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This old-fashioned hummingbird cake recipe is a southern classic. It’s studded with banana, pineapple, and spice and blanketed in cream cheese frosting.

an old fashioned hummingbird cake on a cake stand with a slice on a plate with a fork
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Why we love this recipe

Hummingbird cake originated in Jamaica and has long been a staple of the American south. If you like carrot cake and banana bread, you’ll love this recipe too. This cake is:

  • Very moist and tender
  • Gently sweet, fruity, and a little bit tropical
  • Balanced with a gentle backbone of warm, astringent spice
  • Swathed in our pillowy, not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting
  • Truly easy and no-fuss to make

The cake batter is adapted from Southern Living Magazine, where it was first submitted by L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina in 1978 and has since become the most popular southern cake recipe of all time. My version balances the flavor profile and tweaks the method while honoring the original.

What you’ll need

Here’s a glance at the ingredients you’ll need to make this recipe.

For the cake

ingredients in bowls
  • This recipe needs very ripe bananas. I routinely peel and freeze bananas that have over-ripened just shy of extinction to use in smoothies and banana bread, and those are perfect here. The riper they are, the more moist and tender your cake will be.
  • You’ll use a can of crushed pineapple including all the juices.
  • Safflower oil is neutral-tasting vegetable oil of choice for baking. You can use that or sunflower, canola, peanut, vegetable oil blend, or any other refined oil with a neutral taste and high smoke point.
  • You’ll toast chopped pecans in a dry pan to bring out their flavor and crunch.
  • Plenty of ground cinnamon and nutmeg balance the cake’s sweetness and add warm, cozy dimension.
  • Since the banana and pineapple contribute plenty of acidity, you’ll use baking soda alone to leaven the cake. This means you’ll want to get the layers into the oven pretty quickly after mixing.

For the frosting

ingredients
  • Use good-quality, full-fat, block cream cheese. Other types of cream cheese will not produce a nice, thick frosting.
  • For the butter, you can do as you like, but I really like to use a cultured, salted butter like Kerrygold for its nuanced flavors.
  • I tend to use good old powdered sugar from the grocery store and give it a sift. However, if you like, you can use organic powdered sugar. It tends to be processed with tapioca starch instead of cornstarch and have a smoother, more powerful thickening capacity.
  • I always recommend a good-quality pure vanilla extract. In addition to vastly superior flavor, it adds a pretty tinge of color to the frosting, giving it a soft, organic off-white look.

How to make it

Here’s an overview of what you’ll do to make this old-fashioned hummingbird cake recipe with not-too-sweet cream cheese frosting. You can see the cake-baking steps in action in the video that accompanies this post, and get all the details in the recipe card below.

To make the cake

step by step
  1. First you’ll toast the pecans and prepare the baking pans.
  2. The batter comes together in one bowl, with just a whisk and a spatula.
  3. You’ll bake the three layers until a tester comes out clean.
  4. Once completely cooled, layer, frost, and decorate. That’s it!

To make the frosting

This is a standard cream cheese frosting recipe but with less powdered sugar added, and a slightly different mixing technique that I find yields more predictable results. Here’s what you’ll do:

step by step
  1. Have the ingredients at cool room temperature — about an hour out on the counter before using unless it’s a very hot day. Start by sifting the powdered sugar into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle.
  2. Cut the butter into approximate 1-tablespoon pieces and add to the bowl. Mix on low at first, gradually increasing to high, until well incorporated. It’s okay if the mixture is crumbly rather than smooth at this point. Coating the sugar with the butterfat before adding the cream cheese helps to prevent the frosting from being too loose. Mix in the vanilla.
  3. Add the cream cheese.
  4. Beat until smooth and creamy, but no longer. (It is possible to over-mix cream cheese frosting.)
an old fashioned hummingbird cake on a cake stand

Expert tips and FAQs

Can I make this recipe in advance? What about leftovers?

You sure can. This beautifully moist cake is made with oil instead of butter, which helps it stay tender for longer. You can make the layers a day in advance and store in an airtight container at room temperature after cooling completely, or even freeze the layers, wrapped very well, for up to a month or so.

Or assemble the whole cake and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 24 hours before serving. Bring to room temperature for an hour or so before presenting the cake.

Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.

