1. Cooking

Winning Recipes: Our take on Hummingbird Cake, with coconut and rum frosting

Happy Hummingbird Cake. Photo by Lorraine Fina Stevenski, Times Correspondent.
Happy Hummingbird Cake. Photo by Lorraine Fina Stevenski, Times Correspondent.
Published May 6, 2019

Hummingbird cake is a classic Southern dessert with so many versions and different ingredient concoctions. The original Hummingbird Cake recipe was published in the United States in Southern Living Magazine, submitted in 1978 by Mrs. L.H. Wiggins. She entered her recipe at the Kentucky State Fair and won a favorite cake award that same year.

It was originally created in Jamaica, named after the island's national swallow-tailed hummingbird and often called by its nickname, Doctor Bird Cake. The origin of the name is based on half-truths, sort of remembered bits of information and foggy details. Some theories say this cake is named because people "hum" while eating because it is so delicious. Others say this cake is named after a tiny hummingbird that loves sweets.

The Jamaica tourist board sent the recipe for this cake in media press kits to the United States in the 1970s. The marketing was focused on American consumers, to get them to visit the island.

The best name for this cake may be "The Cake That Won't Last," because every last crumb will be devoured. It's classic, tropical, sweet and delicious all in one bite. That's the truth.

My recipe is not quite traditional, with a combination of coconut and spiced rum that earns this version the name Happy Hummingbird Cake. My crunchy topping is a sprinkle of pecan pralines and toasted coconut.

The original Hummingbird Cake is rather like a kicked-up banana quick bread, as it is mixed by hand. Southerners say it could weigh as much as a 1-year-old baby. I like to use my electric hand mixer on low speed to keep the batter lighter in texture, so I don't get the density of a quick bread. Store this cake in the refrigerator and serve cool. If you prefer a nonalcoholic cake, use pure rum flavoring.

Contact Lorraine Fina Stevenski at


Happy Hummingbird Cake With Coconut and Spiced Rum

For the cake:

1 cup chopped pecans, toasted and cooled

1 cup sweetened coconut flakes, toasted and cooled, divided

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 cups sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3 large eggs

¾ cup canola oil

2 tablespoons spiced rum

2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

3 ripe bananas, peeled and coarsely mashed

1 (8-ounce) can crushed pineapple, with juice

For the frosting:

16 ounces cream cheese, softened

½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), softened

1 tablespoon spiced rum

1 teaspoon pure coconut extract

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

16 ounces confectioners' sugar

For the topping:

½ cup toasted coconut

½ cup pecan pralines, whole or coarsely chopped

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Spread the chopped pecans on one sheet pan and spread the sweetened coconut on a second sheet pan. Toast both at the same time, on the same rack for about 10 minutes, or until the nuts are fragrant and the coconut is light golden brown. Cool both completely and then divide the toasted coconut for the cake and frosting. Set aside.

Lightly coat three 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray. Line each with parchment paper and spray again.

Make the cake: In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg and salt. Set aside. In another large mixing bowl, add the eggs, canola oil, spiced rum and vanilla extract. With an electric hand mixer on medium speed, beat until smooth and frothy, about 1 minute.

On low speed, add the mashed bananas, pineapple (with the juice), toasted pecans and ½ cup toasted coconut. Beat just until blended. Continuing on low speed, slowly add the flour mixture. Beat just until moistened. The batter will be very thick.

Divide the batter evenly among the three pans, filling each about ¼ full. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown, the edges pull away from the sides of the pan and a tester comes out clean. Cool 15 minutes in the pans, remove, peel off the parchment paper and then cool completely on a wire rack before frosting. Refrigerate for ease in frosting. (The frosting is best made the night before.)

Make the frosting: With an electric stand mixer with the whip attachment, on high speed, beat the cream cheese, butter, spiced rum, coconut extract and vanilla extract just until smooth. Reduce the speed to medium and gradually beat in the confectioners' sugar. Beat on high speed until smooth and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate to firm up.

Evenly frost the bottom layer, then the middle, frosting to the edge of each layer. Frost the top with creative swirls. Use the remaining frosting to complete the sides or leave naked if you like. Top with toasted coconut and pecan pralines. Store in the refrigerator and serve cool.

Serves about 16.

Source: Lorraine Fina Stevenski