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Ingredient FAQs


A cake is only as good as its ingredients!

From butter to buttermilk, if you have a question about the ingredients listed in our cookbooks, you’ll probably find the answer listed here. Be sure to check back as our pages are updated regularly.



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.


Food Colouring
Marshmallow Fluff
Raising Agents
Chocolate Chips
Cocoa Powder
Corn Syrup
Cream Cheese
Digestive Biscuits
Double Cream
Flavourings, Essences, Syrups and Powders
Popping Candy
Unsweetened Condensed Milk
Vanilla Essence
White Wine Vinegar



    What type of butter should I use?

    Always use good quality unsalted butter unless the recipe specifies otherwise.

    Can I use margarine instead of butter?

    Ideally, we don’t recommend it. Always use the best quality unsalted butter you can afford unless the recipe specifies otherwise.

    Ultimately, if you prefer the taste of another margarine or spread, by all means adapt the recipe to suit your personal preference.



    Where can I buy buttermilk?

    Stockists vary depending on where you live, but chain supermarkets have been known to stock buttermilk in the dairy aisle.

    Can I use reduced fat buttermilk?

    We recommend full fat buttermilk as our recipes require the right amount of fat content to work correctly.

    I can’t buy buttermilk in my location. What can I use instead?

    We always recommend using the correct ingredients without substitutions to avoid recipe disasters, but it is possible to mix 50% whole milk with 50% yogurt to get a similar ingredient.

    However, we haven’t tried this for ourselves so it’s only a suggestion if you’re really struggling.

    Can I make my own buttermilk?

    We think real buttermilk is the best for our recipes, but some home bakers have found methods for making a buttermilk substitute.



    Your first book says to use medium eggs but your second book says to use large. Why is this?

    The two cookbooks have different publishers, so this is simply a change in the house style. We always use large eggs in our recipes, but there won’t be a big difference if you use medium eggs instead.


    Food Colouring

    Your books recommend Dr Oetker Red Food Colouring, but I can’t find it. What’s going on?

    Dr Oetker decided to discontinue their Red Food Colouring in March 2011. In subsequent printings of our books we have removed references to Dr Oetker.

    Manufacturers are at liberty to stock whichever products they choose, so we can only recommend that our bakers search for another non-natural red food colouring liquid, paste or gel brand that works for them - currently Sugarflair and Wiltons are good options.

    If Dr Oetker is discontinued, what shall I use instead?

    You’ll have to see what your local supermarket stocks or you can search online. We currently recommend Sugarflair or Wiltons.

    Why did Dr Oetker discontinue their red food colouring?

    A change in EU food regulations has meant that many baking manufacturers are choosing natural food colourings over non-natural colourings.

    In terms of baking, natural colourings aren’t as vibrant once cooked and they won’t provide the right depth of colour needed for cakes such as Red Velvet.

    Can I use Dr Oetker’s natural red food colouring instead?

    Dr Oetker’s red food colourings are now natural, so they are unsuitable for use in our Red Velvet cakes as they will turn the sponge brown.

    Natural food colouring will not achieve the right depth of colour needed to make a Red Velvet sponge.

    We recommend that you use the Silver Spoon Red Food colouring available at most supermarkets or search for alternative non-natural red food colouring liquids, gels or pastes.

    What brand of red food colouring does The Hummingbird Bakery use?

    We use a brand of red food colouring which is currently not available to retail customers.

    How do you make the red stuff that is sprinkled on your famous Red Velvet cupcakes?

    This is crumbled Red Velvet sponge. Simply crumble some into a food processor, blitz and sprinkle!

    Can I use a red colouring paste or gel? If so, how much do I use and should I dilute it?

    You can, but as it is a deviation from the recipe, you’ll have to experiment with quantities. Add it little by little until you have the desired depth of colour.

    The important thing to remember is to keep the volume of liquid the same as you would have achieved with liquid colouring.

    Before you add it to other ingredients it should be a dark red colour and it is advisable to mix the paste with some water first to achieve the right consistency.

