hummingbird cake with pistachios
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My hummingbird cake is slightly tweaked from the original. Still beautifully easy to make, it has buttercream frosting decorated with pistachios. No middle layer – the cake is sweet and indulgent without it.
Why is it called ‘hummingbird cake’? I don’t think you feed it to the namesakes, even less probable that it’s made OF them. There seems to be a jostle between southern US states and Jamaica, both claiming the fame of the cake’s origins. All the southern recipe sites describe it as a southern gem, specialty and classic but apparently it was a PR gimmick from Jamaica sent to the US in a tourist-enticing campaign. Considering the doctor bird, a spectacularly colourful species of hummingbird, is the national symbol of Jamaica and inhabits nowhere else, the Caribbean roots sound more convincing.
The classic (Jamaican or otherwise) is a ‘bucket’ type of cake (throw everything in a bucket and mix) made with crushed tinned pineapple, mashed bananas, pecans and layered with cream cheese frosting. That’s all very well but tinned pineapple? in the Caribbean? The things GROW there. Do the Napolitanos use tinned tomatoes for their pizza sauce? The only explanation might be in the export value of the cake recipe – tinned pineapple is a staple in the US I imagine, also less accustomed is the thought of making a cake with fresh fruit and the hassle of crushing the pineapple would probably kill the appeal of the ‘easy’ recipe.
It certainly appealed to me and I’d baked it several times with enthusiasm following Joy of Baking recipe. But at some point I started tweaking because the thing is, any cake that has bananas added to the mix tastes like banana bread, no two ways about it. And as much as I love it, I wanted the hummingbird to hum with the pineapple more. I skipped bananas.
Then there was the issue of cream cheese frosting which is common as muck, and there’s hardly any variety to it. As for buttercream on the other hand, you can let the reigns of your fancy go loose and I had planned to try out the fresh apple buttercream variant. Plus, apple – pineapple – geddit?
And finally, I don’t like pecans that much. And hummingbirds are more colourful than the boring brown so pistachios seemed much more fitting. And there we have it: my version of the hummingbird cake is purely pineapple, with buttercream for frosting topped with pistachios. And if I may say so myself, it’s hummingly gorgeous.
hummingbird cake with pistachiosServings: 12Time: 2 hours
- For the cake:
- 280g (2 cups plus 2 tbsp.) plain flour
- 266g (1 1/3 cup) caster sugar
- 1 tsp bicarb of soda
- ½ tsp salt
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 75g (¾ cup) raw shelled pistachios, finely chopped
- 2 large eggs
- 120ml (½ cup) groundnut oil
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 300g (10 oz.) tinned pineapple crush (not drained)
- For the buttercream:
- 100g (1 stick less 1 tbsp.) unsalted butter, softened
- 110g (scant cup) icing sugar
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- 60ml (¼ cup) double cream
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 small tart apple, peeled and coarsely grated
- coarsely chopped pistachios
1. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4. Butter a round 20cm/8 inch cake tin and line the bottom with a disc of parchment.
2. Stir the flour, sugar, soda, salt cinnamon and chopped pistachios in a large bowl.
3. In another bowl beat the eggs with oil and vanilla extract and stir in the crushed pineapple until combined.
4. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry and whisk until smooth. Spoon the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 50 – 55 minutes until a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool in the tin for 30 minutes, turn out onto a wire rack and cool completely.
5. Make the buttercream: place the butter, icing sugar, cinnamon, cream and vanilla in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer or in a standing mixer for a minute on low speed, to combine, and then on high speed for at least 5 minutes until fluffy, airy and creamy. Turn the speed right down and mix in the grated apple.
6. When the cake is cold, pile the buttercream over the top and smooth over with an offset palette knife. Sprinkle with the extra chopped pistachios and chill before serving.