Experiment #18: Dr. Bird Cake

We’re hard on the 1980s here at the Clog, but we’ve gotta admit the decade had its charms. The Talking Heads! Alf! Snorting powder cocaine off the top of a humming Apple Macintosh! Scrunchies!

And occasionally—very occasionally—the food. Today, we bring you the first recipe from the 1982 Congressional Club Cook Book to yield a hearty Two Hamm’s Up from the test kitchen.

It is perhaps no coincidence that this is the first recipe we’ve made that had an advanced degree. 

 Presenting: “DR. BIRD CAKE.” 

Sorry to this bird. 

We know what you’re thinking: who is this Dr. Bird? 

We’re not in the business of rampant speculation here on the Clog. We take journalistic ethics as seriously as our Microsoft Paintings. But our best guess is that she represents one of the toddering first steps of 1980s feminism—like Astronaut Barbie, or Lady Foot Locker. 

Just look at this very real transcript we uncovered of THE Dr. Bird’s first day on the job at the Naperville University of Quantum Baking. 

SNEERING GREASER: “Ayyy, what’s a bird like you doing in a lecture hall like this?” 
BELINDA BIRD, PhD: “I’m the instructor. And that’s DOCTOR bird, thank you very much.”

The smiling skinsuit congressperson affiliated with today’s crumbly comestible is one Tom (no relation) Corcoran of Illinois, who represented Illinois’s 15th (and later 14th) Congressional Districts from 1977 to 1985 (*Bowling for Soup begins to play*). 

Foreground: Freedom schlub. Background: Freedom chub. 

Just look at that Certified Congressional Hunk. A man so studly, even the official House of Representatives photographer had to ask for an autograph. 

Corcoran was a staunch Ronald Reagan Republican with what one Illinois Issues reporter called at the time an “almost simpering personal veneration of the president.” 

His key legislative priority was dry-humping the earth, and he devoted most of his career to attempts to abolish the Department of Energy, prohibit coal severance taxes, and kneecap acid rain control initiatives, citing the cost to both “ratepayers” and the “thousands of unemployed coal miners” in his home state. Of Illinois. 

In a quaint twist of fate, Corcoran started his life in Ottawa, Illinois, and ended his political career in Ottawa, Canada, where he promoted the regional (artisanal!) tar sands as director of a lobbying group funded by ConocoPhillips and Exxon Mobil. 

His wife, Helenmarie, has an entrepreneurial spirit worthy of her pedigreed cake. She’s worked as a financial planner, dance studio owner, and arts advocate for a music festival in San Miguel de Allende. She’s also the most tech-savvy contributor by far, with her own Instagram and Twitter accounts—the latter of which is currently full of advertisements for knock-off RayBans. Change that password, Helenmarie! 

In all seriousness, her Dr. Bird cake is most likely a riff on hummingbird cake, a spice cake with pineapple and banana. In Jamaica, hummingbirds are colloquially referred to as “doctor birds.” We’re not sure a teaspoon of cinnamon makes a “spice cake” but it’s certainly more spice than we usually encounter in these recipes. 

Step 1. “Do you have any fruit to declare?” 

Only one canned food, and it’s crushed pineapple nubbins. We give this one and a half froots. 

On ingredients alone, we were feeling pretty good about this recipe—and Helenmarie. It takes audacity to make a scratch cake at a time when you could just as easily assemble Pillsbury’s infamous “Tunnel of Fudge” from a box and a can. 

The recipe calls for two cups of diced, not mashed, banana, which set off a few textural red flags. We’re a creamy house, not a chunky house. But we did our best. 

*looks directly into camera* 

There is no way to cut a banana that isn’t threatening. 

The Elsa sticker on our banana bunch didn’t help. Corporate produce marketing partnerships seem an unsettling new frontier. One imagines a head of radicchio embossed with Josh Gad’s hopeful snowman face. When you ruffle the leaves, it sings to you like a sound-chipped greeting card. 

We digress. 

Step 2. Combine Powders

[Lazy ‘80s cocaine joke TK] 

Helenmarie wants you to go to the trouble of sifting your dry ingredients, conscious as she is of optimal gluten formation. She also wants you to unceremoniously dump all of the wet ingredients on top like a Rochester garbage plate. 

Ignore the picture: the whisk isn’t your friend. This mixture is thicc. Your best bet is one of those enormous cauldron stirrers, or maybe an industrial laundry ponch. 

Once you’ve got the mix to something close in texture to a Nilla wafer pudding, tip it into a Bundt pan. 

We try to follow these recipes exactly, but there was one omission Liz refused to entertain: Mt. Helena never instructs you to grease the Bundt pan, let alone flour it. Tom objected because he is a strict constructionist (SCRAWWW!), but he was overruled. 

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Flan. Hair has not improved since. 

Here’s the problem: our only Bundt pan is holiday themed. (Do not ask us to become the kind of people who own two Bundt pans.) 

The holiday pan is full of Festive Crags and Crevices, which are excellent places for Cake Stick. And Liz still has deep trauma memories of standing at the kitchen sink scraping Cake Sludge™ out of the crannies with an old toothbrush. 

You can go your own way (♪go your own waaaaay♫), but we (Liz) highly recommend(s) you grease-n-flour. 

Step 3. Ruin your pizza stone 

The five states of matter: solid, liquid, gas, plasma, mulp.

We were feeling good about this cake (apart from the #chunx) when we put it in the oven. Look at that photo: there’s a solid inch and a half of vertical space left in that pan! Plenty of room for Dr. Bird to rise in all her aerated feminist glory. 

About 15 minutes into the bake time, we began to smell the unmistakable scent of burnt sugar. We looked at each other uneasily. The cake still had an hour to go. Surely we couldn’t have burnt it already? 

We cracked open the oven door and were greeted with the sickly scorch of pineapple on pizza...stone. The cake had expanded beyond the bounds of its Bundt, and molten, vaguely island-scented batter pooled like a lava flow onto the pizza stone on our oven floor. 

The spillage over the side of the pan reminded us of the “elephant’s foot” from Chernobyl. 

Not great, not terrible. 

We had to level off the bottom with a serrated knife before turning the cake out of the pan. But those sawed-off bites of sugar-crisped Pacific rim were delicious. We’d ruin our pizza stone all over again if we had to. 

And whaddayaknow...greasing and flouring the tin paid off. This cake was low-key delicious, like a claggier banana bread. It stayed moist for three days after we cut into it. 

The fruit #chunx supplied a little texture and a little fruity tang, but mostly faded into the background. Still, the undeniable star of this Bundt is the caramelized crust. The cake rind, if you will. 

Happy quarantine, all you learnèd, beautiful Birds. 


Dr. Bird Cake 
By Mrs. Tom (Helenmarie) Corcoran 
Adapted from the 1982 Congressional Club Cook Book 

3 cups sifted flour 
1 teaspoon baking soda 
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 teaspoon cinnamon 
2 cups sugar 
1 teaspoon salt 
1 ½ cups cooking oil 
2 cans Hamm’s 
1 8 oz. can crushed pineapple with juice 
1 ½ teaspoons vanilla 
3 eggs 
2 cups diced ripe bananas 

Measure dry ingredients, then sift. Add all other ingredients to dry mixture. Stir to blend but do not beat. Bake in Bundt or 9 inch tube pan at 350° for 1 hour, 20 minutes. Cool in pan. Turn out and serve with Hamm's in center ring. Makes 8 servings.