More fruit than flour, this uber-moist, stick-to-your-fork hummingbird cake is filled with warm spices, pineapple and banana, and topped with a delicious – and still vegan – passion fruit cream cheese icing.
I’m not sure if you will have noticed, but I’ve been away. Just over two weeks ago I was bent over suitcases, whittling down the heaps of clothing and shoes to a tidy, manageable pile. Okay, scratch tidy. Then I added bottles of DEET, factor 50 suncream and the dorky jungle hats and cooling neck wraps necessary for our latest adventure.
For years I have been dreaming of visiting Costa Rica to immerse myself in one of the most biologically diverse places on Earth. But until now had never found the time to squeeze in the two weeks necessary to do it justice.
If you followed my stories on Instagram you will have seen a glimpse of what Andrew and I got up to. If not, I will sum it up as fancy birds, cheeky monkeys, weird insects, thick rainforests, cerulean skies, and tumbling waterfalls. I hope to write up our travels around this scenically stunning country and share it with you here.
What I didn’t share on Instagram was much food. On holiday we like to eat without worrying about if the table is near enough to the light; or if the food needs rearranging. But trust me, we ate and we ate well. Nothing that would trouble the Michelin Guide, but rather just good, honest, wholesome food.
A passion for fruit
The very best thing about eating in Costa Rica is the fruit. I have never eaten so much fruit in my life as on this holiday. Normally I am much more about the vegetables, but when fruit has literally just been picked, rinsed and sliced only an idiot would say ‘no thanks’. Even if they are full. So, every morning we filled up on not only the ubiquitous gallo pinto, but plates of sliced fresh pineapple, watermelon, papaya, green melon and bananas. I couldn’t help but grin like an idiot, knowing that I was maxing out on phytonutrients with every bite. The flavours and textures of the fruits were deliriously good.
Fruit eaten where it grows best is one of the simplest but most enjoyable of foodie pleasures. Even just looking at the pretty plates of vividly-hued fruits made us feel healthy. I have to admit though that eating them here in the UK isn’t quite the same experience. That’s where this cake comes in.
Weird name. Great cake.
Admittedly this hummingbird cake, with its unadorned sides and craggy icing, isn’t much of a looker. But I promise on my passport that you will love it. Based on a popular cake in the southern US – by way of Jamaica – hummingbird cake contains no hummingbirds, but rather a heady concoction of fruits, warm spices, sugar, oil and a little flour. It is one of the most delectable ways to eat imported tropical fruits that I know of. And it is easy to make.
Naturally I have tweaked the heck out of the basic recipe, one that my mother used to make. It’s vegan for a start, but also contains less oil, less sugar and added oats. The typical cream cheese frosting of a hummingbird cake is enhanced with passion fruit pulp for a welcome tang and a little crunch. And yes, the frosting is vegan too. My daughter Rachel said it is one of the best cakes she’s eaten – whether vegan or not.
What’s in this hummingbird cake?
This moist, stick-to-your-fork cake is all about the fruit. Bananas and pineapple are the stars, but the passion fruit pulp in the icing is second on the bill.
Bananas – ripe and spotty. No negotiation on this.
Pineapple – canned, frozen or fresh. A can of crushed is the norm, but I love the extra zing you get with fresh. Whatever is best for you.
Spices – cinnamon is always the mainstay, but you will find recipes with combinations of allspice, cloves, nutmeg and ginger. I’ve used cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg and turmeric + black pepper. I tend to put turmeric in my baking where it won’t take over but still add benefit. Black pepper helps us absorb the curcumin in turmeric, and just happens to go well in this cake. Leave these out if you like.
Oil – not butter. The flavour of butter isn’t right here so oil is the way to go. No butter, so no creaming of butter, Hurrah! I use Scottish organic rapeseed oil but a light fruity olive oil is probably best for most of you, or half it with coconut oil. All coconut oil would be a bit much and make this cake oily in texture.
Flour – this cake is flexible enough to riff a bit with the flour. I call for plain flour plus some blitzed up oats. You could change out the plain for spelt or gluten-free mix; and the oats could be subbed with ground toasted pecans or something like quinoa flour. Or, use all plain flour.
Sugar – here I’ve gone for just enough brown sugar and coconut blossom nectar to keep a moist texture and slightly sweet taste. But you could use whatever sugar you like, and maybe maple syrup or date syrup. All-sugar is fine too and you don’t need to adjust for the lesser liquid.
Pecans – notice I didn’t just say “nuts”. That’s for a reason. Pecans are THE best nut for this cake. And they must be toasted. I’ve given an amount just for topping the cake (ie, not much), but in the recipe card notes you will see how to incorporate even more into the cake itself. I highly recommend this option.
The icing – this icing is an invention of mine, and it went down very well with my testers. It is basically a vegan cream cheese icing that uses suitable cream cheese, butter and – here’s the big tweak – about half of the sugar of a normal icing. To plump it out I use a couple of tablespoons of coconut flour. Once the frosting sits a couple of minutes it thickens from quite a sloppy icing (on account of the added passion fruit pulp) to a spreadable one.
You will see that it isn’t smooth like a normal icing but I pinky swear it tastes great. You can cover up the cragginess with fruit, nuts and coconut. I’ve given an option for not using the coconut flour as I don’t want you to buy it specially. But if you have a bag, this is a great way to use it. Also, this will make the frosted cake very suitable for taking to a gathering – indoor or outdoor – as the icing is very stable and won’t easily melt and slide off.
The hummingbird cake method
Dry mix + wet mix + baking = cake
You will dry whisk the flour, sugar (yes, the sugar), spices and leavening. In a separate bowl you will mix the mashed fruits, oil, syrup, vanilla and vinegar. Then you will lightly combine the two and pour into an oiled tin to bake. While the cake is cooling down you can beat together the cream cheese icing. You can make both of these the day ahead and assemble it later.
