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Decorating Tips FAQs

Want to know how you can get our signature Hummingbird frosting swirl at home?

Have your cupcakes looking picture perfect with our decorating tips on how to frost and finish your bakes with ease.

Unfortunately we can’t answer individual queries via the blog. Baking has many variables and it takes practice.

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.


Frosting swirl
Frosting storage
Frosting preparation
Cupcake Classes and Training Courses

Frosting swirl

How can I get that signature Hummingbird frosting swirl right?

Our bakers frost a lot of cupcakes to get this right, so practise makes perfect! 

Where can I get a step-by-step guide to doing the Hummingbird frosting swirl?

In the back of our Cake Days book (published by HarperCollins) there is a step-by-step guide to how we do our Hummingbird frosting swirl.

How do you get the frosting to cover the whole sponge?

Getting the frosting into the edges takes a lot of practise, but the best way to think of it is to make a generous volcano of frosting. Spread the frosting gently downwards so that it neatly fills the edge between the sponge and the case then take your palette knife and turn the blade in a circular motion with one hand as your other hand turns the cake in the opposite direction. This ‘double twist’ needs to be one smooth movement. However, cake decoration is like learning to write – you need to find a method and a style that you find easiest. Our bakers train for a long while to perfect that Hummingbird swirl so don’t think you’re doing anything wrong as it is harder than it looks! You can always carefully remove some frosting and try again.

Do you recommend a straight or a cranked/angled palette knife?

Hummingbird bakers use both, it is simply a matter of personal preference.

What size palette knife blade do you use?

A palette knife with around a 4 inch blade is easier to manoeuvre, but technique is more important than tools when it comes to frosting.

Where can I purchase kitchen supplies?

Supermarkets, specialist kitchen equipment retailers and online shops tend to offer the best selection.

Can you recommend piping nozzles and bags for my cupcake decorating?

As we don’t use piping nozzles and bags to ice our own cupcakes, we can’t recommend any from experience. Some people prefer the piped frosting look, but we like to cover our sponges completely to keep them deliciously moist.

Frosting storage

Can I make my frosting in advance and store it for later use?

Yes you can, if it is sugar frosting (Vanilla and Chocolate) it tends to keep quite well. Store the frosting in the fridge in an airtight container and it will keep for a few days. When ready to use, leave it at room temperature for an hour and re-whip. Cream cheese frosting needs to be eaten within 48 hours.

Can I frost a cake the night before?

We always recommend you make your cakes to eat on the day wherever possible – it always tastes better fresh. But if you frost it the night before, it should keep well. When storing frosting make sure it is well covered or kept in an airtight container. We don’t recommend you refrigerate the cake as this will cause it to harden and will dry out the sponge. Make sure your kitchen isn’t too hot as this can melt your frosting.

Frosting preparation

My cream cheese frosting isn’t turning out right. What am I doing wrong?

We recommend you always use full fat Philadelphia Cream Cheese. No other substitutes will give the same results. Also, make sure the cream cheese is cold before use as this will keep it firm for mixing.

My cream cheese frosting is going runny. How long should I be mixing my cream cheese frosting for?

Beat the icing sugar and butter mixture for at least five minutes, but after adding the cream cheese only beat for a minute or two. If you overbeat cream cheese frosting it will split and become runny. As soon as you get the desired consistency, stop beating. Runny icing is usually due to overbeating, hot kitchen temperatures and using the wrong type of cream cheese. We always recommend using full fat Philadelphia Cream Cheese. Remember, you can overbeat cream cheese frosting so don’t get carried away!

How long do I beat my Vanilla or Chocolate frosting for?

Be generous when beating your Vanilla and Chocolate frostings. More than five minutes should achieve the right consistency.

Why is my Vanilla or Chocolate frosting grainy?

You must cream the icing sugar and the butter for at least 5 minutes to get it light and fluffy. This will smooth out any lumps of icing sugar in the process.

Why is my Vanilla or Chocolate frosting runny?

You may have added too much milk. Beat again and try adding in a little more icing sugar until it reaches the desired consistency.

I want to get my buttercream frosting as close to white as I can. How do I do this?

If we want to make white buttercream frosting we use buttercream that hasn’t been coloured. The longer you whip it, the paler it will become. You can purchase ‘whitener’ to make the frosting pure white – this is available online or in specialist cook shops. However, we don’t use whitener to frost our Cakes by Consultation wedding cakes unless it is specifically requested.

I live outside the UK and my frosting is turning out lumpy. Is something going wrong with my icing sugar?

Different countries will have different types of ingredients at their disposal. Some icing sugars may be slightly coarser and this may affect the final product.

The frosting is too sweet for my taste. Can I reduce the amount of sugar?

You can try to add less icing sugar but this will change the texture and make the frosting more runny.

Can I use a sugar substitute such as a sweetener instead of real sugar in recipes?

We don’t recommend recipe substitutions, but by all means experiment and see what works for you.

I left my buttercream frosting for a few hours and it has hardened. Is this normal?

Yes, buttercream frostings tend to lose moisture and firm up when left. Beat it again gently until you have the right consistency and it should loosen up.

Why do buttercream frostings harden if you leave them out?

If you leave buttercream frosting out it loses moisture and this can cause it to harden slightly. Always keep buttercream in an airtight container if you intend to keep it at room temperature before frosting or serving.

Can buttercream frostings be frozen?

We recommend all cakes and frostings are made fresh, as they are in our onsite bakeries each day, as this will give the best results. However, if you wish to freeze them we’ve heard positive responses from our home bakers. Simply take the frosting out of the freezer and leave to defrost completely in the refrigerator. A spoonful of icing sugar and a little more beating should plump it up and refresh it ready to frost.

Can I make my frosting in advance?

Yes you can, although we do recommend you ideally bake and frost on the day for the best results. If you make it in advance, you can store it for around 48 hours in the fridge in an airtight container. Leave it at room temperature for around an hour and rewhip to plump it up. If you need to save time, prepare the frosting in advance rather than the sponges, as they won’t keep.

Can I pair different frostings with other sponge recipes?

If you wish to experiment, feel free to try new things! Chocolate frosting works well with vanilla sponge and vice versa for vanilla frosting and chocolate sponge. Cream cheese frosting also works very well with chocolate sponge. See what takes your fancy!


What kind of sprinkles do you use on your Vanilla Cupcakes?

We buy our sprinkles from a wholesale supplier called Culpitt, so they aren’t available for retail buyers. We create our own mixture of stars and strands to decorate our signature Hummingbird Vanilla Cupcakes.

Cupcake Classes and Training Courses

Do you run or know of any cupcake/baking classes or training courses?

As of yet, we don’t run any classes or courses, except for an children's cupcake decorating class in our Richmond branch during certain weekdays, more information can be found here.

In terms of recommendations, training, classes and courses aren’t our area of expertise so we can’t endorse any schemes. Finding the right class or course for you will depend on your location, budget and the skills you wish to learn. Search online, scour the local listings and ask around for recommendations.