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.
Flavourings, Essences, Syrups and Powders
Unsweetened Condensed Milk
White Wine Vinegar
ButterWhat 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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve put chocolate chips into your cupcake/muffin recipe and they’ve sunk to the bottom, what can I do?