A cake from scratch? In the middle of the holiday season?! I know, I know. But stick with me.
I think every family has a special recipe or two that have been handed down from one generation to the next. And I think those dishes become all the more important the closer we get to the holidays. For my family, one of those recipes is for Hummingbird Cake.
The Hummingbird Cake-making tradition was started by my husband’s grandfather years ago, who was an absolute prince of a man. He found the recipe for Hummingbird Cake in Southern Living, and he decided that it would be just the thing to make for his daughter’s (my mom-in-law) birthday. At first, as a new member of the family, I didn’t know what to think of Hummingbird Cake. It wasn’t chocolate and it wasn’t vanilla and it had nuts, crushed pineapple, cream cheese icing and it involved bananas?! What?! But I ate it and, of course, I loved it.
Fast-forward to November of last year when the world was on fire and everyone just needed a bit of sunshine. I decided to make a Hummingbird Cake for my mom-in-law. I knew that if her dad was still here, he would want her to have one, so I searched the Internet for Southern Living‘s tried-and-true recipe. The end result was a cake that was savored by our family and shared among my in-laws’ dear friends. Everyone loved it. And the truth of the matter? Even though it was a Southern Living recipe and a cake made from scratch, it was easy. Shhh… don’t tell anyone. 😉
So when my mom-in-law’s birthday was once again drawing near, I knew that a Hummingbird Cake was in order. And when I started sifting through the Delicious Disney Walt Disney World: Recipes & Stories from the Most Magical Place on Earth cookbook and discovered that Chef Art Smith of Disney Springs’ Homecomin’ had provided his version of the recipe, I knew that it was a Saturday Snacks/birthday match made in heaven.
The ingredients list doesn’t have us purchasing anything too out-of-the-box for Hummingbird Cake. And thankfully, a silver lining of the Great All-Purpose Flour Shortage of 2020 is that I had a container filled with self-rising flour on the shelf just waiting to be used. The difference between all-purpose flour and self-rising flour is that the self-rising variety comes with a bit of baking soda mixed in. If you’re not able to get your hands on 3 cups of self-rising flour, there are workarounds available on the Internet.
Before you get started on the construction of the cake, it’s really important to pull your block of cream cheese and 8 ounces of butter out of the fridge and leave them on the counter for a bit. You want them to come up to room temp, and a little time is going to be required to do so.
One word about the last ingredient on the list that might seem like a throwaway: candied pecans do not live at my grocery store. Due to this fact, I ended up candying my own pecans the night that I made the cake. A quick Google search produces a variety of methods to follow to create the candied pecans needed for the recipe, and simple ingredients like egg whites, sugar, and cinnamon are needed. Southern Living‘s recipe has plain pecans being added into the batter, so Chef Art’s method of sprinkling them on top or serving them on the side was a departure for me. Thankfully, the candying method was easy and left me with snackable, yummy pecans. That’s a win-win.
Our first step is to butter and flour the inside of two 9-inch cake pans. I grabbed a pat of butter and made sure that the pan was thoroughly coated in butter before tossing in the flour. And I always do the shaking-the-flour- around-in-the-pan thing over the sink. We’re making a cake from scratch here, we don’t need any additional messes going on now, do we? If you’d like an extra step in ensuring that your cake layers will easily come out of your pans, you can butter the pans and then place a sheet of parchment paper in the bottom of the pans. You’ll then flour the paper and pans from there. I stuck to the butter and flour route, and things came out of the pans just fine.
The recipe now asks that we also take the time to move our oven racks to the center and bottom third of the oven and to preheat it to 350 degrees.
The next steps had me combining the dry ingredients in one bowl, and the wet ingredients in another. I grabbed a large bowl from the cabinet and tossed in 3 cups of self-rising flour, 2 cups of sugar, 1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon, and ½ teaspoon of salt. The recipe asks that we sift all of the dry ingredients together, which I began doing, but eventually got to the point that I always do and I grabbed my favorite whisk out of the utensil drawer. I gave the dry ingredients a thorough whisking and made sure that everything was completely combined. Sifting with the little sifter that I have just takes too long, and the whisk got the job done to my satisfaction. We’re making a cake from scratch; we’ve already gotten all the gold stars that we need. Using the whisk is a-okay.
My next step was to chop up the two somewhat-ripe bananas. The bananas are supposed to be ripe for this recipe, but I was faced with an entire end cap filled with just shy of ripe bananas. Bless them. I sat the bananas on the kitchen windowsill the day before making the cake in hopes that they would ripen, which they did ever so slightly. We need 2 cups of chopped banana for the cake, and while the two bananas didn’t quite come out to 2 cups chopped, they came close enough.
I grabbed the next largest bowl from the cabinet and started in on combining the wet ingredients. Into the bowl went the chopped banana, 1 cup of crushed pineapple, 1 cup of vegetable oil, 2 large eggs (I beat them before adding them to the bowl), and 1½ teaspoons of vanilla extract. I whisked them together (the recipe warns us not to use a hand mixer) until everything was combined.
