These creamy nut-free hummingbird cupcakes are flavored with bananas, pineapple, and allspice and topped with coconut cream cheese buttercream. They are bursting with warm, tropical flavor and so tender they practically melt in your mouth.
What is a hummingbird cake?
Hummingbird Cake is a relatively recent discovery for me. I came across a recipe for the cake a couple of years ago and was intrigued by the combination of flavors, but didn't actually make one until a few months ago.
According to the internet, the cake originated in Jamaica and is named after the island's national bird - the hummingbird. (Incidentally, in Jamaica the Hummingbird is also sometimes called the Doctor Bird. Hence, this cake is also sometimes called the Doctor Bird Cake.)
In the late 1960's, the Jamaica Tourist Board included a recipe for Hummingbird Cake in a slew of media kits sent out to various cities in the USA. The cake caught on, especially in the South, where it won a favorite cake award at the Kentucky State Fair.
In 1990 it was selected as Southern Living's favorite recipe and noted as the most requested recipe in the magazine's history.
Hummingbird Cake is typically baked as a three-layer cake that's flavored with bananas, pineapple, pecans, and cinnamon or allspice, and covered in cream cheese buttercream.
I wanted to recreate the cake in cupcake form, but without the pecans and with a touch of coconut. This recipe is the result.
Tips for making hummingbird cupcakes
By nature, fat and liquid are unmixable. This presents a problem when making cake batter because nearly every kind of cake includes some kind of liquid and some kind of fat.
The solution is to create an emulsion - a situation in which tiny droplets of a liquid are dispersed in a fat. Certain substances, like egg yolks, act as emulsifiers. This means that when agitated, they help fat and liquid come together and stay together.
As such, many cake recipes include instructions to beat sugar and butter (or another form of fat), before adding the eggs and other ingredients. In this recipe, eggs are beaten together with sugar until air is incorporated into the mixture and the sugar dissolves into the eggs.
As you beat the sugar and eggs, the mixture will lighten in color and thicken. Continue to beat until the mixture is thick enough to create a "ribbon" that falls back on itself before slowly disappearing into the mixture when you lift the beater from the bowl.
At this point, it's time to add the oil. Pour it in very slowly, in a thin steady stream, while the mixer continues to beat. This creates an emulsion, with the eggs and sugar uniformly dispersed within the fat molecules.
Since sugar isn't dissolvable in oil, dissolving it in the eggs before adding the oil creates an even distribution between elements that don't normally like to mix.
The method ensures that plenty of air is incorporated into the cake batter. In addition, dissolving the sugar in the eggs creates a delicate, creamy consistency in the crumb of the baked cupcakes that is positively delicious.
Why does this recipe include coconut instead of pecans?
Because I like these cupcakes better that way. No other reason than that.
I LOVE, love, love nuts. But, I don't love them in desserts that have a soft consistency - like cake or brownies.
The texture of hummingbird cake is moist to the point of being creamy, tender, and delicate. To my tastebuds, chunks of nuts mess up that lovely consistency, especially in small little cakes. So, I left them out.
Coconut compliments the flavor of bananas, pineapple and allspice so beautifully that I just couldn't help myself by adding some in there even though it's not a "traditional" flavor in this cake.
I didn't want to add coconut to the cake itself for the same reason that I didn't want to add pecans - I didn't want to interfere with the creamy texture.
I tried adding a bit of coconut extract to the cupcake batter, but it overwhelmed the banana and pineapple flavors, making it taste too much like coconut cake with a hint of banana and pineapple instead of the other way around.
Adding a bit of coconut extract to the cream cheese buttercream was the perfect solution.
Just a teaspoon of coconut extract in the buttercream gives it a lovely subtle coconut flavor that complements the flavors in the cake without taking over. A sprinkle of toasted sweetened coconut not only looks pretty on these cupcakes, it adds another subtle layer of flavor that brings it all together.
If you feel differently, simply leave the coconut out and add the pecans back in.
How to bake hummingbird cupcakes with pecans
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C).
- Spread 6 ounces (about 1 ½ cups) of pecans out on a baking sheet and pop it in the oven.
- Toast the pecans for about 8 minutes, until they smell toasty. Remove them from the oven and let them cool.
- Chop them into small pieces and add them to the batter along with the pineapple and banana.
Pro tip: How to create the creamiest texture
Every recipe I've ever read for hummingbird cake calls for mashed bananas and crushed pineapple. As such, that's what I used when I first started developing this recipe. There were a couple of things I didn't like about this...
