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Hummingbird Cake {Cook the Books}

This round Deb, at Kahakai Kitchen, selected Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin for our December-January Cook the Books project. While it was a quick read, it definitely didn't earn a place among my favorites.

I wanted to like this book. I really did. Angel Tungaraza: is a mother, grandmother, cake architect, and pillar of her community. She keeps secrets. She plans weddings. And she is raising her grandkids as her own after her children's deaths. She is a Tanzanian living in Rwanda. That sounded like the makings of a robust page-turner.

However, the book left me wanting more. Lots more. For the character who was waiting on eggshells to see if her boyfriend's other pregnant girlfriend bore a son or daughter - thus determining which woman he would marry - she was just waiting...when she could have been furious, angst-ridden, nervous, jealous, and more. There was plenty of breadth in the cast of characters, but all of them lacked depth. Even Angel, the protagonist, felt two-dimensional to me.

And the food...well, there was a lot of cake and a lot of tea. But there were no real image-evoking descriptions of either. The book fell flat. So that was the 'read' part of this project. On to the 'cook' part...

I considered making ubugali, Rwandan cassava porridge, but leaned toward making a cake. My kitchen elves wanted to help and voted for cake. One of the boys had ordered a slice of Hummingbird Cake somewhere at sometime. Since Angel's cakes were elaborate and brightly-colored, we decided to try making a Hummingbird Cake with red marzipan flowers.

I did some reading about Hummingbird Cake and a friend who lives in Tennessee sent me an article along with a recipe. Hummingbird cake is a spiced banana pineapple cake with cream cheese frosting that's been a southern favorite since the mid-19th century. The first known publication of the recipe was in the February 1978 issue of Southern Living. Click to see: the original recipeThat same year, it won the 'Favorite Cake' award at the 1978 Kentucky State Fair.

Here's our version...

2 C white whole wheat flour
1/2 C chestnut flour
1/2 C ground almonds
1 t baking soda
2 C organic coconut sugar
1 t ground cinnamon
1/2 t ground nutmeg
dash of ground cardamom
dash of ground ginger
3 large eggs, beaten
1 C olive oil
1 t pure vanilla extract
1 t allspice liqueur
2 C fresh pineapple, diced
2 mashed, ripe bananas
1 C chopped raw pecans

spiced pumpkin butter, for filling the cake

Cream Cheese Frosting
8oz cream cheese
8oz marscarpone
16T softened butter
splash of pure vanilla extract
1/2 C ginger syrup
2 C organic powdered sugar
1/2 C raw sunflower seeds

food dye

Beat the cream cheese frosting ingredients - except for the sunflower seeds - together until smooth. Set aside. Combine first 5 cake ingredients in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in liqueur, spices, pecans, and bananas. Fold in the pineapple. Then pour batter into buttered baking pans.

Bake at 350° for 25 to 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes; remove from pans, and cool completely on wire racks.

To assemble, spread pumpkin butter between the two layers. Then spread cream cheese frosting on top and sides of cake; sprinkle 1/2 cup chopped pecans on top. Store in refrigerator.

The boys made marzipan flowers and leaves. Riley said he wanted red blossoms because hummingbirds are attracted to red. Makes sense to me. Dylan was in charge of the greenery.

Even though the book wasn't my favorite, making this cake was a true delight. It was nice to see how self-sufficient the boys are getting in the kitchen. I love it!

Well, that's a wrap for this round of Cook the Books. Next time we'll be reading Twain's Feast: Searching for America's Lost Foods in the Footsteps of Samuel Clemens by Andrew Beahrs. Join us, if you're inclined! I am excited about that one. I wish you happy reading and even happier cooking.


  1. Sorry that you were not a fan of the book this round Camilla. :-( I do love how beautifully and colorful your hummingbird cake turned out and how you got your boys involved. ;-) Thanks for joining in.

    1. Thanks, Deb. And I'm sorry that I didn't care for the book, too. But I'm glad you picked it because otherwise I never would have made that cake!

  2. I think Angel would have dearly loved your colorful cake. Sorry you didn't enjoy the book as much as I did. I thought it was really good. Onto the next culinary adventure!

    1. Thanks, Rachel. Yes, onward. I've already started reading 'Twain's Feast'. The mind is churning with possibilities.

  3. I love Hummingbird cake. A friend of mine made it for a gathering, and I got her recipe, though still need to make it. A great pick for this, especially with the lovely decorations - the best of both worlds.

    1. Thanks, Claudia. It was definitely a fun cake to make.

  4. Your kitchen elves outdid themselves with those flowers! Thanks for the history lesson. Sorry you didn't enjoy the book but I agree with Rachel that Angel would definitely love your cake.

    1. Thanks! Yes, they did a fantastic job. I'm already enjoying 'Twain's Feast.' Can't wait to come up with a recipe.

  5. Love the photos of your kitchen elves. They really did a great job with their task. I am intrigued by the use of chestnut flour in the cake, as this is not an ingredient I have found before in American recipes.

    1. Thanks, Simona. They do a good job. I mix my flours to give a different bite to cakes. I just happened to have is hard to find in American recipes - and stores! But I have a friend who owns an Italian restaurant and he hooks me up whenever I need it.


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