Cupcake Rampage: Hummingbird Cakes
You could call this the third leg of a twisted Triple Crown of Southern-style baking, following the Kentucky Derby day mint julep cupcakes and the beloved red velvet ones before that. To carry the analogy further, if red velvet is Man o’ War, and mint juleps are Secretariat, then hummingbird cake would be Seabiscuit.
Get it? Of course you do.
Hummingbird cake is another creation peculiar to the Deep South with an even more convoluted and obscure history. Also called “granny cake” and “cake-that-doesn’t-last,” some sources claim the original recipe hails from Australia, where it’s also popular for some reason, while others say it started in Jamaica and was bastardized into its current incarnation along the way. The oldest recorded appearance of hummingbird cake is 1978, when it appeared as a reader-submitted recipe in Southern Living magazine. However, Jamaican newspapers have mentioned something called “Doctor bird cake” as early as a decade before that. The national bird of Jamaica is the red-billed streamertail hummingbird, also called the Doctor bird because its long tail feathers and top-hat-like crest makes it look…kind of, sort of, maybe if you squint and pretend it has a tiny birdie stethoscope around its neck…like the nappily-dressed Victorian doctors of old.
What all this has to do with a cake, no one seems to know. The Jamaica story is a stretch, at best. It could just be called what it is because this cake is so sweet, thanks to sugar from three separate ingredients, even a hummingbird would be attracted to it. However it came to be, the recipe is after the jump…
Vegan Hummingbird Cupcakes
I adapted and veganized this recipe from the original that appeared in Southern Living. The proportions here will yield a dozen good-sized cupcakes.
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup pastry flour
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 to 3/4 cup mashed ripe banana (about 1 medium-sized banana or 1 1/2 small ones)
- 1/2 cup (one 8 oz. can) crushed pineapple, drained and juice reserved
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup canola or other neutral-tasting oil
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup pecans, finely chopped
Preheat the oven to 350° F. Line a muffin tin with paper liners, or spray with nonstick spray.
In a large bowl, sift together the flours, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt; set aside.
In a separate bowl, mash the banana with the pineapple, then whisk in the sugar, oil, and vanilla until completely incorporated and relatively smooth.
The riper your bananas are, the sweeter they’ll taste and the smoother they’ll blend into the batter. If your bananas aren’t ripe enough to your liking, seal them inside a paper bag for half a day to jump-start the process. Along with other fruits, bananas ripen faster when exposed to ethylene gas, a plant hormone which is, ironically, exuded by ripening fruits. You can also stick another high ethylene-producing fruit like an apple or even an avocado in there with it to accelerate ripening.
You might have noticed the absence of an egg substitute in this recipe; that’s because the banana is shouldering that role. Depending on what kind of recipe you’re working with and the flavors involved, other acceptable binders include applesauce, silken tofu, and ground flaxseed.
Add the flour mixture in batches and mix by hand until combined. If the final batter looks too tight, mix in the reserved pineapple juice a tablespoon at a time to loosen it up a bit. Fold in the chopped pecans.
A food processor is the easiest way to chop the pecans, even more so if your model comes with a mini work bowl. Just be careful not to chop them too finely, or else they could adversely affect the final texture of the cake. The ideal “weight” should look more like small-grade gravel than bread crumbs: chunky, but not too fine.
Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake cups, filling them about three-quarters of the way up. These cupcakes will develop muffin tops, so this distribution will make for a nice even puff. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 5 minutes, then de-pan and cool completely on a cooling rack.
Top with cream cheese frosting, sprinkle over any leftover pecan crumbs, and garnish with a chunk of candied pineapple.