Your guide to American baking ingredients

American ingrediets.

All sorts of delicious ingredients make their way into American baked goods. From plump blueberries to tart buttermilk, crunchy pecans to sweet pumpkin – these are the authentic ingredients that give your bakes a taste of the US!

Pies cooling on windowsills, stacks of gooey brownies, cookies that are chewy to the bite, light cupcakes with swirls of candy-coloured frostings – there’s a lot to love about American goodies. In both The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook and our Cake Days book, we try wherever possible to use ingredients that combine to give an authentic taste of American baking. We regularly receive questions from our home bakers outside of America about some of these ingredients. Some wish to know more about the ingredient itself and how it is used, while others wonder if there are alternatives for harder to find items.

We’ve compiled a list of some of the key ingredients that are often used in Stateside cupcakes, cakes, brownies, pies and bars. This is by no means a complete list and the ingredients we’ve included in our guide are not specifically originating from or exclusive to American baking. However, they are often featured in authentic recipes and as such, we think they’re all-important in achieving that indulgent American baked taste!


Originating in North America, sweet and juicy blueberries work wonderfully when studded through muffins or baked into a blueberry pie. These are widely available in supermarkets and fresh markets and are at their peak flavour when in season in the early summer months.


A splash of buttermilk is used in lots of American baking recipes from Red Velvet cupcakes to American pancakes. Made when butter is churned, buttermilk is tart and acidic and reacts with bicarbonate of soda to give sponges and pancakes some added lightness. Although recipes exist for making your own buttermilk substitute, we recommend using the real deal for best results in your baking. You can find it in the dairy aisle of major supermarkets and grocers.


Chocolate Chips

Thrown into cookies, brownies, muffins and more, no chocoholic can resist decadent chocolate chips. There are lots of chocolate chip brands on the market, some of the most authentic being the semi-sweet variety which are available from American food stores and online. However, any chocolate chips will work and it’s a lot of fun taste testing to find your favourite!

Corn Syrup

One of the trickier ingredients to get hold of, corn syrup can be sourced online or in specialist American stores for use in recipes such as pecan pie. This invert sugar syrup gives glossiness and sweetness to recipes as well as being an authentic American product. We don’t recommend trading in your corn syrup for alternative sweeteners such as golden syrup, as these just won’t impart the same taste to your baking as corn syrup. Glucose syrup is the closest alternative, however, if the recipe calls for dark corn syrup you’ll miss out on its rich, caramel notes by substituting.


Grown widely in several American states, these deep red berries add sharpness, sweetness and colour to baking when used dried. These fruits bring a delicious chewiness when mixed into cookie dough or studded through bars and they complement creamy white chocolate perfectly. Available in the baking aisle or can also be bought in larger quantities online.

Marshmallow Fluff

A jar of this fluffy stuff is incredibly versatile if you want to mix a little American marshmallow gooeyness into your bakes. Sold as a spreadable marshmallow crème in tubs and available at supermarkets across the UK, Marshmallow Fluff puts the fluffy middle into our Whoopie Pies and goes great on cupcakes as a topping.

Peanut Butter

A store cupboard staple, the Americans are nutty about creamy peanut butter as a baking ingredient. Peanut Butter Cookies are one of our favourite recipes from our cookbooks, but you can also stir a spoonful or two into everything from pies to bars. The saltiness of savoury peanut butter contrasts well with creamy chocolate, making it an irresistible combination for lots of US-style treats and desserts.


Pecans have found their way to the heart of American baking flavours and are commonly paired with maple syrup and sticky caramel in pies, muffins, cakes and even cheesecakes. Their neat halves also make them ideal for decorating. Hummingbird cake, cookies, brownies and muffins all get some scrumptious nutty crunch from a handful of pecans. But who could deny the deliciousness of warm pecan pie served fresh from the oven with a helping of whipped double cream?



A slice of sweetly spiced pumpkin pie is the classic Thanksgiving dessert. Fresh pumpkin can be used, but with tinned pumpkin puree giving such excellent results, it’s not worth the extra effort unless you’re keen to carve out a jack-o’-lantern. Tinned pumpkin purée also has a lower water content, so it’s quicker to bake with and less likely to turn your pastry soggy. Straight from the can, this autumnal squash can be baked into American style cupcakes, cakes whoopie pies and even cheesecakes in no time flat.

