Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Sweet hummingbird

I had heard of hummingbird cake, but until last week I'd never eaten it or made it. This cake is now associated with southern states in the USA, but it's a relatively recent import there, and it's known in other places by many different names: Cake That Won't Last, Jamaican Cake, Granny's Best Cake, Nothing Left Cake, Never Ending Cake. 
         Nobody seems to know exactly where the name comes from, but there are lots of suggestions: 
- It's as sweet as the nectar that  hummingbirds drink from flowers - or sweet enough to attract humming birds...
- When the cake is served, people hover around it the way hummingbirds hover around flowers - maybe humming with delight...
- Bananas and pineapples come from the tropics, and the national bird of Jamaica is a hummingbird...
          None of these sound very convincing - does anyone have a better idea? There definitely seems to be a Jamaican connection. The Jamaican hummingbird is called the Doctor-Bird, and a recipe for Doctor-Bird Cake, including bananas but not pineapple,  appeared in the Jamaican Daily Gleaner in 1969. 
          Southern Living Magazine published Mrs. L.H. Wiggin's Hummingbird Cake recipe in February 1978 (but she didn't explain the name). That year it won the Favorite Cake Award at the 1978 Kentucky State Fair. Hummingbird Cake quickly became the magazine's most requested recipe and was voted its favourite recipe ever in 1990. 
          The Southern US version has mashed banana, crushed pineapple and pecans, with layers and cream cheese icing. The simpler New Zealand version I used has no pecans, but it does have passionfruit. I found it (thanks to my neighbour) in the March issue of Cuisine. It comes from Alice Arndell's much-praised book, Alice in Bakingland, but she got it from The Village Cafe in Martinborough. It's extremely easy, and that's the only kind of cake I make, pretty much - mix it, bake it. And it's a beautifully moist dessert cake.
Hummingbird cake (Slightly adapted from recipe by The Village Cafe via Alice Arndell, reprinted in Cuisine, March 2014)
375g mashed banana (about 3 large bananas)
1/2 c passion fruit pulp (and more to decorate - see icing, below)
425g tin of crushed pineapple in juice
1 and 1/3 c sugar
1 c vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
1 and 1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 c plain flour
1 and 1/4 tsps baking soda

Set the oven to 180C (if you have a fan, don't use it, just use "bake").
Grease and line the base of a 23cm round loose-bottomed cake tin or 2 smaller tins.
(You could make two layers and stick them together with icing, as they do in the USA, but this does seem like overkill.)
Put the three fruits into a large bowl and mix to combine.
Add the sugar, oil, eggs and vanilla and mix to combine.
Add the dry ingredients and mix until evenly combined. 
Pour into prepared tin and bake for 60 to 75 minutes until a thin skewer inserted in the middle comes out with just a few crumbs on it. (Two smaller cakes will bake more quickly.) Put tin or tins on a wire rack and leave cake/s to cool completely before removing. 

Cream cheese icing
80 g cream cheese, softened
45 g butter, softened
3 and 1/4 c icing sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 Tbsp lemon juice
Passionfruit pulp to decorate
Beat cream cheese and butter together. Add icing sugar, vanilla and lemon juice and beat till smooth. Spread over top of cake and decorate with passionfruit pulp.
(If you want to cover the whole cake, make half as much icing again - this looks very pretty but again, it could be overdoing it!)
        I forgot I shouldn't use the fan and had the oven a little too hot as a result, so the cake cooked quickly, cracked a bit on top and got a slightly crunchy outside. (I made a smaller loaf cake as well.) But this actually didn't matter at all, it was a nice contrast - when we cut into the cake it was really moist and tender, perfect for dessert.  I didn't use the icing - instead I mixed together a sachet of mascarpone, some icing sugar (taste as you go - it shouldn't be too sweet), the juice of half a lemon, and pulp from another passionfruit, to serve on the side. This went perfectly with the sweet cake. We were happy as hummingbirds.

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