Like many of my fellow food bloggers, recipe contesters, and passionate cooks, I have a cookbook collection that rivals any culinary section in a mid-sized bookstore. What once consisted of a few dozen titles, which were organized neatly in a designated kitchen space, now numbers well into the triple digits and takes up residency on just about every available bookshelf in the house.
I'll be the first to admit it: It's an addiction.
Titles range from the very broad, such as Vegetables or Baking in America, to very specific, as in Just Add Rum! A Caribbean Cookbook. I have some older classics, like a beat up Joy of Cooking from 1964, along with some older not-so-classics, such a The Sesame Street Cookbook.
Hey, don't judge. The Sesame Street Cookbook was my first cookbook, and I refuse to get rid of it. Sure, recipes such as "Snuffle Loaf in a Spaghetti Nest" and "Oscars Junk Food Pie" might not be James Beard-worthy, but they are a part of my culinary foundation (don't quote me on that.)
While I would love to say that I am very familiar with the contents of each and every cookbook in my collection, that's far from the truth. The ritual goes like this: Julie gets new cookbook. Julie reads new cookbook in bed. Cookbook eventually finds its way from nightstand to an available spot on aforementioned bookshelves, rarely to be opened again except for a quick reference or inspiration.
There are really only a handful of titles to which I refer on a regular enough basis so that their spines have become creased and their pages dusted with flour. These are the prestigious members of the "kitchen counter clique" and the "living room built-in-shelves club", the most visible and easiest to access of all my cookbook storage areas. A very few authors are grandfathered access into these areas, meaning any of their future publications will instantly earn a coveted space (therefore knocking out another title.) Number one on this list of authors is Sara Foster.
I've mentioned several times in past posts that Sara Foster has been a huge inspiration in my cooking. For those of you who may not know, she is the owner of Foster's Market in Durham/Chapel Hill, North Carolina, places that I used to stalk frequent during graduate school when I wanted good food in a welcoming environment. She is also the author of four fantastic cookbooks, all of which are front and center on my kitchen counter. Sara has been described as the "quintessential Southern cook", and I love her recipes for their modern twist on the traditional, their seasonality, and their approachability (no foam in these books!)
Sara has become a friend of mine, and she was nice enough to send me a copy of her newest book Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen, when it was recently published. Little did she know that, as her biggest fan, I had pre-ordered the book from Amazon weeks before. I told her that I think this is her best book yet, so the creases and flour-dustings are just a matter of time.
So that left me with two books. Hmmm..... What to do, what to do........
A giveaway you say? Great idea. So yes, just leave a comment and you will be entered in a drawing. Tell me what you favorite classic Southern dish is. Banana pudding? Shrimp and grits? Or maybe it's Hummingbird Cake.
I'll be honest. I didn't know what Hummingbird Cake was before I flipped through Sara's book. Sure, I'd heard of it. I'd also heard of Lane Cake, but I'd never seen one. The two were interchangeable as far as I was concerned. So, I decided to school myself via Sara's recipe, which was adapted from Southern Living's all-time most requested recipe. The sweet cake, studded with banana, pineapple, and pecans, apparently gets its name from the sugary nectar upon which hummingbirds lunch. As for Lane Cake? Still no clue.
Here are my extra tips for preparing this sweet southern treat:
- I prepared the cake using three 8-inch cake pans, so I had a little bit of extra batter to play around with. I decide to make a mini version of the cake (below), but you could also easily make cupcakes or mini cupcakes.
- I don't like to mash bananas by hand. I find it to be time consuming, messy, and often inconsistent. Instead, I prefer to puree ripe bananas using my food processor. If you like a few banana "chunks" in your cake, you can also pulse the food processor.
- If you don't want to use the bourbon in the frosting, feel free to use more vanilla extract.
- I've mentioned that I am not a fan of cream cheese, which is a bummer since I'm sure that cream cheese frosting is the perfect match for this cake. I prepared this recipe using all butter, which worked out fine.
DON'T FORGET TO LEAVE A COMMENT FOR A CHANCE TO WIN SARA'S FANTASTIC COOKBOOK!!
Makes one 8 or 9-inch 3 layer cake
For the Cake
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 cups sugar
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup canola or other vegetable oil
3 large eggs, beaten
2 cups mashed ripe bananas (about 4)
One 8-ounce can cushed pineapple with juice
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans
For the Frosting
1 pound cream cheese, softened
1/2 pound unsalted butter, softened
6 cups confectioners' sugar, sifted
1 tablespoon bourbon
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 cup chopped pecans, lightly toasted
Prepare the cake: Preheat the oven to 350F degrees. Lightly grease and flour three 8 or 9-inch cake pans. Combine the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, baking soda, and nutmeg in a large bowl and stir to mix. In a separate bowl, whisk together the canola oil and eggs until combined. Add the bananas and crushed pineapple with juice and stir to mix.
Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon or spatula just to combine. Stir in the vanilla and the pecans.
Divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake on the center rack of the oven for 25-30 minutes, or until a wooden skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.
Remove the cakes from the oven and let cool in the pans for about 10 minutes. Run a small knife around the edges of the pans before turning the cakes out onto baking racks to cool completely before frosting.
Prepare the frosting: Cream the cream cheese and butter in a large bowl with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Slowly add the confectioners' sugar and beat until all is incorporated. Beat in the bourbon and vanilla to combine.
Assemble: Once the cakes have cooled completely, use a long serrated knife to slice off the rounded top portion of each cake to make a flat, even surface. Discard the trimmings. Place one layer, cut side down, on a large plate or cake stand. Spread evenly with about one third of the frosting and sprinkle with about one third of the pecans. Repeat with the remaining layers.
If not serving within 2 hours, store in the refrigerator, then remove the cake about 1 hour before serving and let come to room temperature.