Sugar, caster, granulated, white, brown

Caster, granulated, white, brown, dark or icing – sugar makes life that little bit sweeter!

Sugar is a staple for any baker looking to rustle up some sweet goodies. Stirred into cake mixtures or dusted over the final baked creations, sugar gives cakes their sweet flavour and golden colour.

How is sugar made?

Sugar is made from sugarcane and sugar beets. White sugar is made by the process of refining raw sugar to filter out molasses and impurities. Brown sugar is less refined with higher levels of molasses and a higher water content.

Why do we add sugar when baking?

We all know that sugar makes cakes taste sweet and delicious, but aside from flavour it has several roles to play in terms of structure and texture. Sugar forms a main ingredient of many cake recipes so when added to the mixing bowl it will combine with the flour, egg and other wet ingredients to create the crumb – the basis of a good sponge. It also interacts with protein to create the structure that will hold the sponge up and acts as a stabiliser. As it is a dry ingredient it also absorbs some of the moisture from the wet ingredients prior to baking. Last but not least, when the cake begins to bake in the oven the sugar will begin to caramelise the outside of the cake so that it forms a golden crust.

Can I substitute granulated sugar for caster sugar?

Your cakes will still hold up if you use granulated sugar as both the flavour and water content are the same. Caster sugar, however, is much finer and dissolves much easier than granulated sugar which is coarser in texture. It’s best to follow the recipe when baking, as it’s a delicate science where ingredients and textures are involved. At The Hummingbird Bakery, we always use caster sugar to make our tasty treats.

What’s the difference between brown sugar and white sugar?

Brown sugar contains molasses, whereas white sugar has been processed and refined. The molasses in brown sugar gives it a richer caramel flavour and colour and a slightly higher water content than white sugar. White sugar tends to have slightly bigger sugar crystals, with brown sugar grains typically resembling caster sugar in size.

Can I substitute dark brown sugar for light brown sugar?

Light brown sugar and dark brown sugar can be used in the same quantities as the levels of sweetness are similar. They won’t achieve the same flavour or colour, however. Dark brown sugar gives a much deeper flavour of molasses than light brown sugar and may also give a darker caramel colour to your baking. We recommend following the recipe for best results, but the difference between these two types of sugar won’t make or break your cake.

Can I use Muscovado sugar instead of light brown sugar?

Muscovado sugar is an unrefined sugar which retains the strong treacle flavour of molasses. It’s very dark and sticky, retaining much more moisture than its light brown and dark brown sugar counterparts. As its flavour is more intense than other brown sugars and its water content higher, we don’t recommend using it in recipes that don’t specifically call for it.

Can I use sugar substitutes when baking?

Recipes from The Hummingbird Bakery aren’t designed to use substitutes so any alterations in the ingredients or quantities will be an experiment. Some home bakers have reported that reducing the amount of sugar and replacing it with a powdered sugar substitute can work when baking, but we haven’t tested this in our own kitchens. Substituting sugar for an alternative may alter the flavour, texture, colour and volume depending on how much is substituted. If you have special dietary requirements and wish to bake with sugar substitutes we recommend the use of specially designed recipes.

Top tips:

Always store your sugar in an airtight container, ideally in its original bag. Moisture from the air, particularly in a hot kitchen, can cause your sugar to form hard clumps.Substituting sugar or any other ingredient may give different results to those intended by the recipe, so try to follow it to the letter for the best balance of flavour and texture.




Forest Floor Dessert

A Forest Floor dessert with Frangelico Parfait rolled in Hazelnut Praline served with two Bitter Orange & Cream cheese macarons.

