Straight-From-the-70s Hummingbird Cake

Studded with pineapple chunks, bananas, crunchy pecans, and coated in a tangy cream cheese frosting, hummingbird cake is an opulent dessert that’s been a mainstay of Southern tables since the 1970s.

Overhaed view of hummingbird cake
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Studded with pineapple chunks, bananas, crunchy pecans, and coated in a tangy cream cheese frosting, hummingbird cake is an opulent dessert that’s been a mainstay of Southern tables since the 1970s. Though hummingbird cake is an American classic, it hails from Jamaica and is also known as the Dr. Bird cake—its name is a nod to the island’s national bird, who locals refer to as Dr. Bird. Writing for Epicurious, Riaz Phillips notes that the cake gained popularity after the Jamaican Tourist Board distributed a recipe to local newspapers to promote the island’s local bananas and pineapples. 

“The cake itself is the height of mid 20th century post-colonial tropical flair,” Phillips writes. “Bananas and pineapples are blended into a sponge that’s enhanced with spices like vanilla, nutmeg, and cinnamon—ingredients that are almost an afterthought today, but were still relatively novel at the time.” The recipe made its way to America, where some home cooks nicknamed it “The Cake That Won’t Last Long” because, well, it was so delicious that it never did. Its popularity soared after Southern Living published a reader-submitted recipe for the cake in 1978, and today, the 45-year-old recipe remains one of the magazine’s most popular recipes of all time.

Side view of hummingbird cake
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

When Serious Eats asked our colleague Nicole Hopper, a seasoned recipe developer, to create a new hummingbird cake recipe for us, we knew we wanted it to be true to the original. But we also wanted to pack in as much sweet banana and pineapple flavor as possible without being cloying or stodgy, as some hummingbird cakes can be. Hopper delivered, with a simple, delicious cake that gets a big tropical kick from mashed and chopped bananas and crushed pineapple, with fragrant toasted pecans for crunch and a tart cream cheese frosting to balance the sweetness of the cake. I’d happily have a slice of it—frosted or unfrosted—with a cup of coffee every afternoon if I could. 

Hummingbird cake is relatively easy to whip up, but the tips below will help you make a phenomenal one each time. Just don’t be surprised if it disappears quickly—with not a crumb left behind—when you serve it to guests. It is, after all, the cake that won’t last long.

Tips for Preparing Hummingbird Cake

Use bleached cake flour. High protein flours tend to develop more gluten, resulting in sturdier, tougher baked goods. While this is great for bread, it’s not ideal for a cake in which you want a tender crumb. With a lower protein content than pastry flour and all-purpose flour, cake flour produces a light and fluffy crumb, making it our go-to flour for hummingbird cake. (Former Serious Eats editor Stella Parks has written at length about the science behind bleached cake flour.)

Overripe bananas are your best friend. The riper the banana, the sweeter it is. As the fruit matures, its starches convert into sugar, developing rich notes of caramel, honey, and pineapple. Ripe bananas are easier to mash, too, which makes prep much faster and easier. Look for speckled fruit with brown or black patches. If your banana could pass for a giraffe, you’re on the right track.

Mash—and chop—your bananas. Most hummingbird cake recipes call for just mashed bananas, but we wanted chunks of banana dispersed throughout, too. We experimented with just chunks, but the fruit wasn’t evenly distributed and the batter lacked the tropical notes that mashed banana brought. The solution? Using both mashed and chopped bananas. It’s the best of both worlds, and ensures you get banana flavor in every bite.

Go for the canned pineapple. Fresh pineapple contains bromelain, an enzyme that can break down proteins. This spells bad news for glutenin and gliadin, two proteins that serve as the building blocks of gluten. As the cake bakes, the bromelain eats away at the gluten proteins, resulting in a stodgy crumb. Canned pineapple doesn’t have any active bromelain, as the process of heating the pineapple to 158ºF (70ºC) deactivates the enzyme. To prevent your cake from baking into an unpleasantly heavy brick, use canned crushed pineapple in lieu of fresh.

Toast your pecans. To bring out the sweet, delicate flavors of pecans, toast them briefly on a baking sheet in the oven until they’re golden brown and fragrant. The nuttiness adds another layer of flavor to the cake, and complements the sweetness of the fruit.

Keep the cream cheese frosting simple. Cream cheese frosting is a must for hummingbird cake. For this recipe, we beat cream cheese, unsalted butter, confectioners sugar, a tablespoon of reserved pineapple juice from the can, and vanilla extract together. Spread generously between the layers and over the cake, it provides a tangy contrast to the cake’s tropical flavors.

Take the internal temperature of the cake. Bakers typically gauge the doneness of their cakes with a toothpick, cake tester, or by lightly pressing the top of the cake to see if it springs back gently. Because hummingbird cake is so moist and packed full of fruit and nuts, it can be difficult to tell when it’s done with those traditional methods. The most reliable way to see if the cake is ready to come out of the oven is to take the internal temperature of the cake with an instant read thermometer. Look for a temperature of 200ºF (93ºC).

