who took me on a tour of her choices, helpfully captured on video so you can see the kind of agonizing decision I was up against. We also had an exchange about the possibility that red food coloring, which gives the vibrancy to the South’s iconic red velvet cake might not be available in the future, leading modern cooks back to the original source of the red color: beets.
Irene was a delight, and her cake was amazing! I liked her carrot cake analogy, but I would probably describe hummingbird cake as a banana cake with pineapple, nuts and cream cheese frosting.
Hummingbird cake was one of the several new-to-me foods I ate during my 12-day tour of Southern food that I knew for sure I’d bring home and try to make. I decided on hummingbird cupcakes for maximum share-ability. The recipe I used and only slightly varied from the Taste of Home, a collection of recipes from home cooks, including a Hummingbird Cupcake Recipe from Jessie Oleson of Santa Fe, New Mexico.
The variations I made to her recipe included:
- Using lightly toasted pecans rather than walnuts, because I love their tender-crisp texture and because for me, they are more particularly “Southern”.
- I swapped out marscapone for half of the cream cheese in the frosting, which mutes the tang that, to many people’s palates, reads as sour.
- Although I hadn’t planned to, I ended up used fresh pineapple instead of canned.
How Do You Know a Pineapple is Ripe?
Canned pineapple deserves its place in the pantry for a reason: pineapples don’t ripen after they are picked. So unless they are perfectly ripe in the produce section, canned or frozen fruit is definitely going to taste better. (The easy way to test a pineapple for ripeness is to pull on one of the spiky leaves at the top. If it comes out easily, the fruit is ripe! If it doesn’t, it never will be.)
The recipe calls for draining the juice from the canned fruit, and I did the same with the fresh chopped pineapple. I think I may have left the pieces a little larger than canned crushed pineapple. You can kind of see in the pre-frosting cupcakes how the little yellow bits of fruit have floated to the top.
Better Butter is Indeed Better
I decided to buy premium butter for these cupcakes because it was on sale for $5 a pound. I’ll let Taste magazine explain why the lower water content of premium butter is better for baked goods until I can get around to writing my own post about it.
And finally, the recipe. I have decided, given the global nature of my blog, to attempt to list both US and Rest-of-the-World measurements.
Yields 24-30 cupcakes, depending on cup size and fill level
Modified Recipe for
- 1 cup butter, softened (227 gms)
- 2 cups sugar (450 gms)
- 3 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 2 cups mashed ripe bananas
- 1/2 cup drained pineapple, fresh if available, canned or frozen if not
- 3 cups all-purpose flour (360 gms)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup sweetened shredded coconut
- 1 cup chopped lightly toasted pecans
Marscapone Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1/2 package (4 ounces/113 gms) cream cheese, softened
- 1/2 cup marscapone (4 ounces/113 gms)
- 1/2 cup butter, softened (225 gms)
- 3-3/4 cups confectioners’ sugar (412 gms)
- 1.5 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Preheat oven to 350°F/177°C
- In a large bowl, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Beat in vanilla.
- In a small bowl, combine bananas and pineapple.
- Combine the flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; add to the creamed mixture alternately with banana mixture, beating well after each addition, starting and ending with dry ingredients.
- Fold in coconut and pecans (make sure to toast the pecans beforehand; it’s the only chance you have to crisp them before they go in the batter).
- Fill 24-30 paper-lined muffin cups about two-thirds full. Keep the level consistent so they cook at the same rate. I used a 1/4 cup measure I leveled off and scooped out because I don’t have an ice cream scoop.
- Bake at 350° for 20-25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. ( I always check at the earliest time listed, because nobody wants to eat dry cake.)
- Cool for 10 minutes before removing from pans to wire racks to cool completely.
- In a small bowl, beat mascarpone, cream cheese and butter until fluffy. Add confectioners’ sugar and vanilla; beat until smooth.
- Frost cupcakes and decorate as you see fit. Topping with a half maraschino cherry and chopped nuts is common in the South. I toasted some unsweetened coconut, toasted some whole pecans and cut little pineapple triangles. They come out looking a bit homespun, but couldn’t find my pastry bag so I just did the old cut the corner off a gallon ziplock! You could make them fancier looking with a star-shaped piping tip.
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