Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake is a classic Southern cake recipe that's always a hit. Layer this spiced pineapple-banana cake with cream cheese frosting and top it with pecans.

Overhead view of a table set with multiple plates of southern hummingbird cake.
Annika Panikker

Please welcome my dear friend, guest author Steve-Anna Stephens as she shares a Southern classic! ~Elise

Hummingbird Cake: Sweet, Scrumptious and Loved by All

Do you have a sweet tooth? Truth be told—I do not. At all. Pass me a second helping of beef tenderloin at dinner, thank you very much, and you can have my dessert.

So, the Hummingbird Cake perplexes me, because, well, I can’t stop eating it.

What Is Hummingbird Cake?

If you're not familiar, hummingbird cake is a spiced pineapple-banana cake topped with cream cheese frosting and pecans. Maybe it’s the pecans that lure me in, or the way the taste fools me into thinking I might just be eating a fancy piece of banana bread with a little cream cheese. Good for you, right?

Hummingbird cake has to be one of the sweetest, most scrumptious cakes around. Given their love for sugary nectar, one has to imagine hummingbirds would love to feast on this cake. But tough luck, hummingbirds! No one’s leaving this cake outside unattended.

Side view of a blue plate with a tall slice of southern hummingbird cake and a cake on a cake stand behind it.
Annika Panikker

A Perfected Hummingbird Cake Recipe

Since the original recipe for hummingbird cake first appeared in 1978 in Southern Living, it holds the title for the “most requested recipe” in the magazine’s history. This version differs from the basic one only slightly.

I’ve added nutmeg, used both baking soda and baking powder for a little extra browning and lift, and added some Cointreau to the frosting. It’s a wonderfully simple cake to make, with impressive results on all counts.

Have you ever tried hummingbird cake? If you haven’t, and you have a sweet tooth, this cake’s for you. Please share your thoughts in the comments.

Serving and Storing This Cake

This cake is at its very best if prepared and served on the same day. The assembled cake can be left at room temperature for a few hours before serving. If you need to make the cake in advance, cover it as best you can and refrigerate it. Let it come to room temperature for an hour or two before serving.

Leftovers are best stored in the refrigerator and well-covered with plastic wrap to protect them from drying out as much as possible. Let slices come to room temperature before serving.

By the way, cake is usually fine stored at room temperature, but there's some debate about the safety of cream cheese frosting being left out. Most sources advise erring on the side of caution and refrigerating it. Better safe than sorry!

Overhead view of southern hummingbird cake on a blue cake stand and plates with slices on it.
Annika Panikker

Turning Cake Into Cupcakes

This recipe makes great cupcakes! The cupcakes bake for about the same time as the cake, and you can double check by inserting a toothpick in the center. (When the toothpick emerges clean, the cupcakes are ready.)

Also, you won't need as much frosting for cupcakes so you can cut the frosting recipe in half.

Where Does Hummingbird Cake Come From?

Hummingbird cake may be thought of as a traditional Southern cake, but its origins are found in Jamaica, where it's also known as "Doctor Bird Cake." The hummingbird, also known as doctor bird, is the island's national bird.

The cake didn't become popular in the Southern US until the 1970s, after the Jamaica Tourist Board included the recipe in several it sent in a press kit to US media, hoping to get journalists to write about visiting the island.

Swaps and Substitutions

A cake like this can easily be switched up a bit. Here are some suggestions (take note: not all of these options have been tested).

  • Swap the sugar in the cake for a sugar replacer, using the directions on the packaging.
  • Skip the frosting and top with a dusting of powdered sugar.
  • Use applesauce in place of some or all of the canola oil in the cake.
  • Use cup-for-cup gluten free baking blend instead of all-purpose flour for a gluten free cake.
  • Substitute toasted coconut for the pecans.
  • Skip the nuts altogether.

