Hummingbird cake is a wonderful dessert that celebrates the flavours and history of Jamaica and the southern US. It is easy to make and customize, and perfect for any occasion.
What kind of cake is hummingbird cake?
If you are looking for a cake that is moist, fruity, spicy and decadent, look no further than the hummingbird cake. This southern classic has a tropical twist, thanks to its origins in Jamaica.
Whether you want to impress your guests, treat your family, or simply indulge yourself, you can’t go wrong with this sweet and delicious cake. Try it today and see why it is one of the most popular cakes in America!
A hummingbird cake is a layer cake with batter made with oil instead of butter, and packed with bananas, pineapple, pecans and cinnamon. It is usually frosted with cream cheese icing and decorated with more pecans. Some versions also include shredded carrots, coconut or dried fruit.
The cake is very rich and dense, with a texture similar to a carrot cake or a banana bread.
Why is it called ‘hummingbird cake’? I don’t think you feed it to the namesakes, even less probable that it’s made OF them. The name does not refer to any birds in the recipe, but rather to the sweetness of the cake that could attract hummingbirds, or to the streaks of banana that resemble the birds' feathers.
Where did it come from?
Hummingbird cake has a fascinating history that spans across continents and cultures. The cake is believed to have originated in Jamaica in the late 1960s, where it was called the “Doctor Bird Cake”, after a local variety of hummingbird. The Jamaican tourist board sent out press kits to the US with some recipes from the island, including the cake.
The cake soon became popular in the southern states of America, where it was adapted to suit local tastes and ingredients.
The first printed recipe for hummingbird cake appeared in Southern Living magazine in 1978, submitted by Mrs L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina. Since then, the cake has become the most requested recipe in the magazine’s history, and a staple of southern cuisine.
There seems to be a jostle between southern US states and Jamaica, both claiming the fame of the cake’s origins.
All the southern recipe sites describe it as a southern gem, specialty and classic but as mentioned above, it was but a PR gimmick from Jamaica sent to the US in a tourist-enticing campaign.
Considering the doctor bird, a spectacularly colourful species of hummingbird, is the national symbol of Jamaica and inhabits nowhere else, the Caribbean roots sound more convincing.
How to make a hummingbird cake that will make you sing
The classic, Jamaican or otherwise, is a ‘bucket’ type of cake (throw everything in a bucket and mix) made with crushed tinned pineapple, mashed bananas and pecans, and layered with cream cheese frosting.
That’s all very well but tinned pineapple? in the Caribbean? The things GROW there. Do the Napolitanos use tinned tomatoes for their pizza sauce?
The only explanation might be in the export value of the cake recipe – tinned pineapple is a staple in the US I imagine, also less accustomed is the thought of making a cake with fresh fruit. Plus the hassle of crushing the pineapple would probably kill the appeal of an ‘easy’ recipe.
My humming version
My hummingbird cake is slightly tweaked from the original. It is still beautifully easy to make, but it has buttercream frosting decorated with pistachios instead of cream cheese one. There is no middle frosting layer, the cake is sweet and indulgent without it.
The original Joy of Baking recipe certainly appealed to me and I’d baked it several times as it was, with enthusiasm.
But at some point I started tweaking because the thing is, any cake that has bananas added to the mix tastes like banana bread, no two ways about it. And as much as I love it, I wanted the hummingbird to hum with the pineapple more. I skipped bananas.
Then there was the issue of cream cheese frosting which is common as muck, and there’s hardly any variety to it.
As for buttercream on the other hand, you can let the reins of your fancy go loose and I had planned to try out the fresh apple buttercream variant. Plus, apple – pineapple – geddit?
And finally, I don’t like pecans that much. Since hummingbirds are more colourful than the boring brown, pistachios seemed much more fitting.
And there we have it: my version of the hummingbird cake is purely pineapple, with buttercream for frosting topped with pistachios. And if I may say so myself, it’s hummingly gorgeous.
More pineapple recipes
Oven roasted duck breast fillet with chilli flavoured pineapple slices, charred on the griddle. Served on a pile of green lettuce, it’s an outstanding warm salad dish.
Recipe for soft scones with pineapple flavour. This recipe makes plain scones with a pineapple tang because the dough is made with pineapple juice instead of milk.
Rack of lamb roasted medium rare with slices of grilled pineapple, a perfect combination of sweet and spicy. Also, pineapple facilitates digestion of meat protein.