Life is Sweet Recipe FAQs


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.

Alabama Little Layer Cake
Bundt® Cakes
Pumpkin Caramels
Bourbon Bread Pudding
Grape Jelly Cupcakes
Birthday Cake Cookies
Cornmeal Cookies
Soft Molasses Cookies
Red Velvet Ice Cream
Crawfish Pie
Vinegar Pie

Alabama Little Layer Cake

I’m worried my cake will collapse. How can I stabilise it?

Cake doweling is easy to get hold of and can help to stop a tall cake from slipping and falling over. Either wooden or plastic cake dowels will work, just be sure to choose ones that are made for this purpose so they are food safe. We recommend not choosing one that is too thick and it is also important to bear in mind you will need to have some extra frosting glaze on hand to cover up the point where the dowel is stuck in.


How many sponge layers does an Alabama Little Layer Cake have?

Our version has twelve sponge layers as this is easy to do using three sandwich tins in a home oven. Many traditional Alabama Little Layer Cake recipes have fifteen layers but it is down to preference.


Can I add or remove layers?

Feel free to remove layers, this will affect the aesthetic impact of this tall cake but it won’t affect the taste. You’ll also be left with more of that lovely frosting glaze, which can be poured over if you wish. If you want to add layers, this is possible but do experiment and don’t make it so high that it will become too unstable. It’s really like a game of cake Jenga – stack as high as you feel confident to!


Can I reuse the baking parchment when baking the sponges?

Yes, feel free to reuse the baking parchment but be sure to remove any baked on sponge from the tin to prevent it from burning when baked.


What is soft ball stage?

Soft ball stage is the point when the liquid sugar can be dropped into cold water and it forms a soft, squidgy ball which can be pressed flat between your fingertips. This occurs at around 110C (230F).


What surface should I glaze the cake on?

The glaze is runny but will start to set and firm up as it cools, however, we recommend placing your cake sponges on a plate or cake stand with enough space to catch the frosting glaze as it drizzles down the sides.


My frosting is seizing up and going too firm while I’m frosting. What do I do?

This is normal for the frosting glaze to firm as it cools, so don’t worry. Just put the pan of frosting glaze back onto a low heat and stir gently until it is back to the desired consistency for glazing.


How were Alabama Little Layer Cakes traditionally made?

American bakers would use a sturdy cast iron hoe cake pans which would allow the sponge layers to be baked one by one over a stove.

Bundt® Cakes

What is a Bundt cake?

A Bundt cake is a distinctive cake in the shape of a ring. It is baked in a special Bundt tin which leaves a hole in the centre and often creates subtle grooved patterns onto the top of the cake when it is turned out – these are decorative and also allow for any glaze that is poured over the cake to drizzle down in a nice even pattern.


What is a Bundt tin/pan?

Called a Bundt tin (or Bundt pan), this special ring shaped tin was made popular by the bakeware manufacturers Nordic Ware who gave the pan its name.  Bundt tins are deeper and hold more batter than traditional British ring moulds or Savarin moulds.


Where can I buy a Bundt tin/pan?

Bundt pans have been in widespread use by home bakers since the 1950s, so there are a number of manufacturers still making Bundt tins that will be available in any good cookware shop or online cookware supplier. Bundt tins come in an assortment of beautiful designs and in a range of materials from non-stick coated steel to silicone. Online suppliers of Bundt tins in the UK include Amazon UK and large department stores.


Pumpkin Caramels

Where can I buy tinned pumpkin from?

We recommend tinned pumpkin purée which is made and sold by the can by brands such as Libby’s. It is available from online stockists such as Amazon UK and also in specialist American food stores. Some large supermarkets will also stock it in the American foods aisle.


Can I purée my own pumpkin?

Yes, but we do recommend tinned pumpkin if possible, as it will save a lot of time. Deseed your pumpkin and slice into pieces and bake at a medium heat until soft. Be aware that if you bake and puree your own pumpkin you may end up with more or less liquid in your pumpkin depending on its water content and how long it has been baked for. For this reason, we really do recommend tinned where possible. Also, fresh pumpkin is a seasonal squash, which means it is not available all year round like its tinned counterpart.


Is there a substitute for pumpkin if I can’t find it in season or in the supermarket?

You could try using butternut squash or even sweet potatoes to mimic the taste of pumpkin.

Bourbon Bread Pudding

Can I allow the pudding to soak for longer than 20 minutes?

The pudding can be left to soak for up to 5 hours in advance. Be sure to keep it covered so that the liquid doesn’t evaporate.


Which brand of bourbon should I use?