Festive dessert for 6

for the soil:
80 gr. self raising flour
70 gr. brown sugar
70 gr. ground roasted hazelnuts
1 tea spoon cinnamon
50 gr. cold diced butter
25 gr. cocoa powder
berries for decoration
Preheat the oven to 170° C. Roast the hazelnuts for 15 minutes. Let them cool completely. Grind the nuts and divide in two equal portions. Add the cocoa powder to one of the portions to make two tones of soil. Add half of the dry ingredients to each of the portion of nuts. Stir and then put in the butter. Rub the butter in with your finger tips, just like with a crumble.
Spread the crumble on a baking sheet with paper and bake for avout 20 minutes. Use a fork to loosen up the crumble a little if necessary. Leave to cool completely after baking and break large chunks into smaller ones. Turn your oven to 140°C.
for the moss:
2 egg whites
115gr.fine caster sugar
green food coloring
Whip up the egg whites in a (stand) mixer. Add the sugar, little by little and mix until all the sugar has properly melted, 5 minutes or so. Add the food coloring. Spread out on a baking sheet and bake to up to one hour. Leave to cool when the meringue is completely dry and break into smaller chunks. Pulse to dust in a kitchen machine.
for the green:
spray dill with a little oil and dust with sugar
for the twigs:
150 gr. chocolate
little cocoa
little cinnamon
Melt the chocolate over a pot of simmering water. Pour the chocolate over a smooth work surface and spread to about 5 mm thick. Let it set until it is starting to lose its shine (don’t refridgerate!) Make chocolate curls by shaving the chocolate with a knife at a 30° angle
Mix together some cocoa and cinnamon and powder the twigs.
for the praline:
125 gr. roasted hazelnuts
20 gr. water
½ vanilla pod
75 gr. fine caster sugar
Preheat the oven to170° C. Roast thethe hazelnuts (also the ones that go into the parfait) for about 15 minutes. Leave them to cool.
Bring 75 gr. of sugar to the boil with 20 gr. water and the vanilla. Add the hazelnuts when the syrup has reached 121° C  and remove from the heat. Mix with a spoon until the sugar starts to resemble sand. Put it back on the fire, let the sugar caramelize. Spread out onto a baking sheet and leave to cool completely. Break into smaller pieces, put them into a plastic bag and hammer them to tiny pieces with a dough pin.
for the parfait:
6 egg yolks
85 gr. fine caster sugar
150 gr. Frangelico liqueur
300 gr. whipped cream
75 gr. roasted hazelnuts
100 gr. 70% chocolate
Mix the egg yolks with the sugar and the Frangelico over a pot of barely simmering water. Constantly whisking, when the the mixture gets thicker, take it off the heat and use a mixer at high speed until the mixture has doubled in volume and has cooled down to room temperature.
Melt the chocolate over simmering water, then fold the chocolate into the egg mixture. Beat the cream and add. Finally add the hazelnuts.
Wrap the inside of a small baking tin (1 liter) with plastic wrap. Pour in the mixture en put in the freezer for at least 4 hours. Overnight is better. Put the tin into hot water for 30 seconds or so to make it come out easy. Cut the block into 6 individual squares, round the edges a little, making it more into a rough ball. Roll the parfait through the praline. Put in the fridge until ready to use.
for the macarons (batch of ± 30) :
the shells:
150 gr. ground almonds
150 gr. confectioners sugar
110 gr. egg whites
150 gr. fine caster sugar
40 gr water
yellow food coloring
Sift the almonds together with the confectioner’s sugar and divide into two portions. Take 55 gr. of the egg whites, divide this in two portions. Add (a little!) food coloring to one of the portions. Throw the portions of egg whites in the portions of almond meal, but don’t stir!
Whip up the remaining 55 gr. of egg whites. At the same time bring the water and the sugar to a boil. When the syrup reaches 118° C and you have achieved soft peaks, drizzle the syrup into the egg whites. Mix at high speed until the meringue is shiny and has cooled back to about 50° C. Divide the meringue into two portions and fold into the almonds.
Fold until its starting to get shiny, and isn’t too thick or too thin (when you pull a ribbon of the dough with a spoon it should fall back and disappear within 5 seconds) Put the mix into piping bags and pipe onto a silicone mat or baking paper in 3½ cm diameter circles. Keep them apart with at least 2 cm.
Preheat the oven to180° C
Leave the macarons to dry and form a crust for at least 30 minutes. When you lightly touch them, your finger should remain dry.
Bake the macarons for about 12 minutes on180° C.
Turn them half way.
Take them from the baking sheet and leave them to cool.
for the filling:
50 gr fine caster sugar
15 gr. water
40 gr. egg
25 gr. egg yolk
80 gr. soft butter
150 gr cream cheese
40 gr. good marmalade
10 gr. fresh passion fruit juice
Bring the sugar and the water to a boil. Heat the syrup  to 120° C. Whip up the egg and the egg yolk until it has become lighter in color. Add the boiling syrup. Keep beating until the mixture has completely cooled.
Beat the very soft butter (not melted!) until it thickens. Then add the cooled egg mixture and incorporate on low speed. Mix carefully! Finally, add the cream cheese that you have loosened up with the marmalade and the passion fruit juice.
Pipe the cream onto the shells and pair them. Put them in an airtight container in the fridge until use.
Start with the soil. Arrange some twigs. Place the parfait and the macarons. Finish with accents of moss-meringue, the dill, and dehydrated cocoa for patches of snow. Put some red berries for contrast.

