From an early age, I was deeply immersed in the culture and celebration of Kwanzaa. I used to perform in a children’s dance company called New Life, which was rooted in the ministry of spiritual liturgical dance. Every year, the company would perform at a renowned church in Chicago’s Kwanzaa event. I adored dancing at this festivity every year, because I loved seeing the attendees in their gorgeous and brightly colored African attire and experiencing the high energy in the space. As a child, it was great knowing I had something amazing to look forward to when the Christmas holiday was over.
What I cherish and remember most from that time was our dance director always stressed Kujichagulia (Self-Determination) as such an important principle to us. We, as dancers and artists, were always to define ourselves and create for ourselves, always believing in what we created. This belief in my creative self has always merged with my personal life and has carried with me through my adult life in so many facets of my creative expression, especially in food. This hummingbird dessert is the perfect manifestation of that belief.
The Hummingbird Cake, a cake historically made up of banana, pineapple and nuts, reminds me of the very origins of Kwanzaa as it is deeply rooted in African-American, southern soul food tradition. The generational passed down tale is that the origin of the name “hummingbird cake” came from people humming when they tasted the cake. I can believe that actually may be true as I have been known to hum whenever I taste my big mama’s baked creations. By merging the hummingbird cake with another soul food classic, pineapple upside down cake, this dessert celebrates African-American culture, and also becomes the perfect conclusion to your Kwanzaa feast. I look forward to passing this recipe down in my family and sharing the stories of its creation in my kitchen and its rich significance with my children one day.
Pineapple Upside Down Hummingbird Cake
For the Cake
8-10 (3 ounce) ramekins or 4-5 (5 ounce) ramekins
1/4 cup brown sugar
2 tablespoons butter
Fresh pineapple slices or 1 can of pineapple slices
3/4 cup all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 egg beaten
1/4 cup oil
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup pineapple juice
1/4 cup crushed pineapple
1/2 cup mashed ripe bananas
1/4 cup of toasted and finely chopped pecans, optional (omit if you have a nut allergy like yours truly)
For the Caramel Cream Sauce
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup water
1/2-1 cup of heavy cream (depending on how thick you want your sauce)
For the Butterscotch Coconut Ice Cream
2 cups of coconut milk
Pinch of salt
1 tablespoon of vanilla
2 tablespoons of butter
3/4 cup of brown sugar
For the cake, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray individual 3-ounce ramekins with non-stick baking spray. Start by making the caramel topping. Take the brown sugar and butter and combine and melt in a saucepan over medium heat until the sugar dissolves and the mixture becomes bubbly (this happens after a few minutes). Pour the caramel mixture evenly into individual ramekins. Arrange one pineapple slice in each ramekin on top of the caramel mixture. Combine flour, baking soda, salt, 1/2 cup of sugar and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add eggs and oil, stirring until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, and pecans if you decide to use them, and mashed bananas. Pour batter into prepared ramekins. Bake for 22-25 minutes. Cool for 10 minutes before removing from ramekins.
For the caramel sauce, combine 3/4 cup of sugar and water in saucepan. Boil the mixture over medium high heat until the water evaporates and the sugar begins to melt. Reduce the heat and stir constantly while continuing to cook until the sugar is completely melted (a darker amber color). This can take about 20 minutes. Remove the melted sugar from the heat and add the cream gradually, whisking constantly. Add in vanilla and whisk. Set aside to cool slightly.
For the butterscotch ice cream, heat butter, brown sugar and vanilla extract in saucepan until it begins to bubble. Slowly add coconut milk and a pinch of salt while whisking. Whisk until smooth and remove from heat. Store in the refrigerator until completely cool. Once cool, add to your favorite ice cream maker to finish. P.S. This is a great vegan recipe if you replace the butter with a vegan substitute like Earth’s Balance.