Bourbon is an American whiskey mostly made from corn and we couldn’t resist a splash (or more) to give our recipes an authentic kick of flavour. For the real deal, we recommend Kentucky bourbons such as Jim Beam, Wild Turkey or Maker’s Mark. That said, American bourbon is made all across the US and needn’t be limited to the American South, so if you have a bourbon you’d like to bake with, go ahead. Tennessee whiskeys such as Jack Daniel’s would also work well. And if only UK whiskey is to hand, we won’t tell anyone if you don’t!

Grape Jelly Cupcakes

What is grape jelly?

Grape jelly is a popular seedless grape preserve (jelly or jam, depending on whether you are from the US or the UK) made from Concord grapes.


Where can I buy grape jelly from?

American grape jelly brands that you would find in the supermarket in the USA include Welch’s and Smucker’s. Online stockists include Amazon UK and specialist American food stores. Some large supermarkets also stock it in the American foods aisle. There are also recipes available to make your own grape jelly from red grapes, if you’re not fazed by jam making!


If I can’t find or make grape jelly, is there a substitute?

We would suggest using blueberry jam or any other dark fruit/berry jam.

Birthday Cake Cookies

What is butter extract?

Butter extract is a flavouring that adds a sweet and creamy butter flavour to cakes, cookies, pancakes and waffles. It is the magic ingredient that will make your cookies taste just like birthday cake, so don’t be tempted to leave it out.


Where can I buy butter extract?

You can buy butter extract from specialist baking suppliers and online suppliers such as Amazon UK.


Is butter essence the same as butter extract?

Yes, as with vanilla, these words are usually interchangeable. Just avoid the world “flavouring” as these tend to give an artificial taste to your bakes.

Cornmeal Cookies

What is cornmeal?

Cornmeal is a course flour (also called meal) that is made from ground dried corn (maize). In the UK, the cornmeal generally available is called polenta but this is technically an Italian dish rather than the cornmeal that makes it. In the US, yellow cornmeal is widely used in baking and in coating fried foods and is much paler in colour than polenta, which is a brighter corn-coloured yellow. American cornmeal is available in different textures (made by different grinding processes).


Where can I buy American cornmeal?

You can buy American cornmeal online or in the American foods aisles in selected supermarkets. However, you can also substitute cornmeal for polenta if you wish.

Soft Molasses Cookies

What is molasses?

Molasses comes from the sugar refining process when sugar cane or sugar beets are processed into sugar. The juice extracted is boiled down and sugar crystals are extracted during this process. The liquid left over is molasses.


What molasses do you recommend using in this recipe?

We recommend using pure cane molasses, such as Meridian Natural Pure Cane Molasses. Don’t use blackstrap molasses in this recipe, as this is too bitter.


What is pure cane molasses?

Pure cane molasses is made with sugar cane is processed. This type of molasses is commonly used in baking and cooking as it is sweet.


Can I substitute pure cane molasses for other kinds of molasses?

We don’t recommend substituting the type of molasses suggested in the recipe as different types of molasses can taste completely different. Light molasses is mild and sweet and is perfect for using in baking. Dark molasses comes from the second boiling and is thicker, sweeter and darker. Light and dark aren’t too dissimilar and both are used in baking. Blackstrap molasses is made during the third boiling of molasses. It is packed with a higher concentration of vitamins and minerals than lighter molasses and it is bitter in flavour. It is often used in savoury dishes, such as barbecued meat glazes.


Where can I buy molasses?

You can buy molasses online or from health food shops.


How do I make American pancakes?

Add a little vegetable oil to the pan (you can add butter to the vegetable oil for a bit more flavour). Let this heat up on a low to medium heat until hot enough to fry. Spoon around 4 tablespoons of your pancake batter into the centre of the pan (for generous American-sized pancakes) and let the pancake cook undisturbed for 1-2 minutes. Wait until little air bubbles form on the top surface of the pancake. Lift a corner of the pancake to check it is nicely browned and then flip it over if you think it is ready to cook on the other side. Once flipped, let the second side fry until golden for around 1 more minute. If the pan isn’t that hot (it gets hotter the more pancakes you fry from the residual heat) then allow a minute more for either side.


But how do I make the PERFECT American pancakes?

We have a few top tips for fluffy American pancake perfection. Read our blog How to make the perfect American Pancakes.


Why do you use both bicarbonate of soda and baking powder in some of your American pancake recipes?

Some recipes contain ingredients which are acidic, which is great if you want it to react with bicarbonate of soda, but if the mixture is heavy this can require an extra boost from baking powder. Pancake mixture is thick and it needs all the help it can get in forming carbon dioxide bubbles and rising, so we bring out the big guns by adding both raising agents. Sometimes you want flavour and tang from acidic ingredients, such as buttermilk, and you don’t want to lose that by adding too much neutralising bicarbonate of soda.


