Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake with Bourbon Buttercream

Old fashioned Hummingbird Cake has been a staple on southern dessert tables since the 1970s. It originally ran as a feature in Southern Living magazine and quickly turned into one of their most requested recipes. I love nothing more than taking a classic, dare I say retro, recipe and giving it my own spin (two words: bourbon buttercream.) And that's just what I've done!

Slice of Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake with Bourbon Buttercream on a white serving plate.

Why do they call it a Hummingbird Cake?

Excellent question, and the same one that my husband asked when I told him that I was making a hummingbird cake! The sweet cake, studded with banana, pineapple, pecans, and occasionally coconut, apparently gets its name from the sugary nectar upon which hummingbirds lunch. That's one theory. Another one, thanks to good ol' Wikipedia, claims that it is named after the island of Jamaica's national bird, also called the "doctor bird." The Jamaican marketing folks decided that the name "doctor bird cake" didn't have as much appeal as "hummingbird cake," so here we are!

Whole Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake with Bourbon Buttercream on a blue cake stand.

So...what makes this Old-Fashioned Hummingbird Cake so special?

There are many iterations of the hummingbird cake out there. BUT, I'd like to think that this one will be the only one you'll ever need! Here's why:

  • Plenty of warm spices: I've upped the spice quotient in this recipe to include plenty of cinnamon, ginger, and nutmeg.
  • Moist, textured layers: A healthy dose of mashed bananas, crushed pineapple and oil vs. butter mean layers that keep moist for days. Chopped pecans and coconut bring little bits of texture to every bite.
  • Bourbon buttercream: Cream cheese buttercream is the traditional buttercream on a hummingbird cake. That said, I am not the biggest cream cheese buttercream fan. Instead, I've created a luscious bourbon buttercream with a nutty brown butter base. Southerners know a thing or two about bourbon, so what better way to complement this traditionally southern cake?
  • Feeds a crowd: This is a rich, sweet cake, so a little goes a long way. Even a small slice will satisfy the biggest dessert fan, so it will feed at least 18. Check out this video on the best way to slice a round cake for a crowd.

Ingredients and Ingredient Notes

Ingredients needed to make hummingbird cake and buttercream.
  • All purpose flour: To make this cake gluten-free, substitute a reputable gluten-free baking blend.
  • Oil: I used vegetable oil for this recipe, but you can substitute any neutral oil, such as canola, safflower or melted coconut oil.
  • Bananas: About 4 medium bananas should yield 2 cups of mashed bananas. Make sure that they are very ripe and fragrant, with black speckles on the skin, as this will result in the best banana flavor.
  • Crushed pineapple: One 8-oz can, including the juices.
  • Shredded coconut: You can use sweetened or unsweetened shredded coconut. This can be omitted if you're not a coconut fan, as not all hummingbird cakes contain coconut.
  • Chopped Pecans: Chopped walnuts can be substituted. I decorated the outside of my cake with some lightly toasted chopped pecans, but that step is optional!
  • Butter: The 2 cups of butter required for this recipe is used to make nutty brown butter for the Bourbon Buttercream. UNSALTED butter is preferred when making brown butter (sew FAQ section below for more on this!)
  • Bourbon: Whiskey, brandy or scotch can be substituted. If you want your buttercream to be liquor-free, omit the bourbon and just make a brown butter buttercream. Add a few more tablespoons of heavy cream to make up for the lack of liquid from the bourbon.

Step-by-Step Instructions and Photos

Old-Fashioned Hummingbird Cake Layers

  1. Preheat oven to 350F. Spray three 8-inch cake pans with nonstick baking spray. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment rounds (optional, see recipe Notes) and spray the parchment. 
  2. In a medium bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.

3. In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and oil to combine. Mix in the bananas and the crushed pineapple (including the juice.)

4. Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix until just combined. Mix in the coconut, pecans and vanilla.

5. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake 25-35 minutes, until the tops of the cakes are golden and a knife or a cake tester inserted into the centers of the cakes emerges clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 5 minutes and then carefully invert them onto a wire rack to cool completely. At this point, the cake layers can be wrapped tightly and stored overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature before proceeding.

Bourbon Buttercream

  1. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Continue to cool until the butter is foamy and fragrant and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the butter to a heatproof bowl or glass measuring cup. Cover and chill for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes, until almost firm. 
  2. Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the brown butter on medium speed until fluffy, 2 minutes. Add half of the confectioner's sugar, beating on low speed until well blended and smooth. Beat in the bourbon, 4 tablespoon of the cream, vanilla, salt and then the rest of the confectioner's sugar until smooth. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more, until light, fluffy and spreadable, adding the additional cream if desired for a lighter consistency.

3. Use a cake leveler (optional) or a serrated knife to cut the "domed" tops of the cake layers so that you have nice, flat layers.

4. Crumb coat: Spread about 1 cup of the Bourbon Buttercream evenly onto the bottom layer of the cake. Top with the second layer, spreading another cup of buttercream evenly on top. Top the buttercream with the third cake layer. Spread a generous layer of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. Use an offset spatula, a knife, or a cake scraper to remove excess buttercream and smooth the sides, as shown above. Keep the extra buttercream for the next coat! Chill the cake for 20 minutes to seal the crumb coat.

