hummingbird cake with cream cheese frosting and toasted coconut sugar

topA couple of nights ago, my husband arrived home from work as I was happily baking away in our matchbox-sized kitchen. “What are you making?” he inquired, peering over my shoulder as he headed towards the shower. “Hummingbird cake”, I responded, absentmindedly pouring the thick batter into my lined cake tin. He smiled slightly, re-entering the room.

“How many did you put in it?”

I looked at him quizzically, licking some batter off my finger before sliding the cake onto an oven rack. “Uh… how many what?”


“Ohhhh. Right.” (my failure to identify this joke earlier in the conversation was rather abysmal, wasn’t it?)

bananaeggmontAnyway, I’ll stop the conversation there, as it took a rather non-animal-friendly turn (think: comments about fried and baked hummingbirds, minced hummingbirds, the nutritional value of hummingbirds) but ever since that night I’ve been wondering how this moist, spiced banana, pineapple and coconut cake got it’s rather interesting name.

slice2Enter Google (how I ever survived without this search engine, I’ll never know). A few clicks revealed that the printed origin of this cake dates back to February 1978, when a Mrs. L.H. Wiggins of Greensboro, North Carolina submitted the recipe to Southern Living magazine. Since then, it’s been the most requested recipe in the magazine’s history, winning all-time favourite recipe in 1990 and collecting numerous blue ribbons at country fairs across the United States.

sugar2There’s also speculation that the cake existed long before being printed in Southern Living magazine. Variations exist around the world (with different quantities of fruit, nuts and spices) under names such as ‘Jamaica Cake‘ and ‘Granny Cake‘. Hm, I’ve just experienced an epiphany:

  1. The hummingbird is the national bird of Jamaica
  2. Hummingbirds like sweet things, especially nectar of fruits and flowers
  3. Grandmothers also like sweet things (well, at least mine did. She stole my Galaxy Minstrels on more than one occasion)

…it’s all starting to make sense! Well, uh… sort of.

insidecanAnyway, enough musing for one morning. Below you’ll find my recipe for the Jamaican Granny’s Hummingbird cake (I’m being all-inclusive here) which has been slightly altered from the original by substituting walnuts for pecans, organic coconut sugar for brown sugar and raisins for… well, an absence of raisins. I’ve also chosen to bake it as a single layer cake, cutting down the usual amount of frosting to a singular, thick layer on the top.

This version of Hummingbird cake is topped with a layer of crunchy, toasted coconut, organic coconut sugar and cinnamon. I think it adds a delicious dimension of flavour and texture that echoes those of the cake itself. If you’d like to be a traditional Southerner, I’d suggest substituting this for the more traditional topping of toasted walnuts or pecans. Yee-haw!

slicefrontHummingbird Cake

  • 250g self-raising flour
  • 270g organic coconut sugar (I use Coco’s Organic Blend from Gewürzhaus, however Loving Earth Fairtrade Organic Coconut Sugar is also fantastic… the added bonus is that they sell in bulk)
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground coriander
  • 50g dessicated coconut
  • 440g can crushed pineapple in natural juice, drained
  • 2 ripe bananas, mashed
  • 2 free-range eggs
  • 3/4 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 200ml sunflower oil

Preheat your oven to 170 degrees C (338 degrees f). Grease and line a 23cm cake tin, then set aside.

Sift your flour and spices into a large bowl. Add in your coconut sugar, dessicated coconut, raisins and walnuts, then stir to combine.


Lightly beat your eggs in a separate bowl, then add in your other liquid ingredients (mashed banana, sunflower oil, drained crushed pineapple). Add the liquid ingredients to your dry ingredients, stirring until well combined.

nutsbowlmontPour the mixture into your lined cake tin, tapping it lightly on the bench top to remove any trapped air pockets. Bake for 40 – 60 minutes, depending upon the efficiency of your oven (it takes about 65-70 minutes in my little gas cooker!). Your cake is done when the top is light golden and a skewer inserted into the centre comes out with only a few moist crumbs attached.

Cool your cake in the tin on a wire rack, then refrigerate until you’re ready to top it with frosting.

ibbestCream Cheese Frosting

*the quantity of frosting below has been calculated to cover the top of the cake only. If you intend to fully cover your cake or build traditional layers, I’d suggest that you double or triple the mixture accordingly.

  • 125g cream cheese
  • 50g unsalted, organic butter
  • 150g pure icing sugar, sifted
  • lemon juice, to taste (I used about one tablespoon)

Beat the cream cheese, butter and icing sugar together until you have a smooth mixture. Add a little lemon juice, beat again, then taste. Add more lemon as desired. Refrigerate until you are ready to ice your cake.

lemonicingingTo ice: place a pile of the cream cheese frosting in the centre of your cake. Using broad strokes with a palette knife or spoon, work the icing outwards until it reaches the edge. Continue smoothing the icing in a circular pattern, rotating the cake under your knife, until you have a smooth, even layer over the top of your cake.

icingcakeRefrigerate for 20 minutes before adding your toasted coconut sugar topping (recipe below).


