Cookbook Review: The Hummingbird Bakery LIFE IS SWEET

The Hummingbird Bakery is quite a famous bakery in London for authentic American cakes and desserts. The first Hummingbird Bakery in London was started by Tarek Malouf in 2004. Life is Sweet is Tarek’s fourth best-selling cookbook which I’ll be reviewing today as part of the Cookbook Review series for this month.

The Hummingbird Bakery LIFE IS SWEET by Tarek Malouf

Also read: Cookbook Review: Building a perfect meal


Born in Lebanon Tarek Malouf grew up in London and fell in love with traditional American family cakes, bakes and other confectionary while he was studying in The American School here in London. He opened the first Hummingbird Bakery in Notting Hill on the famous Portobello Road and the first batches of cupcakes sold out completely.

His love for indulgent, high quality cakes and bakes loved by Americans only grew further when he was working with America’s ABC News Network. It was then that he realised that the Brits were missing out on American homebred style confectionery flavours as this was almost non-existent in the UK.

He even took up baking courses in America to understand the different ingredients and techniques under the art of baking. Like most of us who love cooking and baking, Tarek too tried out his bakes first by letting his family and friends taste it. I’m sure it was a hit amongst them and that gave him the confidence of starting his very first Hummingbird Bakery.

Tarek has written various best selling cookbooks and a number of ebooks alongside The Hummingbird Bakers and he has always been in the forefront of the bakeries flavour creations as their chief taste tester. Life of Sweet is his fourth cookbook.

In 2017, Tarek was honoured with the MBE for services to baking and confectionery. This was announced in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List 2017. It was because of him that Londoners were able to taste the authentic home baked-style American desserts, cakes, pies, etc.

According to the Hummingbird Bakery, Tarek’s favourite treat from the bakeries is the Black Bottom Cupcake. These cupcakes have a spoonful of chocolate chip cheesecake baked into a rich chocolate sponge topped with cream cheese frosting. That is just lovely, isn’t it?


The Hummingbird Bakery is known to have everything baked freshly every day in their in-house bakeries with talented bakers, pastry chefs and cake decorators. At the bakery, they ensure that all their bakes taste as close to home baking as possible.

Today the bakery is an iconic brand and has a number of bakeries here in London. It also has franchises in Dubai. Even being on a lockdown here in the UK, you can still order cupcakes, cakes and other bakes from their bakeries.

This bakery has a wide range of American style home baked cakes, bakes and desserts with options like cupcakes, brownies, pies, cheesecakes, layer cakes, etc. The bakery popularised the Red Velvet cake in the UK. It continues getting more and more flavours to the public every month with their ‘Monthly Specials’ series. If you’ve got a birthday, wedding or any other celebration then you can always order a custom-made cake from them. If you prefer baking the cake yourself then look out for this book Life is Sweet.


The reason I’ve chosen Tarek’s cookbook as the second cookbook to feature in this  Cookbook Review series is that, this book is easy to follow. It has a lot of recipes which are dear to most of us, of course, with a very American way of making it. Life of Sweet has layer cakes, pancakes, pies, cupcakes, cookies, traybakes, etc. which are easy to follow and taste amazing too.I chose this book mainly because I was inspired by Tarek’s story and I’ve read that he hopes his work as an entrepreneur can help to encourage others starting a life for themselves in the UK to follow their dreams. This is exactly the motivation I need as a blogger this year.


As described by Tarek himself, this cookbook ‘Life is Sweet’ has recipes which you’re probably not familiar with or have heard of before. This book is perfect if you want to learn various skills and techniques used in American baking while delving into American history through its cakes and bakes. This book will also give you an idea of how the Southerners in America like their desserts. The book has recipes from church group members, restaurant and coffee shop favourites, old-fashion recipes only known to specific regions, vintage recipes made with odd ingredients, etc.

Tarek Malouf’s best selling cookbook for happy home baking


  • 7Up Pound Cake
  • Tomato Soup Cupcakes
  • Peanut Butter and Jelly Cake
  • Vinegar Cookies
  • Black Pepper Cookies
  • Red Velvet Brownies
  • Blackberry Limeade Bars
  • South Carolina Fig Ice Cream
  • Bourbon Bread Pudding
  • Crawfish Pie

I like how all the recipes are so varied, innovative. Yet they are so unique in its own way at least for this side of the world. I live in the UK for those who don’t know yet. It is the perfect book to learn more about American cooking and baking.


