Freshly home-baked vanilla sponge coated in colourful whipped frosting and star-shaped sprinkles – everything a cupcake should be. Choose from cakes with delectable names like Red Velvet, Mississippi Mud Pie and Banana Cream. Each cake from The Hummingbird Bakery is a miniature work of art.
This heavenly place of all things sweet landed in our lives on Portobello Road in early 2004. Founder and creator of the most fluffy, gorgeous and delicious cakes around, Tarek Malouf, a former journalist had always been inspired by his lifelong love of authentic American home baking and his disappointment that nowhere in London seemed to do it that well. He wanted to provide Londoners with an alternative to supermarket cakes and French patisseries. But it wasn’t until a few years later, on a trip to see his aunt in North Carolina, that he visited a traditional American drugstore selling homemade cakes, ice creams and brownies. “I remember loving the smell and welcoming feel of the place,” he says. “The taste of the cakes really took me back to my school years. So I drew up a one-page plan focussing on the look and feel of how I wanted The Hummingbird Bakery to be- a happy, friendly place, full of colour and the smell of home baking – and that’s exactly what we’ve created.”
In his quest for the perfect recipe, he gathered tips from family, friends and vintage cookery books. “A cupcake is a little larger than a fairy cake and has a flat, not domed, top,” he explains. “But the real difference is the taste. Authentic cupcakes should be really light and moist — you have to make them fresh each day — and the icing should always be butter cream or cream cheese, not hard fondant.” The secret? It’s all homemade, every day. Because everything is fresh, at the end of each day any leftover cupcakes go to the homeless.
Selling 250 cupcakes on the first day of trading, The Hummingbird Bakery’s simple and unfussy recipes proved to be incredibly popular. By summer 2004, the cupcake craze really took hold, with celebrities, newspaper columnists, diarists and visitors from all over the world flooding to the bakery to indulge in one of their delicious cupcakes.
Walk down Portobello Road any day and don’t be surprised by the near mile-long queues extending from Hummingbird Bakery. The red velvet seating outside has also become a favourite meeting spot in the neighbourhood. Hummingbird opened their second shop in South Kensington in May 2007 and quickly afterwards they opened stores on Wardour Street, Spitalfields and Islington.
Today the bakery sells an average of 22,000 cupcakes per week and has become one of the most highly celebrated and iconic high street brands. And they now look set to get even bigger. Tarek, has just signed a deal to open 20 Hummingbird Bakeries across the Middle East over the next 10 years, from Dubai to Jordan. “We get a lot of Gulf customers in the summer, especially in our South Kensington store. They know all about us,” he said. And they are also looking to franchise across the UK. For Chi Madubuike, who grew up in Manhattan but is studying at the London School of Economics, the Hummingbird provides a taste of home, "As soon as I walked in, it felt familiar. I love the colours and icing and decorations. It makes me feel like a kid again. Coming here is something I look forward to all week, like a reward if I've worked hard." Cupcakes are definitely touched with magic. And although you may never own Carrie's shoe collection, or live in Manhattan, or meet the perfect Mr Big, you can always, but always, eat cake.
Tarek is always constantly coming up with refreshing ideas on how to boost his company. He adds, "I don't see what I do as a craze. Cupcakes have been around in the US for more than 100 years.” However he has noticed how the market has been developing and has adapted to it, "The only difference now is people buy them in shops rather than baking them at home." Two years ago Tarek launched an online shop, which has helped to boost sales. The fact that these mouth-watering cupcakes can be delivered to our doorstep has made them irresistible!
Let's not forget the release of The Hummingbird Bakery Book, which exceeded expectations by selling over 550,000 copies in 2009 and being credited as a Top 10 Bestseller on Amazon. The bakery’s second cookbook, The Hummingbird Bakery Cake Days was published in 2011 by Harper Collins and has already sold more than 130,000 copies. The Hummingbird Bakery has brought their mouth-watering yet easy-to-make cupcakes to kitchens everywhere and this time they show readers how to bake delicious cakes and other sweet delights for those days of the year that are just meant for indulgence - such as birthdays, Easter, Valentine's and Christmas - as well as those times when you just deserve a little treat.
We’ll have our favourite Red Velvet please!
View The Hummingbird Bakery on the Domus Nova Shopping Guide.
Hummingbird Bakery, 133 Portobello Road, London W11; hummingbirdbakery.com