Bitter Cookies? The history and a recipe.

Bitter Cookies? The history and a recipe.

Black Sheep

Black sheep
black sheep

Bitter is kind of like the awkwardly loud uncle you don’t learn to appreciate until at a later age. As a baby, any of bitter’s attempts to entertain your palate is met with projectile spitting and a variety of grimaces only babies can produce. As a toddler you quickly learn to simply avoid him. That attitude usually persists, and works fine apart from the occasional unexpected run in. Until that tender age, when a royal dash of adolescent disgust is added to the equation, and, -in all honesty- it is starting to look like bitter and you will never get to know each other.

But after all them sweet cheerleaders and salty jocks, and after fooling around with all shades of sour, and who knows even some umami here and there, sooner or later bitter is likely to catch your attention again.

Ear wax

Who didn’t accidentally and thoughtlessly put his finger in his mouth after a good ear poke as a kid?

For a lot of us, our first taste of bitter comes straight from our own body. Let’s not digress, but what I mean is this; bitter seems a lost cause from the get go with that sort of advertising!
When booze enters our lives, just around the same age as when you start driving a car (…), it turns out the weird uncle might have been the best thing that never happened to us. Time to catch up! Bitter is here to stay. Cheers.


These crackled almond cookies are a Dutch classic. In flavor they are very much related to Italian amaretti, with a more chewy interior. The very specific and pleasant bitter undertone comes from the use of bitter almonds. Nowadays apricot pits are used, don’t ask me why, it’s probably cheaper. They are also related to the ‘macarons de Nancy’, the precursor to the now so fashionable French macaron.
The ingredients and technique used are very basic, but you will find yourself operating within very narrow parameters when it comes to moisture in the dough and getting them baked just right. They are fickle, but very rewarding when you get it right. Be prepared to produce some very tasty duds before you find the ‘soft spot’ for this great classic Dutch cookie.
Bitter almonds have had a bad rep for a while. But they are back with a vengeance! The minute traces of amygdalin, yielding glucose and cyanide when ingested, easily evaporate  when the bitter almonds are heated in the oven. If you feel uncomfortable working with bitter almonds you can substitute it with some bitter almond oil. Working only with sweet almonds is also a possibility, but your cookie will be devoid of that very specific bitter undertone.


(makes about 30 cookies)
125 gr. blanched almonds
  25 gr. bitter almonds
150 gr. fine sugar
   2  egg whites (more or less)
edible wafer paper (optional and highly recommended)


First off, heat your oven to 200° C and put in the bitter almonds for about 60 minutes to get rid of the amygdalin. Towards the end of that hour, boil water in a small saucepan. Throw in and blanch the bitter almonds for about a minute to easily peel off the skins. Make sure to dry them after you have skinned them.
Preheat your oven to 185° C.
Put all almonds in a kitchen machine and grind them as fine as your machine can manage. Put the sugar and the almonds in a stand mixer and mix well. If you are working with almond oil, mix in a few drops with the egg whites. Add the egg whites a bit at the time and mix on low speed with a paddle until the dough smooths out (a few minutes). The consistency should be so stiff that piping it is quite a challenge. If piping is a breeze, you can bet your sweet **s your cookie will ooze to a flat disk.
To make life easier you can use edible wafers to pipe onto. You will find your dough will tend to stand taller, for moisture is being sucked towards the wafer instead of oozing over your baking sheet. Pipe the dough in 2 cm rounds onto the wafer paper. After baking and cooling,  breaking off the excess paper is a breeze.
After piping the rounds, use a damp towel or the palm of your hand to gently push down the cookies into a nice round shape.


