Hummingbird Cake is a Southern classic spiced pineapple-banana cake topped with cream cheese frosting and pecans and about to become a household favorite!
This Hummingbird Cake recipe is super easy to make with just a mixing bowl! It is bursting with banana, pineapple, coconut and pecan flavors spiced with cinnamon then enveloped in luscious pineapple cream cheese frosting. This from scratch Hummingbird Cake recipe is fresh yet decadent, light yet dense, PACKED with goodies and possibly the most moist cake you ever sunk your teeth into. This Hummingbird Cake is guaranteed to become a new family, neighbor, friend favorite and birthday, funeral, potluck, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Easter, Mother’s Day/Father’s Day tradition. I’ve included step by step photos, tips and tricks and everything (and more!) you need to know about how to make Hummingbird Cake a sweet, tender, flavorful success! I’ve also included how to prep ahead, how to store and how to freeze – now you have EVERY reason to make this Hummingbird Cake!
If you aren’t familiar with Hummingbird Cake, it is about to change your cake world. The first time I made Hummingbird Cake, I was expecting to like it, but OH MY YUM, I loved it. And this Hummingbird Cake recipe is one of my absolute favorite cake recipes ever – and dare I say the best Hummingbird Cake recipe. So please make this cake before we dive into everything pumpkin – it will make you hum with delight!
What is Hummingbird Cake
FLAVOR AND TEXTURE
This Southern classic Hummingbird Cake tastes like a tropical cross between banana bread and pineapple-upside down cake with a texture reminiscent of carrot cake with bursts of pineapple and pecans– sans carrots.
It begins with a spice cake infused with cinnamon, all spice, brown sugar, crushed pineapple, bananas, toasted pecans, and toasted coconut. The bananas, pineapple, sugar and oil deliver an incredibly moist crumb and a cake that will stay tender for days, with the bonus of pops of juicy pineapple and sweet bananas. The coconut and pecans add a nutty, chewy crunch and elevate the tropical flavor.
There are almost more goodies in the Hummingbird Cake than actual cake which makes for a delightful explosion of textures and flavors in every bite. The harmonious medley of ingredients are evenly dispersed throughout the cake and each add to the overall perfection, flavor and moistness.
The Hummingbird Cake is finished with a creamy, tangy cream cheese frosting (I’ve elevated classic cream cheese frosting into pineapple cream cheese frosting) which marries all of the flavors and textures together. Finally, the cake is finished with a dusting of toasted pecans and coconut to reinforce that classically tropical flavor.
Hummingbird Cake is wonderfully easy because it is made by the muffin method, meaning you don’t cream butter and sugar, and instead the batter is mixed in bowls by hand, as beaters would impair the texture.
This easy method is possible due to the use of oil. As much as I love butter in cake recipes for its flavor, the Hummingbird Cake is exploding with tropical flavor from the other ingredients, so we get to use oil. Oil is often used in carrot, zucchini, pumpkin cakes/breads and utilizes chemical leavening and eggs to create EASY, intensely moist, fluffy cakes that boasts airy suspension for the fruit and nuts.
Where Does Hummingbird Cake Come From?
Hummingbird Cake actually comes from the island of Jamaica and was originally called, “doctor bird cake” in the late 1960s. This version was a pineapple-banana cake made in a bundt pan without cream cheese frosting. It was brought to the US through tourist promotions in the 1960s and within a few years started showing up in American small-town newspapers and community cookbooks.
The term Hummingbird Cake made its earliest appearance in the Edwardsville Intelligencer in Illinois in 1972 describing the cake as “A moist, delicious-ring cake made with crushed pineapple and bananas.”
Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina is reportedly the first to create layered Hummingbird Cake with cream cheese frosting in 1978. It was made popular when she submitted her recipe to Southern Living and instantly become a Southern classic and has since become Southern Living’s most popular cake AKA a must in your dessert repertoire!
Why do they Call it Hummingbird Cake?
Despite its name, no hummingbirds were harmed in making this recipe. Instead, the Hummingbird Cake is rumored to gets its name from its fruity sweetness, which was said to attract hummingbirds. Others contend the cake tastes so delicious it makes people hum like a bird – and soon, you can decide!
Its other name, “Doctor bird cake,” arose because “doctor bird” is a nickname for Jamaica’s national bird, which is a member of the hummingbird family. The nickname purportedly arose because the bird probes a flower with its long beak reminiscent of a doctor examining a patient.
Hummingbird Cake is also known as banana-pineapple cake, doctor bird cake, Doctor Byrd cake, bird of paradise cake, Jamaican cake, bumblebee cake, and nothing left cake. And there will be nothing left once your family/friends get a hold of it!
