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David Lissner
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Eat this! Hummingbird cake, a sweet taste of the South

Table Fifty-Two's hummingbird cake.

Table Fifty-Two's hummingbird cake.

What it is: A classic Southern layer cake, hummingbird cake is a sweet, moist and fruity dessert, full of crushed pineapple, chopped bananas, pecans and cinnamon, and typically spread with rich cream-cheese frosting. Some recipes crust the exterior with more pecans.

Other names for the cake include “never ending cake,” “nothing left cake” and “Jamaican cake.”

Art Smith

Art Smith

Where it comes from: The first printed reference to hummingbird cake appeared in Southern Living magazine in 1978, with a recipe by Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, N.C. That same year, Helen Wiser’s hummingbird cake won the Favorite Cake Award in the Kentucky State Fair. No one knows the origins of the name or whether Wiggins invented the recipe.

What to do with it: The cake is rich, so serve it in small slices. At Table Fifty-Two on the Gold Coast, the cake is one of the most popular desserts. (If you can’t make it there, and you don’t want to bake your own, you can buy whole cakes and hummingbird cupcakes from Allen Brothers.)

Table Fifty-Two’s hummingbird cake
Chef Art Smith

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups granulated sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups chopped ripe bananas
1 cup drained crushed pineapple
1 cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, beaten
1-1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup (4 ounces) finely chopped pecans

8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1/4 pound (1 stick) butter, at room temperature
1 pound powdered sugar (about 4 1/2 cups sifted)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Bake the cake: Position racks in the center and bottom third of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

Lightly butter two 9-inch round cake pans, sprinkle evenly with flour and tap out the excess. (If you wish, butter the pans, line the bottoms with rounds of parchment paper, then flour the pans and tap out the excess.)

Sift the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon and salt into a bowl.

In another bowl, stir or whisk the bananas, pineapple, oil, eggs and vanilla until combined. Do not use an electric mixer.

Pour into the dry mixture and fold together with a large spatula just until smooth. Do not beat.

Fold in the pecans. Spread evenly into the pans.

Bake until the cake springs back when pressed in the center, 30 to 35 minutes.

Transfer the cakes to wire racks and cool for 10 minutes.

Invert the cakes onto the racks (remove the parchment paper now if using). Turn right side up and cool completely.

Make the frosting: Using an electric mixer on high speed, beat the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl until combined. On low speed, gradually beat in the sugar, then the vanilla, to make a smooth icing.

Assemble: Place 1 cake layer, upside down on a serving platter. Spread with about 2/3 cup of the icing. Top with the second layer, right side up. Spread the remaining icing over the top and sides of the cake.

The cake can be prepared up to 1 day ahead and stored uncovered in the refrigerator. Let stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving. 12 to 18 servings.