Bake in the middle of the oven on 185° C for about 15 minutes. Turn the tray halfway the bake for even browning. Keep a close eye on them for the last few minutes. They are very easy to over bake. Bake until golden brown.
Let the cookies cool completely on a rack and break off the excess wafer paper if using.

Ingredient Guide: Flavourings, Essences and Syrups

Ingredient Guide: Flavourings, Essences and Syrups

Ingredient Guide: Flavourings, Essences and Syrups

Explore new dimensions of flavour in your baking with delicious flavourings, edible essences and sweet syrups.

One thing we love about cupcakes is their ability to take on so many different flavours.

In our development kitchens at The Hummingbird Bakery we get to play around with all sorts of different ingredients to create new and exciting cupcake flavours. To do this, we often use edible food flavourings, essences, extracts and syrups – and it’s so easy, any home baker can give it a go.

Flavour can come from wet ingredients or dry ingredients, for example, we use a sprinkle of cocoa powder in our famous Red Velvet cakes to give an added depth of chocolate. Liquid essences are handy to have in the cupboard and are an economical means of adding variety to your baking as they have a long shelf life and a small bottle can go a long way.

Flavourings can broadly be divided into artificial (or synthetic) flavourings and natural flavourings. In natural essences, often an essential oil has been extracted from the plant or fruit, but when a synthetic essence is made the flavour is achieved by combining various existing chemicals to create a blend of flavours identical in smell and taste to the natural ingredient.

Want to experiment with some new flavours at home? In this Ingredient Guide, we will be looking at some of the liquid flavourings, essences and syrups that can be added to your baking:


Flower Essences

Baking with flower essences can add a subtle, perfumed flavour to cake sponges, cookies and frostings. Violet, lavender and rose essences are some of the most popular flower essence flavours.

Fruit Essences

Using a fruit essence rather than fruit itself can give a more intense flavour. It also means fruit doesn’t have to be added to the sponge which can alter both the texture and colour. Strawberry, raspberry, and blueberry are all delicious berry essences, while orange and lemon bring a sharper citrus flavour. Banana essence gives a powerful synthetic banana flavour, so add little by little so as not to overdo it.

Candy Essences

Capturing the sugar rush of the candy shop is easy with flavoured candy essences like bubblegum, butterscotch, marshmallow and candy floss to pick and mix in sponges and frostings.

Nut Essences

For a delicious nutty flavour, a splash or two of nut essence can transform your cakes and cookies. Almond and hazelnut work especially well when paired with other ingredients in your cake such as fruit and chocolate. If you have a nut allergy, avoid nut essences as you would any nut ingredients.

Vanilla Essence, Extract and Vanilla Bean Paste

As flavours go, it doesn’t get simpler than vanilla. A good quality extract or essence will give added vanilla notes to your sponges and frosting, ideal for baking up a batch of classic vanilla cupcakes in a rainbow of frosting colours.

Artificial vanilla flavouring can taste quite synthetic, so we don’t recommend using this unless you’re specifically seeking a more artificial-tasting vanilla flavour.

Vanilla bean paste is a much thicker mixture of vanilla beans, sugar and water and can be used sparingly as an alternative to vanilla extract.

Other essences commonly used in baking include coffee, rum, brandy and coconut.


Syrups are much less concentrated than essences so are often needed in larger quantities when used in baking.

These may be natural plant syrups such as maple syrup or a concentrated, flavoured syrup. Drinks manufacturers like SodaStream sell concentrated soft drink syrups in flavours like cola and lemonade, these can also be added to cake mixtures and frostings to create fun flavours.

A word of warning: make sure the flavourings, essences, extracts and syrups are all completely edible and are suitable for baking with before using.



Luctor et Emergo; Zeeuwse Bolussen

Managing the Water

Secretly I enjoy the way all of us here in the Low Lands are stumbling into 2012. After days of continuous rainfall and storms coming in, the water levels are rapidly rising. A small stretch of dike in the North has broken, but much worse has been avoided so far by doing what the Dutch were born to do, or so it seems; managing the water.

In some parts of the country dikes are broken on purpose to give way to the water in a controlled way. Storm barriers are lowered, risen, unfolded, or whatever which genius technical way they have come up with to protect us from the ever hungry rising water.

