Hummingbird cake reigns supreme over the dessert table at Southern get-togethers, but to locate this recipe’s origins, you actually have to go a bit farther south — to Jamaica. In the late ’70s, the Jamaican Tourist Board attempted to entice more American vacationers to the island by releasing press kits highlighting classic Jamaican recipes. One of them was a delicious “hummingbird cake”, named in honor of Jamaica’s national bird, the swallow-tailed hummingbird. (Or, as it’s known on the island, the doctor bird — which is why you’ll also find recipes calling this a doctor bird cake.) Southern Living Magazine printed the recipe in 1978, and in the last 40 years it’s become their most requested recipe of all time.
But why is it really called a hummingbird cake? The story behind the name is about as nuanced as the cake’s fruity, spiced, and tropical flavor. Maybe it’s because the cake is as sweet as the nectar that hummingbirds drink. Maybe it’s because anyone who takes a bite will positively hum with joy. Maybe it’s because people make a beeline to this pineapple banana cake as quickly as hummingbirds flock to the feeder. Whatever the real story is, hummingbird cake has become a staple of Southern celebrations.
But remember, anyone on the receiving end of a homemade hummingbird cake is absolutely not going to care if it doesn’t look perfect. True to its name, people will be hovering around this cake like hummingbirds to flowers.
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1¼ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 eggs, beaten
1½ cups sugar
1⅓ cups vegetable oil
¼ cup buttermilk
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 cups very ripe banana, mashed (about 4 medium bananas or 16 ounces)
1 (8 oz) can crushed pineapple (or fresh chopped pineapple)
2 cups toasted chopped pecans, divided
CREAM CHEESE FROSTING
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, softened
2 (8 oz) packages of cream cheese, softened
¼ teaspoons kosher salt
6 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 350°F/175°C.
Grease and flour three 8-inch cake pans.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, cinnamon, salt, nutmeg, and baking soda.
Add the eggs, sugar, vegetable oil, buttermilk, and vanilla extract, and stir just until the dry ingredients are moistened.
Stir in the mashed bananas, crushed pineapple, and one cup of chopped pecans, and stir just until evenly mixed.
Divide the batter evenly between your three coated cake pans (about 22 ounces per pan). Bake for 25 – 30 minutes, or until a toothpick or cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the pans for 10 minutes, and then remove them from the pans and transfer them to wire racks to cool completely.
Make the cream cheese frosting: beat together the butter, cream cheese, and salt with a hand mixer until smooth and creamy. Gradually add in the powdered sugar on low speed, until it is all incorporated. Whip in the vanilla extract.
Decorate the cake: if desired, use a serrated knife to trim off the rounded tops of each cake to make them level. (If you don’t want to do this, you can also just fill in the gaps with more frosting.) Place the first layer of cake on a serving plate or cake decorating turntable, and spread the top of the first layer with about ¼ of the frosting. Turn the second layer of cake upside-down (so that you have a nice flat surface for frosting), and place it on top of the first frosted cake layer. Frost it with about another ¼ of the frosting. Place the last cake layer, upside-down, on top of the second frosted cake layer. Cover the entire cake with the remaining frosting. Sprinkle the remaining chopped pecans over the top of the cake. Refrigerate until ready to serve.