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:

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).