The Great British Bake Off 2015: Richard Burr’s ‘free-from’ verdict

Week five and Bake Off 2014 finalist Richard is learning loads about 'alternative' ingredients – although he's a bit distracted after spotting something very familiar in the Bake Off tent...

Since being on Bake Off I’ve been asked for gluten free recipes more times than I can remember. There’s definitely a huge market for baking with alternative ingredients. I reckon this week will have gone down well with the thousands of people who love watching the Bake Off but are gutted they can’t enjoy the food on offer.

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I have a few go-to recipes for gluten and dairy free cake, one of which is in my book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself. It’s an orange and almond cake and, much as I love it, I prefer it accompanied by a big dollop of cream!

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When it comes to cakes, I’m a bit of an eggs / flour / sugar / butter man so this would have been a challenge for me. The last truly free-from cake I made was for a gorilla!

When people talk to me about healthier baking, my advice is usually to eat a smaller portion of something delicious rather than substitute ingredients. For some though, this isn’t an option, so I try to keep an eye open for interesting free-from recipes.

It was a really educational episode in terms of ingredients this – agave nectar, mulberry molasses, basil seeds – and of course lots of honey and maple syrup. I agree with Paul Hollywood though, in that fruits like apples and pears aren’t really a substitute for sugar even if you reduce them down.

The sugar substitutes were noticeable in the batters being mixed in the tent – not the smooth fluffiness you get from creaming butter and sugar together. I expect they all had that worried feeling at the back of their minds that their batter was just too wet. Mat sidestepped this by adding about a metric tonne of dried fruit! Any baker good enough to be in that tent will know how to make a great sponge, but as soon as you start tweaking the basics, it brings on the oven-watching terror!

Ugne possibly over-reached herself by going for a sugar and gluten-free cake, but she seemed confident at first. She then had a real disaster, but personally I was more distracted by seeing her cake displayed on the wooden board I lost in the tent last year!

When Nadiya described her cake it was definitely the one I wanted to eat – everything about it sounded delicious. Her basil seed and blueberry jam sounded really inventive too. I’m going to try tapping her up for the recipe the first chance I get.

Usually at this point in the competition, even though you get on well with your fellow bakers, everyone tends to keep their cards close to their chests in terms of what they’re making each week. I felt for Alvin, second-guessing himself on his upside down cake’s simplicity.

I’ve also had that feeling of mooching around in the tent with nothing to do while all the other bakers are furiously beavering away. I expect he felt it more so this week though, as the opportunity to quickly knock something up to add more interest was reduced by having such a restrictive brief. But he nailed it – “a cracking cake”, as Mary said; which must have been a massive relief.

Technical

When the technical bakes are set, working backward on the timings is always the challenge. You think you have plenty of time and while you’re sitting on your stool waiting for something to prove, you start factoring in the cooling time, baking time, shaping time, and you realise you should have finished proving ten minutes ago! I really felt for poor old Tamal when it slowly dawned on him that he had three minutes to second prove all his pitas!

This wasn’t a particularly inspiring technical challenge which was a shame, as this could have been an opportunity to really showcase gluten-free bread. However it did allow for Sue’s awesome “pita despair” pun which was worth the price of my licence fee alone.

The gluten substitute looked really unfamiliar, but at least it was unfamiliar to everyone. There’s nothing worse in a technical than seeing one baker racing off full of confidence when you don’t even know where to start. I think I said “that looks rank” at exactly the same time as Tamal did. Mat described them as “grey and dense” – not really the sort of mouth-watering Bake Off viewing we’ve grown to expect and not a great advert for gluten-free baking. I was really delighted to see Nadiya come top in the technical though, as it’s often a good sign of who’s on course for star baker, and I’ve had my eye on her since episode one.

Showstopper

I did not envy the bakers this challenge at all! Making ice cream in the tent is hard enough (let’s all have a moment’s silence for last year’s Alaskagate) but dairy-free ice cream? Coconut milk dominated in the tent, but I particularly loved Alvin’s use of buko pandan – his ingredients are teaching me more and more every week and my kids would have loved bright green ice cream.

Hats off to Paul this week. Seeing him help Alvin put his showstopper together was great viewing – it’s what Bake Off is all about. When they showed our series in the US, it’s what the American viewers couldn’t understand, why people in a competition were so eager to help each other. I laughed so hard at Paul making his fondant sunbather too. It was classic Bake Off and I thought Mel and Sue might combust with all of the innuendo potential he gave them!

As soon as I saw Tom Hovey’s drawing of Nadia’s showstopper I knew she had it in the bag this week. It was beautiful and the mousse centre in her chocolate ice cream had my mouth watering. I am so chuffed for her to have got Star Baker this week – thoroughly deserved and I was really pleased that she felt so genuinely proud of herself too.


But Ugne’s facial expressions throughout the show seemed to predict her departure this week. She looked defeated and she had too many things go wrong. I feel particularly sorry for her as alternative ingredients were her speciality. When Paul complemented her peanut ice cream and it moved her to tears, I almost (almost) welled up myself.

I can’t believe we’re half way through the series already! It’s flown by, and I really think with Ian, Nadiya and Tamal particularly, we’re seeing some pretty good baking talent emerge. I’m looking forward to next week’s pastry week now as I think we’ll be seeing our first soggy bottoms of the series. About time too.

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Richard’s week four verdict: ban blow torches? Not on my watch!

Paul Hollywood will be sharing his expert baking tips at this year’s Radio Times Festival – tickets available here