An incredible Vegan Hummingbird Cake! It's fluffy, incredibly flavourful, super sweet and bursting with banana, pineapple and pecans then smothered in silky, luscious cream cheese frosting.
Okay, today things are getting decadent. This my friends is Vegan Hummingbird Cake and it's incredible!
We're talking fluffy, fruity, nutty, lightly spiced sponge layers sandwiched together and covered all over in vegan cream cheese frosting and it tastes amazing.
I didn't think anything could beat carrot cake but this Vegan Hummingbird Cake does hands down. Move over carrots. Make room for bananas and pineapple! I think this is the best cake I've ever made.
What is Hummingbird Cake?
Let me start by saying that no hummingbirds were harmed in the making of this cake. Hummingbird Cake is a layered sponge cake made with banana, pineapple, pecans and spices, that's sandwiched together and covered with rich cream cheese frosting.
The origins of Hummingbird Cake and why it's called that are a mystery but the first known printed reference to it was by Mrs. L H Wiggin in Southern Living Magazine in 1978. You can still see the original recipe on their website today, and that's where my inspiration for this vegan version came from.
However, the cake could have originated in Jamaica. In the late 1970s, the Jamaican Tourist Board attempted to attract more Americans to visit the island by releasing press kits highlighting classic Jamaican recipes. One of them was a delicious Doctor Bird Cake, named in honour of Jamaica’s national bird, the swallow-tailed hummingbird. Doctor bird is a nickname given to the swallow-tailed hummingbird.
There are lots of theories as to why it's called Hummingbird Cake. Some say it's because it's so sweet it will attract hummingbirds, or that it's so incredibly delicious it will make you hum with delight. Others think it's because people hover around the cake like little hummingbirds hover around a flower. I know we sure did when this one was ready!
What ingredients and equipment do I need and why?
To make this Vegan Hummingbird Cake recipe you will be needing these ingredients for the sponge cake:
- All-purpose flour - White flour gives the best results here. Don't use cake flour in this recipe. Because of all of the fruit and nuts you need the strength of all-purpose flour in this vegan hummingbird cake. (Use plain flour if you are in the UK).
- Sugar - A combination of white or cane sugar and brown sugar. White/cane for sweetness and structure and brown for its deep flavour and the moisture it produces.
- Shredded coconut - Preferably unsweetened. This is the only ingredient that is optional. I like the bit of texture it adds and coconut works so well with banana and pineapple. It can be safely omitted though with no compensations needed.
- Ground flaxseed - This is for binding and structure because this is an eggless hummingbird cake. Don't make a flax egg! The dry flax goes straight in as it is. I've actually discovered that making a flax egg is a pointless step in cakes and muffins. It makes absolutely no difference if you just throw it right in dry and in this recipe adding water to the flax would add too much unnecessary moisture.
- Baking Powder, baking soda and apple cider vinegar - Although the flaxseed binds, it doesn't replace the leavening that eggs would provide so when making an eggless hummingbird cake you have to make up for that by using extra baking powder and also baking soda which reacts with the vinegar (an acid) to create lift and lightness. Technically any acid will work so you could sub the vinegar for lemon juice or orange juice.
- Vanilla, ground cinnamon and ground allspice - All for flavour. The spices work really well with the banana and pineapple. If you're wondering, ground allspice is available in almost all grocery stores in the spice section. It's the dried fruit of the Pimenta dioica plant and is really popular in Caribbean cuisine, hence the reason I'm using it in this cake because of its possible Jamaican roots and because it's super delicious with banana and pineapple. It has a flavour reminiscent of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. If you don't want to buy some you can use nutmeg instead.
- Banana and pineapple - Both essential ingredients in hummingbird cake. This is an incredibly moist and flavourful cake and the combination of fruit and sugars make it hummingbird sweet!
- Liquid oil of choice - Any you have at home. Avocado oil, canola oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, light olive oil (not extra-virgin), or even melted coconut oil are all fine. It does need to be oil and not vegan butter though. Oil is important for moistness in the finished cake.
- Non-dairy milk and pineapple juice - Our liquid in the cake. Any milk is fine to use. Preferably an unsweetened and unflavoured one. And use the pineapple juice from the can. Or if you use fresh pineapple squeeze some juice from the remaining pineapple. The pineapple juice is for flavour and also for acidity so if you don't use it it will affect how the recipe turns out.
- Pecans - Essential in a hummingbird cake. They add so much flavour and texture.
And here is what you need to make the vegan cream cheese frosting that we are going to slather all over our vegan hummingbird cake:
Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting - As this is a dairy-free hummingbird cake we are using vegan cream cheese and vegan butter along with powdered sugar, vanilla, salt and my magic ingredient arrowroot flour which stops it from being super sloppy and squirting out of the sides of the cake.
I've tried many vegan cream cheeses in frosting recipes and Tofutti seems to work the best. It has a really thick texture and is super smooth, so if you can get it I recommend using it. As for vegan butter, it has to be a hard vegan butter, not a super soft one like Becel or Flora. One with a texture like Earth Balance is perfect and my vegan butter recipe works well in it too.