5. Spread a second layer of buttercream over the crumb coat, using your selected tool to smooth the sides and top.

6. (Optional) Press additional chopped pecans into the sides of the cake and decorate the top with any remaining piped buttercream.

Iced and decorated Hummingbird Cake.

Quick Video Tutorial

Watch my Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake come to life!

Frequently Asked Questions

What does a Hummingbird Cake taste like?

A Hummingbird Cake's flavor has many similarities to the flavor of a traditional carrot cake....but uses mashed ripe bananas in place of the carrots. It features warm spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, crushed pineapple, pecans and occasionally coconut. Its layers are very moist and have pleasing bits of texture in every bite from the nuts, pineapple and bits of banana.

Does a Hummingbird Cake need to be refrigerated?

Yes. I would recommend storing your Hummingbird Cake in the refrigerator, as it will last longer this way. Because it is a very moist cake, you don't have to worry about it drying out in the refrigerator, especially if you keep it tightly covered with plastic wrap or a cake dome. Chilled cakes are easier to slice, so cut as many pieces as you will need straight from the fridge and then (if desired) bring them to room temperature before serving.

How do you freeze layer cakes?

Unfrosted cake layers are easy to store in the freezer for up to two months. Once the cakes are completely cool, wrap the individual layers in plastic wrap or store in zip-top bags. Frozen cake layers are actually easier to frost, since they are firmer and fewer crumbs escape, so no need to bring them to room temperature before proceeding.
Frosted cakes can also be frozen, so long as they are coated in buttercream or cream cheese frosting and not a meringue. Set the cake in the freezer for 30 minutes to firm up the frosting, and then wrap it tightly in plastic wrap. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator or at room temperature.

What kind of butter is best for brown butter?

Although you can use salted or unsalted butter to make brown butter, unsalted butter is preferred. During the cooking process, the salt in salted butter becomes concentrated in the milk solids, which can alter the flavor of the browned butter as well as the recipe that it's being added to.

Slice of Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake next to a blue cake stand on a white plate.

Craving more cake recipes? Good news: I have many! Here are a few favorites:

Tried this recipe and loved it? Take a photo and tag me on Instagram or give it a review!

Slice of Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake with Bourbon Buttercream on a white plate.

Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake with Bourbon Buttercream

Julie Hession
With bursts of pineapple, pecans, coconut, banana and warm spices, Old Fashioned Hummingbird Cake lies somewhere between banana bread and carrot cake (hold the carrots.) A rich brown butter bourbon buttercream brings my take on this favorite southern dessert over the top!
Prep Time 30 minutes
Cook Time 45 minutes
Cooling/Resting Time 1 hour
Total Time 2 hours 15 minutes
Servings 18
Calories 598 kcal
5 from 41 votes
Print Recipe Pin Recipe

Equipment

  • 2-3 8-inch cake pans
  • 8-inch parchment rounds (optional, see Notes)
  • offset spatula (optional)
  • Electric mixer
  • Cake leveler (optional) or serrated knife

Ingredients
 
 

Cake Layers

  • cups all purpose flour
  • cups granulated sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • ½ teaspoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs
  • cups vegetable oil (see Notes)
  • 2 cups mashed ripe banana (about 4 medium)
  • 8 ounces crushed pineapple (canned)
  • 1 cup shredded sweetened coconut
  • 1 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Bourbon Buttercream

  • 2 cups unsalted butter
  • 1 2 lb bag confectioner's sugar
  • cup bourbon
  • 4-6 tablespoon heavy cream
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ½ teaspoon kosher salt

Optional

  • Additional chopped pecans for decoration

Instructions
 

Cake Layers

  • Preheat oven to 350F. Spray three 8-inch cake pans with nonstick baking spray. Line the bottoms of the pans with parchment rounds (see Notes) and spray the parchment.
  • In a medium bowl, whisk flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger and nutmeg.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk the eggs and oil to combine. Mix in the bananas and the crushed pineapple (including the juice.)
  • Add the flour mixture to the egg mixture and mix until just combined. Mix in the coconut, pecans and vanilla.
  • Divide the batter evenly among the prepared pans. Bake 25-35 minutes, until the tops of the cakes are golden and a knife or a cake tester inserted into the centers of the cakes emerges clean. Let the cakes cool in their pans for 5 minutes and then carefully invert them onto a wire rack to cool completely (see Notes.)

