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Rule of Hum: A Primer on the Hummingbird Cake

Hummingbird Cake, Kingfish Cafe
We're going to discuss Hummingbird Cake for a bit, OK?

In case you missed the loving tribute to the cake a while back, here's a sweet little 411 on this decadent treat:

What is it? Perhaps the easiest way to describe it is like carrot cake, but instead of carrots, it has banana and tiny bits of pineapple and pecans--and is generously blanketed with an abundance of rich cream cheese frosting. Or at least that's how I think of it. 

Where does it come from? While there is some evidence that the Hummingbird is a descendant of the Doctor Bird cake from Jamaica, stateside most of us tend to associate the cake with the deep south. And, to that point, it was in the south that we find the first documentation of this bananarama of a confection being called "Hummingbird Cake"--in a 1978 issue of Southern Living (source: foodtimeline.org).

What's with the name? Well, going back to that Jamaica, it turns out that the national bird is the swallow-tail hummingbird, and "Doctor Bird" is a nickname which refers to the bird's coloring, which if you squint really hard could resemble a doctor's coat. But as to why the cake is named after the bird? I'll go with the most poetic (and my favorite) explanation: it's so sweet that people are drawn to it like hummingbirds to nectar.

There's Cake in there, I promise!
Where on earth can the cake in the pictures be obtained? Now, you know that we're all fans of Kingfish Cafe's Red Velvet Cake--but friends, all I can say is that if you happen to go there and they happen to have Hummingbird Cake that day, get it. Theirs is probably one of the best I've ever tasted: rich, moist cake lightly studded with pineapple and nuts and topped with a thick slab of rich cream cheese frosting and a generous dollop of whipped cream for good measure--all drizzled with caramel and chocolate and powdered sugar--and topped with a prettily sliced strawberry. Like, O.M.G. Of course, it didn't hurt that the slice was also about the size of Rhode Island.

However, if you're not lucky enough to check out their gorgeous Hummingbird cake, I do have a trusted recipe for a generously sized one (a slight riff on this recipe). It's not the same as the Kingfish cake, but it's a respectable cake nonetheless:



Hummingbird Cake

  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 4 oz crushed pineapple, well drained
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped pecans
  • 2 cups very ripe bananas


  • 16 ounces cream cheese, softened
  • 1 cup butter, room temperature
  • 2 pounds confectioners sugar (I know, I know)
  • Extra nuts for garnish (if desired)

For the Cake: Preheat oven to 350°. Sift flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and cinnamon together into mixing bowl several times. Add eggs and salad oil to the dry ingredients. Stir with a wooden spoon until ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple and the pecans (saving a few to garnish the top of the cake). Stir in the bananas. Spoon the batter into 3 well-greased and floured 9-inch round cake pans. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes,or until a wooden pick or cake tester inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pan for 10 minutes, then turn onto cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.

For the Frosting: Combine cream cheese and butter; cream until smooth. Add powdered sugar a little at a time (you might not need all of it--it's always easier to add more than to remove it!), beating with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Stir in vanilla.


Frost the tops of all 3 layers, stack and then frost sides. Sprinkle top with leftover pecans (or you might want to add more if you like a crunchier cake-top).


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Reader Comments (20)

Oh man, I really want to make a Hummingbird Cake now!

I tried a hummingbird cupcake from Zingerman's in Ann Arbor a couple weeks ago, not really knowing what I was getting myself into. It tasted almost exactly like frosted banana bread to me, which wasn't exactly what I was expecting. I must say, if it were covered in caramel, chocolate and strawberries, I'd definitely give the hummingbird another shot.

July 24 | Unregistered CommenterJacqueline

Wow, I'm drooling over the photos already!

Hahaha, I totally said, "That's a lot of powdered sugar..." and then saw your parenthetical comment on it :D

July 24 | Unregistered CommenterOwl Chick

One of my favorite cakes! Yum!

Rhode-Island sized slices of cake? Yes please! I keep telling myself I'm going to make a hummingbird cake, these photos are convincing me that now's the time to give in to the craving. Diiivine!

July 24 | Unregistered CommenterSophie

I've never even heard of this cake but I REALLY want to try it now. Guess I'll just have to bake the recipe soon!

July 24 | Unregistered CommenterDeanna

delicious! I was just trying to find a recipe for hummingbird cake :)

July 24 | Unregistered CommenterSnooky doodle

I haven't had hummingbird cake in years; the thought of it makes my teeth tingle.

July 24 | Unregistered Commentermaybellesmom

oh my... i've never heard of a hummingbird cake. thanks for sharing! :)

July 24 | Unregistered Commenteryoungmi

I love hummingbird cake!

July 24 | Unregistered CommenterNutmeg Nanny

Loved everyhting about this cake, until reading the frosting's ingredient list and almost got a heart attack ;-)

The best hummingbird cake I've ever eaten was topped with a dried pineapple flower. I recommend it!

July 26 | Unregistered CommenterDootsie

I so am going to make Hummingbird cupcakes this week...they sound so yummy! I make a cake called a pea-pickin' cake that is yellow cake with mandarin oranges in it and then topped with a Cool Whip frosting that has a package of vanilla pudding and crushed pineapple in it. It is a great summer dessert...and people are so impressed by it!

July 27 | Unregistered CommenterLolliCakes

This is one of my favorite cakes....I love anything with cream cheese frosting!!

I had Hummingbird Cake for the first time from Buttercup Bake Shop in NY. I think it's safe to say it is now my favorite cake. And now it looks like it will also be my baking project this weekend. Thank you!

July 30 | Unregistered Commenterjuniormiss

I always see this cupcake at Trophy and wondered what it was. Good to know!

As a Food Technology Student I have to say I think Im in love

September 28 | Unregistered CommenterRita Mann
This cake was a total hit with everyone!!! Fantastic recipe!!!
February 20 | Unregistered CommenterCarla
I made this over the weekend with a few alterations: I used walnuts instead of pecans and used a whole can of crushed pineapple instead of the 4oz that the recipe called for. I was out of ripe bananas; hence upping the pineapple level. it came out BEAUTIFULLY. I made a dozen cupcakes from this and a flat sheet cake. The cream cheese frosting came out divine as well. I was so worried after the icing had chilled overnight that all you would be able to taste was the butter in it and that wasn't the case at all! Thank you so much for a great recipe. It has become a new favorite!
April 11 | Unregistered CommenterSparrow
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