Niki’s Hummingbird Cake


It was Niki’s birthday last week, so I had to make her a cake. A Real Cake. Not a Safeway crappy cake with tacky neon-colored roses. Not a quick box cake that has been sitting in your pantry for a year, as a backup. A Real Cake. In a special flavor. Because she, of all people, deserves it.

Niki’s the one who:

  • Begs to drive me to the airport at 4:00 in the morning, and is actually perky and (most importantly) on time at this obscene hour.
  • Goes on the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage in Spain, walks like 100 miles carrying only the barest of essentials on her back. Plus an obscenely huge jar of saffron – you guessed it – for me.
  • Likes my dog maybe more than I do, and when she dog sits for me, actually encourages him to sleep with her, in her bed, under the covers, where he is happy as a little clam.

I’m sure you can appreciate that this calls for Real Cake.

Each year, very modestly, Niki asks – if it’s not too much trouble – for a carrot cake. Maybe with some cream cheese frosting. Gee, twist my arm. And since not just any carrot cake will do, a few years ago I went on the hunt for the carrot cake to end all debates about carrot cake, just for her. (And this was before she started sleeping with my dog. Come to think of it, I probably need to up my game again.)

This is what I came up with. I think it’s technically a hummingbird cake, but anyone who knows anything about carrot cake will be fooled into thinking it’s absolutely the most delicious cake they’ve ever had. It’s carrot-y and moist, with a hit of caramelized sugary-sweetness. You might not actually pick up on the pineapple and coconut flavors, but they add a tropical sweetness that will make even the staunchest of carrot cake purists lick their plate.

I would love to give some genius credit for this cake, but unfortunately I’ve photocopied and given away so many copies of the recipe that the original is long gone and I can barely read the notes I’ve got. But now that you have it, print it out and get to work. You have no excuse to not make this Real Cake for the Niki in your life. Enjoy!

Niki’s Hummingbird Cake

Click here to print this recipe.
Serves: 6-8
Time to prepare: 3.5+ hours, with cooling and icing, hands on time closer to 1 hour total.
Note: These proportions make a great two- or three-layer mini cake (6” across), but you can also double the ingredients to make a three-layer 9” cake. Either also works well as cupcakes.

1 cup plus 5 tablespoons all purpose flour
½ cup sweetened flaked coconut
1¾ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1¼ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 cups sugar
½ cup vegetable oil
2 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cups finely grated peeled carrots
1 8-ounce can crushed pineapple in its own juice, well drained

2 – 8 ounce packages cream cheese, room temperature
1 stick unsalted butter, room temperature
1+ cup powdered sugar (start with 1 cup, then add more to get desired consistency and taste)
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon (scant) coconut extract
¾ cup chopped crystallized ginger

Make the cake:
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Butter (or coconut oil spray) two or three 6-inch-diameter cake pans with 1½-inch-high sides. Line bottom of pans with parchment paper.

Combine the flour, coconut, cinnamon, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a food processor. Pulse to combine until the coconut is finely chopped.

Using an electric mixer, beat the sugar and oil in a large bowl to blend. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in vanilla. Beat in dry ingredient mixture. Stir in carrots and crushed pineapple.

Divide the batter evenly among the pans. Bake until a tester inserted into center of cakes comes out clean, 30 to 50 minutes, depending on pan size. Start checking at 30 minutes. The cake will be the color of light brown sugar when it’s done, and your kitchen will smell amazing. Note that since there are so many moist ingredients in this cake, the tester will never come out completely clean. Look for the edges of the cake to start to brown a little, and for the knife to come out without batter on it.

Place the pans on a cooling rack to cool for about 10 minutes. Press gently on the tops of the cakes with a clean dishtowel to flatten them if domed. This makes it much easier to frost, without cutting off the tops of the cake.

Cool the cakes in the pans on racks for 1 hour. Run a knife around the edge of each pan to loosen the cakes, then turn cakes out onto racks and cool completely.

Make the frosting:
Beat the cream cheese and butter in large bowl until smooth. Beat in powdered sugar, then both extracts. After all the ingredients have been added, check for flavor and consistency, and add more powdered sugar if necessary. (Trick – cover your mixer with a dish towel to keep the powdered sugar from exploding all over your kitchen.)

Chill until the frosting is firm enough to spread, about 30 minutes.

Ice the cake:
Place one cake layer, flat side up, on a platter. Spread frosting over the top of the cake in a ¼” layer. Sprinkle crystallized ginger over the top of the layer (optional). Top with second cake layer, flat side up. Spread ¼” frosting on the top, then top with ginger. Top with the third cake layer, rounded side up, pressing slightly to adhere. If you only have 2 layers, only put the ginger in between the layers, not on the top of the cake.

Spread a very thin layer of frosting over the top and sides of the cake. Chill the cake and the remaining frosting for 30 minutes. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake.


  • Cake can be made 1 day ahead. Cover with a cake dome and chill. Let the cake stand at room temperature 1 hour before serving.
  • Crystallized ginger is candied pieces of ginger, and it’s sweet and a little spicy. It adds a nice textural and taste surprise to the cake, but you can certainly leave it out if you can’t find it. Look in the baking section or spice section of your grocery store. You can also usually find it in the spice section of Asian supermarkets.

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Comments: 4

  1. Tikvah October 23, 2012 at 12:37 pm Reply

    Best Cake EVER!!!!!!!!!!!! (I should know, I ate most of it!!)

    • Seattle Palate October 23, 2012 at 8:24 pm Reply

      Hardly!! I don’t know what happened to the rest of it, but your slice was very modest :)

  2. Gretchen Madden October 23, 2012 at 6:43 pm Reply

    Niki sounds like an amazing friend and a special dog sitter, too, and this cake looks incredible! I need an excuse to make it – thanks Amy!

    • Seattle Palate October 23, 2012 at 8:22 pm Reply

      You don’t need an excuse Gretchen! Finn needs cake all the time :) thanks for reading!!

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