Bourbon Buttercream

  • Melt the butter in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring often. Continue to cool until the butter is foamy and fragrant and golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and transfer the butter to a heatproof bowl or glass measuring cup. Cover and chill for 1 hour, stirring every 20 minutes, until almost firm.
  • Using an electric hand mixer or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the brown butter on medium speed until fluffy, 2 minutes. Add half of the confectioner's sugar, beating on low speed until well blended and smooth. Beat in the bourbon, 4 tablespoon of the cream, vanilla, salt and then the rest of the confectioner's sugar on low speed until smooth. Increase the speed to medium and beat for 2 minutes more, until light, fluffy and spreadable, adding the additional cream if desired for a lighter consistency.
  • Use a cake leveler (optional) or a serrated knife to cut the "domed" tops of the cake layers so that you have nice, flat surfaces. 
  • Spread about 1 cup of the Bourbon Buttercream evenly onto the bottom layer of the cake. Top with the second layer, spreading another cup of buttercream evenly on top. Top the buttercream with the third cake layer. Spread a generous layer of buttercream over the top and sides of the cake. Use an offset spatula, a knife, or a cake scraper to remove excess buttercream and smooth the sides, as shown above.  Keep the extra buttercream for the next coat!  Chill the cake for 20 minutes to seal the crumb coat.
  • Spread a second layer of buttercream over the crumb coat, using your selected tool to smooth the sides and top.  (Optional) Press additional chopped pecans into the sides of the cake and decorate the top with any remaining piped buttercream.

Video

Notes

  • I like to line my sprayed cake pans with a parchment round to keep the cake layers from sticking to the bottoms. If you don't have parchment rounds, you can always trace and cut out rounds from a roll of parchment paper. If you don't have parchment paper, just spray the pans evenly with a non-stick baking spray like Baker's Joy or Pam for Baking.
  • Make ahead: Once baked and cooled completely, the cake layers can be wrapped in plastic and stored in the refrigerator overnight or frozen for up to two months. I actually prefer to decorate a cake that has been chilled, as the layers have fewer stray crumbs and are easier to trim into flat surfaces.
    This cake will keep for up to 4 days in the refrigerator, covered in plastic wrap or with a cake dome.

Nutrition

Calories: 598kcal | Carbohydrates: 43g | Protein: 5g | Fat: 46g | Saturated Fat: 20g | Polyunsaturated Fat: 11g | Monounsaturated Fat: 12g | Trans Fat: 1g | Cholesterol: 89mg | Sodium: 225mg | Potassium: 119mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 22g | Vitamin A: 735IU | Vitamin C: 1mg | Calcium: 53mg | Iron: 2mg
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47 Comments

  1. 5 stars
    I'm the same way about cookbooks, and need a whole new bookshelf just for them, sigh.

    My favorite Southern dish, hmm, that's tough but I think I have to go with fried chicken!

  2. Kelly!  Thank you so much for such a  kind and thoughtful comment!  You really made my day 🙂  So glad that you found and are enjoying my blog.
     
    Best,
     
    Julie

  3. 5 stars
    I have heard about this hummingbird cake recipe but have been hesitant on making it. However, when I saw the finished product on your site, I knew I had to make it. The cake looked beautiful. I want to make cupcakes from the recipe and attempt to make them look so beautiful that everyone will have to try them. I then went through your site for a few additional cupcake recipes. I subscribed to your email after I had taken a look around. I can't miss what is next on your plate. Thank you for sharing all of these great recipes!

  4. Thanks, Debbie!  Mmmmm..... Chicken and biscuits is a good one!  When I lived in N.C., there was a chain called Biscuitville, which I always thought was kind of funny, but I also completely understood the draw!

  5. 5 stars
    My favorite southern dish has to be a sweet potato casserole with apple pie filling and streusel topping

  6. 5 stars
    My favorite Southern favorite besides pimento cheese has to be fried green tomatoes. P.S., I am a cookbook addict too!

  7. 5 stars
    What a beautiful cake!

    I'd love to win this cookbook. My favorite southern dish is red velvet cake. Mmm.

  8. Hi Janet!
     
    Oh no!  An allergy to bananas?  Hmmmm....  maybe Ill need to come up with a new variation on the classic banana pudding.  My wheels are turning.....
     
    Saras books are all wonderful, and I am so envious of your proximity to the markets.  I used to eat their Thai Chicken Wrap at least twice a week!

  9. Nelly, just reading your response is making me hungry!  I havent had dinner yet, and would love a choice of any of those items 🙂

  10. Hi Susan!  I loved your longest comment, and Im glad that my post brought back memories!  Key lime pie -- thats a good one!!

  11. 5 stars
    My mother's favorite cake has, for as long as I can remember, been hummingbird cake. I make it for her now that I'm a "grown-up" (HA!). She gave me a copy of the Southern Living version that I still use today. I'm certain she has a copy of the originally published recipe torn out from an old Southern Living magazine. She always loved receiving that magazine after we moved "to the south". When we lived in California, where she grew up, I remember her flipping through copies of Sunset magazine (the west coast version of Southern Living for those who have never heard of it). I think this is the longest comment I have ever posted on a blog! Your question brought back memories.... My favorite "southern dish" -- Shrimp and Grits and Key Lime Pie. YUM!!

  12. Hi Linda!
     
    My Sesame Street Cookbook is copyright 1978, so I dont know if it is still available, but it was written by Pat Tornberg.  Im sure that they at least have an updated version out there.  Hope you find it!

     

  13. Thanks, Meghann!  Im jealous that you live so close to Fosters!  You will be hooked after your first visit 🙂

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