Farmersgirl Kitchen

Pear Upside-down Cake from Hummingbird Bakery: Life is Sweet

Uncategorized | February 28, 2015 | By

Life is Sweet is the fourth book by Tarek Malouf, founder of The Hummingbird Bakery.  The Hummingbird Bakery was instrumental in popularising the sort of high quality bakes, loved by Americans, first  to London through the bakeries and then to the rest of the UK, through the books.  I already have a baking book from The Hummingbird Bakery, Cake Days,  but I am particularly pleased with this one, let me tell you a little about it.

Life is Sweet is organised into 10  chapters

Cakes, simple and more complex includes Gooey Butter Cake, 7Up Pound Cake, Molasses Pecan Crumb Cake, Chocolate Bundt Cake, Tunnel of Fudge Cake and Upside Down Pear Cake

Cupcakes both familiar and unusual including Banana Foster Cupcakes, Tomato Soup Cupcakes, Toasted Marshmallow Cupcakes, Honey Cornbread Cupcakes and Mint Julep Cupcakes.

Layer Cakes includes an indulgent Peanut Butter and Jelly Cake, Gingerbread Icebox Cake, Alabama Little Layer Cake, Red Velvet Crepe Cake and Appalachian Stack Cake.

Pies is full of very American Pies including, Lemon Chiffon Pie, Deep-fried Apple Pies, Blueberry Cream Cheese Pie, Vinegar Pie and New Orleans Prune Pie.

Cookies and Candies provides bite sized treats such as Soft Molasses Cookies, Black Pepper Cookies (on my list), Vanilla filled Chocolate Cookies, Lemon Drops, Turtle Cookies and Creamy Pecan Pralines.

Traybakes are one of my favourite bakes, how about Coconut Dream Bars, Red Velvet Brownies, Blackberry Limeade Bars and Texas Tassie Bars.

Pancakes are so easy to make and these lovely flavours are very tempting Black Bottom Pancakes, Pumpkin Pancakes, Cinnamon Pancake Cake and Sally Lunn French Toast.

Top your pies and pancakes with some lovely Ice Cream, Grasshopper Ice Cream, Earl Grey Tea and Chocolate Ice Cream, Fresh Peach Ice Cream and Lemon Custard Ice Cream.

Puddings to delight your sweet tooth include Praline Bread Pudding with Pecan Caramel Sauce, Brownie Pudding and White Chocolate Bread Pudding.

The final chapter features Bread and Savouries, Skillet Cornbread, Crawfish Pie, Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Loaf and Graham Crackers.

The book finishes up with some Baking Essentials about Ingredients, Equipment, Methods and Techniques.

Who is it for?
Pretty much anyone who likes baking and is looking for some different ideas to try.  It’s not aimed at beginner bakers, but if you follow the instructions there is no reason why a novice could not achieve good results.

A wide range of different bakes, each on a little out of the ordinary.  Good photographs which let you see what you are aiming for.
I can’t really think of any cons with this book, it is full of such good things.

The Verdict
I really was beginning to think I had enough baking books, that they were just full of the same sort of recipes, but this one really does have some exciting bakes in it, ones that I really want to bake.  So I give a hearty thumbs up to Life is Sweet and would urge you to go out and buy it.

I decided to make the Pear Upside Down Cake, the cake is a soft gingerbread with works so well with the caramelised pears, it works well as a cake and as a dessert.

Upside-Down Pear Cake
Makes one 23 x 32 cm (9 x 13 in) cake, to slice as desired

For the caramelised pears
6 large, ripe pears, peeled, cored ad quartered lengthways
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
40g (1 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
80g (3 oz) caster sugar
130ml (4 1/2 fl oz) Kentucky bourbon or whisky

