San Francisco & Hummingbird Cake
I love food. A lot.
I love tasting and trying new things. In my mid-twenties before officially starting my first “real” job I went to San Francisco, California to visit my friend, Kim. I landed in the evening with a wicked migraine, taxied directly to a bar for my first experience with trivia night and came in with the clutch answer “Basil Rathbone”.
Jet lag had me up at 5 am, headache still pounding.
Kim didn’t breakfast and didn’t have much to eat. After a glass of water and hours reading quietly waiting for her to wake, we were off to explore the city.
Fast forward to around 1 in the afternoon.
We had been walking since 8 am. The day was balmy, the sun hot, my water bottle had long since run dry and my head was screaming at me. I hadn’t eaten since lunch the day before. I was done. I needed water, I needed food, I needed over the counter meds. I needed out of the sun and out of the crowds of besuited California urban professionals swarming around me.
I was either going to start chomping on the next poor soul to walk by, curl whimpering into the fetal position, or bust into a song and dance number. I was not functioning on all cylinders. Meanwhile, Kim, with a meal, 3 hours of sleep and no headache ahead of me was good to soldier on. I could not.
We were heading to Kim's favorite Indian buffet, 5 miles off (on foot mind you), when we passed a different Indian buffet. Never having heard of the place, Kim wanted to continue on knowing how much I enjoy food, she didn’t want to risk an untested venue. She wanted me to have a great time.
It didn’t matter. Even without the desperation, misery and hunger it wouldn’t matter. Trying something new was the best part. After a good 15 minutes of trying to convince her, she finally relented.
The place was amazing. The food was amazing.
In the cool and shade, having onboarded some medicine, a diet soda and 3 glasses of water in rapid succession I was beginning to feel better.
I don’t remember any of the specific dishes, but I tried everything on the buffet and went back for my favorites. Kim saw a colleague of Indian descent also having lunch, thus concreting our assessment that the joint was some good stuff and not just the desperation making everything taste like pure sunshine.
It cured what ailed us. Well, almost. It took a careful perusal of the phonebook where I found a massage therapist, a key distinction to make in San Fran, to relieve that last of my headache.
During the trip I had honeydew flavored Bubble Tea in Chinatown. I got pizza down the street from the church where Joe DiMaggio and Marilyn Monroe were married from Italians. Heading down the hill from there I got chocolate truffles from a French dude.
We supped at a trendy place that served everything on skewers, called Askew. I had taro root “breaded” in peanuts and fried and a soup I didn’t really care for. I chomped on a chewy, delicious potato and black pepper bagel and schmear while window shopping. I toured the Ghirardelli Factory.
I found a grocery store for breakfast goods and started each day with a bit of baguette, fresh fruit and a California Camembert. I rode the bus, in taxis, personal vehicles and on the cable car. We walked over the Golden Gate Bridge where a helicopter flew under us, got lost in the Presidio and took pictures at the Palace of Fine Arts.
I took my shoes off and ran in the frigid Pacific Ocean followed by cocktails and a nosh overlooking the waves. I walked up the straight part of Lombard Street and down the curvy side. We shopped in the Castro and toured Alcatraz at night. I was a little cold the whole time, not having packed for how cool Northern California is and wore out a pair of shoes in all my exploring. Kim joined me for about half the time, but mostly it was just me and the city. That was just fine.
Here is the leap to Hummingbird Cake
I have kids now and I am trying to raise them to be gastronomically adventurous. We are having family over for my son’s birthday this weekend. My son would rather have banana bread than a standard chocolate or vanilla birthday cake. And as good as my banana bread is, birthday cakes should have a bit of pizzazz, they should be something special.
I talked him into Hummingbird Cake, a Southern classic made with bananas, pineapple, pecans and cream cheese frosting. I have tasted exactly 2 bites of this kind of cake and have never made one. Doesn’t matter.
The kid is buckled in for the adventure with me. If the Indian buffet had been awful, the adventure and the company would have remained excellent. Same for birthday cake. Maybe it will be comically awful or a new favorite or something in between.
The magic is in the adventure, not the perfection of the product. Perfection is usually overrated and often not much fun.
Of course, our bets are a bit hedged; I am a pretty darn good baker and Hummingbird Cake is the most popular recipe in Southern Living Magazine’s history. With very simple preparations the cake is excellent for a beginner. It requires no special equipment.
I didn’t make any adjustments to the recipe, I’ve not made it before, I don’t know what I would change. To me it is screaming “add coconut”! Maybe next time we replace the banana with flaked coconut and coconut milk, a Pina Colada cake.
A few notes before the recipe.
STIRRING: When making any cake only stir in the flour until just incorporated for the same reason that bread is kneaded. Stirring or kneading develops the glutens in the flour giving bread its chewiness. Stirring cake batter too much will make it a bit tough.
COOLING: Allowing the cake to cool in the pan for about 10 minutes will let the cake contract from the sides of the pan a bit, making it less likely to stick to the pan when flipping it out.
ICING: When it comes to icing cakes a bread knife or rubber spatula will do the job if an offset or straight icing spatula is not available. Icing should be pushed around the cake, not dragged like butter across bread. Tilt the spreader at about a 45 degree angle and turn the whole cake on the plate to push the icing around. Too much icing is better than too little. Icing that is too thick is better and easier to work with than icing that is too runny. Ice between the layers and then the top, pushing the icing over the edge, then ice the sides. Dipping your spreading tool in warm water and shaking or drying it off between strokes will make the process easier and look better.
TIP: Don’t throw away overripe bananas. Freeze them for recipes like this and banana bread. They turn black in the freezer and ooze out of their skins when thawed. It is gooey and satisfying to cut the end off and squeeze the innards out.
Try it as as a bundt cake or cupcakes.
The cream cheese icing recipe included is wonderful.
SOUTHERN LIVING'S HUMMINGBIRD CAKE
3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for pans
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3 large eggs, beaten
1 1/2 cups vegetable oil
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 (8-oz.) can crushed pineapple in juice, undrained (such as Publix Crushed Pineapple in Pineapple Juice)
2 cups chopped ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
Cream Cheese Frosting
2 (8-oz.) pkg. cream cheese, softened
1 cup salted butter or margarine, softened
2 (16-oz.) pkg. powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup pecan halves, toasted
Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, bananas, and toasted pecans.
Divide batter evenly among 3 well-greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round cake pans.
Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely, about 1 hour.
Prepare the Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.
Assemble Cake: Place 1 cake layer on a serving platter; spread top with 1 cup of the frosting. Top with second layer, and spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with third layer, and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange pecan halves on top of cake.
How did it turn out?
Does it matter? My son had a great time with his family. His little sister put all the candles in the package on the cake and made extra holes with them to make it pretty. My stepsister was leery of a cake with such crazy ingredients, but she is not one to turn down dessert and ate it anyway. So did almost everyone else. Except my punk stepbrother who whined about the nuts.
The top layer of cake split a bit, the second time that has happened to a cake I made. The icing was a bit too slack to hold the weight of the nuts I pressed onto the sides. Overall it was a little lopsided.
With all that, it was a hit.