The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook

Follow the latest goings on with our blog and find answers from the Hummingbird Bakers to your most frequently asked baking questions. Our FAQs are updated regularly, so keep checking back for updates!

I’ve cooked the poundcake for the time stated in the recipe and the middle is still raw. What has gone wrong?

Visit The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook page to view recipe list or to to purchase.

Unfortunately we can’t answer individual queries via the blog. Baking has many variables and it takes practise. Even at our bakeries, it doesn’t always go perfectly, so don’t feel disheartened if it doesn’t work first time. Making the perfect cake or cupcake is both a science and a skill – it’s not easy being this tasty.

Buttermilk Poundcake

I've cooked the poundcake for the time stated in the recipe and the middle is still raw. What has gone wrong?

If your skewer doesn’t come out cleanly after the baking times are over, this just means that your oven is baking slightly slowly and the poundcake needs more time – you haven’t done anything wrong. Just keep your cake in the oven until it’s done and a skewer comes out cleanly. Some readers’ ovens bake the poundcake within the guidelines and a few readers have reported that their ovens need double the time. This is a denser cake and can take more time to cook all the way through in your loaf tin. There’s less surface area with a more compact loaf tin shape, and the heat will take more time to get all the way to bake the very centre of the cake! The top will be quite brown and slightly more brittle than our regular vanilla sponges, this is normal.

Banana and Chocolate Cupcakes

My Banana and Chocolate Cupcake sponge is not as light as other cakes I’ve baked from your book. Is this correct?

Yes, our Banana and Chocolate Cupcakes are much denser and richer than regular sponge because of the banana. If you’ve ever had banana loaf you’ll notice how the fruit pulp makes the sponge much heavier. This is normal and it makes it taste rich, delicious and a teensy bit gooey.

The sponges are sinking after taking them out of the oven. What’s going wrong?

Nothing is wrong, just make sure your oven is the correct temperature (use an oven thermometer if needed) and leave the sponges in until they are done. Timings can differ from batch to batch as riper bananas will be moister and this will affect how long the sponge takes to bake. Keep an eye on them and only take out of the oven when a skewer can be removed cleanly from the sponge.

How ripe should my bananas be for the Banana and Chocolate Cupcakes?

We recommend using relatively ripe bananas as they will be easier to mash and incorporate into the mixture. Riper bananas also have a much stronger banana flavour and due to higher levels of sugar in the fruit will add a caramel-like sweetness to the final baked sponge. Adjust the baking times to reflect the ripeness of the fruits you are using – add a little extra time for riper bananas.

Black Bottom Cupcakes

Black Bottom Cupcakes

The mixture for my Black Bottom Cupcakes is really thick and doesn’t pour easily. Have I made it right?

Don’t panic, the mixture for Black Bottoms is supposed to be thick. It almost resembles uncooked brownie mix and the sponge is much denser than our Chocolate Cupcakes. As we say, don’t judge a sponge until its baked! They should still be moist, so if they turn out dry and the ingredients are to the letter it will probably be due to overcooking. On the other hand, the cheesecake mixture is relatively runny. Wait and see how the final product turns out as it is very hard to tell in the early stages.

Should the chocolate sponge be gooey in the middle?

No, it should be cooked all the way through. Test your oven temperature with an oven thermometer and ensure that you cook the sponge for the appropriate length of time so that a metal skewer comes out clean.

Where do you put the cheesecake mixture?

Simply spoon it on top of the chocolate batter. There’s no right or wrong way; it’s what it tastes like that counts. All our Black Bottoms turn out differently, but they look the same when frosted – it’s all about taste!

The chocolate sponge doesn’t taste very sweet. Have I made it right?

Yes, our recipes are correct as written. The richness of the dark cocoa sponge is meant to work well with the slight sourness of the cheesecake and the sweetness of both the chocolate chips and the cream cheese frosting.

The recipe doesn't include water in the ingredients list but it is included in the recipe. Is this correct?