More favorite old-fashioned cakes

an old fashioned hummingbird cake on a cake stand with a slice being removed

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an old fashioned hummingbird cake on a cake stand
4.75 from 4 votes

Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake Recipe

By Carolyn Gratzer Cope
This old-fashioned hummingbird cake recipe is a southern classic. It's studded with banana, pineapple, and spice and blanketed in cream cheese frosting.
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 25 minutes
Additional Time: 1 hour
Total: 1 hour 45 minutes
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Ingredients 

For the cake

  • Cooking spray and flour for preparing the pan
  • 1 cup (120 grams) chopped pecans
  • 3 cups (360 grams) all-purpose flour
  • 2 cups (400 grams) sugar
  • 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 ½ cups (350 ml) safflower oil
  • 2 teaspoons (10 ml) pure vanilla extract
  • 1 8- ounce 227-gram can crushed pineapple, including all the juice
  • 1 ¾ cups (450 grams) mashed banana, from about five medium bananas

For the frosting

  • 4 cups (480 grams) confectioners’ sugar, sifted
  • 12 tablespoons (168 grams) good salted butter (such as Kerrygold)
  • 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
  • 2 8- ounce 225-gram packages cream cheese

To decorate

  • 1 cup (120 grams) pecan halves

Instructions 

Make the cake

  • Preheat oven to 350°F with a rack in the center.
  • Spray three 9-inch round cake pans with cooking spray and coat lightly with flour.
  • In a small, dry pan set over medium heat, toast the chopped pecans until lightly browned and fragrant.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, salt, baking soda, cinnamon, and nutmeg.
  • Add beaten eggs, oil, and vanilla, and stir just until all dry ingredients are incorporated.
  • Stir in pineapple, mashed banana, and chopped pecans.
  • Divide batter evenly among the prepared pans — about (680 grams) per pan, if you're weighing.
  • Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, until a tester inserted into the center of each layer comes out clean. About halfway through cooking time, swap the positions of the pans to ensure even baking.
  • Let layers cool in pans for 10 minutes on a wire rack. Then turn out to cool completely before proceeding.

Make the frosting

  • Have ingredients at cool room temperature — an hour max out of the fridge.
  • Sift powdered sugar into a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle.
  • Cut the butter into approximate 1-tablespoon pieces and add to the mixer.
  • Beat, on low at first, and increasing speed to medium eventually, until well-incorporated. It's okay if the mixture is still crumbly rather than smooth at this point.
  • Beat in vanilla extract.
  • Add cream cheese and beat on medium speed until smooth and creamy, but no further. (For this and all cream cheese frosting recipes, overbeating can result in a frosting that's too soft.)

Assemble the cake

  • In a small, dry pan set over medium heat, toast the chopped pecans until lightly browned and fragrant.
  • Place a dab of frosting in the center of a cake stand or serving plate and position the bottom cake layer over it. If you like, you can tuck pieces of parchment paper underneath the perimeter of the bottom cake layer to catch any errant frosting.
  • Dollop about a quarter of the frosting on top and spread evenly.
  • Repeat with second cake layer and more frosting.
  • Position the top layer and spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.
  • Arrange toasted pecan halves around the circumference of the cake top, or however you like.

Notes

  1. This recipe needs very ripe bananas. I routinely peel and freeze bananas that have over-ripened just shy of extinction to use in smoothies and banana bread, and those are perfect here. The riper they are, the more moist and tender your cake will be.
  2. You'll use a can of crushed pineapple including all the juices.
  3. Safflower oil is neutral-tasting vegetable oil of choice for baking. You can use that or sunflower, canola, peanut, vegetable oil blend, or any other refined oil with a neutral taste and high smoke point.
  4. Use good-quality, full-fat, block cream cheese. Other types of cream cheese will not produce a nice, thick frosting.
  5. For the butter, you can do as you like, but I really like to use a cultured, salted butter like Kerrygold for its nuanced flavors.
  6. I tend to use good old powdered sugar from the grocery store and give it a sift. However, if you like, you can use organic powdered sugar. It tends to be processed with tapioca starch instead of cornstarch and have a smoother, more powerful thickening capacity.
  7. I always recommend a good-quality pure vanilla extract. In addition to vastly superior flavor, it adds a pretty tinge of color to the frosting, giving it a soft, organic off-white look.
  8. This beautifully moist cake is made with oil instead of butter, which helps it stay tender for longer. You can make the layers a day in advance and store in an airtight container at room temperature after cooling completely, or even freeze the layers, wrapped very well, for up to a month or so. Or assemble the whole cake and store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 24 hours before serving. Bring to room temperature for an hour or so before presenting the cake.
  9. Leftovers will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for a week.
Cake batter adapted from Southern Living Magazine.

Nutrition

Serving: 1, Calories: 536kcal, Carbohydrates: 79g, Protein: 9g, Fat: 22g, Saturated Fat: 12g, Polyunsaturated Fat: 8g, Cholesterol: 97mg, Sodium: 466mg, Fiber: 4g, Sugar: 37g

Nutrition information is automatically calculated, so should only be used as an approximation.

Additional Info

Course: Cakes
Cuisine: American
Tried this recipe?Mention @umamigirl or tag #umamigirl!

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About Carolyn Gratzer Cope

Hi there, I'm Carolyn Gratzer Cope, founder and publisher of Umami Girl. Join me in savoring life, one recipe at a time. I'm a professional recipe developer with training from the French Culinary Institute (now ICE) and a lifetime of studying, appreciating, and sharing food.

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2 Comments

  1. The best Hummingbird Cake I have ever made and eaten! So moist, wet and sticky! Thank you for the recipe!