For Cake
195g (7oz) plain flour
1 1/2 tbsp ground ginger
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg
1/2 tsp salt
160g (5 1/2 oz) unsalted butter
75g (2 1/2 oz) dark muscovado sugar
4 large eggs
170g (6 oz) pure cane molasses, such as Meridian
3 tbsp boiling water
1 q/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1. Preheat the oven to 175C (350C), Gas mark 4. Line the tin with non-stick baking parchment.
2. To make the caramelised pears, mix the pears with the lemon juice.  In a large frying pan, melt the butter and sprinkle with half the caster sugar. Put the pear quarters into the pan.  Cook for about 5 minutes until brown on one side.  Turn and cook for a further 5 minutes until the other side is brown.  With a slotted spoon, carefully remove the pear quarters and set aside to cool slightly.
3. Add the bourbon and the rest of the caster sugar to the pan and cook and stir frequently for about 5 minutes until the mixture becomes syrupy.  Pour this syrup into the baking tin and tip the tin to spread evenly over the bottom of the tin.
4. Start to arrange the pears from one corner so that they cover the bottom of the tin and are facing the same direction. Set aside.
5. To make the cake, sift together the flour, spices and salt in a bowl.
6. Using a freestanding electric mixer with paddle attachment or hand-held electric whisk, cream the butter and sugar together for around 5 minutes on a medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time on a lower speed, scraping down the sides of the bowl after each addition.  Only beat until just Incorporated.  Add the molasses and beat for a few moments longer to mix.
7. In a small bowl, add the boiling water to the bicarbonate of soda and set aside.  Add half the flour mixture to the creamed mixture on low speed.  then add the water and bicarbonate of soda and the rest of the flour mixture and mix until well Incorporated  It will look like the mixture has split, but that i correct.
8. Scrape the mixture into the tin on top of the arranged pears and bake for 25 minutes.  Reduce the oven temperature to 165C (325F) Gas mark 3 and bake for 10-15 minutes longer.  The top should bounce bake when lightly touched.  Cool in the tin for 1 hour, then run a knife around the edges of the cake. Place a tray over the top of the tin and carefully(but quickly) turn upside down.

The resulting cake is rich and treacley but not too dense, the pears  add a lovely texture to the cake and are not too sweet.  A really delightful bake and I was thrilled with comments that my version looks just like the one in the book.

The Hummingbird Bakery – Life is Sweet
100 original recipes for happy home baking
Published by 4th Estate,  Harper Collins
RRP ยฃ20

I have one copy of Life is Sweet to giveaway, you can enter by following the instructions on the Rafflecopter Widget below (UK only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Leave a Reply

    Scottish Mummy
    February 28, 2015

    Janice, this looks like a beautiful book, thanks for this review. I agree that there are too many baking books, so I'm also looking for something a bit different, and this sounds fantastic. Gingerbread is one of my favourites and I love pears so I can't wait to try this recipe. Thank you.

  2. Leave a Reply

    Keep Calm and Fanny On
    February 28, 2015

    Hard to choose just one, but I do love a very simple Cherry Cake! This pear cake looks lovely, as does the book, it's turned out just like theirs, lovely!

  3. Leave a Reply

    zoe tcm
    February 28, 2015

    I already have the hummingbird bakery cookbook which is great – especially love the oat & raisin cookie and peanutbutter cookie recipe. Liked your review and the book sounds really interesting, full of new ideas of things i'd like to bake. Thanks and good luck everyone! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Leave a Reply

    zoe tcm
    February 28, 2015

    Sorry didn't realise you had to say your favourite cake to make – the raffle copter widget is being funny on my phone. Not sure if my entry registered or not. Anyways, i love to make my triple-layer chocolate cake with caramel icing. Always a celebration cake winner! ๐Ÿ™‚

  5. Leave a Reply

    February 28, 2015

    Any.. I love cake so would be very hard to choose…

  6. Leave a Reply

    belleau kitchen
    February 28, 2015

    wow, now that is a most stunning cake!, it looks so dark and rich and I bet the combination of ginger and pear is superb. lovely review too Janice x

  7. Leave a Reply

    February 28, 2015

    This book looks like another winner from hummingbird. In terms of a favourite bake, that's a hard one…Probably creme egg brownies which are 'in season' at the moment & always go down a storm when I make them!

  8. Leave a Reply

    Choclette Blogger
    February 28, 2015

    Ahh, tomato soup cupcakes. I have heard of these before, but I'm not convinced – could be because I've never liked tinned tomato soup. Another good review Janice and as I don't have a Hummingbird book at all, I'm going to try my luck.

    Hmmm, my favourite cake – well I can't really say anything else other than chocolate cake!

    • Leave a Reply

      February 28, 2015

      Never had it in cupcakes, but I have tasted a large cake made with tomato soup, you can't taste the soupiness at all!

  9. Leave a Reply

    P Bennett
    February 28, 2015

    If all my attempts at baking came out as well as the one above then I'd never be out of the kitchen! As it is, I have to keep it simple (if I want it to be edible!) and so I stick to a simple weetabix loaf/cake, which is a bit like a tea loaf – a slice is really nice with some butter on and a cup of tea ๐Ÿ™‚

    • Leave a Reply

      February 28, 2015

      How kind, I do spend a lot of time in the kitchen! That Weetabix cake is good too.