Including water in the ingredients list is a choice made by the publisher and will depend on their house style. When it comes to cookbooks, many publishers don’t class water as an ingredient and choose to omit it from their ingredients lists. We agree, it can be a little confusing, but it’s one ingredient most home bakers will have in abundance!


My Blondies have a sponge-like texture. Have I messed them up?

Brownies and Blondies can be overbeaten and this can incorporate a lot of unnecessary air into the mixture. Lots of air gives a sponge-like texture so be sure to only beat for as long as the recipe states and don’t get too carried away!

Blueberry Cake

My blueberries all sank to the bottom. What’s going wrong?

Nothing, so long as it tastes amazing, no one will notice the precise coordinates of your blueberries! If you see the photo of our Blueberry Cake, nearly all the blueberries have sunk through the cake to the top when the cake is turned out. This is perfectly normal as heavy, moisture-laden fruit will sink through a light batter. Even the power of cake can’t stop gravity! Coating the blueberries in flour, preheating the oven so it is ready to go and adding them just before baking can help to set the blueberries in a more evenly dispersed fashion, but there’s still a chance they’ll sink.

Blueberry Muffins

I made blueberry muffins and the fruit sank to the bottom. What is going wrong?

A smooth and runny batter makes for a light and moist sponge, so we try to ensure the muffin texture is right rather than worry about the distribution of the fruit. Heavy fruit will always sink to the bottom and there are a number of variables (mixing, oven temperature etc.) that can play a part in how the muffin turns out. Make sure your oven is at the correct temperature and try giving your muffin mixture a quick stir to agitate the berries from the bottoms of the cases. Some bakers swear by covering the fruit in flour before baking, but we don’t with our muffins. So long as they taste good, that’s all that matters!

Do you use fresh blueberries?

Yes, we always use fresh blueberries in our muffins.

Blueberry Pie

Why does the recipe ask for two quantities of Basic Pie Crust dough?

The recipe is doubled so that you can make the base of the pie and the top.

Can I substitute blueberries for cherries using the Blueberry Pie recipe?

Changing the fruit will be an experiment, so it’s better to use a recipe specifically for Cherry Pie. If you wish to use cherries to make a pie we recommend you use the variety of sour cooking cherries rather than the sweet eating cherries.

Brooklyn Blackout Cake

The custard for my Brooklyn Blackout Cake is lumpy. What can I do?

When it comes to making any custard, constant whisking is crucial. We have heard of home bakers achieving good results with an electric hand whisk. It will take some elbow power if you are whisking by hand, but your custard should come out smooth with plenty of vigorous whisking. The consistency of the cornflour/water mixture should be thick like wallpaper paste. Whisk vigorously while adding the water little by little. Adding 50ml extra of water may help to smooth out lumps in the cornflour mixture. When cooking the custard, it should be whisked constantly and heated for the required time. Allow it to cool fully in the fridge before spreading it onto your sponge layers, it should have a margarine-like texture.

This cake is difficult to make. What is going wrong?

Don’t worry, the Brooklyn Blackout Cake is technically one of the most advanced recipes in the book. Some recipes require more practise to get right, so don’t feel disheartened!

Are cornflour and cornstarch the same thing?

Yes, cornflour is the UK name and cornstarch is the American name.

How do you get the cake crumb topping so fine?

We use a food processor to blitz the crumbs. It’s very hard to achieve the same texture by other means!

Should I keep my Brooklyn Blackout Cake in the fridge after it has been made?

We suggest keeping it in the fridge if you don’t intend to eat it on the same day. But we recommend it is taken out of the fridge at least an hour before serving to return the sponge and custard frosting to the right texture.

Can I use this custard frosting to finish my cupcakes?

By all means experiment and if it works, let us know! If you think it tastes good, then it is a success. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to trying new combinations.

I have left over chocolate custard. Can I freeze it?

