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The cake photographed here is the first one in my adult life, if not ever, that I’ve actually leveled off with a knife before frosting.

I don’t usually bother, both because I’m a bit notorious for baking in a hurry (cooling? who has time for that??) and because I consider it a waste of perfectly good cake.

However, I’m coming around for two reasons. The first is pragmatic: I don’t want to waste perfectly good frosting either, so I tend to slather a bit more on than is really required. Shaving the domes off the layers provides extra cake to eat with the extra frosting — purely in the interest of quality control, of course.

The second is that I’ve finally started watching “The Great British Baking Show.” At every step of the process, from greasing the pans to placing the pecans, I could hear Mary Berry softly braying in my ear: “It’s got to have good layers.”

This is a one-syllable concept — think laaaaaairs — for the celebrity chef and (sadly former) judge from the show, and she’s not wrong. A cake with two layers of the same height, each topped by an even, identical band of frosting, is pleasing to the eye as well as the stomach.

Each bite should have the correct proportion of cake to frosting. Too little cake leads to an overly sweet forkful; too little frosting, and it’s dense and dry. Good, even layers solve this problem.

Is that being fussy? A smidge. But it’s often those little touches that propel projects from great to spectacular, and it never hurts to take a little pride in your baking.

Plus you won’t lose too much height to the domes you slice off this Hummingbird Cake — it’s a hefty dessert, crammed full of bananas, pineapple and pecans. In fact, if your cake pans are on the shallow side, I would recommend baking three or four layers to avoid any unfortunate overflow in the oven.

The crushed pineapple is reinforced by the drained juice, cooked down into a rich syrup that I want to try drizzling over pancakes at some point. The mushier your bananas, the better; sometimes groceries will have more suitable candidates hiding in the back if the selection on the shelves is spot-free.

These somewhat tropical flavors, accented only with a bit of cinnamon, pair wonderfully with cream cheese frosting. (Though let’s be honest, what doesn’t?)

There’s an admittedly massive amount of it, but there’s a lot of cake to cover. If you start thinking about calories, remind yourself that this dessert serves at least 12 to 16 people. Those big numbers start getting small pretty fast when you divide by double digits!Hummingbird Cake

Serves 12 to 16

Toast a total of 2 cups of pecans to divide between the cake and the frosting. The cake will slice more cleanly if you refrigerate it for at least 1 hour.

For the cake:

2 (8-ounce) cans crushed pineapple in juice

3 cups (15 ounces) all-purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon salt

2 cups (14 ounces) granulated sugar

3 large eggs

1 cup vegetable oil

4 very ripe large bananas, peeled and mashed (2 cups)

1 1/2 cups pecans, toasted and chopped

2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the frosting:

20 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

5 cups (20 ounces) confectioners’ sugar

2 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon salt

20 ounces cream cheese, chilled and cut into 20 equal pieces

1/2 cup pecans, toasted and chopped

For the cake: Adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Grease 2 light-colored 9-inch round cake pans, line with parchment paper, grease parchment and flour pans. Drain pineapple in fine-mesh strainer set over bowl, pressing to remove juice. Pour juice into small saucepan and cook over medium heat until reduced to 1/3 cup, about 5 minutes; set aside.

Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and salt together in bowl. Whisk sugar and eggs together in separate large bowl; whisk in oil. Stir in bananas, pecans, vanilla, drained pineapple and reduced pineapple juice. Stir in flour mixture until just combined.

Divide batter evenly between prepared pans and smooth tops with rubber spatula. Bake until dark golden brown on top and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes, rotating pans halfway through baking. Let cakes cool in pans on wire rack for 20 minutes. Remove cakes from pans, discarding parchment, and let cool completely on rack, about 2 hours.

For the frosting: Using stand mixer fitted with paddle, beat butter, sugar, vanilla, and salt together on low speed until smooth; continue to mix for 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium-low, add cream cheese 1 piece at a time, and mix until smooth; continue to mix for 2 minutes.

Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread 2 cups frosting evenly over top, right to edge of cake. Top with second cake layer, press lightly to adhere, then spread 2 cups frosting evenly over top. Spread remaining frosting evenly over sides of cake. To smooth frosting, run edge of offset spatula around cake sides and over top. Sprinkle top of cake with pecans. Refrigerate cake for at least 1 hour before serving. (Cake can be refrigerated for up to 2 days.)

Chef’s note: The pecan halves I’ve used for the decorative ring aren’t included in the 2 cups called for here; you’ll want to bump the total to at least 3 cups if you’d like to do similar. And yes, you should toast them too.

Source: Cook’s Country


Copy editor and video game reviewer for The Courier

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