The origins of Hummingbird Cake aren’t totally clear although Southern Living magazine is credited with the very first reference, and apparently it’s their most requested recipe. They published the recipe in 1978, submitted by a Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, N.C. and permutations of it have spread throughout the South under different names. The Food Timeline suggests that the cake descended from Jamaica and was lovingly called Dr. Bird Cake (Jamaica’s national bird is the red-billed streamertail hummingbird, also called the Doctor bird because its long tail feathers and decorative top-hat-like crest make it look like an old-fashioned doctor. Sort of).
Hummingbird Cake was also known as The Cake that Won’t Last. In the late 70’s, this cake became well-known in the South because it’s so quick to make and it gave people something to do with their over-ripe bananas. But these days, old-fashioned Southern desserts are growing in popularity, and I think you’ll be seeing more and more Hummingbird cake or cupcakes in Bay Area bakeries in the months to come. Remember the sudden resurgence of Red Velvet? Yeah, I’m thinking something along those lines. The cake itself has a carrot cake vibe but without the carrots. And in many ways, the balance of flavors is perfect: there is a fruity sweetness from the pineapple, banana and coconut tempered by the tart, smooth cream cheese frosting and crunch of toasted walnuts. It’s a nice afternoon treat with tea, and I’ve certainly been known to convince myself that it’s a responsible breakfast choice as well.
On my recent trip to Seattle, I saw Hummingbird Cupcakes at Trophy Cupcake. When I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about them and wanted to emulate the recipe. Most of the research I did yielded a super sweet or overly-heavy crumb, so I set out to adapt my own version and I think you’re going to like it. I always appreciate a recipe with a history–a recipe with roots. So even though no one’s really all that sure what exactly those roots are, this is a recipe that’s endured for many years. In other words, these cupcakes have got legs.
Since I live alone, I didn’t want to make a batch that yielded 20 cupcakes, so my proportions are perfect for a small household or a couple with an appetite. Obviously, if you’re looking to bake a larger batch, just double it.
Inspired by the recipe in Classic Southern Desserts
Serves: 8-10 cupcakes
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. salt
1 large egg
4 oz. crushed pineapple, undrained
1 cup mashed banana (2-3 large bananas)
1/2 cup unsweetened, shredded coconut
1/4 cup sour cream
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. Canola oil
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup walnut pieces (for top of cupcakes)
For Cream Cheese Frosting:
1 8-oz package cream cheese, softened
1/4 cup butter, softened
1 cup powdered sugar
1 tsp. vanilla
1. Preheat over to 350 F.
2. Combine flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt in a large bowl. In a separate bowl, stir together the eggs and next five ingredients; add to flour mixture and stir until well combined (don’t beat).
3. Line cupcake pan with foil or paper cups and fill with batter. Keep in mind they will rise a little so don’t fill too full.
4. Bake at 350 F for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out of center clean. Cool completely before frosting. In the meantime, make the frosting by beating together all ingredients until well combined. Add the sugar slowly and taste as you go–some people like it sweeter than others.
5. During the last 10 minutes of baking, spread the walnut pieces on a cookie sheet or a piece of aluminum foil and toast in the oven.
6. Frost each cupcake and sprinkle walnut pieces on top.