Hummingbird Cake and Arkansas Hummingbirds

by Julie Kohl


The south is known for its hospitality and its cake. Attend any Southern gathering and you will likely be greeted with a smile, have your soul blessed and be handed a piece of cake. Southern cakes are often full of sugar, fruit and/or nuts and covered in sweet layers of frosting. Hummingbird Cake is no exception. Don’t be fooled by the name though, Hummingbird Cake contains no actual Hummingbirds!

Many hummingbirds make Arkansas their home in the spring and summer months. Hummingbirds begin migrating to and through the state in early April and typically stay through October and sometimes even into November. The Ruby-Throated hummingbird which weighs just more than a penny is the most common of the hummingbirds seen in Arkansas. Sometimes considered “native” to Arkansas the male, female and juvenile Ruby-Throated hummingbird look so different, they are often thought to be three different species.

Photo provided by Brittany Cullum

Hummingbirds feed on sweet nectar and this may play a part in how the sweet Hummingbird Cake got its name. In Arkansas, hummingbirds seem to favor gladioli, trumpet creeper and butterfly weed. A single hummingbird can visit over 2000 flowers and consumer more than half its body weight n nectar in a single day.

Many people like to supplement natural food with a feeder. This can also attract the birds to your yard for viewing. Backyard hummingbird feeders should be filled with a mixture of one part sugar to four parts water, no matter the season, as this mixture most closely matches their natural food source. Using extra sugar usually just attracts bees and the birds will seek out something closer to their natural food source. It is unnecessary to dye the hummingbird water red. Most store-bought feeders are designed to attract the birds and natural nectar is clear, not red.

Hummingbird Cake is made primarily of bananas and pineapple. The dessert “migrated” to Arkansas in the late 1960s when the Jamaican Tourist Board sent information packets throughout the southern US that included a recipe for “Doctor Bird Cake”, the original name of Hummingbird Cake. “Doctor Bird” is a Jamaican nickname for a common local hummingbird called the Red-billed Streamertail.

Hummingbird cake, also known as cake that doesnt last, Jamaican cake, never-ending cake, banana-pineapple cake, and paradise cake has been served at most church gatherings, community suppers and probably quite a few weddings and funerals in the south. No matter what name you know this cake by, it is sweet and flavorful and is worth making. Hummingbird cake is the signature dessert of the South.

Hummingbird cake is usually prepared as a layer cake with frosting in-between the layers. Today, I am making Hummingbird Cupcakes. Cupcakes are fun, easy to share and don’t require any plates or silverware. My favorite hummingbird cake recipe, shown below, can easily be prepared in two round cake pans or as cupcakes.

Hummingbird Cake

For the Cake:

3 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 cups granulated sugar
3 eggs
1 cup vegetable oil
1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple in juice (reserve 2 Tablespoons of the juice for the frosting)
4 very ripe large bananas, peeled and mashed (about 2 cups)
1 cup pecans, toasted and chopped (optional)
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

For the Frosting:

1¼ cups unsalted butter, at room temperature
5 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 tablespoons reserved pineapple juice
½ teaspoon salt
1¼ pounds cream cheese
½ cup pecans, toasted and chopped (optional)

To Make the Cake:


Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a cupcake pan with cupcake liners (makes about 30 cupcakes) or line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper. Grease and flour the parchment and set aside.


Place a large dry skillet over medium-high heat and add the pecans. Stir frequently until the pecans are lightly toasted and aromatic. Watch closely as the oils can burn very quickly. Cool the pecans, chop and divide according to the recipe.


In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon.


In a large bowl, beat the sugar and eggs until fluffy. Add the oil and whisk to combine. Gently fold in the mashed bananas, pineapple and pecans with a rubber spatula. Gently stir in the flour mixture until just combined. Avoid over mixing.


Use an ice cream scoop to divide the batter into the cupcake pan filling each cup 3/4 full. Cook 22 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Repeat until all of the batter has been used.


Alternatively, divide the batter evenly between the prepared pans and bake 28 to 30 minutes until golden brown on top and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in their pans for about 20 minutes and then invert the cakes onto a wire rack and cool completely before frosting.


To Make the Frosting:


Using a stand or handheld mixer beat the butter, sugar, vanilla and salt on low speed until smooth. Add the softened cream cheese a few chunks at a time until incorporated. Mix for an additional 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. Fold in the chopped pecans, if desired.


If making cupcakes, scoop the frosting into a piping bag being sure to choose a tip that will allow the pecan pieces to pass through. Frost each cupcake as desired. You will have plenty of frosting so frost away.

If making a layer cake, place one cake layer on a serving platter. Spread 2 cups of frosting over top, then top with the second cake layer, pressing lightly to adhere. Spread 2 cups of frosting evenly over the top, then spread the remaining frosting evenly over the sides of the cake. Sprinkle the top of the cake with the chopped pecans. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. The cake can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 2 days.

Header photo provided by Caci Whitner

by First Security // August 7, 2017