We have never tried to freeze our recipes so we can’t say whether something will freeze well or not. Kept in a fridge in an airtight container it should last a few days, although we always recommend eating your goodies as soon as possible. One good tip for leftover custard is to microwave it for a few seconds and pour it over ice cream – delicious! It can also be poured over various other desserts, so have fun experimenting.

Carrot Cake

Can I use Carrot Cake batter to make cupcakes?

Yes, use the batter as you would in the Vanilla Cupcakes recipe and bake for a similar amount of time. Keep an eye on it and only remove from the oven when a skewer comes out clean.

Chocolate Muffins

The recipe seems very light compared to other muffin recipes in the book in terms of flour. Is this right?

All recipes are correct as written and we adjust the flour amounts to give a different texture to our fruit muffins.

Can I make the muffin batter the night before?

It should be okay to make it in advance, although we think that baking them from fresh will always produce the best results. However, bear in mind that any raising agents will lose some of their power the longer they sit around in a batter. This is why it is okay to make pancake batter in advance, as they don’t need the boost from the raising agents.

Coconut Meringue Cake

Can I substitute fresh coconut for grated coconut?

Please try to use the exact ingredients stated by the recipe or you risk it going wrong. Using different ingredients will affect the outcome, so do try to get fresh coconut for this recipe rather than substituting. Also, cracking into a coconut is a lot of fun! Most supermarkets will have fresh coconuts available or you can try local specialty stores.

How do I take a coconut apart?

Use a screwdriver to carefully pierce the eyes of the coconut and then strain the coconut water into a jug. Making two holes will allow the juice to pour out of one hole and air to break the seal. You can then place the whole coconut into a preheated oven and after around ten or fifteen minutes the coconut will crack! Open it up, scoop out the coconut flesh and grate it. Ideally, if you wish to substitute ingredients it is always best to bake the recipe first with the ingredients as written so you have a benchmark for how it should turn out.

How can I remove the coconut flesh carefully?

Having the coconut in smaller pieces will make scooping out the flesh much easier but make sure to use a dull table knife or a spoon and to take your time. A tool called a coconut shredder can be purchased from specialty shops and markets – it looks a little like a meat grinder and will clean out a coconut in no time flat.

What is the difference between the juice in a coconut and coconut milk?

Coconut milk has been processed, the oil has been extracted and the flesh has been ground up. The juice found naturally in a coconut is not coconut milk, it’s sweet water.

Double Chocolate Cookies

Why are my cookies so thin?

It’s very important to whisk the eggs, sugar and vanilla for at least 5 – 7 minutes on a medium-high speed, allowing the mixture to thicken and lighten in colour. This gives a nice thick mixture which allows the resulting cookies to be chewy and about 1cm thick. Also, please make sure you’re using good quality, 70% dark chocolate for this recipe, as milk chocolate or a weak chocolate won’t give good results.

Gingerbread Men

How long does the gingerbread dough need to relax?

Ideally, the dough should be left overnight, but if you have less time then at least 2-3 hours in the fridge should do the trick. This allows time for the strands of gluten to adjust to their new shape and for moisture to spread more evenly throughout the dough.

Ginger Cupcakes

What is ground allspice and is there a substitute?

Allspice is the ground powder of a single dried fruit (pimenta dioica) which was given its name as it was thought to taste like a combination of cloves, nutmeg and cinnamon. There isn’t a substitute for it as it is not a spice mix but an ingredient in its own right.

Can I use fresh ginger?

Fresh ginger will probably give a very harsh taste if you use it raw. Our Ginger Cupcakes are made with stem ginger soaked in syrup which gives a lovely sweet, mellow ginger flavour. We always recommend using the ingredients listed in the recipe – they’ve been chosen for a good reason!

Hummingbird Cake

Is Hummingbird Cake anything to do with The Hummingbird Bakery?

