Hummingbird cake

By Rosemary Wolbert

How this subtly spicy, slightly fruity cake got the name "Hummingbird Cake" has been a mystery since the recipe was published in a Southern Living magazine in 1978. The baker who submitted the recipe, Mrs. L. H. Wiggins, provided no explanation, leaving us to wonder.

Is it because it's so sweet it could attract hummingbirds? So good it makes you hum? Or is it because people hover over it like hummingbirds?

The theory I like the best, though, is that its name comes from its possible Jamaican origins and the hummingbird is Jamaica's official bird. Since the key ingredients are the somewhat tropical bananas and pineapple, that makes sense to me.

Its name doesn't really matter, of course. It's just plain good. And I think it's a great way to say farewell to the hummingbirds as they head south.

Hummingbird cake is known by various names in different parts of the world and has probably been around longer than Southern Living magazine published the recipe.

A few of the names include Cake That Won't Last, Jamaican Cake, Granny's Best Cake, and Nothing Left Cake. Each variation is slightly different, but all have bananas and pineapple and produce a similar result.

There are a number of fancier hummingbird cakes you can find on the internet; ones made from scratch and with triple layers. But the one I'm sharing with you today is pretty easy, because it starts with a boxed cake mix.

One recipe I found recommended roasting the bananas, in their skins, to add another layer of flavor to the cake. And another suggested using a fresh pineapple and crushing it yourself.Great ideas, but I think the shortcuts in this version are just fine.

One step you shouldn't skip, though, is toasting the pecans to top the cream cheese frosting. It's a simple step that makes a big difference.

You can either roast the nuts in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven or toast them on the stovetop for about five minutes. Either way, stir them frequently until you smell them.Just don't leave the kitchen; nuts can burn quickly.

If you make this cake for a crowd, like I did for a birthday party a few weeks ago, you won't have any leftovers. And I do believe I heard people humming.

Hummingbird cake

Makes 12 servings

For the cake:

1 package plain yellow cake mix

1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, undrained

2-3 bananas, peeled and mashed, (1 cup)

cup orange juice

cup vegetable oil

3 large eggs

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the frosting:

2 8-ounce packages cream cheese, at room temperature

8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1 cup toasted pecans, chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Next, lightly grease and flour two 9-inch cake pans.

Place the cake mix, pineapple with its juice, mashed bananas, orange juice, oil eggs, vanilla and cinnamon all together in a large mixing bowl and blend with an electric mixer on low speed for a minute.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat at medium speed for 2 minutes more. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans.

Bake the cakes until golden brown and spring back lightly when pressed with your finger, 30 to 32 minutes. Remove the pans from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes.

Gently remove the cakes from the pans and invert them on the rack to cool completely, another 30 minutes or so, before frosting.

To make the frosting, beat the cream cheese and butter together on low speed with an electric mixer, then add the confectioners' sugar, a little at a time, until well blended. Then add the vanilla and mix well.

To assemble the cake, place one layer on a plate and frost the top. Carefully place the second layer on top of the first and frost the top and sides of the cake. Top with the nuts.

Keep the cake refrigerated. Remove about a half-hour before serving.n

(Wolbert is a former corporate communicator and English teacher, now indulging in her two loves, writing and cooking. She can be reached at rdwolbert@gmail.com or at her Sprigs of Rosemary Facebook page.)