Tropical Hummingbird Layer Cake

Thumbing through “Bake from Scratch” Magazine I came across a recipe for a Tropical Hummingbird Cake. This grabbed my attention right away. The original “Humming Bird Cake” was something the made a big splash in the 70’s. The actual origins are a bit of an unknown as there are a few different sources that claim they originated the recipe. The most famous of which is a 1978 publication of Southern Living. Since it’s publication it has been reported that it was the most requested recipe by its readers. 

Bake Magazine gave it a bit of an update with tropical notes of pineapple, macadamia nuts, banana, and apricots. The idea had merit but doing the number of cakes I have done recently I decided this just wasn’t “tropical” enough for me. As I looked at the recipe it also called for cinnamon and nutmeg. I think it was this spice combination that really got me thinking this recipe needed even more of an overhaul.

All too often we want to go with the easy flavors. The ones we use all the time in everything but the more I work with The Spice Companion the more I am learning there’s a whole world of untapped potential in herbs and spices. Add to all of this one of the big chains of grocery stores recently opened a brand new store near us and in it they have a whole section in their produce department of a large array of tropical produce.

I had already been thinking about tropical fruits for our morning breakfast bowls so the timing couldn’t have been more perfect. Since my husband and I have had a few opportunities to vacation in Bali, Singapore, and Western Australia we were more familiar with the fruits. On one of those trips we encountered a fruit that was as sunning as it was delicious, called a Jackfruit. Interestingly enough we have been seeing them appear in our local grocery store as well as at out favorite Asian Food Store. We finally jumped on the chance to pick one up so I wanted to make it the start of this cake as well as a topping on out breakfasts.

When looking at ways to punch up the tropical-ness of this cake I started with the spice blend. Here I opted to use the Sweet Verbena blend form The Spice Companion. This is a blend of a herb/leaf from Australia and New Zealand called Lemon Myrtle. This is the secret to the whole blend it’s aromatic and very lemony. It also can only be ordered online as it’s not available anywhere in the US that I looked. It is then combine with Anise Seed, Coriander, and a tiny amount of Cinnamon. It was a gamble working with spices I wasn’t familiar with but WOW, this was maybe the best thing I could have done.

I started with juicing a pineapple. Some of the juice was used to help soften the apricots and the rest I used to make a filling for the cake. I also added the Sweet Verbena Blend to it. This made the filling taste almost like a “yellow lollipop” is was amazing.

My final idea was to forgo the cream cheese frosting and instead to an Italian Buttercream frosting as this holds up better and is nice and light. The key though was to flavor it with pureed jackfruit. The end result is maybe one of my favorite cakes I have ever made. The cake itself is a little more crumbly than I would like but the flavor was bold and delicious. Definitely the was I will kick off my season of Summer Flavors going forward.

Humming Bird Cake

  • 128 grams Dried Apricots
  • 1 Pineapple (8 ounce Juice for apricots, 14 ounces for filling)
  • 4 Eggs (200 grams)
  • 300 grams Granulated Sugar
  • 476 grams Cake Flour
  • 1 teaspoon Baking Soda
  • 2 teaspoons Sweet Verbena Spice Blend
  • 280 grams Canola Oil
  • 1 teaspoon Vanilla
  • 85 grams Macadamia Nuts, chopped (18 pulses in the food processor)
  • 300 grams Ripe Banana, mashed

Start with prepping your apricots. Chopping dried fruit can be frustrating and messy. For apricots my approach is simple I use my kitchen scissors and cut them in quarters. However you want to chop your apricots go ahead, get them cut up and add them to a small sauce pan.

Next, let’s talk about the pineapple. You can absolutely use canned pineapple. Since I have a juicer and an abundance of tropical fruits I opted for fresh. If you are using canned, pour out the juice into the saucepan with the apricots. Ideally I used 8 ounces of juice but if you have less than that don’t worry. If you are going to use a fresh pineapple you can do one of two things. You can either trim the rind and core the pineapple, cutting it into chunks, pop all that into a blender and pulse just to a chunky puree… or you can juice about ½ of it and puree the rest of the fruit separately. This option just makes a mess of two machines and the next time I do it I will use just the blender. For this attempt I juiced the entire pineapple. The problem with doing this is that I ended up with a lot of delicious pulp in the bin and the juice, when trying to make my jelly, was too thin.