We’d love to say this delicious recipe of crushed pineapple, bananas, pecans and cream cheese frosting (think of a Carrot Cake on a tropical holiday) is something to do with The Hummingbird Bakery, but alas, no! Hummingbird Cake is thought to be an authentic Southern American recipe. The exact origin of the name is unknown, with some believing it to be because the cake is sweet like the nectar that hummingbirds feast on. However it came about, the delectable Hummingbird Cake has made its way into our cookbook and has even featured as a Daily Special Cupcake!

Key Lime Pie

The lime filling isn’t as green as the picture. Have I made it wrong?

So long as you’ve used the recommended amount of lime juice and zest, it will be just the right colour.

The recipe asks for condensed milk. Is this sweetened or unsweetened?

Condensed milk is sweetened. ‘Unsweetened’ condensed milk will be labelled as such.

Is condensed milk the same as evaporated milk?

Not necessarily – it mainly comes down to differences in the sweetness of the two ingredients. Condensed milk will be sweetened as standard unless labelled as ‘unsweetened’. Evaporated milk, on the other hand, is not sweetened.

Lavender Cupcakes

The recipe specifies using dried lavender flowers. Can I use fresh lavender instead?

Yes, fresh lavender should work beautifully. Be sure to wash the flowers thoroughly if they are just-picked!

Lemon Cupcakes

I made some lemon cupcakes and they don’t rise as much as my other cupcakes. Why is this?

Any cupcake mixture which has fruit, fruit puree or fruit juice in it will generally not rise as much as other mixtures. When we make our Lemon Cupcakes they tend not to rise much and they rarely come out of the oven domed, they may even sink a little in the centre. Just remember, it’s all about how they turn out once frosted and the taste and texture will vary between different recipes

Lemon Loaf

How long do I need to mix the flour and milk for until it becomes light and fluffy?

A couple of minutes should be fine, try not to overbeat or the gluten in the flour will become overworked. Always make sure your electric mixer is on the right setting for the task, as overzealous beating is the enemy of a light and fluffy sponge!

Is the Lemon Loaf supposed to be dense?

Yes, the Lemon Loaf is a denser cake than our cupcakes.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Lemon Meringue Pie

The lemon filling for my Lemon Meringue Pie is turning out runny. What’s going on?

A common mistake is undercooking the filling. Also, make sure you allow the filling to cool down and set completely before baking it a second time with the meringue topping. If possible, you can prepare the base the night before to allow it to cool completely in the fridge before adding the topping the next day.

What sized lemons should I use?

Regular medium sized lemons should be fine, as large lemons might add too much liquid and prevent the filling from setting completely. We don’t specify a particular quantity (millilitres) of lemon juice in the recipe, but be sure not to choose particularly small or oversized lemons.

The lemon filling for my Lemon Meringue Pie is turning out runny. What’s going on?

A common mistake is undercooking the filling. Also, make sure you allow the filling to cool down and set completely before baking it a second time with the meringue topping. If possible, you can prepare the base the night before to allow it to cool completely in the fridge before adding the topping the next day.

The lemon filling isn’t as yellow as the picture. What’s the secret?

We don’t use any colouring when making our Lemon Meringue (or Key Lime) Pie. The colour of the egg yolks will affect the colour of the lemon mixture, but it won’t be sunshine yellow.

Should the meringue be completely crispy?

This meringue is not as crisp as the meringues you can buy ready made in shops and you should only be aiming for a very light, golden crust. The meringue itself will be relatively soft and fluffy.

What kind of meringue do you use on the Lemon Meringue Pies you sell from your bakeries?

We use the Simpler Meringue topping rather than the Italian Meringue topping.

The recipe calls for condensed milk. Is this sweetened or unsweetened?

Condensed milk is sweetened unless labelled as ‘unsweetened condensed milk’. Both sweetened and unsweetened condensed milk are widely used in baking but it is important to use the appropriate variety as called for by the recipe.

Is evaporated milk the same as condensed milk?