Best Hummingbird CAKE RECIPE
Hummingbird Cake is delicious – but this Hummingbird Cake is my FAVORITE version around. Here’s what makes this the best Hummingbird Cake recipe in my opinion:
- COCONUT: Classic Hummingbird Cake recipes don’t often included coconut – but it belongs with the pineapple, pecans and bananas. It elevates the tropical flavors with its nutty, sweet, chewy YUM.
- FINELY GROUND PECANS: I’ve used the same method as my acclaimed Carrot Cake recipe by using finely ground pecans instead of just chopped pecans. This produced even nutty distribution and a palate pleasing texture.
- TOASTED! Both the coconut and the pecans are toasted for an added dimension of flavor. You can taste the difference!
- MORE PINEAPPLE: Many Hummingbird Cakes simply taste like banana cake speckled with pineapple – I did NOT want this to be the flavor profile of this cake so I amped up the pineapple in this recipe (both in the cake and frosting) so it just as dominant the bananas.
- VANILLA YOGURT AND OIL: Some cakes made with oil can be too oily. Instead, I’ve replaced some of the oil with vanilla yogurt so the Hummingbird Cake is super moist without being oily and it boasts extra vanilla goodness.
- LEAVINING: I use both baking soda and baking powder for extra lift.
- PINEAPPLE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING: Classic cream cheese frosting becomes PINEAPPLE cream cheese frostsing simply by adding vanilla yogurt and pineapple preserves to classic frosting. The vanilla yogurt adds a depth of silkiness and flavor while the pineapple preserves add a light, bright, pineapple tang all sweetened by powdered sugar to create a sweet and tangy match made in paradise.
INGREDIENTS FOR HUMMINGBIRD CAKE RECIPE
This Hummingbird Cake looks like it has a lot of ingredients but I promise it is super simple to make with pantry friendly ingredients and NO MIXER. You will need:
THE HUMMINGBIRD CAKE:
- Crushed pineapple: you will need one 20 oz. can crushed pineapple, drained. Use pineapple packed in pineapple juice NOT syrup. Take care to drain the pineapple well so the cake isn’t soggy.
- Bananas: you will need 1 1/2 cups mashed bananas which is approximately 3 bananas. Use over-ripe bananas that are deeply speckled for the most flavorful Hummingbird Cake.
- Pecans: you will need 2 cups pecan halves which we will roast and chop. You may also substitute walnuts if walnuts are more your thing.
- Coconut: use sweetened coconut flakes. You can omit if you don’t like coconut – but I HIGHLY suggest it if you do!
- Vegetable oil: delivers an incredibly most cake with optimal texture to cocoon our ingredients. You may also use canola oil or another neutral tasting oil (NOT flavorful like olive oil).
- All-purpose flour: I have not experimented with gluten free flour, but I assume gluten-free 1 to 1 flour like Bob’s Red Mill would work great. I do not recommend cake flour or self-rising flour or you will need to change the baking powder/baking soda, etc.
- Sugar: we are going to use both granulated sugar and light brown sugar. The granulated sugar adds sweetness while the brown sugar adds a rich slightly molasses flavor and additional moistness.
- Baking powder: is an acidic leavening agent. Take care your baking powder is fresh, (throw out after 6-12 months) so it works!
- Baking soda: same as above, make sure it is fresh, usually 6-12 months is best.
- Spices: cinnamon, nutmeg, all spice and salt deliver sensationally flavorful Hummingbird Cake.
- Eggs. You will need 3 large eggs at room temperature. They provide structure and binding properties. Take care they are at room temperature for fluffier results.
- Vanilla Greek yogurt. I LOVE using Greek vanilla yogurt in my baked goods for extra moisture and flavor. It eliminates part of the oil and creates a tender cake that’s not too oily.
- Vanilla extract. Use quality vanilla for best results.
THE CREAM CHEESE FROSTING:
- Pineapple Preserves: Adds a depth of pineapple to the Hummingbird Cake that many recipes are missing. Many grocery stores carry pineapple preserves, but sometimes you have to look closely. I almost walked out of my grocery store but finally spotted it on the very top shelf. So, if you aren’t sure if your grocery store carries pineapple preserves, definitely ask. I have had success at Vons. And if that fails, there is always Amazon.
- Cream cheese: use full fat cream cheese for best results. The cream cheese should be softened to room temperature at room temperature otherwise it can make your whipped cream too runny.
- Butter: use unsalted butter softened to room temperature so we can control the salt.
- Greek vanilla yogurt: adds a rich silkiness.
- Salt: cuts through the sweetness. Use good old table salt and more or less to taste.
- sugar: use powdered sugar/confectioners’ sugar – more or less to taste.