Equipment - You need one large and one medium mixing bowl. Two 9-inch cake pans (I can't recommend the USA Pan cake pans I use enough) and either parchment paper to line the bottom of each pan, or a couple of 9-inch round Silpats. They fit perfectly into the USA Pan cake pans and they've saved me using so much parchment paper over the years. You will also need a handheld electric mixer or stand mixer to make the vegan cream cheese frosting.
A note regarding the ingredients
Ok, regarding the ingredients, I just want to take a minute to say that this Vegan Hummingbird Cake is Decadent with a capital D. I can feel the vegan sugar and fat police coming for me as I type. The comments and messages always come flying in when I share a recipe like this.
This is a dessert meant as an occasional treat and I won't be answering any questions about omitting or reducing the sugar, oil, vegan butter or cream cheese. This recipe has been tested many multiple times so that it produces an amazing cake that is as good as non-vegan versions. It is supposed to be very sweet and very decadent. That's why it's called Hummingbird Cake. Reducing all the things that make it that way will make it less than amazing and I'm not up for that.
How to make Vegan Hummingbird Cake
(For detailed measurements and instructions, see the printable recipe card).
Despite how it may look, this vegan hummingbird cake is pretty simple to make. Here's how it's done:
- Mix all the dry ingredients together in a large bowl.
- Mash the banana
- Add all of the liquid ingredients (including the pineapple) to the mashed banana and mix them up.
- Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and mix gently together.
- Add the chopped pecans and fold through.
- Spoon into 2 pans, bake then allow to cool completely in the pans.
Then to make the vegan cream cheese frosting:
- Beat the butter with a handheld electric whisk or stand mixer.
- Add the cream cheese.
- Beat again to combine.
- Add the vanilla, arrowroot and some of the powdered sugar and beat together.
- Add the rest of the powdered sugar and beat until silky smooth.
Once the cake is completely cool you can frost it. Start by sandwiching it together, then cover the top and sides with the remaining frosting.
Then decorate with chopped pecan nuts.
For the very best results when making this vegan hummingbird cake take note of these tips:
- Weigh and measure everything carefully. I highly recommend using a digital kitchen scale for the best, consistent results when baking. Cups are not accurate. If you absolutely have to use cups, aerate the flour with a fork, then spoon it into the cup gently without compacting it or shaking it down. Then level with a knife. That will give you roughly the correct amount.
- Follow the recipe exactly. Don't make any changes. Baking is a science and the smallest change can affect how things turn out. That is except for the shredded coconut. That is safe to omit if you don't want to use it. And switching the allspice for nutmeg if you want to. Other than that I don't advise making any changes.
- Use a good brand of canned pineapple that tastes sweet, pineapply and delicious out of the can. Some of them barely have any pineapple flavour. If it doesn't taste good straight out of the can it won't taste good in your cake. I used Del Monte.
- Use very ripe and spotty bananas. The more overripe the better.
- Don't overmix the batter. Overmixing affects the texture and rise of your cake.
- Don't overbeat the cream cheese frosting. Stop as soon as it is smooth.
- Line the bottom of your cake pans and grease the sides.
- I don't recommend silicone cake pans. They do not give as good a result as metal pans.
- Allow the cakes to cool in their pans. I know this goes against what most cake recipes say but this cake is supposed to be moist and leaving them in the pans improves the texture.
- Only frost the cake when it is completely cool. Any residual heat at all will make the frosting melt.
- Don't reduce the amount of butter in the frosting. The ratio gives the perfect texture and ensures the frosting is stable.
- I don't recommend using my Vegan Cream Cheese recipe to make the cream cheese frosting. It isn't smooth enough to get a silky finish and it has a savoury flavour which wouldn't work well.
- It might seem like there is a lot of powdered sugar (and there is!) but it is necessary for the right texture and for stability.
- When you frost a cake, cover it in a very thin layer of frosting first and allow it to set a bit before you add the rest of the frosting. This helps to stop crumbs from getting caught up and being visible.
- For the smoothest cream cheese frosting sift the powdered sugar.
Why you should sift powdered sugar before making frosting
As per my success tip above, sifting the powdered sugar through a sieve will give the smoothest, most luscious results in the cream cheese frosting. This picture shows the difference between sifted and unsifted powdered sugar. Left is straight out of the bag. Right is sifted. That's why your frosting is smoother and silkier if you sift it. I know it's an extra step but it's so worth it!
Making ahead and freezing
Make the vegan hummingbird cakes and the frosting up to 1 day in advance. Once cool, cover the cakes (still in their pans) tightly with clingwrap. Store them at room temperature.
Refrigerate the frosting in an airtight container or tightly cover the bowl in clingwrap or a lid. Remove from the fridge 30 minutes before you need it. You can give it a quick whisk with a handheld mixer to fluff it up a bit if you want to but I find it's usually ok as it is.