    Can I use ‘Artificial Cochineal’ food colouring?

    There are older types of food colouring available on the market and these should work so long as they are not natural food colourings.

    My food colouring is only 38ml but the recipe states 40ml, will that affect the colour?

    If the bottle is 38ml, we recommend that you use the whole bottle. As the amount is negligible, it shouldn’t make a difference to the overall colour of your sponge.

    What colour does a Red Velvet sponge made with natural red food colouring go?

    It will go orangey brown rather than deep red. This is why we don’t recommend using natural food colouring in our Red Velvet recipe.


    Marshmallow Fluff

    Where can I buy Marshmallow Fluff?

    Some shops do sell Marshmallow Fluff, but this will depend on your location. The best place to purchase Marshmallow Fluff is online. Various suppliers have stocked it, including larger branches of Asda, Budgens and TK Maxx.

    Home bakers have also told us they’ve bought their Marshmallow Fluff from Amazon, Ocado and eBay. Some sweet shops and specialist US shops stocking American food are a great place to try for this authentic American ingredient.

    Can I make the Marshmallow Fluff myself?

    There are recipes available to make versions of Marshmallow Fluff in your own kitchen but any homemade ingredients will be an experiment. We recommend using ready-made Marshmallow Fluff in our recipe, but it is a matter of convenience, availability and preference.

    Is Marshmallow Fluff suitable for vegetarians?

    Yes, it doesn’t contain gelatine.

    Can I use Marshmallow Fluff as topping on cupcakes?

    There’s nothing to stop you from experimenting with your ingredients, many of our cupcake innovations come from us playing around with new flavours and combinations.


    Raising Agents

    My raising agent (baking powder, bicarbonate of soda) is out of date. Can I still use it?

    Unfortunately not, raising agents won’t work properly beyond their use by date. If you have a case of unexplained sunken sponges, always check your raising agents are in date.

    It’s an ingredient most people have in their cupboards but don’t use all that often, so it can easily sit around too long and lose its magical powers!

    My cake mixture overflowed. Have I used too much raising agent?

    If you followed the recipe to the letter, then no. The amounts for raising agents are correct as written, if the batter has overflowed then it is most likely that you have overfilled your tins. We recommend you fill tins until they are two thirds full or three quarters full for muffin recipes.

    Your tin dimensions or cases might be a little smaller than ours, which may require you to scale back even further, but as a rule of thumb we recommend you leave the amount of rising room stated. Make sure all raising agents are level measurements.

    What is the difference between baking powder and bicarbonate of soda/are they interchangeable?

    No, they are not interchangeable.

    Although both are leavening agents (producing air bubbles to make a mixture rise), they work in different ways. Here is the chemistry part! Bicarbonate of soda requires an acidic ingredient and moisture to create a reaction (such as the white wine vinegar in our Red Velvet Cupcake recipe).

    Baking powder, on the other hand, has the acidic ingredient already mixed in (usually this is cream of tartar) and thus it only needs a little bit of moisture to start reacting.

    Do baking powder or bicarbonate of soda affect the taste?

    If used in the right quantities as instructed by the recipe, their taste should be undetectable. Baking powder is neutral tasting but bicarbonate of soda can give a slightly tart taste.

    Do I need to sift my raising agents?

    Sifting all dry ingredients is an important step as not only will this remove lumps but it gets a little bit more air into the mixture.

    What happens if I don’t add a raising agent?

    Quite simply, your cakes will not rise! It may be a small ingredient but it has one of the most important jobs. Make sure you don’t overlook it or your cakes will be dense and heavy.

    Can I use an organic raising agent?

    Some of our home bakers have reported that organic raising agents aren’t as powerful as standard raising agents. We haven’t tried this out in our own kitchens, but by all means do feel free to experiment with organic ingredients if you so wish.



    I want to make Apple Crumble Cupcakes. What kind of apples should I use?

    The recipe recommends using green eating apples such as the Golden Delicious variety. Granny Smith apples also give good results. Red apples don’t bake as well in our experience, they are a little too sweet and they lose their texture easily. If you can’t get hold of green apples, it will probably still work but we think they do provide that extra tangy bite.