HOW TO MAKE HUMMINGBIRD CAKE
STEP 1: TOAST PECANS AND COCONUT
Add pecans and coconut to a large baking sheet/jelly roll pan and spread into an even layer (keep them separate). Bake at 300 F degrees for 8-11 minutes, stirring occasionally and watching closely towards the end as coconut can burn quickly. Remove once coconut is golden. Add pecans to food processor and finely chop.
STEP 2: PREPARE PANS
Line the bottom of three 9” round cake pans with parchment paper then spray with nonstick cooking spray WITH FLOUR or grease and flour pans.
STEP 3: Mix BATTER
In a large bowl, mix all of the Dry Ingredients together. In a separate bowl, gently whisk eggs then stir in 3/4 cup toasted coconut, 1 cup toasted pecans (reserve the rest for garnish) and all remaining Wet Ingredients, including drained pineapple, until combined.
Stir Dry Ingredients into Wet ingredients just until moistened, being careful not to overmix – batter will be THICK.
STEP 4: DIVIDE BATTER
Divide batter equally between prepared pans. Drop the pans a few times on the counter to get rid of air bubbles.
STEP 5: BAKE HUMMINGBIRD CAKE
Bake at 325 F degrees for 32-38 minutes (check earlier if using light pans), or until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean and the cakes begin to pull away from sides of pans.
Let cakes cool in pans on wire racks for 15 minutes then invert onto wire racks to cool completely.
STEP 6: MAKE FROSTING
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer until creamy. Beat in vanilla yogurt, and salt. Gradually beat in confectioner’s sugar, until desired consistency is reached. Beat in pineapple preserves. Add additional powdered sugar if desired for thicker frosting or add milk 1 tablespoon at a time for thinner frosting.
STEP 7: ASSEMBLE
Top cake with 1 cup frosting and spread evenly. Top with a Second Cake and spread evenly with 1 cup frosting. Top with remaining Cake.
Create Crumb Layer by scooping 1/2 cup of frosting into a smaller bowl to use. Frost cake with this ½ cup frosting starting with the top and working down until the cake is evenly frosted in a thin layer. Refrigerate Cake and remaining frosting for 30 minutes or until crumb layer has set.
Frost the outside of cake as you desire with the remaining frosting. Garnish with reserved coconut and pecans.
TIPS FOR HUMMINGBIRD CAKE
This Hummingbird Cake simple to make but here are a few tips and tricks to guarantee a sensational cake every time:
- Use correct pan size. It is important that you use the correct pan size or the cake will not bake properly.
- Nonstick Cooking Spray: I always use nonstick cooking spray with flour and have never had a problem with any of my cakes sticking – super quick, easy and effective!
- Parchment Paper: Lining the cake pans with parchment paper ensures no sticking!
- Toast ingredients: I know its an extra step (but hands off – easy!), to toast coconut and pecans, but it adds tons of flavor – you will never regret toasting!
- Don’t pack flour: Whenever you measure flour, don’t scoop the flour directly from the container or else the flour will compress – and packed flour = more flour, which = denser, drier cakes. Instead, scoop flour into measuring cup and then level, without packing or tapping
- Room temperature ingredients: It is essential to use room temperature yogurt and eggs for fluffy Hummingbird Cake – or any cake! Room temperature ingredients whisk together more easily and are hard to overmix resulting in a softer, fluffier, more tender cake. Cold eggs result in a dry, denser cake.
- Quickly bring eggs to room temperature: To quickly bring eggs to room temperature, fill a bowl with warm water (not hot) and add eggs and let sit 10-20 minutes.
- Drain pineapple well: the pineapple needs to drained well or the Hummingbird Cake will be too wet. I add the pineapple to a strainer and press down with a spatula.
- Never over-mix! For the lightest, most tender cake, take care not to overmix once you combine the wet and dry ingredients. Over-mixing cake batter causes the gluten in the flour to form elastic gluten strands which result in a dense, chewy tough, texture. Stop mixing as soon as you see the flour disappear.
- Cover: I don’t find this necessary, but if the top or edges of your Hummingbird Cake are browning too quickly before your cake is done, then cover the edges or top loosely with foil.
- Don’t open oven door early. It is important to not crack the oven door until it’s time to check your cakes for doneness or until you see the tops are golden. Opening the doors can cause your cake to cook unevenly and to fall in the center.
- Let cake cool completely before frosting: If you try and frost your cake right away, then the frosting will melt.
- Glue cake. Add a dab of frosting to the center of a cake stand or platter “to glue” bottom layer down.
- Crumb Layer: This Hummingbird Cake has a loose, tender crumb so I don’t recommend skipping the crumb layer otherwise you will end up with lots of crumbs in your frosting.
- Let cake rest. Let the Hummingbird Cake sit for at least 30 minutes after frosting before serving. The cake is WAY better after 30 minutes and the flavors have melded. The cake is also much easier to slice once the frosting has set.