- First, crushed pineapple contains a lot of water, even if you let it drain. That meant I couldn't get quite enough pineapple in there to get the pineapple flavor I was after in these cupcakes.
- Second, I didn't like the consistency created by the pieces of pineapple AND small chunks of mashed banana. I wanted cupcakes with the flavor of pineapple and banana but with a soft, tender, creamy crumb unencumbered by chunks of anything.
The solution was simple: puree pineapple chunks with bananas in a blender or food processor until smooth before folding them into the batter. This allowed me to increase the amount of pineapple in the batter AND retain the soft, tender consistency I wanted in these cupcakes.
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If you give this recipe a try, let me know! Leave a comment, rate it, or take a picture and tag it #ofbatteranddough on Instagram.
For the Hummingbird Cupcakes:
- 2 very ripe bananas
- 20 ounces canned pineapple chunks, drained
- 2 tablespoons (43 grams) full-fat sour cream
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 1 ⅓ cup (160 grams) all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon table salt (1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt)
- ½ teaspoons allspice
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons (225 grams) granulated sugar
- 2 large eggs + 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- ½ cup (99 grams) vegetable oil
For the Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream:
- 1 cup (3 ounces/ 85 grams) sweetened shredded coconut
- ½ recipe Cream Cheese Buttercream
- 1 teaspoon coconut extract (more to taste)
To Make the Hummingbird Cupcakes:
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F (176 degrees C). Line a couple of cupcake pans with paper baking cups. This recipe will make approximatly 21 cupcakes. (*See note about spraying your pan with non-stick spray.)
- Peel the bananas and add them to a food processor or high speed blender along with the drained pineapple chunks, sour cream, and vanilla extract. Process until smooth.
- Add the flour, baking soda, salt, and allspice to a bowl and stir with a wire whisk to combine.
- In a separate bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolk, and granulated sugar with an electric mixer until thickened, about 5-8 minutes. If you lift the beater from the batter, the batter will fall back on itself in a thick "ribbon". (*See photo above for a visual about what this looks like.)
- With the mixer running on medium-high speed, slowly pour in the vegetable oil in a thin, steady stream. This will take about 1 minute - be sure to pour the oil in slowly while the mixer is running to create an emulsion. (If you're curious about why this works, see the explaniation above.)
- Add the banana-pineapple mixture and the flour mixture and stir very gently just until the ingredients are combined. Do not over mix.
- Fill the paper lined cupcake pan with the batter, filling each cup ¾ full.
- Bake the cupcakes for 33-38 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in one of the cupcakes comes out without any evidence of raw batter. (*See note below about bake time.)
- Let the cupcakes cool in the pan for 5-10 minutes then remove them to a wire rack and let cool completely before frosting.
To make the Coconut Cream Cheese Buttercream:
- Add the sweetened shredded coconut to a skillet and set it over medium heat. Cook, stirring very frequently, until about half of the coconut is golden brown. Remove from the heat and dump the toasted coconut onto a plate or into a bowl. Let cool completely.
- Mix up a half recipe of Cream Cheese Buttercream. Beat in 1 teaspoon of coconut extract. Taste and add more extract if you want a stronger coconut flavor.
- Scoop some buttercream into a decorator bag fitted with a large cupcake decorating tip. Pipe a swirl of buttercream onto each cupcake then sprinkle with toasted coconut.
*Store unfrosted cupcakes in a covered container at room temperature for up to 24 hours. Store frosted cupcakes in a covered container in the refrigerator for 2-3 days.
- If your cupcake pan(s) aren't non-stick, or if you've had your cupcake pans for a while and most of the non-stick coating has worn off, you might want to lightly spray the top of the pan with non-stick baking spray. This will ensure that the tops of the cupcakes don't stick to the top of the pan.
- Bake Time: I've had two readers comment that their cupcakes only took 20-25 minutes to bake. I'm not sure what the discrepancy in baking time is about, but please keep an eye on your cupcakes while they bake and remove them when a toothpick inserted in one of them comes out without any trace of raw batter.
- Mascarpone Frosting is a delicious, mild-flavored alternative to cream cheese buttercream.
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Nutrition Information:Yield: 21 Serving Size: 1 cupcake
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 150Total Fat: 9gSaturated Fat: 2gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 6gCholesterol: 39mgSodium: 173mgCarbohydrates: 17gFiber: 1gSugar: 8gProtein: 2g