The Best Pans to Use for Hummingbird Cake

This triple layer cake calls for three 9-inch cake pans, although other pan sizes can be used with some adjustments. The most important things to remember are to not fill any cake pan more than 2/3 full of batter and to alter the baking time (not the temperature). Check for the cake's doneness by inserting a toothpick in the center. If it comes out clean, the cake is fully cooked.

If you're making cupcakes or 9 by 13-inch cake, halve the frosting recipe.

Looking for More Classic Cakes?

From the Editors Of Simply Recipes

Hummingbird Cake

Prep Time 15 mins
Cook Time 50 mins
Total Time 65 mins
Servings 12 to 16 servings

The cream cheese frosting recipe can be cut in half if you prefer less frosting. If so, apply sparingly so there is enough to cover the entire cake.


Feel free to use any favorite liquor, such as Grand Marnier, Triple Sec, Cognac, Armagnac, Brandy or even Bourbon. Or, simply omit the liquor and use 2 teaspoons vanilla extract.

 

Ingredients

  • For the cake:
  • Butter, for greasing the pans
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder (make sure your baking powder is still fresh!)
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, optional
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup canola oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 (8 ounce) can crushed pineapple, with juice
  • 2 cups mashed bananas (from 3 to 5 bananas)
  • 1 cup finely chopped pecans
  • For the cream cheese frosting:
  • 1 pound cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 pounds powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Cointreau or other liquor (see Recipe Note)
  • 1 cup roughly chopped toasted pecans, optional for topping
  • Edible flowers for garnish, optional

Method

  1. Preheat the oven and the prepare pans:

    Place the oven rack in the center and preheat the oven to 350° F. Butter and flour three 9-inch round cake pans.

  2. Whisk together the dry ingredients:

    In a large bowl, vigorously whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg (optional).

    Whisking flour mixture in a bowl to make a hummingbird cake recipe.
    Annika Panikker
  3. Whisk the wet ingredients:

    In a separate bowl, whisk the canola oil, sugar, and eggs together until combined. Stir the pineapple, bananas, vanilla and one cup of the chopped pecans into the egg mixture and mix (do not beat).

  4. Mix the batter:

    Using a wooden spoon or spatula, fold the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients until just combined (do not over-mix).

    Mixing batter to make a hummingbird cake recipe in a glass bowl.
    Annika Panikker
  5. Pour the batter into the pans and bake:

    Pour the batter into the three prepared cake pans, taking care to divide evenly. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, or until a toothpick or skewer inserted in the center comes out clean.

    Pouring batter into a cake pan to make a hummingbird cake.
    Annika Panikker
    Overhead view of three southern hummingbird cake layers set on a cooling rack.
    Annika Panikker
  6. Cool the cakes:

    Cool the cakes in the pans on wire racks for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, run a knife around the edges and remove the cakes from the pans. Cool completely on wire racks before frosting.

  7. Make the frosting:

    Beat the softened butter and cream cheese in a large bowl with an electric mixer. With the mixer on low speed, add the powdered sugar in small amounts until all is incorporated, then add the Cointreau and vanilla and beat until the frosting is light and fluffy.

    Note: Do not add the powdered sugar while the mixer is set on a high speed, or you will create a snowy mess of sugar all over your kitchen. (Please do not ask me how I know this.)

    Whisking attachment whipping frosting for a hummingbird cake recipe.
    Annika Panikker
  8. Frost the cooled cake layers:

    Place one layer, top down, on a large plate or cake stand (this creates a smooth surface on the top and results in a more level cake). Spread frosting evenly over the first layer, then repeat with the second and third layers, then frost the sides.

    A person in a striped apron spreading frosting on a layer of hummingbird cake on a cake stand.
    Annika Panikker
  9. Top the cake with pecans:

    Sprinkle the top completely with the remaining cup of chopped pecans (toasted or un-toasted). Alternatively, press the chopped pecans onto the sides of the cake and leave the top simply frosted.

    Cake stand with hummingbird cake and blue plates with slices set around it.
    Annika Panikker