Famous recipes and some newer ones

This book not only speaks about the various famous recipes now known to us like the famous Birthday cake cookies, Lemon Chiffon pie, Graham Crackers or a chocolate Bundt Cake. As a cookbook, this book delves into various specialities from unexplored American regions giving more emphasis to Southern world of American baking. Apparently, down south things are slower and much sweeter. This cookbook definitely helps home bakers in the UK explore this world of baking with the help of Tarek.

Carrot & Walnut Traybake

Explore American baking with Life is Sweet

You’ll find recipes from New York City but also from place down south like North Carolina, Atlanta, New Orleans, Dallas, etc. This book has old fashioned recipes only known in specific regions, treats that were show stoppers, cakes that need multiples steps and careful consideration, but also some easy to make recipes that could be whisked up in minutes yet tasted as good as the longer versions.

This book gives you a little introduction into the history of the South and also the United States as a whole. The narrative interrelation between the use of old ingredients and some newer lesser known ones. Fruits like peaches from hotter places like Georgia and oranges from Florida are used to make satiable desserts and cakes with the addition of their freshness and zest to zing up cakes and pies.

Life of Sweet also speaks of recipes and ingredients like peanuts and sweet potatoes used by the African slave communities in their day to day cooking.

If you want to understand how Southerners like their desserts, just mix together some chocolate and marshmallows along with some bourbon. You’re surely in for a treat!! And not ignoring the Holy Trinity of a typical Southerner: Pecans, Pumpkins and Bourbon. For those who don’t know what Bourbon is, it simply is an American whiskey made by distilling a mash primarily made of corn, from Kentucky. A close replacement for it here in the UK would be the Tennessee whiskey like Jack Daniels.


I’ve recreated quite a few recipes from this cookbook already and I love the results.

Carrot and Walnut Traybake was inspired by this cookbook and it was a definite hit!!

The red velvet pancakes were adored by my husband as his birthday surprise brekkie. I took inspiration for the recipe from this book but ultimately made it my own.

Recently, I even tried my own version of the upside down pear cake and it was so so good!! Sharing the recipe soon. Stay tuned!

With V-day soon approaching I’m leaning towards baking some red velvet brownies later today. Shall update the result on my Instagram so make sure you are following me there. Click here.


This cookbook Life is Sweet introduces you to a variety of different recipes.

Using different sweetener:

Until around World War 1, Molasses was imported to America from the Caribbean and used as the main form of sweetener because Sugar was comparatively very expensive. Molasses is still used in American baking as it makes the cake rich, moist and irresistible. They also use treacle in their baking as added sweetness and richness.

Boozy cakes and cupcakes:

I love boozy desserts and I’ve made bespoke whiskey or brandy cakes before and they’ve been a hit amongst my fondant custom-made cake customers. American baking uses Bourbon, Orange-based liqueurs like Triple Sec, Cointreau or Grand Marnier, etc. commonly in some of their cakes and other bakes.

Fruits like pears, bananas are generally caramelised with some butter, lemon juice, some liqueur/rum/ booze of choice, sugar and some spice before using in various cake or cupcake recipes.

Use of non-conventional ingredients:

You can use anything from mayo to tomato soup in baking or maybe even some vinegar to make a vinegar pie. American vintage recipes use a lot of non-conventional ingredients which you wouldn’t normally associate with baked desserts.

Mayonnaise is generally substituted in cakes instead of butter and oil. It makes the cake extremely delicious and moreish. I’ve experimented with this before and I honestly love it. That’s the only way I’d ever have Mayo in desserts.

Apparently, vintage American recipe books first introduced the concept of adding carbonated soft drinks to cakes and other recipes. For example: the 7Up Pound Cake is a super moist cake with the addition of 7Up. The lemony fizzy drink also gives the cake a slightly citrusy kick.

Back to Basics:

Tarek also made sure to add some baking basics and essential advice towards the end of the cookbook. He gives you a direction for the use of some basic ingredients and their available substitutes. You’ll also find a list of equipments and some of Tarek’s go-to ones. There’s also a detailed tutorial on Sponge Making and frosting. I’d recommend this book to home chefs who would like to learn the basics of American baking, techniques used and also if you just want to have fun while baking for your family and friends.

You can find the book here.

He also teaches you how to make the basic American Flaky Pastry.

Upside-Down Pear Cake


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Have a lovely day!!

2 Comments Add yours

  1. Meenal Jhala says:

    Very nice! I have Tarek Malouf’s Home Sweet Home and it’s fantastic too.

    1. Thanks Meenal! Yes, I love his recipes!! It’s quite fun!!

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