The Hummingbird Cake

February 11, 2014

The rain was falling in Northern California after months and months (and really years) of drought which made it hard for any of us to complain about the weather, even as the plans for Kate + Dan’s ceremony were moved inside. Drizzle turned to heavy drops turned to mist as I made my way through the Mission to the unassuming storefront on 18th Street, carrying a carefully packed cooler box containing the cakes that we’d eat to celebrate their marriage just a few hours later. I wore my favorite booties, despite the crummy weather that typically would put the kibosh on special shoes, and a new favorite apron over my “dress up clothes;” the most sensible ensemble under the circumstances for once I stepped out of the rain and into the space where the ceremony + wedding would take place, and shook the raindrops from my hair, I’d set forth to decorate the most lovely, simple, and elegant cake under the most unconventional circumstances.

Kate described her perfect wedding cake as one that was unexpected; she didn’t want anything too layered, covered with ruffles or fuss and certainly it wouldn’t have a little plastic bride or groom adorning the top. This was the same philosophy that Kate applied to the entirety of her wedding planning: not too much fuss, not too much pomp, just something lovely and she trusted those of us on her team to make it so without steering us too strongly. Literally, as long as I strayed from the stereotypical cake conventions she intended to defy, tried to weave in some coconutty, cream cheese-y flavors, and could ensure the cake would pair well with the most decadent ice creams, I could have free rein.

All of this was very flattering, and exciting. And, in looking back, nerve-wracking. I am a planner, nearly to a fault and this was no exception; Kate is one of my favorite women on the planet and I wanted their wedding cake to be….PERFECT. So I drew pictures, maps, made calculations, plotted fondant structures and bounced around ideas. ( I’d cover the cake completely with fondant pearls! We’d have matching wedding cake + cupcakes! We’d use all sorts of colors and textures that matched her flowers and her dress!) But as the date drew nearer, I realized that my best planning efforts would be for not; I wouldn’t be yet in a kitchen of my own, with my own cake baking or decorating equipment, and whatever kitchen I could work out of would be hundreds of miles from Kate and her wedding. I wouldn’t know what the flowers, or textures, or colors of the space would be until I arrived that day, and I didn’t have any guarantee that the fondant structures of my dreams would stay intact as we drove (in the middle of our move) from Portland to Boulder. The nature of things was dishing up a taste of my own medicine; the best I could do would be to bake Kate a delicious cake, and decorate it on the spot. The purely simple, elegant and absolutely made-with-love-cake that Kate had ordered, would be exactly what she would get. 

Coming Together - Hummingbird Cake


I baked the cakes on Tuesday and froze them for travel. On Wednesday, we drove from Portland to San Francisco to start our move to Boulder, passing the cakes along to dear friends who promised to babysit (and freeze) them until Sunday morning when they were delivered carefully to me so I could port them through the rain and bring them to life with blooms delivered by the florist, remnants of Kate’s bouquet. As the lights started to glow in the space, the glasses being set on the bar clinked, and bubbly voices started to fill the room, the cake came together; first covered in creamy elegant buttercream, and then covered with a colorful shower of blooms and remnants from Kate’s bouquet. With guests starting to arrive, I carried the little cake back to the walk-in to let it chill and for us both to take a breather, to smile big with the nature of things. With the best of intentions, great results always seem to arise, and sometimes the best way to brave uncertainty is to plant a stake in the ground and stand by it. Blooms (and in this case, wedding cakes covered with blooms) will grow up beneath your feet. Moments after my little chill-sesh in the walk-in, we revealed the cake and the happy couple sliced into it, with wine glasses clinking all around and camera flashes snapping – I couldn’t have been prouder or more thrilled to be part of this celebration in this special way and my little heart just soared as slices were shared around the room, with all of those who love Kate and Dan most.


Kate's Hummingbird Cake

I originally shared the recipe for this cake in March of 2011 as a revamp of a recipe I found in Sauveur, but have reworked the recipe again here. I love this cake because its dense without being rich, sweet without being cloying, and cuts just so so good into slices in the way that you want a celebratory cake to do. The cake formula originally has Southern roots and – not surprisingly – its typically made with lots of sugar, oil, and butter; like a carrot cake (but without the carrots, raisins, or the usual accoutrements.) The tweaks I employ here keep the cake light but still decadent, swapping out a proportion of butter for bananas, and maybe even using flax in substitute for the eggs if you like. To frost the cake, I used a swiss meringue buttercream whipped with cream cheese which will stand up better than a simple buttercream; the meringue will allow the cake to sit out of refrigeration without the buttercream getting too soft too fast. If you have another favorite frosting, you could use that as well. 

18 Reasons + The Hummingbird Cake     Slice by Slice - Hummingbird Cake

A couple of notes: clearly the cake freezes and travels well — it made it all 700 miles of our travels, passed between hands and arrived unscathed, packed neatly in a cooler bag with some chilled cooler blocks and packing materials. The recipe below makes two 10′-inch rounds and one 8-inch round (see the photo above) but you could recalculate the recipe to make any size cake you wish by using this calculation chart.  Also, the recipe for meringue buttercream below is for a single batch of frosting but I might recommend making a double batch if you like a heavily frosted cake, or if you plan to make a 6-layer cake by halving each of the cakes to assemble it. (Kate’s cake was rather lightly frosted so folks would be encouraged to eat their cake with ice cream.) I can’t wait to hear where this little cake goes, and what it celebrates for you all. Congratulations Kate + Dan — may life always be a delicious adventure for you two! 🙂 -xo L      

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  • Reply Derek March 21, 2011 at 11:13 am

    que bueno!

  • Reply Candice February 14, 2014 at 2:00 am

    This is absolutely gorgeous! Wow!

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