Prepare the Cakes: Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 350°F (175ºC). Lightly grease three 8-inch round cake pans with baking spray and line with parchment.  Set aside.

Overhead view of three cake pans
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Spread pecan halves in an even layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Bake until fragrant and toasted, about 8 minutes. Set aside until cool enough to handle, then chop finely (pieces no larger than ¼-inch). Set aside.

Overhed view of toasted pecans
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, oil, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Drain 1 tablespoon of juice from crushed pineapple; set aside for Frosting.

Overhead view of whisked eggs
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Chop 2 of the bananas into small pieces (about 1 cup), and mash the other two (about 2/3 cup). Add chopped and mashed bananas to sugar mixture along with remaining crushed pineapple and its juice. Using a flexible spatula, stir to combine. In another large bowl, whisk together flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and allspice until evenly combined.

Four image collage of building batter
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Pour sugar mixture into flour mixture and, using the same spatula, gently fold until only a few streaks of flour remain. Fold in reserved toasted chopped pecans until evenly dispersed. Divide batter evenly between prepared cake pans (about 650g or 23 ounces per pan). Gently tap pans on counter to smooth batter and release any air bubbles.

Two image collage of mixing in pecans and putting into cake pans
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Bake until cakes are golden on top, spring back gently to the touch, and an instant read thermometer inserted in the center registers 200°F (93ºC), 25 to 28 minutes.

Cakes baked
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Cool cakes in their pan on a cooling rack for 10 minutes.  Run an offset spatula or butter knife around edges of cakes, then invert cake onto a plate and transfer back to rack to cool completely, parchment-side down, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Cakes flipped onto cooking racks
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Prepare the Frosting: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, or, using an electric hand mixer, beat cream cheese and butter on medium-low speed until smooth and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes, stopping to scrape down sides as needed. Reduce mixer speed to low, and gradually add powdered sugar, beating until fully incorporated  after each addition. Add reserved 1 tablespoon pineapple juice and vanilla, and increase mixer speed to medium-high; beat until fluffy, 1 to 2 minutes.

Overhead view of prepping frosting
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Using a serrated knife, level cakes if necessary and set the scraps aside for snacking. Remove and discard parchment paper. Place 1 layer, top-side-up, on a turntable. If you like, a waxed cardboard cake round can first be placed underneath, secured to the turntable with a scrap of damp paper towel. Top with 1 cup frosting, using an offset spatula to spread it evenly from edge to edge. Repeat with the second and third layers, placing the cake layers bottom-side up, then cover the top and sides of the cake with a very thin layer of frosting to form a crumb coat. Refrigerate, uncovered, until frosting is mostly set, 30 to 40 minutes.

Four image collage of icing cakes
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Remove cake from refrigerator. Using an offset spatula, cover cake with remaining frosting, spreading it as smoothly as you can over top and sides of cake. Decorate with pecans, as desired.

Adding walnuts
Serious Eats / Jen Causey

Special Equipment

Three 8-inch round cake pans, nonstick baking spray with flour, parchment paper, whisk, flexible spatula, stand mixer, offset spatula, serrated knife, turntable

This Juicy, Buttery Air-Fryer Shrimp Cooks in Just 4 Minutes

Shrimp is delicious no matter how you prepare it, but for seafood that’s ready in less than five minutes, give it a dry-brine and a quick toss in the air fryer.

Overhead view of shrimp on a platter
Serious Eats / Morgan Hunt Glaze

I know people call canned tuna the chicken of the sea, but I think the real chicken of the sea—the ingredient with just as much versatility as poultry—is shrimp. It’s a relatively affordable protein that you can dress up or down, and is delicious no matter which way you prepare it. Need a dinner party appetizer? Shrimp cocktail and shrimp dip await. Want to impress your date with an elegant dinner? You can’t go wrong with shrimp risotto. In search of a simple weeknight dinner? Shrimp scampi, please. But lately, my favorite way to cook shrimp is in the air fryer, and with this basic quick shrimp recipe developed by seasoned recipe developer Nicole Hopper, I’m willing to bet air-fried shrimp will be your new go to, as well.

I do a lot of cooking in my air fryer, simply because it’s so easy and quick—it’s basically a mini convection oven that’s remarkably efficient at circulating air, making both preheating and cooking much faster than if you were to use a standard oven. I rely on my air fryer to churn out wonderfully crispy potatoes and tender broccoli, and it’s no surprise that the appliance is also a great vessel for preparing shrimp. Whether I’m enjoying it on its own or incorporating it into other dishes like this shrimp, corn, and tomatillo salad, the air fryer is now my favorite method for cooking the crustacean. Read on for tips on preparing the best buttery air-fryer shrimp and to get Nicole’s recipe, along with five variations, including jerk, Old Bay, and ginger-sesame spins. After a brief, hands-off dry brine, the shrimp take just four minutes to cook, so this recipe is incredibly weeknight friendly.