Evaporated milk is unsweetened, whereas condensed milk will be sweetened. Unsweetened condensed milk is also used in baking but it will be labelled ‘unsweetened’.

Marshmallow Cupcakes

My frosting came out pale yellow and not off-white as pictured in the book. Why is this?

The yellow colour will come from the type of butter you use, so don’t worry! Sometimes very small variations in ingredients will have an affect on the outcome, but so long as they taste great that’s all that matters.

New York Cheesecake

New York Cheesecake

Should the cheesecake be brown on top?

It should be a light golden brown colour when fully baked, so don’t worry about it seeming overdone. The colour may be patchy with some areas going browner than others. This is normal and cheesecakes rarely have a perfectly uniform top colour.

Do you have any tips to help get my cheesecake right?

Make sure that the base is completely cool before putting the cheesecake mixture on top of it. Cracks across the top can happen, but the water bath is there to help prevent this. Run a knife around the edge of your cheesecake as soon as it comes out of the oven and this will help to prevent cracking as it shrinks away from the tin.

Nutty Apple Loaf

My Nutty Apple Loaf is very crumbly. Is this how it’s supposed to be?

This recipe is meant to give a very crumbly loaf. We used to serve this in our shops and it never sliced neatly! It’s a tasty, wholesome cake that requires serving on a plate (as shown in the recipe book picture). We think it tastes delicious and it’s worth a few crumbs!

Why do I need to leave the batter in the fridge for a few hours/overnight?

Always follow the recipe as instructed as there will be a good reason for every stage. Leaving the batter for a while will allow the ingredients to get to know each other and will make the end product taste delightful.

Pecan Pie

Pecan Pie

The filling of my Pecan Pie hasn’t set properly. What is going on?

A common mistake is to substitute dark corn syrup for another ingredient such as golden syrup. Although another similar ingredient may work, we recommend that you follow the recipe to the letter and use the ingredients stated or you risk a potential Pecan Pie catastrophe. Timing is also vital when it comes to pie fillings, whether it’s our Pecan Pie or our Lemon Meringue Pie, so always ensure you bake it for at least the recommended time.

When can I serve my Pecan Pie?

We recommend allowing the pie to cool fully before slicing and serving.

Pumpkin Pie

Can I use my own pumpkin puree?

We recommend that you always use the ingredients stated in the recipe, but if you feel brave enough to adapt them and it works, by all means do what you find easiest or tastiest.

Where can I buy pumpkin puree?

Stockists will vary, but lots of supermarkets and online shops do stock tinned pumpkin puree.

Is there a difference between tinned and fresh pumpkin?

There is less moisture in tinned pumpkin, which will mean the pie takes less time to set.

Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie

The raspberry cream on my Raspberry Cheesecake Brownie is not the same colour as the brownies in your bakery. Why is this?

We always use fresh raspberries in our Raspberry Cheesecake Brownies, but the colours can vary from bakery to bakery. The reason for this is that the juiciness of the berries can change throughout the season, depending on how fresh they are and this will alter the amount of raspberry juice released into the cream topping. Also, beating will break down the fruit and release yet more lovely juice, so the colour and consistency of the cream will vary according to how much the fruit is mixed around. But as we often say, if it tastes good, then it’s right!

Do I bake the brownie layer first?

No, be sure to follow the recipe instructions to the letter. In this recipe the brownie layer and the cheesecake layer are baked together.

When I make this at home the brownie layer can rise up through the cheesecake layer at the edges. Is this normal?

Yes, this is to be expected. In our bakeries we trim the edges off (cook’s treat!) and don’t actually serve them as it improves the presentation. But this is purely a matter of preference and they taste just as delicious left au naturel.

Red Velvet Cupcakes

Red Velvet Cupcakes

For questions relating to red food colouring, please see the section ‘Food Colouring’.

My Red Velvet Cupcakes are turning out brown. What have I done wrong?

