American Classics

Lost classic desserts from our wide and varied past.

American Classics: Hummingbird Cake

[Photograph: Alexandra Penfold]

With picnic season beginning, I have the feeling this will be the summer of Southern cakes. After success with Pig Pickin' Cake, a light mandarin orange cake with pineapple whipped cream frosting, I decided to whip up another Southern classic, the Hummingbird Cake.

Hummingbird Cake first appeared in Southern Living magazine in February 1978 as the recipe of a Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina in an article called "Making the Best of Bananas." Since that time, it's become the magazine's most requested recipe and clocked in at the top of their "Best of All Time Desserts" list in 1990. While the cake is chock full o' goodies like bananas, pineapple, and pecans, it's not fussy to prepare. The fruit lends a wonderful moistness to the cake and the coarsely chopped nuts make for a pleasant, crunchy counterpoint to the tender crumb. While pineapple can be a strong flavor, it isn't overbearing here, and the overall sweetness is nicely offset by the tangy cream cheese frosting.

This is traditionally a three layer cake, though over the years it has evolved in form as generations have put their own special spin on it. There are seven layer versions as well as Bundt pan versions, and cupcake versions, too. No actual hummingbirds are harmed in the production of Hummingbird Cake, but given the sweetness imparted in the cake by both the mashed bananas and the pineapple, I wouldn't be surprised if those little birds flocked to the dessert table alongside hungry picnickers hoping to catch some crumbs.

Got a favorite classic American dessert recipe you'd like to see featured here? Email us with the subject: "American Classics."

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Hummingbird Cake »

About the author: Alexandra Penfold is mild-mannered children's book editor by day, food ninja by night. Never one to skip dessert she's the Brownie half of Blondie & Brownie and a Midtown Lunch contributor. You can follow her on Twitter at @blondiebrownie.

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