Origin of a Classic: Hummingbird Cake

Wherever the Hummingbird Cake was conceived, its mass appeal is clear. “The combination of tropical fruit and cinnamon has stood the test of time,” Anne says. “I love it because it stays moist, and the flavor is even better the next day.” The texture (think hybrid between muffin and cake) with the fruit, nut, and spice combo strike the same comfort chords as carrot, zucchini, and banana breads. “It truly has an American taste and feel, which is why it’s become a fixture at countless potlucks, backyard parties, and birthdays,” she says.

Another reason to love the homey cake? It’s incredibly easy to prepare (no stand mixer required!), especially for a layer cake. And because each slice somehow combines the virtues of banana bread, pineapple upside-down cake, and frosted spice cake, it’s bound to please everyone at the table

In her new cookbook Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner (Ten Speed Press, 2016), Ashley Christensen riffs on the classic with a Sweet Potato Hummingbird Cake that’s packed with grated sweet potatoes, roasted bananas, pineapple, peanuts, and currants, and topped with a lightly sweet cream cheese frosting.

“Hummingbird Cake is one of those labor-intensive recipes where the time spent is actually completely justified,” Ashley says. “It’s careful work, but the end-product is so delicious and stays tender and full of flavor for days. It’s unique for something you bake to hold that well. In our approach, we use sweet potatoes because they’re so plentiful in North Carolina, and we always use fresh pineapple over canned. It’s pretty incredible how much those tiny tweaks elevate the texture and flavor of the cake. It’s classic and fresh, all in one bite.”

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