Using ‘natural’ red food colouring will often cause the sponge to come out orangey brown in colour rather than red. Make sure you use a good quality red food colouring that isn’t natural. A variety of colour gels, pastes and liquids can be found online.

My sponges are coming out with high peaks. Is this to be expected?

Yes, Red Velvet Cupcakes are notorious for rising into high peaks. If you wish you can use a sharp serrated knife to remove the peaks before frosting, or you can simply frost around the peaks. The discarded peaks can even be whizzed up in a food processor and used to make the Red Velvet crumbs used to decorate your cupcakes.

Do you use white wine vinegar in your Red Velvet Cupcakes?

We use distilled white vinegar in our shops when making our Red Velvet sponge (this contains no alcohol).

Can I use a different kind of white vinegar instead?

If you have white malt vinegar or white cider vinegar, they can all be used instead of white wine vinegar. We recommend following all our recipes as instructed, but this is a relatively small substitute. Whatever you do, don’t use a dark vinegar as this will affect the taste.

Spinach and Cheese Muffins

What consistency should the muffin dough be?

Muffin mixture is a thick batter but should not be a dough. Over-mixing your muffin mixture will cause the gluten to become overworked and will lead to denser muffins. This is why we knead bread dough before baking. The batter is little more than ensuring that the ingredients are combined, it doesn’t need vigorous mixing. Using an electric mixer makes it very easy to overwork cake and muffin batters.

Can I bake muffins in advance?

Our muffins are best eaten fresh as leaving them a while will cause them to harden. Indeed, in our bakeries we only sell them in the mornings and usually on weekends. They will keep for a few days in an airtight container, but allow them to cool down completely first.

Can I freeze these muffins?

Fresh is always best. We’ve never tried to freeze our recipes, so see what works for you. As muffins are quite dense compared to our cupcake sponges they may need to be reheated a little to perk them up, but we’re not sure if this would impair the taste. The spinach in the muffins may go stringy or mushy if it is subjected to so much mixing, baking, freezing and reheating!

Can I loosen up the mixture as mine seems a little too stiff?

A few splashes of milk will help if you think your muffin batter needs loosening up a little, but the recipes are correct as written so should be followed wherever possible.

This mixture is really stiff. How do I mix it?

The recipe suggests using a wooden spoon as it simply becomes much too firm for an electric mixer to handle.

These muffins are a little too hot for me. Can I reduce the amount of cayenne pepper?

Yes, by all means reduce or omit the cayenne pepper if you aren’t a fan of hot spices. We think it gives our muffins the perfect kick, but it won’t harm the recipe to leave it out.

Can I make the muffin batter the night before?

It should be okay to make it in advance, although we think that baking them from fresh will always produce the best results. However, bear in mind that any raising agents will lose some of their power the longer they sit around in a batter. This is why it is okay to make pancake batter in advance, as they don’t need the boost from the raising agents.

Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes

The recipe asks for lots of digestive biscuits. Are you sure this is the right amount?

Yes, the recipes are correct as written. We frost and decorate our cupcakes very generously as this is the American-style, so we recommend our home bakers use as much of the ingredients as specified.

The strawberries are sinking into the batter. What has happened?

Not all sinking is a sign of failure! If you put heavy fruit with a high water content into light sponge batter it will more than likely sink. We bake various fruit cupcakes in our bakeries and we are happy to serve ours with fruit that has sunk. If you take a look at the photo of the Strawberry Cheesecake Cupcakes you will see a dark red layer at the bottom – this is the fruit settling. It’s all about taste and we don’t think it makes a difference to the deliciousness or visual appeal of these little beauties!

The strawberries have gone a bit mushy. Why is this?

Under the heat of an oven a little piece of strawberry doesn’t stand a chance, so it is perfectly normal for them to go a bit gooey and jammy. This is how they are supposed to be. If your oven is at the right temperature and you’ve baked the cupcakes for the recommended time, they should turn out as expected.

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