The hummingbird cake is a staple of American pastry. It is very popular in the southern states. However, hummingbird cake comes straight from the island of Jamaica! It is a layer cake that can be prepared in two, three or even four layers. It contains fruits, nuts and spices. It is impressive and is often served as a cake for celebrations or birthdays.
What is a hummingbird cake?
The hummingbird is a real piñata. Indeed, it is a real surprising explosion of flavors, textures and spices.
As fruits, it contains bananas, pineapple and lemon. These are the fruits that give this cake its soft and moist texture that it can keep for several days. The hummingbird cake has a texture quite similar to carrot cake.
It is also prepared with two kinds of nuts: pecans and coconut. Finally, for spices and aromas, cinnamon and vanilla are used generously.
The hummingbird cake is then covered with a cream cheese icing.
What is the origin of the hummingbird cake?
Certainly, this cake is well rooted in the culture of the southern United States. However, it is a recent cake that dates back to the late 1960s. This dessert, originally from southern Jamaica was originally called the “Dr bird cake”. Also, no one really knows the author or the origin of this cake.
Its appearance was very different from the one we know today. First, it was only one layer and without any frosting.
The hummingbird is also nicknamed Dr bird. This nickname certainly comes from the fact that this bird probes the flowers with its beak by analogy with the doctor who examines a patient.
Legend has it that as the cake was very sweet (with the fruits and sugar it contained) that it attracted hummingbirds. It’s called “the cake that lasts”. It is also called Dr. Byrd’s cake. Indeed, the fruits that compose it keep it moist and allow to keep it for several days.
Yet the introduction of pecan nuts in the recipe dates back to the 1970s in the southern United States. You can find this cake in traditional pastries and coffee shops. It usually comes in two or three layers. Wiggins, a widow from North Carolina, was the first to introduce this 3-layer cake in the 1970s. But she is not the original author of the recipe.
The idea of using canned crushed pineapple with its liquid in the cake dough dates back to the time of the Great Depression in the 1930s. The addition of bananas to the cake batter dates back only to 1932.
Also, another very similar cake, called the “heavenly cake”, dates back to about the same time. It was prepared in the same way as the hummingbird cake. Indeed, it contained fruits including pineapple, chopped dates, walnuts and cinnamon.
Tips to make the hummingbird cake
If you are in a hurry, you can prepare the cake in two stages: the cake can be prepared the day before and the cream can be prepared one hour in advance.
Be careful, however, to let the cake cool down before filling it with cream and proceed to the frosting process.
Some prefer to bake the cake in three or four pans, so that each layer is homogeneous and of the same height, I recommend that you weigh the cake batter before splitting it and pouring it in the different pans.
If you split your batter in several pans, the baking time shall be reduced. It should be between 15 and 20 minutes per layer. Remember to check the baking of the cake with a knife. It should come out a bit damp, like the carrot cake, because it contains fruits that release moisture during baking.
You can have three cake pans of about 8 inches on the middle rack of the oven. In 15 minutes, baking should be completed.
The hummingbird cake is quite a bulky cake, which is why it should be placed on a cardboard base before assembly. The recipe gives a very festive cake for 10 to 12 people.
For the frosting, the cream cheese is mixed with heavy cream and icing sugar. A good layer of frosting is then inserted between each layer of the cake. Also, the frosting must absolutely be at room temperature when you apply it with the piping bag. Otherwise, you may end up with clumps and clog your piping bag as the cream cheese hardens in the refrigerator.
If you are already a fan of American pastry then you must absolutely try this hummingbird cake.
- ⅞ cup caster sugar
- 5 eggs
- 2⅔ cup flour
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1½ cup heavy whipping cream (35% fat)
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- Juice of a freshly squeezed lemon
- 1 tablespoon cinnamon powder
- 3 oz. pecan
- 3 oz. ripe banana , cut into pieces (weighed after peeling)
- 3 oz. fresh pineapple , cut into pieces (weighed after peeling)
- Butter (for the pans)
- 25 oz. Philadelphia cream cheese
- 1⅓ cup icing sugar
- ⅓ cup heavy whipping cream (35% fat)
- 4 tablespoons roasted coconut powder
- Stand mixer
- 2 round cake pans (8 inch / 20 cm diameter)
- Pastry bag
- Open star pastry tip (size #3 or# 4)
- Disposable cardboard circle (at least 8-inch / 20 cm diameter)
Preheat convection oven to 350 F (170C).
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk the whole eggs and sugar for 10 minutes or until the mixture doubles in volume.
- Meanwhile, chop the pecans.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- Add the dry ingredients to the egg and sugar mixture with the help of a spatula. Then add the cinnamon, vanilla, fresh fruits, lemon juice and pecans.
Beat the whipped cream (beat until soft but not too firm) and gently add it to the batter.
- Distribute the batter evenly in two buttered round cake pans lined with parchment paper.
- Smooth the top, preferably with an angled spatula.
- Bake for about 40 minutes.
- With the help of a whisk, mix the heavy cream by adding the cream cheese gradually
- Add the icing sugar.
- Cover with a plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator.
- Using a sharp knife, smooth out the top of the 2 cakes to obtain a flat surface.
- Place a first biscuit on the cardboard base.
- Using a spatula, spread a thin layer of cream, and repeat the process with the other cake.
- Cover the top and the edges of the cake with the cream completely.
- Using an angled spatula, decorate the sides to create a wavy texture. Spread roasted coconut all around the cake and all over the top.
- Using a pastry bag with an open star pastry tip, pipe the cream all around the top of the cake.
- Place pecans all around.
The hummingbird cake can also be prepared as a 3-layer cake by preparing one cake (instead of 2) and cutting it into 3 equal size layers.