Richard Burr discusses free-from week on Great British Bake Off

Richard Burr
03 September, 2015

Our resident GBBO baker gives his verdict on the highs and lows of free-from week.

Crikey! This week had so many obstacles I’m surprised it wasn’t later on in the series. 

One of the main problems in doing free-from baking is finding substitutes for ingredients that will behave (and taste) similar to what you are replacing. Everything can be a potential weak link as Ugne found out in every bake, the poor love. One way I like to get around this is to try to make up a completely different cake altogether. There are so many resources to find simple workable free-from recipes that you can start from scratch and play with a whole different discipline of baking.

For the signature, I’d say incorporating flavour was the biggest challenge. 

Avoiding fruits like apple and pear would be my first rule; no matter how much you reduce them, they just won’t carry enough flavour! Making the sponge with syrups instead of sugar is also a bit of a hurdle; the batter can be really wet, potentially leaving you with a wet, dense sponge. Adding sweetness in the form of dried fruits, or more reduced ingredients (like molasses) can save the introduction of too much wet syrup.

Doing something so unfamiliar in the technical can be both a blessing and a curse.

Pitta breads need to be thin, or they won’t get their hollow inside; something that with a bit of practice is easy to judge. Sadly technicals are brutal so the poor bakers didn’t have this luxury. Luckily for them, it looked like no one knew the correct method, so they retained a level playing field.

Making a decent ice cream is really difficult especially when you can’t use dairy!

The main thing to watch out for here is to avoid putting too much fruit pulp or oily ingredients into the mix, or the ice cream just won’t freeze or will set soft. Luckily, the best sponges for this bake are fatless anyway, so no need to worry about butter there. Make a well-set, more robust jam, and you’re good to go!

For my money, star baker was 100% Nadiya, and about time too.

Her flair in the tent has impressed me from the start, and it was a pleasure to see her nail a technical. There is always a worry that bakers in the tent are great on the things they have been able to practice over and over again at home, but lack the experience to approach new bakes and make a good fist of them. Nadiya exorcised that demon and nailed the episode with flying colours!

What would I like to make from this week’s show? Nadiya’s signature just looked fascinating.

The way she made that jam with basil seeds was a real thrill, and I can’t wait to have a crack at that myself. Her use of molasses to sweeten her sponge, and the naked presentation of the cake, just made it total catnip for me. I’ll be doing one of those very soon!

I think Flora might be in danger next week. She does some spectacular-looking bakes, but seems to have missed the mark quite a bit recently and hasn’t really been following the briefs.

It’s much more difficult now as with fewer people in the tent, Paul and Mary are going to get more pernickety about what they want to see and I hope Flora can cope with that level of scrutiny.

Ugne could have reined herself in a bit if she wanted to stay.

Taking on the added difficulty of going gluten-free in the signature was a big mistake, I think. Sugar-free bakes are always at risk of losing structure and becoming dense, and taking the flour out too was going to be very challenging. Coupled with a slack filling, this was unlikely to work. After a difficult technical, Ugne could still have pulled it back, but it seemed like the fight had gone out of her by the time the showstopper came. That is one of the less-noticed difficulties in the tent; the ability to shake off a bad day and come back positive. Putting the jam inside her ice cream was a mistake with such a slack ice cream as this then left no barrier between the sponge and the ice cream – a soggy and collapsed roll was almost inevitable. Ugne is definitely a skilled and inventive baker, or she wouldn’t have made it in the tent in the first place, but I think the right person went this week.

It’s nice to see this year’s bakers embracing the technique of piping designs on their sponges, and Nadiya’s was the most stylish of those. 

Her star-shaped presentation looked very attractive and was unique in the tent. Using the chocolate to mask some of the coconut flavour was very clever, and that strawberry mousse just made me want to break into the tent. If she had made that in my year, the moment the cameras turned off I’d be scrumping that like no one’s business!

Given that challenge, I think my ideas for the signature this week would have been quite similar to Alvin’s.

I love an upside down cake, and despite what I’ve said above about apple flavours lacking sweetness, I’d have probably done a spiced apple and blackberry cake. I think the sweetness issue could be countered by being able to inject copious amounts of syrup into a cake the way Tamal did. The sharpness of summer fruits on a nice gently spiced sponge would complement beautifully.

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