I am pleased to introduce you to our first Spice Garden Sprout ... Sara Lindquist, my exceptional daughter, who learned everything she knows about cooking at my knee ... just kidding, Sara! Seriously, I am so happy to be sharing space with my girl! She is a wonderful cook with a good eye for food and a discerning palate! Without further ado....
A Sprout Grows In Boston!
It's officially Spring! The temperatures in Boston are well into the 70's and the finches are happily gossiping in the bushes outside my window. Swaths of people are passing by my apartment, basking in the sun's appearance after quite a few days of heavy winds and rain. I'm feeling slightly better after battling a persistent head cold the past three days, and have decided that I cannot tolerate another day on the couch. I spent the morning reading outside the coffee shop in Davis Square, then ventured back to the apartment to clean off the deck in preparation for what I hope to be the official return of warm weather. With the roommates away for the weekend, I decided it would finally be a good time to break out the baking ingredients and make a mess of the kitchen. I rarely, if ever bake for two reasons: my mid-section doesn't need it, and I rarely have people to share the creation I've made. I do like baking though, and this weekend I decided to throw my cares out the window (which I just scrubbed down) and just go for it! First, some background...
I spent a few hours last week surfing the cookbook section of Borders, looking for a baking book to give to my good friend Natalie for her birthday. I stumbled upon 'The Complete Magnolia Bakery Cookbook' by Allysa Torey and Jennifer Appel and thumbed through the pages. Several recipes jumped out at me, but in the end I picked the book for the same reason I pick most books: the cover was pretty!
After I got home, I spent some more time reading through the contents, and became even happier with my decision. Every recipe in the book sounds absolutely scrumptious! One, in particular, grabbed my attention - a cake recipe called The Hummingbird Cake. I decided to copy it down before wrapping up the book and shipping it off to Natalie in New Hampshire. The temptation was just too great. I just had to 'scoop' Nat on the book...
The Hummingbird Cake is flavored with pineapple, bananas, chopped pecans, and iced with a classic cream cheese icing (who doesn't love cream cheese icing?!) The story goes that a man brought the hand-written recipe into Alyssa and Jennifer's bakery in New York City one afternoon because his aunt, whose recipe it was, had said it would be a good addition to their bakery. What a beautiful gift!
The recipe is rather simple as far as cakes go. Dry ingredients are combined in a large bowl and set aside. Sugar and oil are mixed until fluffy using an electric mixer. The remaining fruit and wet ingredients are added, followed by the dry ingredients in small batches until well mixed and finally the chopped pecans are thrown in. The batter is split between two 9x2” cake pans, which should be greased and lightly flowered with the bottoms lined with wax paper. Then, they are thrown into the oven and baked at 325 degrees for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. I will note that this cake makes your whole house smell so good while it's cooking! The cakes are removed from the oven and cooled for 10 minutes before removing them from their pans. When completely cooled, you can assemble the cake and slather the cream cheese icing onto it. Then comes my favorite part: licking the icing bowl!
Here it is!
This cake is moist and delicious and so rich! I'd actually consider making cupcakes from this batter next time, since a thin slice will fill you up! I decorated my cake with whole pecans around the base, and a few on top in a flower shape. If you choose to do this, you'll need about another 1 ½ cups of pecans on top of what the recipe calls for.
Want to make it yourself? Here's the full recipe:
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1¼ cups vegetable oil
2 cups sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups mashed, very ripe bananas (this ended up to be about 3 bananas)
an 8-oz. can crushed pinapple in unsweetened juice, drained (about 1 cup)
½ cup chopped pecans
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Grease and lightly flour two 9x2-inch round cake pans, then line the bottoms with waxed paper
To Make Hummingbird Cake:
1. In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Set aside.
2. In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the oil and sugar until smooth, about 3 minutes (Alyssa and Jennifer say that you cannot overmix at this period, so really go for it).
3. Add the eggs one at a time and beat until light, about 1 or 2 minutes.
4. Add the vanilla, bananas, and the pineapple.
5. Add the dry ingredients in thirds, beating and scraping the sides of the bowl after each addition until smooth.
6. Fold in the pecans.
7. Divide the batter between the prepared pans and bake for 40-50 minutes until a cake tester inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
8. Remove from the oven and cool the cakes in pans for 10 minutes.
9. Remove from pans, peel off the waxed paper, and cool completely on a wire rack.
10. When cake has cooled completely, ice between the layers, then ice the top and sides of the cake with the Cream Cheese Icing. Garnish with pecans as desired.
Cream Cheese Icing
1 pound (2 8-oz. packages) cream cheese, softened and cut into small pieces
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened and cut into small pieces
1½ teaspoons vanilla extract
5 cups sifted confectioners' sugar
In a large bowl, on the medium speed of an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Add the vanilla and beat well.
Gradually add the sugar 1 cup at a time, beating continuously until smooth and creamy.
Cover and refrigerate icing for 2-3 hours, but no longer, to thicken before using.
*Note from Sara: Make sure your icing is cool before applying it to the cake! I pushed it a bit only refrigerating it for about 2 hours. This made applying it to the sides of the cake quite difficult. I'd also recommend throwing the iced cake back in the fridge for about 45 minutes before cutting and serving. This keeps the icing from squeezing out of the middle when you cut it!