Toasted Coconut Sugar Topping

  • 1/2 cup coarsely shredded coconut
  • 1 tablespoon organic coconut sugar
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon

Place the shredded coconut onto an oven tray. In a moderate oven (180 degrees C/356 degrees f), toast the shredded coconut until it turns a light shade of golden brown. Allow to cool slightly, then place in a small bowl. Add in the organic coconut sugar and ground cinnamon, stir to combine. Use to top your cake if desired.



  • Coconut sugar is a minimally processed product made from the sap of cut flower buds from the coconut palm. It’s a soft, golden, dense sugar that tastes similar to brown sugar, with soft notes of toffee and caramel.
  • Coconut sugar has a low gycaemic index (>35) for sustained energy. It’s a rich source of minerals including potassium, magnesium, zinc and iron (in comparison to brown sugar, it has 36 times the iron, four times the magnesium, and over 10 times the amount of zinc). It also contains B-vitamins and 16 essential amino acids.
  • Due to it’s minimally processed nature, coconut sugar can vary slightly in terms of sweetness. However, in general you can use it as a 1:1 substitute for brown sugar in your favourite recipes. If you’re worried, taste your product before using it and add a little extra if it seems less sweet.

sugarspoonP.S. Today is the 26th January, 2013: Australia Day for all of those from the Great Southland! I just want to say a big ‘Happy Aussie Day’ to all of my fellow citizens, wherever you are in the world… especially those whom I count as beautiful friends and family. I love our country and I consider it a privilege to celebrate the foundations of Australia as we know it today. Have fun, whatever you’re doing (e.g. eating meat pies, drinking beer, watching cricket or baking lamingtons… come to think of it, I probably should have posted a recipe for lamingtons or Anzac biscuits today. Oh well… maybe next year).

51 responses

  1. Laura, this is a masterpiece. I love all the ingredients and especially the topping.
    Superbly done with the lemon cream cheese icing :)

  2. Great recipe. Great photos. Never let our third son, Knothead, know where you live or how to contact you. This is his favorite cake. He will move in with you and NEVER leave. It took me 20 years to get him to leave home and he still visits. :o

  3. Hi Laura! I love hummingbird cake, and this version looks amazing…that toasted coconut on top is to die for!! Thanks for stopping by Koko’s Kitchen :-)

    • Hi Koko! Yep, the coconut topping was pretty delicious… definitely try it if you’re making a hummingbird cake any time soon! And I loved your blog… gorgeous recipes! x

    • Hi Alex! Haha, yep… he’s pretty funny. About one third of the time I don’t crack on to his jokes fast enough. Especially his very subtle brand of sarcasm… argh, I can’t pick it! Thanks for commenting! x

  4. Like the name you’d given to this cake. It’s very pretty and springish. It would be nice to sit out at the porch or backyard eating a piece of this cake with a cup of tea at this hour over here (afternoon tea).

    • Thanks so much Sarah, I definitely agree! I just checked out your blog… gorgeous recipes. That fairy bread series is inspired… I’ll definitely be giving the cheesecake version a go!

    • Thanks lovely! I actually bought the coconut sugar from a shop in Melbourne called Gewürzhaus… they have a few different locations around the CBD but you can also shop online. I’d also suggest that you check out Loving Earth if you want more of a bulk supply. I first came across this awesome brand in the Queen Vic Markets and I think you’d like their product range… lots of vegan-friendly, raw products (including the most amazing raw chocolate I have ever eaten), superfoods and uniquely Australian products. The link for the organic coconut sugar is here.

    • Hello Aleney! Please do, it’s such an easy cake to make… I reckon your little Sugarpuff and budding chef Raffles would have a blast with the cream cheese icing (talking from my own experience! I used to eat it out of the bowl when I was younger!)

  5. Laura this looks soooo delicious! I first came across a Hummingbird cake in the Hummingbird Bakery’s cookbook. I made it and remember it being devine. Since then of course I became gluten etc. intolerant so haven’t made it since. These pictures sure make me wish I could though….

    • Thanks Edwina! I haven’t seen the Hummingbird bakery’s cookbook but I’ve heard a lot about it. Hm, maybe you could try a gluten-free version of the cake? I’ve got some Orgran all-purpose gluten free plain flour in my cupboard… I might give it a go, with the addition of some baking powder. Are you intolerant to any of the other ingredients? I’ve got coeliac, gluten-intolerant, dairy-intolerant and vegan friends so I’ve become quite adept at adapting things!!

  6. Yum, this looks scrumptious! I’m normally not a huge fan of pineapple desserts or coconut, BUT this cake looks simply irresistible. I LOVE that you added raisins, and I love the wealth of knowledge that I learned about Hummingbird Cake from this post!

