Today I am baking a “Hummingbird Cake,” a cake with a Southern tradition. It is early in June and this time of year reminds me of our annual trips driving our kids to summer camp in Mississippi. The camp is located in the heart of the Mississippi Delta and you can’t get more southern than this. It was always a bit sad driving down the two-lane country roads with red dirt, smell of pine trees, and hot, hot humidity as our kids would be gone for most of the summer. But they loved camp and made many enduring friends there. So a “Hummingbird Cake” reminds me of this annual ritual.
What is a Hummingbird Cake?
A “Hummingbird Cake” is a dense, moist cake filled with pineapple, bananas and pecans. The fruit and pecans give the cake an aromatic flavor which really is hard to beat. In fact, Southern Living Magazine names this their most requested cake recipe of all times. The “hint” of cinnamon and nutmeg which are included in the recipe accent the flavors of the fruit but don’t overwhelm the cake. And although sometimes pecans are optional, I’d say that they are an essential ingredient in this recipe. The cake includes oil — rather than butter — making the batter easy to mix. Of course, I’ve given this cake a personal touch with a few adaptions of my own to make it even better.
This is a large cake, typically three layers, and it is always iced with a cream cheese icing. If you wish, you can bake the cake in loaf pans, as it has some similarity to Banana Bread, but traditionally round cake pans are used.
Although the a cake is closely associated with the Southern United States, it actually originated in Jamaica according to a Wikipedia article (See References). The Jamaican Trade Commission was trying to encourage tourist trade to their country. In 1968, they distributed press kits about Jamaica which included the “Hummingbird Cake” recipe. At that time it was called “The Doctor Bird Cake” and it was made in a round Bundt pan with no icing. One of the first known printed recipes of this cake was in Southern Living Magazine who published the recipe as submitted by Mrs L H Wiggins of North Carolina in February 1978. Although this cake was already being made around the South, the recipe was extremely popular with Southern Living readers and I’m sure that this helped spread the recipe further throughout the Southern states. Hence, the cake’s association with the South.
Making the recipe
This is a very easy cake to make. The cake itself doesn’t require a mixer (although you must have an electric mixer for the icing). Just add the dry ingredients to one bowl, the liquid ingredients to another bowl and then mix everything together. Pour the batter into prepared cake pans and bake. That’s it! It is difficult to mess this cake up.
Before mixing up the cake batter, however, you first need to get all the ingredients together. Oil three 9″ round cake pans, line them with parchment paper and oil the paper. Toast and chop the pecans and mash up the ripe bananas. Yes, this cake does require some effort — but there are no difficult tasks involved.
After the cake bakes and cools it is time to ice it with a luscious cream cheese icing. Here you do need an electric mixer to beat the cream cheese and butter until they are creamy and smooth. It is much easier beat up these ingredients if they are soft. So let the cream cheese and butter sit at room temperature for several hours to soften. Then mix on high speed of an electric mixer until blended.. Lower the speed and add in powdered sugar and vanilla extract.
This icing is very soft, but it is much easier to ice the cake layers with a soft cream cheese icing. Refrigerate the cake to help the icing stiffen up.
This dense, moist cake is delicious. Cut this three-layer cake into small slices. I recently took it to a post-Covid-19 club potluck dinner. It was a hit and everybody loved it! Okay, I’ll brag. We no longer make the June annual trip to the camp in Mississippi as our kids have grown up and moved along — although one returned as a camp counselor. Hey, I can still bake the cake! Enjoy!
Ingredients for cake:
- 1 cup pecan pieces or pecan halves, plus a few additional for garnish
- 3 cups flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- 1-1/2 cups sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 1-1/2 cups oil, plus more for oiling cake pans
- 1 cup crushed pineapple plus juice
- 2 cups mashed bananas (about 4 medium, ripe bananas)
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
Ingredients for icing:
- 2 (8 oz) pkg cream cheese, softened
- 1 stick (1 cup) butter, softened
- 3 cups powdered sugar, plus 1/2 to 1 cup additional, if needed
- 2 tsp vanilla extract
Instructions and Steps for cake:
- Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.
- Prepare the cake pans. Oil three 9″ round cake pans. Cut round pieces of parchment paper to fit in bottom of each cake pan. Place the pieces in the oiled cake pans. Lightly oil the parchment papers. Set cake pans aside while making cake.
- Toast the pecans. Place pecan pieces on baking sheet. Toast in 350 degree oven for five minutes or until aromatic. Remove from oven and immediately transfer to small bowl. If using pecan halves, chop pecans to small pieces. (Save a few pecan pieces or whole pecan halves for garnish.) Set aside.
- In very large bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and nutmeg.
- Stir in sugar.
- Place eggs In another medium size bowl. Beat the eggs with wire whip until well blended.
- Add the oil, mashed bananas, crushed pineapple with juice, vanilla extract and chopped pecans to the eggs and stir to combine.
- Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients. Add in the wet mixture. Use a spatula to fold in and combine into the dry ingredients. Don’t over mix. The mixture is dense.
- Pour the cake batter into the three prepared cake pans.
- Bake in 350 degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes just until cake springs back.
- Remove from oven. Let cool 10 minutes. Then remove cake layers from pans and cool on wire rack to room temperature.
- When ready to ice, invert first cake layer onto cake dish. Ice with cream cheese icing. Add second layer – inverted — on top and ice. Place on third layer, right side up. Ice with remaining icing on top and sides of cake.
- Garnish with a additional pecan pieces or pecan halves.
- Refrigerate to chill cake and help icing set.
- When ready to serve, cut into 16 slices.
Instructions and Steps for icing:
- Let cream cheese and butter set at room temperature until soft.
- In small bowl of electric mixer, beat cream cheese on high speed until smooth.
- Add butter and beat until combined.
- Turn speed of mixer to low. Slowly add 3 cups of confectioner’s sugar and beat until combined, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. If too thin, add 1/2 cup additional powdered sugar.
- Beat in vanilla extract.
- Turn mixer to medium speed and beat an additional minute until icing is creamy and fluffy.