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  • Writer's pictureConfection Witch

Big City, Small Town: An imagined social gradient? + Hummingbird Cake Re-imagined

Updated: Feb 7, 2019

Hun, that tea is a little sweet

so you’re gonna have to cut that with some rum.

-Unsolicited Advice, Abbeville, SC

Ya’ll the family from Washington?

The question was entirely rhetorical. Abbeville, SC: Famous for the birthplace and the deathbed of the confederacy. 15 miles outside of downtown Abbeville I was setting up a wedding cake in its sleepy outskirts of the deep country; population of not too many.

Question: If neighbors are so far away from each other, how does everybody know each other?

Answer: The church.

Question: What if you don’t go to church?

Answer: What?


But what if you didn’t go to church? Not something I ever considered living in Washington D.C., where social interaction in the city is based more on one’s own social capabilities rather than a limited scope of opportunities. While I’ve never lived in one, I’m glad I saw a glimpse of small town life. In Abbeville, the concept of time seemed not to exist. Life there revolves around family interaction and everyone knows everyone, maybe a bit too well. From my interaction, the life of this town is simple, relaxed; the people warm with big hearts. But is it really all that different than a big city? A big city can be at once unfriendly and entirely welcoming, but from my perspective it depends on how much time one invests in getting to know your surroundings. My home in D.C., the Petworth neighborhood I live in, is rich in culture, history, and diversity. It has changed immensely over time and if you are patient and kind, there are stories from those that lived it, beautiful histories and personal accounts. These people too are warm with big hearts and once you get to know them and the neighborhoods they inhabit, they too become family. I came home realizing D.C. is more like a giant collection of small towns inside of what is referenced as a ‘city’. So, if you think you can’t find your niche in a city that offers endless possibilities, be patient and kind and you will find your way; in a small town outside Abbeville, you’d better go to church!

The couple chose ‘Nectar of Huitzilopochtli,’ a modern version of the hummingbird cake recipe by Mrs. H.L. Wiggins published in Southern Living magazine in 1978: Sweetened with banana, crushed pineapple, and brown sugar; layered with fresh pineapple and candied pecans; paired with a handsome lemon-lime buttercream. This cake is a like a tropical banana bread meets spice cake meets all your taste bud’s dreams come true.

The Nectar of Huitzilopchtli: Modern Hummingbird Cake + Lemon – Lime Buttercream and Pineapple Candied Pecan Crumble

The recipe.

Makes a three-layer, 6” cake or a two-layer, 8” cake

Hummingbird | Cake

375 g all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp baking soda

1 tsp cinnamon, ground

1/2 tsp cardamom, ground

1/4 tsp cloves, ground

1/4 tsp nutmeg, ground

1/2 tsp kosher salt

200 g grapeseed oil

200 g granulated sugar

165 g brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

1 1/2 tsp vanilla bean paste

330 g banana, grated

250 g fresh pineapple, grated, undrained

80 g toasted pecans, finely chopped

Lemon | Lime | Vanilla Bean | Buttercream

240 ml egg whites

400 g granulated sugar

675 g unsalted butter, cubed at room temperature

1 tsp lemon extract

2 tsp vanilla bean paste

1 tsp lime zest

Pineapple | Candied Pecan | Crumble

100-150 g fresh pineapple, chopped

100 g granulated sugar

1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground

1/2 tsp kosher salt

15 g egg whites

1.5 tsp water

227 g pecan halves


Preheat oven to 325 F (165 C).

Spray three 6" round cake pans or two 8” round cake pans with non-stick spray (containing flour). Line the pans with parchment.

Hummingbird Cake | Preparation

  1. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and salt into a medium bowl. Whisk to combine. Set aside.

  2. Place the oil and sugars (brown and granulated) in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream the oil and sugar on med-high until pale yellow and fluffy (approximately 5 minutes). Scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl.

  3. On low speed add the eggs to the oil/sugar mixture one at a time, allowing each egg to fully incorporate before each addition. Add the vanilla paste, mixing on low speed until incorporated.

  4. On low speed, add the dry ingredient mixture in 2 additions. Allow each addition to fully incorporate before each new addition.

  5. On low speed, add in the banana and pineapple until incorporated into the batter. Stop the mixer and fold in the toasted pecans until evenly distributed.

  6. Portion the batter evenly between the cake pans.

Candied Pecans | Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 250 F (120 C).

  2. Mix sugar, cinnamon, and salt together in a bowl.

  3. Whisk egg white and water together in a separate bowl until frothy. Toss the pecan halves in the egg/water mixture. Mix the sugar/cinnamon/salt mixture into the pecan/egg/water mixture until pecans are evenly coated. Spread coated pecans onto a baking sheet.

  4. Bake in the preheated oven, stirring every 15 minutes, until pecans are evenly browned, approximately 1 hour.

Pineapple - Candied Pecan Crumble | Preparation

Note: Do not prepare the crumble until ready to assemble the cake

  1. Gently mix the fresh pineapple with the candied pecans. Set aside.

Lemon - Lime - Vanilla Bean Buttercream | Preparation

  1. Place the egg whites and sugar into the bowl of a stand mixer. Whisk by hand until combined.

  2. Place the bowl over a double boiler on the stove at medium-high heat and whisk constantly until the mixture reaches 160 F (71 C). Wipe off any condensate that has formed on the outside of the bowl with a towel.

  3. Place the bowl on a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whisk the egg white/sugar mixture on high speed (approximately 10 minutes), until it holds medium-stiff peaks.

  4. Switch to the paddle attachment. With the mixer on low speed, slowly add the butter, a few cubes at a time. Once all of the butter has been incorporated, add the vanilla bean paste and lemon extract. Increase the speed to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is smooth and silky, approximately 5 minutes more.

  5. Stir in the lime zest into the buttercream.

Baking | Final Assembly

  1. Bake at 325 F (165C) until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean.

  2. Remove from the oven and place the cakes on a wire rack to cool for 30 minutes before turning them out onto a wire rack to fully cool to room temperature.

  3. Once the cakes have cooled to room temperature, place one layer of cake on a cake board. Put the cake board on a cake turntable. Reserve the other layers on a piece of parchment paper while you work on the cake.

  4. Spread an even layer of lemon-lime-vanilla bean buttercream. Create a buttercream ‘dam’ by piping (a ½” round tip works well) a ring of buttercream around the edge of the layer of buttercream. Sprinkle some of the pineapple-candied pecan crumble inside the buttercream dam. Top with a second cake round. Repeat the process for the third layer if making a 3-layer, 6” cake. Refrigerate until hardened, approximately 30 minutes.

  5. Spread a crumb coat on the cake with the lemon-lime-vanilla bean buttercream. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

  6. Mask the cake completely with the buttercream. Refrigerate until hard, approximately 30 minutes.

Serving | Storage

Serve the cake at room temperature.

The cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. Allow to come to room temperature before serving, for best results.

Cake recipe by The Confection Witch | Photography by The Confection Witch & Icing Troll

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