    • Ali! Hello milk and cereal buddy! I’m not usually a fan of pineapple in cakes either, but for some reason this combination just… works. I think it might be the cream cheese frosting, nuts and raisins. Oh, and the copious amounts of cinnamon… one of my favourite things in the entire world! :)

    • I definitely understand the intrigue, Laura! It works surprisingly well. The coriander adds more of a background layer of spice complexity rather than something individually discernible. By the way, I just checked out your husband’s online portfolio – amazing photography!! You’re definitely a very creative pair. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it elsewhere on this blog (I probably have) but my husband is an animator and I am a closet artist and writer who abandoned her true calling (I have a four year old abandoned novel sitting three-quarters finished on my computer, argh). I always feel inspired when I discover other creative people, so I am hugely appreciative of the fact that you share your discoveries, recipes and thoughts online with us. Thanks for checking in with me, also :)

    • Aw, thanks Brittany! You know, I was dreaming about your coffee bites yesterday (whilst sipping on a cup of generic dishwater coffee from our office tea room). I really need to make some for those desperate occasions when my eyes just won’t behave in an appropriately awake manner. I’ll let you know when I do!

    • Thanks John! It’s a pretty easy cake to make. I’d definitely recommend going with the coconut sugar if you can find some… it’s absolutely delicious and adds a slight caramel/toffee undertone to the cake (great with the spices!). I like to tell myself it’s healthy, too :)

    • Aw thanks Joanne! It’s definitely one of my favourite cakes… but then again, I love anything with raisins and cream cheese (especially bagels, yum!). Thanks for taking the time out to comment… I appreciate it :)

  7. This cake looks moist and full of flavor and completely addicting! I didn’t know the hummingbird was the official national bird of Jamaica – fun facts! I’m so excited about this recipe because I literally JUST bought coconut sugar for the first time and have been dying to experiment with it! Love the healthful recipe!

    • Hm, Julia I reckon this post was meant to be! Definitely try this cake with your coconut sugar… I think once you’ve started substituting for brown sugar, you’ll never go back! I’m already planning to try it in some banana pancakes this weekend. The toffee/caramel flavour is so delicious, I think it’ll go perfectly with the banana, cinnamon and some thick coconut cream… yum :)

  8. I made a version of this cake a loong long time ago, and it was so wonderful and moist, packed with so many fruits! I have to say, I just love that coriander features in your ingredient list. The toasted coconut sugar totally takes the cake for me (pun intended) :-P Great recipe. I will definitely be making this at some point.

    • Thanks Farheen, it’s definitely worth making! Let me know if you have any trouble getting coconut sugar over there… it’s just as delicious with brown sugar but I think the coconut, caramel undertones in the coconut sugar make it extra special :)

    • You know, it was that night when I was eating your absolutely delicious hummingbird cake after Bad Santa that I got the idea of using the coconut sugar… it worked really well! I’ve just added it to my usual method but I’d be interested to know if you do anything different :)

  9. haha I loved #3 of your epiphany: “Grandmothers also like sweet things” so cute and true! this was such a great post to read. I’ve heard of hummingbird cake and cupcakes before, but haven’t gotten around to trying it out. the combination of flavours really appeals to me and your cake looks soo good so I will have to find an excuse to make this now :)

    • Haha, thanks for the feedback Lianna :) Definitely try the Hummingbird cake if you’ve got the ingredients on hand. It’s one of my favourites now, so easy to whip up and absolutely delicious every time! I just read your recipe for the cheesecake stuffed cookie bars. Oh my gosh. I wish that I hadn’t… as I can foresee myself eating about half a tray this weekend!!!

  10. Hi Laura! I’m so glad I hopped over here to take a look at your blog, I really enjoyed this post! I could completely envision this conversation happening in your kitchen, especially because it sounds a lot like an exchange that would take place between my silly husband and myself, too. :) Funny enough, we were just talking about Hummingbird Cake last night at my in-laws’ house where my mother-in-law served up a similar cake for dessert. I had no idea that it was called so many different things and I love your reasoning about how it might have earned its moniker! Smart thinking! Anyway, great post and lovely blog!

    • Hello lovely Dianna! Thanks for your note. I really appreciate the feedback, and it’s nice to have a little snapshot into your life too :) Haha, yeah we have lots of conversations like that in our house, I love it though. My husband has a pretty awesome sense of humour (though his sarcasm evades me sometimes!).

    • Thanks lovely. Hummingbird cake is definitely gorgeous… both to make and to eat. It’s a definite crowd-pleaser. I brought my last cake to work and it was gone in about 15 minutes! Definitely give it a go. Even just for the cream cheese icing (I won’t judge if you eat the leftovers with a spoon!) xx

  11. Pingback: Fantastic Hummingbird Cake RecipeFavorite Food Recipes

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