The only other thing to say is that I use a bundt tin, but a 2 lb loaf tin or 7-8 inch square tin or round one is fine, if that’s what you have. Don’t let not having a bundt tin stop you from making this cake!
And last thing, do let the cake cool completely before icing or slicing. Vegan cakes of this kind may quietly fall apart if cut into too soon after they are baked. Pop it in the fridge if you can for half an hour.
You wont need a whole pineapple for this recipe, so why not see how else you can eat your leftover fruit?
Pineapple Tepache – a deliciously refreshing probiotic soft drink from Mexico
Pineapple and Melon Carpaccio – a simple and stunning summer dessert – or salad – for sharing (above image)
Thai Avocado and Cashew Salad – studded with zingy pineapple!
**Remember to follow me on Pinterest and, if you make my Vegan Hummingbird Cake, click on the pin below the recipe card and leave a photo of your make with a comment telling me what you think, or any awesome changes that you made. Similarly, any Instagram posts tagged @food_to_glow using my recipes will go on my Story if I see them. I’m always so proud when you share my recipes with the world. Yay!!!
Vegan Hummingbird Cake with Passion Fruit Icing
More fruit than flour, this uber-moist, stick-to-your-fork cake is filled with warm spices, pineapple and banana, and topped with a delicious - and still vegan - passion fruit cream cheese icing. A Southern USA classic, by way of Jamaica.
- 155 g plain flour gluten free mix works fine
- 55 g oat flour see notes for making your own
- 55 g brown sugar
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 3/4 tsp ground cinnamon
- 3/4 tsp ground allspice or ground nutmeg
- 1 tsp ground turmeric
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
- 130 ml fruity extra virgin olive oil or organic cold-pressed rapeseed oil
- 85 ml coconut blossom syrup or maple syrup or date syrup
- 2 medium ripe bananas, mashed or 3 small ones
- 150 g pineapple fresh, canned/crushed, frozen
- 1 tsp vanilla
- 1/2 tsp apple cider vinegar or most any vinegar except malt
Passion Fruit Icing
- 125 g vegan cream cheese Violife brand for preference
- 40 g vegan butter Naturli' for preference
- 75 g unrefined icing sugar confectioner's sugar
- 3 passion fruits divided use
- 1 tbsp lemon juice more to taste
- 2 tbsp coconut flour OPTIONAL; add more if liked to thicken futher
- 50 g pecans
- dehydrated pineapple pieces OPTIONAL
Preheat the oven to 160C fan/ 180C/350F. Spread pecans onto a lined baking pan. Toast for 6 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool. Lightly oil/oil spray and flour a bundt tin, (2 lb) loaf tin or (8 inch) square tin.
Place the oats in a blender and blitz until flour-like or slightly more "nubbly".
Dry whisk the flour, oat flour, brown sugar, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, cinnamon, allspice, turmeric, black pepper and salt together in a large, wide bowl.
Now, depending on what kind of pineapple you bought, you can either partially drain tinned crushed pineapple and mash it with the bananas, or place frozen or fresh pineapple in a blender to pulse with the bananas. It's best if there is a little texture so don't make it as smooth as you see in the image above in the slideshow.
Whisk together the blended fruit, oil, syrup, vanilla and vinegar until smooth. Pour the wet into the dry and fold with a spoon or spatula just until the flour disappears. Do not beat.
Pour the cake batter into your prepared pan and place in the middle of the preheated oven. Bake for 40 minutes, or until a skewer or toothpick come out clean. Remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 15 minutes then upend onto a wire cake rack to cool for about 45 minutes.
Passion Fruit Icing
While the cake is cooling, add the cream cheese, butter and sugar to a small food processor bowl and blend until smooth. Or, use a small bowl and beat the cream cheese and butter with a wooden spoon, gradually stirring in the sugar. Stir in two-thirds of the passion fruit pulp and all the lemon juice. As this is a lower sugar icing I use coconut flour to plump it out. Start with 2 tablespoons of coconut flour and mix well. It won't be as smooth as without this addition. Let it sit for a couple of minutes and then see if it is the right consistency to spread - this will be a personal taste thing. You might not want to add the coconut flour and keep the icing drippy. Or, you could just add double the amount of sugar to fill out the icing!
Chop the cooled pecans and decorate the cake with dehydrated pineapple, extra passion fruit pulp and the pecan bits. You can also add unsprayed edible flowers to make it all a bit less brown.
The cake keeps very well for up to five days if refrigerated. It tastes best at room temperature so take it out of the fridge about half an hour before you want a slice.
Make Ahead Instructions: Prepare cake and frosting a day in advance. Keep cake at room temperature, covered tightly. Refrigerate prepared frosting in an airtight container, then bring to room temperature when ready to use, beating well as the passion fruit will separate out a bit. Un-iced cake may be frozen up to 2 months, thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature, if desired, before serving. The icing isn't freezable.
Traditionally, in the US, canned crushed pineapple is used, with about half of the juice drained and not used in the cake (but drunk). I like using fresh or frozen, and not draining the fruit.
Pecans are the traditional nuts used and I urge you to splash out on them. And you must, must, must toast them. They taste incredible toasted. You may enhance the cake by adding 125 grams (1 cup) of t0asted and finely chopped pecans. No need to make any adjustments with the rest of the recipe.
Tweaks: add toasted, flaked coconut - about 1 cup; if you don't have allspice, use the same amount of freshly grated nutmeg; replace the plain flour with gluten-free mix or spelt flour.
RIPE FOR PINNING!