In the end I had about 8 ounces of juice for the apricots and 14 ounces of juice for the jelly. Set your fruit, juice, or chunked fruit aside and bring the pan of pineapple juice and apricots to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand for at least 30 minutes. This can be done in advance and kept in the fridge for a couple days.

Time to make the cake! Preheat your oven to 350ºF. Prepare your pans. I used 2 9-inch square pans, sprayed with a non-stick spray, and lined the bottoms with parchment.

In the bowl of a stand mixer add the eggs and the sugar. Beat with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy. Meanwhile in a large bowl add the flour, baking soda, and the spice blend. Stir together well.

Once the sugar and eggs are light and fluffy slowly add the oil and vanilla. Once the wet ingredients are well incorporated add the dry ingredients. Mix in just until there are no more dry streaks showing. Add in the macadamias and the bananas. Mix just until evenly distributed. Pour the contents into the prepared pans.

Bake for 20 – 25 minutes or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Let cool in pans. (To help with slicing the cakes into layers wrap the cooled cakes in plastic wrap and place in the freezer for 30 minutes.)

Jackfruit Buttercream

  • 400 grams Granulated Sugar
  • 2 ⅝ fl ounces Water
  • 5 large Egg Whites (5.25 ounces)
  • 1 teaspoon Cream of Tartar
  • 1 ½ pounds Unsalted Butter, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons Vanilla Extract
  • 9-10 ounces pureed jackfruit

In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the sugar and water. Clip a candy thermometer to the side of the pan. Bring to a boil and cook until it reaches 248º F, keeping a constant eye on it.

Meanwhile, combine the egg whites and cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Turn the mixer onto low just to start frothing the whites.

As soon as the sugar syrup reaches temperature, turn off the heat, and slowly pour into the whites with the whisk running, until it is incorporated. Gradually increase the speed to high and continue to whisk until mixture cools to room temperature, 70º to 75º F. To help cool the mixture you can hold an ice pack to the side of the bowl while the whisk is running.

Once the mixture is no longer hot begin adding the butter. Don’t worry about it being a certain amount just add it a good dollop at a time. Once all the butter is incorporated add the vanilla. At this point the icing should be thick and creamy (this would be just basic vanilla buttercream). To make it another flavor, in this case jackfruit, simply add a puree. The amount of the puree will depend on the fruit you use. For jackfruit it ended up being about 10 ounces. Offing just a pale yellow hue and a sweet aromatic hint of something like juicy fruit bubble gum.

Sweet Verbena Spice Blend 

Place all the spices into a spice grinder, or mash with a mortar and pestle, and grind into a fine powder.

Pineapple & Sweet Verbena Filling

  • 14 ounces Pineapple Juice or puree
  • 1 ½ ounce Lemon Juice
  • 700 grams Granulated Sugar
  • 3 teaspoons Sweet Verbena
  • 1 package Liquid Pectin (only as needed, follow package instructions)

In a wide shallow pan with straight sides add the pineapple, lemon juice, and the sugar. Bring to a boil over medium heat then lower to a simmer. Once the filling is close to your liking remove from the heat and stir in the spice blend. If the filling is not thickening enough use the Liquid Pectin. Allow to fully cool before using.


Slice each cake into 2 layers. Set one layer, cut side up, on the plate or board you are going to serve the cake on. Pipe a ring of the icing around the edge of the cake. Take a ⅓ of the filling and spread evenly inside the ring. Place another layer of cake on top. Check for “squareness”. Pipe another ring and fill. Repeat until you put the fourth and final layer on.

After adding the final layer of cake use the remaining icing to coat the cake and pipe any desired decorations. I went for a “abstract” pineapple decoration. This cake freezes well. To make this easy I cut the cake into 16 portions. Each portion is 2 servings. I tear a skinny piece of wax paper and place the piece of cake on it. This allows me to pick up the cake and lower it into the airtight containers I freeze the cake in. To serve I pull out a container in the morning and at dinner time it’s the perfect texture and temperature. I simple slice it in half and serve.


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