    Chocolate Chips

    I’ve put chocolate chips into your cupcake/muffin recipe and they’ve sunk to the bottom, what can I do?

    We keep our batter thin so that the sponge remains light and moist, this means that heavy chunks of chocolate will naturally sink to the bottom.

    This is what happens in our bakeries and it’s completely normal. You can try cutting your chocolate into smaller pieces or using smaller chocolate chips.

    Also, stirring the batter just before cooking can help to distribute the chocolate a bit more evenly. Ensure your oven is always fully preheated so that the sponge starts cooking as soon as it goes in.

    What brand of chocolate do you recommend?

    We always recommend using the best quality ingredients you can afford, so ideally go for a chocolate with a high cocoa content of around 70 per cent.

    Swiss and Belgian chocolate works well so long as you stick to the 70 per cent rule.


    Cocoa Powder

    What is ‘Dutch process’ or ‘alkalised’ cocoa?

    The majority of cocoa in the UK is Dutch process/alkalised cocoa. This is treatment that involves using an alkalizing agent (zzz…almost done!) to neutralise acidity and improve the flavour.

    Dutch process cocoa is darker and has a more mellow taste than natural cocoa powder.

    What kind of cocoa powder do you recommend?

    Any good quality cocoa powder should be fine. We recommend a quality brand such as Green and Black’s.

    Many bakers use Cadbury’s Bournville brand but this doesn’t seem to give great results.


    Corn Syrup

    Where can I buy corn syrup from?

    We buy our corn syrup from an importer of US products, so our home bakers will need to find a stockist that sells imported corn syrup.

    We recommend searching on the internet to find either a local stockist which deals in imported US products or finding a suitable online shop.

    We are an American style bakery so it’s sometimes necessary to import ingredients which aren’t readily available to UK and other bakers.


    Cream Cheese

    What temperature should the cream cheese be to make the frosting?

    Unlike the butter in our frostings which should be at room temperature, cream cheese should always be used cold from the fridge or it will make the frosting runny.

    Which brand should I use?

    We only recommend using full fat Philadelphia cream cheese. Fat content is crucial in helping the recipe to turn out correctly and provides a luxurious and creamy taste.

    Can I use mascarpone/another similar soft cheese?

    No, we only use full fat Philadelphia cream cheese so we recommend that as our home bakers can easily purchase this ingredient that they use the same one we do for best results.

    I can’t purchase Philadelphia in my country. What can I use?

    As with any ingredients, if you can’t find the recommended ingredient it will almost certainly affect the final results. But in terms of locating a similar ingredient, we can’t advise on individual cases.

    We recommend that our home bakers have a look on the internet as this will be your best resource for products and stockists.


    Digestive Biscuits

    I live outside the UK and I can’t get hold of digestive biscuits for the cheesecake base. What can I use instead?

    Most countries will have their own biscuit equivalent that works well in a cheesecake base. For example, in the USA they often use Graham Crackers. Otherwise, you might need to source ingredients online.


    Double Cream

    I can’t purchase double cream where I am. Can I use whipping cream instead?

    You can give it a go, but we can’t be sure that it will work as well as double cream. Fat content is important to the texture and flavour, so try to check your chosen brand of cream is of a similar fat percentage to double cream.


    Flavourings, Essences, Syrups and Powders

    How easy is it to invent my own cupcake flavours?

    Most cakes are a simple mixture of butter, milk, eggs, sugar and flour but sometimes you might want to experiment with new flavours. As we always say, if it’s not in one of our recipes it’ll be an experiment!

    But our intrepid home bakers often want to try their own innovative flavours and this can often produce excellent results. Go for it, although it may take some trial and error to find what works!

    How do you develop your cupcake flavours?

    When we come up with our Daily Specials cupcake ranges, we go through a lot of batches to get the right balance of flavour and ingredients.

    Don’t feel disheartened if your experiments don’t work first time, just dust the flour off and keep baking!

