Sweet Potato Hummingbird Cake

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Disaster. Disappointment. Tragedy.  This is the unfortunate trio of words that describe my birthday cake this year, a cake that ended up in the trash can. I thought that I would try something different this year instead of carrot cake, which I have had for my birthday for as long as I can remember. I baked a carrot cake for Easter, and I had another recipe for carrot cake lined up to try this year, but I was intrigued by a recipe for a Sweet Potato Hummingbird Cake that I saw in the New York Times and on Food52, featuring a recipe from the cookbook, “Poole’s: Recipes and Stories from a Modern Diner”, by Ashley Christensen. A cake made with sweet potatoes, bananas, and pineapple with cinnamon and cream cheese frosting is fairly close to carrot cake anyway, so I decided to proceed.

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Bad choice. This was the worst cake recipe I’ve ever attempted. I should have been scared off by some of the comments on both sites pointing to under-baked cakes, but there were enough successful comments that I thought it was OK. Nope.

The sole comment on Food52:

The batter tasted good but the cake was a bit of a disaster. The outside got very dark and it felt solid and sprung back to the touch but it was raw inside (all that liquid in the batter. The oven temp was as prescribed, kept in longer but still raw. Not sure what went wrong. I make a carrot cake like this and it is fool proof, but has less liquid I think.

A comment from the New York Times and a subsequent reply:

This cake was expensive, SO much work and it did not bake well. I followed every direction to the letter. After 60 minutes in the oven, it was still undercooked. Once finally browned, I took it out and let cool. Frosted. Cake layers are very undercooked and dense. Checked my oven temp with thermometer and it is correct. No idea what I did wrong, but this was an utter fail. Did not care for texture or the flavor.

I had the same experience twice, even after calibrating oven and baking for 80 minutes (not 40) and found still very undercooked. Looking at other recipes, it seems they end up with less batter, which means the layers are half the height and need less time. I’m really not sure how this one could work as is.

One source indicates a 40 minute bake, while the other says 45-50 minutes. Regardless, my cakes were in the oven for 60 minutes, when I decided to remove them because the edges had risen and were burning. Moreover, my cake tester was coming out clean, or at least very wet, which I attributed to a cake that was done with moist add-ins (like pineapple).

I was worried when I turned the cakes out that they were too wet on the bottom, but, again, I attributed this to the pineapple, which appeared to glaze the bottoms. I decided to let the cakes cool/dry, but this didn’t happen, and I dabbed some of the wet appearance with a paper towel. Surprisingly (in hindsight), I was able to stack and frost the cakes. It was quite heavy, feeling near 10 lbs and maybe even heavier!

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I’m not even sure I can say the cakes were under-baked. Maybe they were? There was so much moisture it was hard to tell. It was like cream cheese frosting-covered hummingbird pudding. That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement for a dessert that’s supposed to have a crumb.

I was so disappointed. It was my birthday cake after all. I ate a little bit of the first slice I cut, but the texture was unappetizing. I tried to eat the edges that seemed to be burning in the oven because surely that was baked, but no, it was all pretty much raw. Fortunately, I decided to leave out the peanuts (or any other nut) and currants/raisins as that would have made this mistake considerably more expensive.

What do I think went wrong? I don’t think the ingredients are in the proper proportion. There are too many wet ingredients (or, perhaps, not enough bake time). Compare the ingredients for this cake with the Hummingbird Cake on Sally’s Baking Addiction (based on the recipe from Southern Living). Both recipes are for 3 9″ cakes.

Ingredient Sweet Potato Hummingbird Cake SBA Hummingbird Cake
Flour 4 ½ cups (563 g) 3 cups (370 g)
Sugar 2 cups (400 g) 1 ¾ cups (350 g)
Eggs 5 large eggs 3 large eggs
Vegetable oil 2 cups 2/3 cup
Banana 2 cups mashed 2 cups mashed
Pineapple 28 oz. chunks, drained & chopped 8 oz. crushed & drained
Sweet potato 2 lbs. (3 medium), grated n/a

This recipe has 2 more eggs, more than double the oil, and 3.5x the pineapple, not to mention the sweet potato! For dry ingredients, there is notably more flour, but it’s clearly not enough to sop up the wet ingredients. I’m not sure that adding the peanuts or currants would have helped (I imagine that would have exacerbated the problems), but maybe they help to absorb some moisture. Who knows? I won’t bake this one again. It’s TERRIBLE!!!

Fortunately, this sad cake experience ended on a positive note. My wife is the best and decided that she would bake me a replacement carrot cake. She did a very good job, both with the baking (she even weighed her ingredients) and the decorating, and it was very much appreciated by me!

 

SWEET POTATO HUMMINGBIRD CAKE
Based on recipe found here.

INGREDIENTS

Sweet Potato Hummingbird Cake:
8 large bananas
4 1/2 cups (563 g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. baking soda
1 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt
2 cups (400 g) granulated sugar
3/4 tsp. ground cinnamon
5 large eggs
2 cups vegetable oil
28 oz. (794 g) canned pineapple chunks, drained and chopped
1 tbsp. vanilla extract
1 cup (160 g) dried black currants
2 cups (300 g) green peanuts (or roasted, unsalted peanuts)
2 lbs. (907 g) sweet potatoes, peeled (~3 medium)

Cream Cheese Buttercream:
16 oz. cream cheese, room temperature
2 cups unsalted butter, room temperature
3 3/4 cups (454 g, 1 lb.) powdered sugar
1 tsp. fine sea salt
1 tsp. vanilla extract
2 cups (300 g) roasted, salted peanuts, roughly chopped

DIRECTIONS:

  1. For the cake: Heat oven to 425 degrees. Arrange bananas (in peels) on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake 25 minutes. Let bananas cool to room temperature, then remove and discard peels, and transfer flesh and residual juices to a food processor. Process until smooth, then set aside 2 cups of the puree.
  2. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and position rack to middle position. Butter and flour three 9″ cake pans. Line the bottom of each cake pan with parchment paper, then butter and flour the parchment paper.
  3. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, and cinnamon. Set aside.
  4. In another large bowl, whisk eggs, oil, and banana puree until combined.
  5. Fold in the pineapple, vanilla, currants, and peanuts.
  6. Grate sweet potatoes, then fold into wet mixture.
  7. Pour wet ingredients into the dry ingredients, stirring until just incorporated.
  8. Divide batter evenly among the cake pans (~1,155 g per cake). Bake 40 minutes (mine should still probably be baking), or until cake tester inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean.
  9. Let the cakes cool 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edges of the cakes. Flip cakes onto a wire rack to cool completely (~2 hours) and remove parchment paper.
  10. For the frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer with paddle attachment, beat cream cheese until smooth.
  11. Mix in the butter on low speed, scraping down the sides as needed.
  12. Add sugar a 1/2 cup at a time until incorporated.
  13. Add salt and vanilla, then mix to combine.
  14. Frost and decorate (with roasted peanuts) the cakes as desired.
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