The list of ingredients is long, but it’s a one-bowl wonder.
Looking for a tasty, very approachable, easy-to-make dessert for a potluck or picnic? This is it. The pecans and the coconut can easily be left out if you prefer.
We started baking Hummingbird Cake for Zingerman’s Roadhouse when it opened in 2003. At that time, we made a variety of American desserts, but we had not actively focused on southern baking. The Roadhouse features classic American dishes from around the country with a strong emphasis on barbecue and southern cuisine, and this cake seemed like a natural fit. It has since become a customer favorite in our own shop and at the Delicatessen, and it is a common choice for wedding cakes.
What does this have to do with the flow of our day? Well, the cake decorators have a precise order for their icing work. They start with vanilla Swiss buttercream and always end with cream cheese, which is what we put on this cake. We know that they’re at the end of one part of their day when cream cheese frosting is in the mixing bowls.
Doctor Bird Cake
Hummingbird cake is so named because it is sweet enough to attract hummingbirds. In Jamaica, though, where the recipe originated, it’s called doctor bird cake. Doctor bird is a nickname for Jamaica’s national bird, the Red-billed Streamertail, which is a type of hummingbird. Jamaicans call the bird the “doctor bird” because of the similarities between a hummingbird probing flowers with its beak and a doctor prodding a patient during an examination.
How did this cake get to America? In 1968, Air Jamaica began flying from Kingston and Montego Bay to Miami and New York. The icon on the tails of the planes was none other than Jamaica’s national bird. To increase interest in travel to the country, Jamaica’s tourist board put together some promotional kits to send to the United States. The kits included recipes for some local foods, among which was doctor bird cake.
The cake quickly gained popularity in the South. There are numerous references to the cake in county fair reports and baking competitions throughout the 1970s, although not always under the same name. Variations of the name include Doctor Byrd cake after a familiar regional name dating back to early Virginia and then finally the more generalized name of hummingbird cake. The first printed recipe for the cake appeared in Southern Living magazine in February 1978. Hummingbird cake has since become the most requested recipe in Southern Living’s history.
— Adapted from a blog post written by Bakehouse baker Nina Plasencia.
FOR THE CAKE
- ¾ cup Pecans 85 g
- 1 ½ cups Granulated sugar 305 g
- 2 ½ cups All-purpose flour 355 g
- 1 tsp Baking soda
- 1 tsp Sea salt
- 1 tsp Ground cinnamon
- 2 Large eggs
- 1 ¼ cups Vegetable oil 230 g
- 1 ½ cups Mashed bananas very ripe (320 g)
- 1 tsp Vanilla extract
- ½ tsp Coconut extract
- ¾ cup Sweetened flaked coconut 70 g
- ¾ cup Crushed pineapple 160 g
FOR THE FROSTING
- ½ cup Cream cheese room temperature (115 g)
- ½ cup Unsalted butter room temperature (115 g)
- ½ tsp Vanilla extract
- 1 tsp Lemon juice
- 2 ½ cups Powdered sugar sifted (230 g)
- Toasted chopped pecans for decoration (optional)
Make the Cake
- Preheat the oven to 325°F [165°C]. Spray a 9-by-13-in [23-by-33-cm] cake pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
- Toast the pecans on a sheet tray. If you will be removing the cake from the pan and decorating the sides with chopped pecans, add more pecans for that purpose. Though the toasting typically takes 10 to 12 minutes, start checking them after 8 minutes. The browning happens suddenly when the nuts are heated to the point that their oil comes to the surface, and they can burn quickly. Use your nose while you bake! You will notice a toasty aroma when they are nearly ready. When they are done, remove them from the oven, let them cool completely, and then chop them into 1⁄4-in [6-mm] pieces. Turn the oven down to 300°F [150°C].
- In a mixing bowl, combine the sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Add the eggs, vegetable oil, and bananas to the dry ingredients. Stir well to moisten the dry ingredients. Add the vanilla extract, coconut extract, coconut, pineapple, and pecans (reserving some for decoration if desired) and stir until everything is well incorporated.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake for 60 minutes, until the cake bounces back in the middle when pressed gently and a toothpick comes out clean. The cake will release from the sides of the pan. Let the cake cool before frosting. It can be iced in the pan or out, depending on your preference.
Make the Frosting
- While the cake is baking, make the frosting. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, lightly beat the cream cheese until there are no lumps remaining. Add the butter and combine until smooth. Add the vanilla extract and lemon juice. Stir. Slowly add the powdered sugar until it is moistened, and then stir until completely smooth.
- Spread the frosting on the cooled cake. Make a decorative pattern if you feel inspired. If you’ve removed the cake from the pan, put a small amount of icing on the sides and then coat the sides with toasted, chopped pecans.
- Store this cake in the refrigerator because of the frosting. Remove it from the fridge an hour or two before serving for the best flavor and texture.