  10. Leave a Reply

    Lynsey Buchanan
    February 28, 2015

    Chocolate Fudge Cake

  11. Leave a Reply

    Emma Nixon
    February 28, 2015

    My fav cake is a Victoria sponge with lashings of cream and fresh strawberries

  12. Leave a Reply

    February 28, 2015

    Banana Loaf Cake is my favourite to make, easy to do and can be eaten anywhere at anytime!

  13. Leave a Reply

    jen morgan
    February 28, 2015

    Carrot Cake is my fav its lovely

  14. Leave a Reply

    February 28, 2015

    My favourite cake is probably a good Victoria sponge… can't beat it!

  15. Leave a Reply

    Jemma Bond
    February 28, 2015

    I love carrot cake and I love making trifle cupcakes from The Hummingbird Bakery's last book!

  16. Leave a Reply

    February 28, 2015

    It would have to be a good old Victoria Sponge or an indulgent carrot cake topped with a thick layer of smooth soft cheese icing!

  17. Leave a Reply

    sadia iqbal
    March 1, 2015

    Oh too many, but my favourite ones are something with a little cinnamon or ginger in them.
    A classic carrot cake made with honey!

  18. Leave a Reply

    Nayna Kanabar
    March 1, 2015

    This cake looks amazing I love the way the pears are arranged. My fav cake has to be chocolate fudge cake.

    • Leave a Reply

      March 1, 2015

      Thank you, it really wasn't difficult at all and very effective. Chocolate fudge sounds good.

  19. Leave a Reply

    suzanne brzeski
    March 1, 2015

    i love carrot and ginger cake that i have made from the hummingbird cake days book- so moist and tasty….not seen this new book that is in the giveaway….but would be a lovely addition to my collection.

  20. Leave a Reply

    Vohn's Vittles
    March 1, 2015

    My favourite cake was always chocolate fudge cake but as I get older I am enjoying spices more and I'll bet this spiced cake smells amazing. The caramelised pears themselves sound fabulous, let alone added into the cake! Yours does look exactly like there one in the picture!

  21. Leave a Reply

    Kelly Koya
    March 1, 2015

    the red velvet cupcakes from the first hummingbird bakery book – really pleased to hear there is another new one out!

  22. Leave a Reply

    March 4, 2015

    If it's made really well, I think my favourite is Victoria Sponge.

  23. Leave a Reply

    Stephanie Griffiths
    March 10, 2015

    I love cake its so hard to choose a favorite , but would have to go with either chocolate fudge cake or coffee and walnut cake

  24. Leave a Reply

    Rachael Pilkington
    March 12, 2015

    I like red velvet cake

  25. Leave a Reply

    Pamela Mair
    March 13, 2015

    Chocolate cake is my go-to choice but that pear upside down cake looks delicious!

  26. Leave a Reply

    Julie M
    March 13, 2015

    Tough question, as I'm easily pleased when it comes to cake. Carrot cake.

  27. Leave a Reply

    weir shane
    March 21, 2015

    i love the oat & raisin cookie and peanutbutter cookie recipe – leanne w

  28. Leave a Reply

    Bryony Brooke
    March 21, 2015

    I can't resist lemon drizzle cake! I made a lime drizzle cake the other day and it was scrumptious!

  29. Leave a Reply

    March 22, 2015

    Cherry & Almond like my Mum used to bake

    Celia West

  30. Leave a Reply

    emily fraser
    March 23, 2015

    Victoria sponge ๐Ÿ™‚

  31. Leave a Reply

    Aimee Wright
    March 24, 2015

    I can't choose! I love cake! ๐Ÿ™‚

  32. Leave a Reply

    Patricia Avery
    March 25, 2015

    Grandma's rough cake, a family recipe that has been passed down at least 4 generations ๐Ÿ™‚

  33. Leave a Reply

    Agnรจs Gaillard
    June 12, 2016

    Nice! I did this with Armagnac (did not have Whisky or Bourbon), and substituting maple syrup for molasses. I also used salted butter as I prefer my caramel on the salty side. That was quite nice and spicy, although the cake did look much lighter than in the picture (in terms of color). My guests really liked it (the guy was really happy to the point I felt a bit embarassed towards his wife who also liked it … but well… lol ๐Ÿ™‚ I served it warm at breakfast after 10 minutes on grill mode oven

    • Leave a Reply

      Janice Pattie
      June 12, 2016

      Those sound like some good substitutions, Agnes. I guess the maple syrup would make it lighter than with molasses and Armagnac cake for breakfast sounds like a real treat! Thanks for letting me know how you got on making the recipe I really appreciate it ๐Ÿ™‚

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