Just before Veteran’s Day, my friend mentioned she was going to bake a hummingbird cake to celebrate the long weekend. My other friends and I had never heard of a hummingbird cake, and someone even asked if it involved actual hummingbirds. It turned out she was referring to the classic Southern sweet she grew up eating in Georgia. The rest of us, who've never lived in the South, never had the opportunity to try it. A little research quickly revealed that we’d been missing out.

What Exactly Is Hummingbird Cake?

Contrary to its name, hummingbird cake has little to do with the bird. When the first recipe was published in Southern Living in 1978, it made waves with its unorthodox use of oil instead of butter and large quantities of fruit. Since then, there have been many variations on the original recipe, but the use of spices, bananas, pineapple, and neutral oil remain constant. Finished with a cream cheese frosting, the cake is the most delicious cross between a carrot cake and banana bread.

So, What's With the Name?

There are all sorts of theories about how hummingbird cake got its name. One popular idea is that it originated in Jamaica where the hummingbird is the national bird. The fact that the two main ingredients—pineapple and banana—are staples of Jamaican cuisine support the theory. Another idea is that the cake is named after the nectar that hummingbirds drink for its sweetness. Regardless of which theory is true, one thing is for certain: this dessert is one you don’t want to miss.

A Quick Preface

When I first made hummingbird cake, I used the original recipe from Southern Living, but I found the cake too sweet and lacking in spice. So I modified the recipe, and after lots of trial and error, I achieved a cake with much more balance. It has a pleasant spice, a sweet fruit flavor and a creamy frosting. Note: if you’re allergic to pecans, feel free to substitute with another nut or leave them out altogether.

Shray Vaidya


For the Cake:

1 1/2 cups toasted pecans

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas

8 oz can crushed pineapple, undrained

3 large eggs

2/3 cup vegetable or any neutral oil

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon allspice

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

For the Frosting:

16 oz cream cheese (2, 8 oz sticks)

1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened to room temperature

3 ½ cup confectioners’ sugar

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon milk


1) Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease and lightly flour three 9-inch cake pans (or two 10-inch cake pans, depending on how many layers you want).

2) In a large bowl, sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, allspice, and cinnamon. Make sure the spices are well distributed.

3) In a medium bowl, mash together the bananas until no large lumps remain. Whisk in the remaining ingredients and beat until well combined. Mix the wet ingredients into the flour mixture until combined.

4) Chop most of the toasted pecans, leaving 8 whole pecans for garnish. Fold the chopped pecans into the batter until just combined.

5) Evenly divide the batter between the prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

6) Remove cakes from the oven and allow to cool completely before removing from pans. Level off the cakes using a serrated knife or your preferred method.

7) Make the frosting: In a large bowl using a handheld or stand mixer, beat together the cream cheese and softened butter on high speed until smooth and creamy. Beat in the vanilla, milk, and salt. Add the powdered sugar 1 cup at a time, beating until combined after each addition. After all the sugar has been added, beat on high until no lumps remain, and the frosting is smooth.

8) Assembly: Place 1 cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate. Spread an even layer of frosting on top and slightly over the sides for a rustic look. Top with the next layer of cake and frosting, repeating until all layers have been used. Spoon 8 rounded mounds of frosting on top and place a whole pecan on each mound as a garnish (see picture). Chill the cake for an hour before serving.

Shray Vaidya