Tips for Preparing Juicy Shrimp in the Air Fryer

  • Don’t be afraid to go for frozen shrimp. As contributor Dan Nosowitz wrote in his guide to picking shrimp, most shrimp available at the grocery store or fishmonger in the United States are frozen at sea—even the ones on display behind the glass are thawed from frozen. It’s difficult (if not impossible) to know how long shrimp have been defrosted, and for that very reason, we recommend purchasing individually frozen (IQF), head-off, peel-on shrimp. The only time you should buy fresh is if you have access to just-caught shrimp. (Of course, if you live near the Gulf coast, ignore everything I just said, and feel free to go for fresh, never-frozen shrimp.) 
  • Pick shell-on shrimp. It’s tempting to purchase peeled shrimp if you want to save time, but shelled shrimp are, more often than not, damaged. Because the delicate flesh is no longer protected by the shell, they tend to get mangled during transportation. For the best quality shrimp, buy them shell-on when possible and take the time to peel and devein them yourself. (See the notes below the recipe for tips on peeling the shrimp. We recommend leaving the tails intact.) 
  • Thaw your shrimp properly. I know it’s tempting to just chuck frozen shrimp in your air fryer, but please refrain. Defrosting your shrimp takes just a few minutes, and just requires putting it in a bowl under cold running water. (If you’d like to conserve water, you can fill the bowl of shrimp with cold water and allow it to sit at room temperature until thawed, which will take slightly longer but still get you there.)
  • Devein your shrimp. My husband I jokingly call the vein “shrimp poop,” which, while immature, is not inaccurate. The vein is the digestive tract, and though it’s edible, it can be bitter and sandy. After defrosting and peeling the shrimp, use a paring knife to make a shallow slit from the top to the bottom of the shrimp, then use the tip to gently lift out the vein. Or you could just ask your fishmonger to peel and devein the shrimp for you. Chances are they’ll be happy to oblige.
  • Dry-brine your shrimp with salt, sugar, and baking soda. Just as dry-brining results in tender, juicier roast chicken and steaks, seasoning the shrimp with salt, baking soda, and sugar results in shrimp that’s satisfyingly crisp on the outside and moist on the inside. The salt helps the crustacean better retain its moisture, while baking soda produces juicier shrimp. As Kenji noted in his recipe for grilled shrimp, baking soda raises the pH of the shellfish. The Maillard reaction—a chain of chemical reactions that occurs when proteins and sugars are transformed by heat—takes place at higher pH levels, too, which means faster browning without overcooking the shrimp.
  • Keep the cooking time short. To prevent overcooking your shrimp, cook it for just a few minutes at a high temperature. We recommend four minutes at 400ºF (205ºC), which keeps them nice and plump and prevents them from becoming rubbery.
  • Experiment with different seasonings. Salt and pepper is great, but try mixing it up with the variations listed below.

Using paper towels, pat shrimp dry. In a medium bowl, toss shrimp with salt, baking soda, and sugar until evenly coated. Arrange shrimp on a wire rack set over a rimmed baking sheet and refrigerate, uncovered, for 20 to 30 minutes.

Two image collage of tossing shrimp
Serious Eats / Morgan Hunt Glaze

Preheat a 6-quart air fryer to 400℉ (205ºC) for 5 minutes. Using paper towels, pat shrimp dry again, transfer to a large bowl, and toss with melted butter to coat.

Overhead view of coating shrimp in butter
Serious Eats / Morgan Hunt Glaze

Arrange shrimp in air fryer basket in a single layer, making sure shrimp are not touching each other. Cook, undisturbed, until shrimp are cooked through and have just turned opaque, about 4 minutes. Serve immediately.

Two image collage of air frying shrimp
Serious Eats / Morgan Hunt Glaze

Variations

  • Jerk: Increase butter to 2 tablespoons. Stir 2 teaspoons jerk seasoning, 1/2 teaspoon grated lemon zest, and 1/4 teaspoon grated garlic into melted butter. 
  • Old Bay: Increase butter to 2 tablespoons. Stir 1 teaspoon Old Bay seasoning and 1 teaspoon grated lemon zest into melted butter. (Optional: sprinkle with chopped parsley before serving.) 
  • Cilantro-Lime: Stir 1 teaspoon honey, 1 teaspoon grated lime zest, 1 teaspoon fresh lime juice, and 1/4 teaspoon smoked paprika into melted butter. Toss with 1 tablespoon. finely chopped cilantro after cooking. 
  • Ginger-Sesame: Use oil instead of butter. Stir 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger, 1/2 teaspoon grated garlic, 2 teaspoons soy sauce and 2 teaspoons sesame oil into oil. (Optional: sprinkle with sesame seeds before serving.)
  • Honey-Harissa: Stir 1 1/2 tablespoons harissa paste and 2 teaspoons honey into melted butter.

Special Equipment

Wire rack, rimmed baking sheet, 6-quart air fryer

Notes

To peel shrimp, grab the shell segment next to the final one containing the tail, and pull it outward away from the shrimp. Continue removing the shell toward the head and it should come off easily. Remove legs if they didn’t come off with the shell.