- Don’t microwave cream cheese. NEVER MICROWAVE cream cheese or butter for frosting or your frosting will be too runny. Let butter and cream cheese soften to room temperature at room temperature. This will ensure your cream cheese whipped cream is the perfect consistency and not runny.
HOW TO QUICKLY RIPEN BANANAS
You can’t make Hummingbird Cake without ripe bananas, so here are a few methods to speed up the ripening process:
- OVEN: I discovered the trick of ripening bananas in the oven in my Banana Coffee Cake recipe. While I don’t think the bananas emerge as deeply sweet as naturally ripening, the process is still useful. To ripen bananas instantly in the oven, line them on a foil lined baking sheet and bake at 250 degrees for approximately 25-30 minutes or until your bananas are dark brown/black on the outside and slightly soft to the touch. Be aware that the bananas will leak a little which is perfectly normal.
- IN A BROWN BAG: Place the bananas (peels on) in a brown paper bag with a ripe apple, peach, melon, tomato or avocado. The climacteric fruit (meaning they ripen after being harvested) along with the bananas themselves will release ethylene. The ethylene will be trapped in the bag, causing it to build up and speed up the ripening process.
- TOP OF THE FRIDGE: Your fridge exudes warmth which mimics a warm climate and promotes a quicker chemical ripening reaction.
HOW TO DECORATE HUMMINGBIRD CAKE
Now the fun part! The Hummingbird Cake recipe will leave you with some toasted coconut and pecans to decorate the cake with. I chose to decorate the top of the cake with a rim of pecans and fill it with coconut, but you can also decorate the sides of the cake instead – pressing about halfway up – or any other way you wish!
In addition to the pecans and coconut, my favorite way to dress up Hummingbird Cake is with a few fresh flowers – you can go all out, or just a couple will do the trick.
CAN HUMMINGBIRD CAKE BE MADE AHEAD?
Absolutely! This Hummingbird Cake tastes exponentially better after a few hours of assembling, so I highly recommend making ahead of time and covering with a cake cover. If the cake has been refrigerated, let it come to room temperature (about 1-2 hours) before serving.
You can also bake the cake layers the day before you plan on assembling the cake. Let cake layers cool completely then tightly wrap the layers individually in plastic wrap. Store at room temperature for up to 24 hours.
CAN I FREEZE HUMMINGBIRD CAKE?
Yes! Hummingbird Cake freezes very well, with or without the frosting.
To freeze FROSTED Hummingbird Cake:
- If you are planning on freezing, then prep/frost your cake on a freezer safe plate/platter.
- Place frosted Hummingbird Cake in the freezer until it is firm to the touch.
- Once firm, wrap tightly in plastic wrap then repeat with a second layer of plastic wrap. Next wrap tightly in 1-2 layers of foil until completely sealed.
- If you are freezing individual slices, then place these plastic/foil wrapped slices in a freezer bag. If you are freezing your entire Hummingbird Cake for an extended period of time, then secure the aluminum foil with freezer tape to prevent freezer burn.
- Frozen Hummingbird Cake can be stored for up to 4 months.
To freeze UNFROSTED Hummingbird Cake:
You can freeze the Hummingbird Cake layers individually without the frosting. To freeze the cake layers:
- Let cake layers cool completely.
- Double wrap each cake layer separately in plastic wrap then in 1-2 layers of foil until completely sealed.
- Freeze cake for up to 3 months.
- Allow the cakes to thaw overnight in the refrigerator then unwrap and come to room temperature on the counter before assembling.
Can you make Hummingbird Cake into cupcakes?
Yes, this Hummingbird Cake recipe makes fantastic cupcakes, but just be aware you won’t need as much frosting.
- Prepare the recipe as written.
- Pour batter into greased cupcake liners.
- Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-24 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out with a few moist crumbs.
- Cool completely before frosting.
DOES HUMMINGBIRD CAKE NEED TO BE REFRIGERATED?
Refrigerating cakes can actually dry them out, so I don’t refrigerate them unless I have to. Traditional Cakes do not need to be refrigerated but Hummingbird Cake has cream cheese frosting – so does it need o be refrigerated?
According to Jan Moon, Cooking Light Test Kitchen expert, you do not need to refrigerate cake with cream cheese frosting (the sugar will act as a preservative) IF your house stays below 70 degrees and you plan on eating it within 2 days. If your home is warm or its the Spring, Summer and even Fall months, you will likely want to refrigerate your cake.
How to Store Hummingbird cake?
Hummingbird Cake should be stored in an airtight container or well-covered with plastic wrap to protect it from drying out. It can be stored at room temperature (if less than 70 degrees F) for two days or will last in the refrigerator for up to one week. Let cake (slices) come to room temperature before serving or I like to microwave mine for 10-15 seconds.
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