Unfrosted cakes can be frozen for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the fridge then decorate as per the recipe. I haven't tried freezing the cream cheese frosting, but as most vegan cream cheeses are tofu-based I think it might become grainy so I don't recommend trying it.
As this vegan hummingbird cake is frosted with cream cheese frosting, it's best to keep it refrigerated. Cover it and store it in the fridge for 6 to 7 days. It's a cake that actually gets better with time as the flavours have a chance to mingle and develop so it's perfect for making ahead.
Hungry for more
Looking for more great vegan cakes? You might also enjoy my:
Vegan Hummingbird CakeAuthor:
- 3¼ cups + 2 teaspoons (410 grams) all-purpose flour , (use plain flour in the UK)
- 1½ cups (300 grams) brown sugar , dark or light brown both work well
- ½ cup (100 grams) granulated white or cane sugar
- ½ cup (35 grams) finely shredded coconut , optional can be safely omitted
- 6 tablespoons ground flaxseed
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1¼ teaspoon baking soda (bicarbonate of soda in the UK)
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 tsp allspice , or ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon fine salt
- 2 cups (430 grams) mashed banana , about 4 medium bananas
- ¾ cup (180 mls) liquid oil of choice (avocado, sunflower, vegetable, canola oil etc)
- ½ cup (120 mls) unsweetened dairy-free milk
- ¼ cup (60 mls) pineapple juice , from the can is fine
- 1 tablespoon (15 mls) apple cider vinegar
- 1 tablespoon (15 mls) vanilla extract
- 1 packed cup (195 grams) drained canned pineapple pieces or crushed pineapple , in natural juice not syrup. Measure the pineapple after draining and chopping finely.
- 2 cups (200 grams) chopped pecans , divided
Vegan Cream Cheese Frosting
- 1 cup (227 grams or 8 oz) vegan cream cheese , I use Tofutti
- ½ cup (110 grams) vegan butter , it must be a hard variety like Earth Balance or my recipe. Soft like Flora or Becel won't work welll.
- 4 teaspoons arrowroot powder or cornstarch (arrowroot works best)
- ⅛ teaspoon fine salt
- 1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract , Do not use more
- 4 to 5 cups (500 to 625 grams grams) powdered sugar (icing sugar in the UK)
- Preheat oven 350 °F (175 °C) and have a shelf positioned in the middle of the oven.
- Grease and line the bottoms of two 9-inch cake pans and set them aside.
- To a large mixing bowl add all of the dry ingredients except the pecan nuts. That's the flour, sugar, coconut, ground flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice and salt. Whisk them together well.
- If you haven't already, mash the banana to a puree in a medium sized bowl.
- To the banana add the oil, milk, pineapple juice, apple cider vinegar, vanilla and chopped pineapple. Mix them together well. It will probably curdle a bit. That's fine.
- Have the pecans and your cake pans ready and near you, as once the batter is mixed together you need to work fast.
- Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture and stir together gently with a spatula to combine. The batter will be thick. Make sure to get right into the bottom of the bowl to get all of the dry ingredients. Don't beat it or overmix the batter. Treat it gently but work quickly. The sooner you get it in the oven the better your cakes will be.
- Fold in half of the chopped pecan nuts (you can eye-ball it. It doesn't have to be absolutely exact) then immediately spoon the batter evenly between the 2 cake pans.
- Give the pans a little shake to level the batter out, then put them in the oven on the middle shelf and bake for 45 minutes, or until a skewer, toothpick or thin knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.
- Remove from the oven and place the cakes still in their pans on a wire rack and allow them to cool completely. Don't remove them from the pans.
Cream Cheese Frosting
- Add the vegan butter to a large bowl and beat it with an electric mixer on a medium-high speed until soft and fluffy.
- Add the cream cheese and beat again until combined and smooth but don't over-beat. As soon as it's combined stop.
- Now add the arrowroot powder, salt, vanilla and about 2 cups of powdered sugar. Beat on the lowest speed for about 20 seconds until the powdered sugar has stopped flying around, then add another 2 cups. Beat again on low until it's mostly combined then turn the speed up to medium-high again and beat until smooth and creamy, scraping down the edges with a spatula as needed to get any dry powdered sugar off the sides and into the mix.
- Add the remaining powdered sugar to thicken as needed. Using it all makes the frosting much easier to handle, spread and pipe.
- As soon as it's nice and smooth stop. It's important not to over-beat. Do not be tempted to add any more liquid to the frosting at any stage because it will become too runny. Once done, cover the bowl and put it in the fridge until needed.
- Place one cake layer on your cake stand or serving plate flat side up. Evenly spread the top with a thick layer of cream cheese frosting.
- Place the other sponge cake on top, flat side down. Spread the remaining frosting all over the top and sides.
- Garnish with the remaining chopped pecans.
- I recommend refrigerating the cake for at least 30 minutes before attempting to cut it to give the frosting time to firm a little and make slicing neater and easier.