We’re now asked to fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients. I grabbed my favorite scraper/spatula (please tell me you have favorite kitchen tools, too) and gently turned it through the ingredients over and over until the wet ingredients and dry ingredients were looking good.
Eyes on the CAKE PRIZE, friends; we’re almost there. I poured the delicious-smelling batter (think “tropical” with all that banana and crushed pineapple) evenly into the prepared cake pans, placed them on the center rack of my oven, and set the timer for 30 minutes.
It was now time to work a little cream cheese icing magic. And can I just say that making the perfect cream cheese icing is actually easy? I promise it is.
The first step to creating said magic is to toss the room temp cream cheese and butter into the bowl of a stand mixer (or large bowl and hand mixer) and crank the mixer up to high. Beat the two until they look creamy and smooth.
I popped the pouring shield onto the top of my stand mixer and began adding the 3 cups of confectioners’ sugar to the cream cheese and butter mixture on low speed.
I then poured in the teaspoon of vanilla extract and kept things mixing until the icing was smooth. And then I took a taste (that’s what that beater’s for, right?!). Great ghost; that icing is delicious.
When the timer sounded at 30 minutes and I gave the center of the cake layers a gentle press, the cakes didn’t spring back. I set the timer for another 5 minutes and closed the oven door.
After 5 minutes, the cakes sprang back when pressed and I inverted the layers gently onto a cooling rack and then oh-so-carefully turned them right side up. One of the cake layers started to break, but I tried to coax it into not giving up. I might have verbally threatened it, too. Ahem.
When the cake layers had completely cooled (yes, I actually waited for them to fully cool; I know it’s a shocker. I just didn’t want my mom-in-law’s birthday cake falling apart), I placed one cake layer upside down on the base of my cake keeper.
I spread the top of that layer with approximately 2/3 of a cup of icing. I tried to get that layer of icing as level as I could with my offset spatula and spreader.
I then placed the second layer on top of the bottom, right side up. And I went about spreading the remaining icing on the top and sides. And, as is always the case with the cakes I make, I would have loved to have more icing at my disposal.
Next time that I make Chef Art’s cake, I’ll be making extra icing just in case. That being said, the icing covered everything and did just fine. It’s just me; I love more icing rather than less.
You can then sprinkle the cake with candied pecans, slice a LARGE piece, and scoop yourself a large mound of vanilla ice cream. I decided to go without ice cream (in the shuffle of things, I forgot about the half gallon waiting in my freezer) and I served the pecans on the side for people to eat if they so desired.
Chef Art’s version of a Hummingbird Cake? HOLY COW. It’s delicious. My mom-in-law (including everyone else) loved it. My hubby declared it to be the best cake he’s ever eaten. That’s high praise, friends.
The slices crumbled just a bit at first, but after being refrigerated, those slices held together beautifully.
The small chunks of banana were so delightfully surprising, and the taste of the cake was warm and flavorful. The tropical-leaning notes are grounded by the rich cream cheese icing.
This cake? It’ll be made again. And again. And if you’re looking for a WOW dessert this holiday season, this is a ringer.
I hope that your weekend is a lovely one. May you savor moments of quiet when they pop up, and may you get at least a *little bit* of rest. And may you eat cake. 🙂
Ready to invite Chef Art Smith’s incredible Hummingbird Cake into your kitchen? The recipe is below:
Celebrity chef Art Smith grew up in rural Florida and interned at Walt Disney World as a college student. So it’s full circle at his restaurant, where his version of hummingbird cake is the most popular dessert on the CHEF ART SMITH’S HOMECOMIN’ FLORIDA KITCHEN menu.
- 3 cups self-rising flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2 cups chopped ripe bananas
- 1 cup crushed pineapple
- 1 cup vegetable oil
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
- 8 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
- 8 ounces butter, room temperature
- 3 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- Vanilla bean ice cream
- Fresh seasonal fruit
- Candied pecans
- Position racks in center and bottom third of oven and preheat to 350°F. Lightly butter 2 (9-inch) round cake pans, sprinkle evenly with flour, and tap out the excess. (For easier removal of cake after baking, you can also butter pans, line bottoms with parchment paper, and then flour pans and tap out excess.)
- Sift flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt into a large bowl.
- In another large bowl, whisk bananas, pineapple, oil, eggs, and vanilla extract until combined. Do not use an electric mixer. Pour into dry mixture and fold together with a large spatula just until smooth. Do not beat. Spread evenly into pans.
- Bake until cake springs back when pressed in center, 30 to 35 minutes. Transfer cakes to wire racks and cool for 10 minutes. Invert cakes onto racks; turn right side up and cool completely.
- Beat the cream cheese and butter with mixer on high speed.
- Reduce speed to low and gradually add confectioners’ sugar, then vanilla extract, mixing until smooth.
- Place 1 cake layer, upside down, on a serving platter.
- Spread with about ⅔ cup of icing.
- Top with second layer, right side up. Spread remaining icing over top and sides.
- Serve with ice cream, and garnish with fruit and candied pecans.