Don’t you love it when a system works? These are the moments that your hard earned tax money is worth every cent you paid, and more! For instead of huffing and puffing and dragging sacks of sand around, I can sit here behind my computer, with dry feet and not worry about a thing. ‘Cause I got some one watching out for me, and all of us out here!

The Dutch province of Zeeland (“Sealand”) is, when it comes to water, the “epitome” of what it means to be living at or under sea level. Looking at this map, I guess you can figure out why.

provincie Zeeland

Luctor et Emergo

The slogan on their weapon shield reads “Luctor et Emergo”, translating into “I struggle and emerge”. Even though that slogan goes back a long time and actually refers to the struggle against Spanish occupation in the 16th century, the average Dutchman will associate Zeeland with the biggest disaster ever to hit the province on the 1st of February 1953. In a big storm and the flooding that followed, almost 2000 people drowned and 100.000 people lost everything they owned; their houses, their livestock, everything…
They struggled, together with the rest of the country and did indeed “emerge”. I an epic mission never to let this sort of thing happen again, they constructed this little baby;


Zeeuwse Bolussen

Brought to Zeeland by the bakers of the Portugese Sephardic Jews who were forced to flee north at the end of the 15th century, these sticky sweet rolls, traditionally shaped in a spiral, quickly became popular with the locals as well, to such an extent that the “Zeeuwse Bolus” has become the signature bake of the province in modern days.

That is another thing the Dutch are quite good at; all through history the Netherlands has been a refuge and safe haven for people on the run. Or should I say; another thing the Dutch WERE good at, because nowadays, even though the biggest part of the world still thinks of The Netherlands as a liberal and tolerant place, the Dutch authorities are sending kids who were raised here out of the country just to set an example.

Let this recipe for “zeeuwse bolussen” remind us all how something really good can come from opening up to “strangers” in dire need! Luctor et Emergo indeed…



500 gr. All Purpose Flour
7 gr. Salt
5 gr. Instant Yeast
320 gr. Lukewarm Milk
75 gr. Unsalted Butter
250 gr. Brown Sugar
2 TBS cinnamon
zest of one lemon


Combine the flour, yeast, zest and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Work in the softened butter with the tips of your fingers. Add the lukewarm milk. Depending on your flour, you may have to add a little more milk or need to hold a little back. Start with 300 gr. of milk and add more if needed; what you are looking for is a slightly slack dough that will be easy to roll out in strands.

Mix until the dough is well developed, it should pass the window pane test; approximately 10-15 minutes on medium low speed.
Lightly oil a container, transfer the dough and coat all around with the oil for a first rise of about 45 minutes.
After 45 minutes, divide the dough into equal pieces of about 45 grams. You should end up with 14-16 dough pieces.
Form the dough pieces into balls and let them rest for 20 minutes, so the dough will be slack enough to form into strands.
First roll out out all the balls into short strands of about 20 cm.

Mix the brown sugar with the cinnamon and cover your work surface with it .

Then roll out the strands in the sugar mixture to a length of about 40 cm. Cover the work surface with a little oil to make it a lot easier!
If the dough really resists, you might have to go for a third round of rolling strands after giving it another 10 minutes to relax.
Shape the strands into spirals or knots. The spiral is the more traditional way of shaping, but since the rolls come out of the oven really dark brown, I prefer to knot them, just to avoid associations that I won’t go into here and now,

For spirals: start in the middle and just drape the dough in circles. It is okay to make it look a little rustic and not too neat!

For knots: Place a strand horizontally in front of you. Take the ends and form two loops, leaving some space in the middle for proofing. Make a knot on each side of the loop. Place the formed bolus on a baking sheet, cover and let them proof until puffed and doubled in size, for about 1 hour.

Preheat the oven to 250°C/475°F.

Bake the “Zeeuwse Bolussen” for about 8 minutes. You want them to be just done, so keep a close eye on your oven. Too long and they will be crusty, too short and they will be gooey! Be careful with the brown sugar, it will burn quite sudden, and quite fast. Take out the rolls the moment the brown sugar is in the process of caramalizing, but don’t let them go over the edge! Stop the baking proces immediately after taking the rolls out of the oven by placing the rolls on a rack to cool.

Bolus krakelingmodel


Bolus rond model