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Recipe Collection

Dr Bird Cake

Caitlin Isola — West Winds, 2022

The world-famous hummingbird cake has its origins in Jamaica, where it is also known as Dr. Bird Cake, and its popularity comes as no surprise. The interweaving of both pineapple juice and pineapple chunks with spices and banana produces an almost addictive cake, which when bolstered with crunchy pecans and a creamy frosting is even harder to resist.

The cake’s history goes back to the 1960s when the Jamaican Tourist Board, looking to foster tourism as a means of creating a new stream of income, utilized fruits of the island, namely banana and pineapple, in a recipe. This recipe distributed to the media sought to spread the word about the island’s fresh produce. The spiced banana-pineapple cake was named after the country’s national bird, the hummingbird, colloquially known as the doctor bird. Food editors, particularly from the southern states of America, got hold of the recipe and from there it rapidly became part of the annals of American cooking, and then the world. Upon tasting the cake, it’s evident why it has attracted so much attention over the years.

Makes: 1 cake

Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes

Photography: Caitlin Isola

Season: Year-Round


100g pecans or walnuts, chopped
100g canned chopped pineapple in juice, drained and 80ml (⅓ cup) juice reserved
250g wholemeal flour or plain (all-purpose) flour
150g light soft brown sugar
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground cinnamon

½ tsp ground allspice
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp sea salt
2 ripe bananas, mashed
50g coconut oil or butter, or oil of choice, plus extra for greasing
1 tbsp vanilla extract
2 tbsp apple cider vinegar
1 egg (optional)
25g (1oz) coconut flakes, toasted, to serve

1 handful of pecans, roughly chopped, to serve

For the frosting:
200g unsalted butter, softened
175g full-fat cream cheese
¼ tsp sea salt
1 tsp vanilla extract
250g icing sugar, sifted


  1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (180°C fan/Gas 6) and grease and line the base of a 24cm round cake tin. (If making a double-layered cake, use 2 tins and double the quantity of the cake mixture and frosting.) Put the nuts and pineapple in a blender or food processor and pulse briefly until finely chopped. Sift all the dry ingredients, up to and including the salt, into a mixing bowl, then stir until combined and set aside.

  2. In a separate bowl, add the bananas, coconut oil or butter, reserved pineapple juice, vanilla, vinegar and egg, if using. Whisk until combined, then add to the dry ingredients with the pecan and pineapple mix. Briefly stir until combined, but do not over-mix the cake batter. Spoon the mixture into the cake tin and level the top. Bake for 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean. Leave to cool for 5 minutes, then turn out of the tin onto a rack to cool completely.

  3. Meanwhile, make the frosting. Beat the butter and cream cheese together until light and fluffy  Add the salt and vanilla, then stir in the icing sugar, a little at a time, to make a thick, spreadable icing.  Spread the frosting over the top of the cake (or half over each cake if making 2). Sprinkle with the coconut flakes and pecans.

Read more: West Winds

Riaz Phillip’s latest book is a celebration of Jamaica – the island’s culture, heritage and cuisine. The book is made up of the familiar Jamaican recipes and dishes he grew up around, with beautiful photography Riaz took himself on trips to Jamaica. West Winds: Recipes, History and Tales from Jamaica by Riaz Phillips. Published by DK, 2 June. £25  Photography: Caitlin Isola and Riaz Phillips

— about the author

Growing up in London and now living in Berlin, food writer & photographer Riaz Phillips is a powerful voice of representation of diversity in the UK food community. His first book Belly Full aimed to fill the gap on Afro-Caribbean cooking in the UK, documenting Caribbean and African food spots across the country. His second West Winds focuses on exploring the heritage, history and cuisine of his homeland Jamaica.


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