A sweet, old-fashioned Southern layer cake.
You’ll be glad you got your hands on this old-fashioned hummingbird cake recipe. Hummingbird cake is a sweet Southern cake that’s moist, flavorful from banana, pineapple, nuts and cinnamon, and has a laid-back charm that everyone loves.
Food History: Old-Fashioned Hummingbird Cake Recipe
For as classic and old-fashioned as hummingbird cake feels, the cake has not been around for very long. Southern Living first published the hummingbird cake recipe in 1978. The layer cake was submitted by a Greensboro, North Carolina widow named Mrs. H.L Wiggins.
But did Mrs. Wiggins actually invent the hummingbird cake recipe? Yes and no. Mrs. Wiggins is credited by Southern Living as submitting the first layer cake version with cream cheese icing. But the magazine also points out that hummingbird cake existed before that–and possibly first gained a foothold in America thanks to a Jamaican airline brochure!
It started as a tube cake with no icing. Simple spiced cakes with canned pineapple and bananas popped up in community cookbooks throughout the early 20th century, when these once-exotic fruits became more commonplace in grocery stores, like Publix. The recipes usually sported names like A Cake that Lasts (most likely because it stayed moist and kept well) or Bird of Paradise Cake.
In any event, hummingbird cake took off from there, becoming a common presence in Southern bakeries, homes, and bake sales alike. Hummingbird cake has also been gaining popularity more broadly. The New York Times even recently (finally!) published their version of hummingbird cake.
How to Make Old-Fashioned Hummingbird Cake
I am a firm believer in not messing with perfection, so I use the Southern Living recipe almost exactly, with a couple of tweaks. I have also written the directions with more detail for less-experienced bakers.
That said, you do not need to be a great baker to make this very excellent hummingbird layer cake. It is mostly a dump-and-stir recipe with uncomplicated ingredients.
- First, whisk together the eggs, vanilla, and oil.
- Add them to the dry ingredients in a mixing bowl.
- Stir in the pineapple, crushed ripe banana, and pecans.
- Divide into cake pans and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until done.
What Kind of Bananas Should I Use?
Make sure your bananas are very ripe. The more spotted with brown the better. As bananas age, they develop more sugar and flavor, with less starchy dryness. The ripeness makes a huge difference in the flavor, so make sure you have some bananas browning a few days in advance.
Can I Substitute the Hummingbird Cake’s Crushed Pineapple?
Yes. I sometimes have trouble finding crushed pineapple at the grocery store, so I just buy chopped or diced pineapple instead and crush it with my hands. The key is to include the juice as well. Do not drain it.
You could also use 1 cup of fresh crushed pineapple plus 3 tablespoons water. But the canned pineapple is the classic version.
How Should I Frost and Decorate a Hummingbird Cake?
With lots of fluffy vanilla buttercream, and maybe some pecans for good measure. Some people like cream cheese icing for this. If you’re feeling arts-and-craftsy, I also recommend making some very simple oven-dried pineapple flowers with thin slices of fresh pineapple.
If you love a good old-fashioned hummingbird cake recipe, you will also love:
- Easy Vanilla Buttercream Frosting
- No Dye Red Velvet Layer Cake
- Buttermilk Birthday Rainbow Sprinkle Cake
- The Famous Commissary Carrot Cake
Old-Fashioned Hummingbird Cake
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 cups sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 3 eggs
- 1 1/2 cups neutral vegetable oil, such as canola
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple, with the juice
- 2 cups smushed very ripe bananas (about 3 bananas)
- 1 cup chopped pecans
- Vanilla buttercream frosting (recipe follows)
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease and line three 8-inch cake pans or two 9-inch pans. TIP: You can also use 9-inch cake pans, but the layers will be thinner and the baking time will reduce slightly.
- Beat together the sugar, oil, eggs, cinnamon, and vanilla until emulsified and slightly lightened. Add the flour, baking soda, and salt and stir to combine. Add the crushed pineapple and juice, bananas, and chopped pecans. Stir until fully combined.PRO TIP: If you can only find pineapple chunks, just crush it up with your hands.
- Divide batter between the three cake pans and bake for about 30 minutes, until a cake tester comes out clean and the top feels springy to the touch.
- Cool in cake pans for about 15 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack to fully cool. Frost with vanilla buttercream frosting and serve. PRO TIP: Like soup, cake often tastes better the next day. I like to bake my cakes the day before, then frost and serve on the big day.