Can I swap bicarbonate of soda for baking powder? Or vice versa?

We don’t recommend it. Their purpose in baking recipes is to react and release carbon dioxide to create air bubbles, but they react differently. While these two raising agents may both look like similar white powders, they work in different ways to create different results in baking. Sodium bicarbonate is alkaline (base) and reacts with acid. Bicarbonate of soda contains only one ingredient: sodium bicarbonate. Baking powder is a mixture of bicarbonate of soda and dry acids, meaning it is double acting, reacting both when wet ingredients are added and when the resulting mixture is heated.


Is bicarbonate of soda the same as baking soda?

Yes, bicarbonate of soda and baking soda are the same. They both contain only one ingredient: sodium bicarbonate.


Are baking powder and bicarbonate of soda the same thing? What’s the difference between bicarbonate of soda and baking powder?

No, they are different. Baking powder contains bicarbonate of soda and other ingredients, whereas, bicarbonate of soda only contains one ingredient which is sodium bicarbonate. Bicarbonate of soda is much stronger than baking powder. The key difference is their reactions with acid. Bicarbonate of soda (sodium bicarbonate) reacts with acid in ingredients such as white vinegar and buttermilk to product carbon dioxide and this serves to make the pancakes fluffy. When bicarbonate of soda reacts with acid, it reacts straight away and sometimes you want the process to happen gradually. Baking powders on the other hand contain sodium bicarbonate but also have other acid ingredients that work their magic at different stages, one such acid requires both moisture and heat to react. Baking powder works by reacting once when moisture is adding and a second time when heat is added. This gives double the leavening properties and lets air bubbles form throughout the process. When baking a cake or making pancakes, the egg in the mixture is also rich in proteins and these set when heat is applied and this traps in the air bubbles released by the baking powder. Baking powder already contains an acid which neutralises the sodium bicarbonate in it, so unlike bicarbonate of soda, it doesn’t need an acidic ingredient introducing to the mix.


Why do you put a certain amount of bicarbonate of soda or baking powder into a recipe?

When developing our recipes we try to balance just enough raising agent with whatever it is in the recipe that it is reacting to. Too much bicarbonate of soda in a recipe (i.e. there is not enough acid for it to react to) and you can be left with a metallic taste.


Can I let my pancake batter sit?

For the fluffiest pancakes, we recommend making the batter quickly and frying right away or you will lose air from the mixture.

Red Velvet Ice Cream

My Red Velvet Ice Cream is turning out salmon pink. What am I doing wrong?

This is perfectly normal and there’s nothing wrong. The red gel paste food colouring will give the ice cream a salmon pink colour which will deepen over time as the ice cream is stored. We’re going for a Red Velvet inspired flavour and you won’t get the deep red colour that you’d see in a Red Velvet cupcake or sponge without using a lot of expensive food colouring.


How do I make ice cream? Should I use a machine or make it by hand?

We recommend using an ice cream maker for convenience, but you can certainly make ice cream by hand if you don’t mind taking a little extra time over it. If using a machine, instructions for use vary so be sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions. To make your own ice cream without a machine, visit our blog post on Tips for Making Homemade Ice Cream.


How long does homemade ice cream keep for in the freezer?

The sooner you eat your ice cream the better as it will keep its fluffiness and won’t form too many ice crystal. Ice crystals form around the edges of the tub when the ice cream melts and refreezes and ruin the texture. Homemade ice cream will keep for around two weeks.

Crawfish Pie

What are crayfish/crawfish?

Crayfish, also known as crawfish or freshwater lobsters, are freshwater crustaceans that look like very small lobsters. The crayfish species available to eat in the UK is the Signal crayfish (aka the North American Signal crayfish) and these have red undersides (these are not to be confused with the UK’s Native White-clawed crayfish, which are much smaller than the Signal crayfish and are critically endangered).


Do I have to use crayfish tails? Can I use prawns or shrimp instead?

Yes. Crayfish tails are traditional in this recipe, but you can use the same amount of prawns or shrimp.

Vinegar Pie

What vinegar should I use to make Vinegar Pie?

We recommend you use white vinegar to make your Vinegar Pie. This can be white cider vinegar, white wine vinegar or white malt vinegar.


What does Vinegar Pie taste of?

Vinegar Pie tastes like lemons! There’s a slight tang of vinegar in the after taste, but it is certainly an interesting flavour rather than a strong or offensive one.