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This Southern gem boasts three incredibly moist layers flavored with canned pineapple and bananas.

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Read the full recipe after the video.

Recipe Summary

active:
30 mins
total:
2 hrs 15 mins
Servings:
12
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When the Hummingbird Cake was first submitted to Southern Living in 1978 by Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina, we had no idea the cake would become our most popular and beloved Southern cake recipe ever. Without a doubt, the cake is a beauty with its three moist layers topped with cream cheese frosting and pecans; but it's the taste that really keeps us coming back.

There are a few rules for success in this recipe that make it truly stand out. First, vegetable oil is used instead of butter to get the moist, quick-bread-like texture of the layers. The original recipe, as printed below, calls for 1 1/2 cups of oil. Over the years we reprinted the recipe several times and, in keeping with cooking trends of the time, altered the amount of oil and sodium called for in the ingredient list. The quality of the finished product was never altered, however.

Second, you need a can of crushed pineapple in its juices, which you will NOT drain. The juices add so much flavor to the cake batter and keep it incredibly moist.

Lastly, always take the time the toast your pecans. It's a game-changer. Forty years may have passed since we discovered this Southern gem, but we keep making it year after year!

How to Bake a Hummingbird Cake

First, preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl. Add the eggs and oil, stirring just enough to moisten the dry ingredients. (See the full ingredient list in the recipe below.) Stir in vanilla, pineapple, bananas, and toasted pecans.

Next, divide the batter into three greased and floured round cake pans and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. Cool completely. 

To make the frosting, beat softened cream cheese and butter until smooth. Add powdered sugar until blended, and then add vanilla, beating until fluffy.

To assemble the cake, place the first cake layer on a serving platter, topping with frosting. Repeat for the second and third layers. Last, spread the remaining frosting over the top and sides of the cake and decorate the top with pecan halves.

Hummingbird Cake Ingredients

To make hummingbird cake, you'll need only ordinary, easily accessible ingredients: flour, sugar, table salt, baking soda, ground cinnamon, eggs, vegetable oil, vanilla extract, canned crushed pineapple in juice, bananas, pecans, and vegetable shortening. 

For the cream cheese frosting, you'll need softened cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and vanilla extract. For the top, you'll need more pecans.

Why Do They Call It Hummingbird Cake?

Over the years and across the miles, hummingbird cake has gone by many nicknames, including "A Cake That Doesn't Last," "Doctor Byrd Cake," and "Tropical Treat Cake." 

When the banana-heavy version originated in Jamaica, it went by the name "doctor bird cake," so named for the island's national bird, the red-billed streamertail. This type of hummingbird has a long beak that appears to examine flowers the way a doctor might examine a patient; further, the black crest and tails of the bird resemble the top hat and long tailcoats doctors once wore. 

By the mid 1970s, the treat made its way to the U.S., where it more popularly took on the nickname hummingbird cake—a fitting name for a cake sweet enough to attract hummingbirds. 

In the February 1978 issue of Southern Living, a hummingbird cake recipe appeared as a submission from Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina. It was destined to become one of the most-requested recipes in our magazine's history.

Do You Refrigerate a Hummingbird Cake?

Because of the cream cheese frosting, hummingbird cake is best stored in the fridge, where it retains both its freshness and flavor. You may also freeze hummingbird cake to make it last even longer (that is, if you can resist eating it first).

Why Is My Hummingbird Cake Dry?

One of this cake's most tempting features is its intense moistness. So if your cake is turning out dry, troubleshoot solutions to remedy it.

First, make sure you're using vegetable oil instead of butter. Second, don't drain your crushed pineapple before adding it to the recipe; make sure you're using it along with its juice, which imparts not only tons of flavor, but exquisite moistness, too.

Further, make your cake with over-ripe bananas, which are always best in baking for results with the best possible flavor and moistness.

What Does a Hummingbird Cake Taste Like?

You might say hummingbird cake tastes like a tropical vacation, befitting its Caribbean origins. The ultra-moist confection has a sweet, fruity, spicy flavor profile that might be described as carrot cake meets banana bread.

Community Tips

Feel free to adapt the nuts to your group's tastes or allergies. "My boyfriend doesn't like pecans that much so I didn't include any in the cake, but roasted some with sugar and cinnamon for the top," ​​community member scastrodesigns said. "It was a perfect crunch for a cake that is so moist."

Another Southern Living community member said simply, "I skip the nuts because my family doesn't care for them — but boy do they love the cake!"

Editorial contributions by Alesandra Dubin.

Ingredients

Cake Layers
Cream Cheese Frosting
Additional Ingredient

Directions

Instructions Checklist
  • Prepare the Cake Layers: Preheat oven to 350°F. Whisk together flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, and cinnamon in a large bowl; add eggs and oil, stirring just until dry ingredients are moistened. Stir in vanilla, pineapple, bananas, and toasted pecans.

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  • Divide batter evenly among 3 well-greased (with shortening) and floured 9-inch round cake pans.

  • Bake in preheated oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Cool in pans on wire racks 10 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks, and cool completely, about 1 hour.

  • Prepare the Cream Cheese Frosting: Beat cream cheese and butter with an electric mixer on medium-low speed until smooth. Gradually add powdered sugar, beating at low speed until blended after each addition. Stir in vanilla. Increase speed to medium-high, and beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

  • Assemble Cake: Place first cake layer on a serving platter; spread top with 1 cup of the frosting. Top with second layer, and spread with 1 cup frosting. Top with third layer, and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange pecan halves on top of cake in a circular pattern.

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