    Where can I purchase specialist cake flavourings and ingredients?

    Specialist cook shops and suppliers often have a range of specialist ingredients, but online stores will give you the best selection.

    We can’t recommend ingredients we haven’t tried and we source our individual ingredients from various suppliers. The same goes for home bakers who are looking for ingredients in their country – we can’t recommend what we haven’t tried in our own kitchens.

    Can you recommend any stockists in my area?

    Stockist and suppliers are not our area of expertise, we use a relatively limited range of suppliers compared to the thousands that are available regionally and internationally.

    If you wish to find a particular ingredient in your area, the internet is your best bet for sourcing ingredients through shops or online suppliers.

    Can I make ingredients myself?

    We recommend you use whatever product the recipe specifies for the best results. If you choose to make any ingredients from scratch, it will be an experiment.

    I’d like to use a cordial or syrup with a different concentration to the one you suggest. Will this work?

    If you are using a different concentration of flavouring it will affect the taste and it may affect the ratio of liquid in the sponge if you’re using more flavouring to reach the same level.

    You can experiment, but always try to use a product as near to the recommended ingredient as possible for the best results.

    Can I use essential oils in my cupcakes?

    Only use an essential oil that is suitable for human consumption! Some are not meant to be eaten! If you’re in any doubt about any ingredient, don’t use it.



    What type of milk do I use?

    Always use whole milk unless the recipe specifies otherwise.

    What is the difference between unsweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk?

    There is no difference. In terms of their use in baking, unsweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk are the same ingredient.

    Our Cake Days cookbook uses the term ‘unsweetened condensed milk’ but this is simply down to the house style of our publishers and both terms are widely used and interchangeable.



    Can I leave the nuts out of my recipe?

    In many cases, yes you can, but this will change the recipe as directed so it won’t be the same as intended.

    Certain recipes such as Pecan Pie and Nutty Apple Loaf rely on nuts for their taste and texture, so it is important to use your discretion when choosing to make your recipes nut-free. If it still tastes good, then it’s fine!


    Popping Candy

    How can I sprinkle popping candy onto my cakes without losing the pop?

    Moisture in the frosting can prevent the popping candy from popping after a while, so the only way to get around this is to sprinkle it on just before serving.



    What type of rosewater do you recommend?

    We recommend Middle Eastern rosewaters which can be found at Middle Eastern/South Asian shops or online. Lebanese, Moroccan and Turkish rosewaters are the best available.

    Concentrated rose essence is also available but it has a very strong flavour and we haven’t tested this in our recipes so we can’t advise on quantities.

    Can I use a flavoured rosewater?

    Some of our home bakers have had success with flavoured rose syrups, such as pomegranate and rose syrup. If you want to try new flavours, by all means experiment so long as the ingredients are edible!


    Unsweetened Condensed Milk

    Is there any difference between unsweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk?

    When it comes to their use in baking, unsweetened condensed milk and evaporated milk are the same ingredient.

    Cake Days asks for ‘unsweetened condensed milk’ but this choice of term in the cookbook is simply the house style of the publishers.


    Vanilla Essence

    Do you use vanilla extract, vanilla essence or vanilla pods?

    We use natural vanilla extract/essence. The terminology can be confusing as some companies use extract/essence interchangeably.

    Our publishers choose whether they use the term ‘extract’ or ‘essence’, so due to a change of publishers from our first book to our second book the names are different. This is simply down to the house style of our publisher and it means the same thing!

    Vanilla essence/extract will give a different result to using seeds from vanilla pods, please only use the specific ingredient instructed by the recipe if you want to ensure the best results. By all means experiment with vanilla pods, but you may need to make a few batches to get the flavour right.

    Can I use artificial vanilla flavouring?

    We don’t recommend that you use artificial vanilla flavouring as it gives the cakes an artificial taste.



    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!


    White Wine Vinegar

    Does white wine vinegar contain alcohol?

    As the baking process makes the alcohol evaporate, the cakes won’t contain alcohol, but this will depend upon your personal or religious preferences.

    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.