“Free From” Week on The Great Kiwi Bake Off

Wow: “Free From” Week in the first season of The Great Kiwi Bake Off, huh? The GBBO managed to go four years before they felt compelled to include an “Unconventional Ingredients” Week in the program. Then again, the GBBO started back in 2010, just as the gluten-free lifestyle was gaining traction beyond those suffering from coeliac disease. 

These days, there seems to be no end to the different restrictions people are putting on their diets, whether on the advice of their doctor or not. And with a title like “Free From” Week, I assumed one challenge would be gluten free and the other challenge would be vegan or dairy free. When Madeleine was explaining the week’s theme, she confirmed that “Free From” referred to “ingredients that people have intolerances to”. Setting aside that inaccurate representation of true allergies and autoimmune diseases, her statement did seem to imply that this week’s challenges would exclude more than one type of ingredient.

And I was looking forward to that because I think being able to cater to various dietary restrictions is an important skill no matter where you’re baking, but especially if you’re baking in Kiwi cafes. I have been seriously and continuously impressed with the variety of goods that have been re-engineered to accommodate people’s needs and wants. 

Alas, a variety of restrictions was not to be. Only gluten would be excluded this week.

The Technical: GF Orange and Lavender Tea Cake 

So Dean sets the Technical…again! That’s 4-2 for him now, I feel like Sue’s not pulling her weight there and, I’m not really sure her comments are all that insightful either. Maybe she’s there for her sense of aesthetics? I loved that green flowy blouse she was wearing.

I found it interesting that with such a multi-faceted technical bake – not only did the bakers have to make a gluten free cake and then cut it in layers, but they also had to make marmalade and a mousse – all of Dean’s commentary during the judges’ tête-a-tête focused on the cake. I get that the cake is important, and challenging – as Dean said, the lack of gluten means a lack of structure – but making a mousse with the right consistency can be challenging as well, and since I think Hannah actually lost out on coming first because her mousse was “cheesy” even though her cake was better than Larissa’s… well, I reckon those other techniques required for the challenge should have gotten a little air time too.

Additionally, I was a little disappointed that even in his discussion of the cake’s challenges, Dean defaulted to a generic “well enough” in describing how to bake a GF cake. He should have elaborated on how you need to allow the cake to cook steadily and slowly. If the oven is too hot or it’s not left to cook long enough, the leavening agents (eggs and baking powder) will create a rise before the protein sources (eggs, almonds) have had a chance to solidify a protein structure to encase all the air – this is what creates the collapse in the middle, and it can happen with cakes that have flour in them too, although it’s far less common (except at high altitude).

And, sure enough, without a time and temperature written on the recipe, the bakers do a lot of oven temperature fiddling, many of them start out too hot, and there’s lots of collapsing in the middle, including Annabel’s, which I found interesting since I would have guessed she would have known best what to do since she doesn’t eat gluten. Speaking after the challenge, she does seem to exhibit the best understanding of what happened with the rapid rise, I usually find it’s easier to explain what went wrong then prevent things from going wrong in the first place.

I noticed a lot of variation in how much lavender was put into the cake and, as Annabel mentioned, it can be quite a polarizing ingredient – you either love it or you hate it. Hannah weighed hers out but Jeff and Annabel and Joel seem to have put all of it in the batter, and yet we didn’t hear about it in the tasting, which I found surprising… if all the lavender wasn’t too much, then why was the amount set at 3 grams? It doesn’t make sense to me…

In terms of judging, I found it a bit curious that Larissa won mostly because of Sue’s praise that her cake was more of a syrup cake because the marmalade was so soft and runny. It seems a little unfair for her to get points for that if the brief was to make a sponge like Dean’s recipe called for. And if Hannah’s cake even got the comment that it was more of what Dean had in mind in setting the challenge… but I waspleased for Larissa to come top. 

The Showstopper: 2 Tiered GF Cheesecake

Cheesecakes are….not distinctly Kiwi.

That’s not to say Kiwis don’t like cheesecakes…. I just wouldn’t say I see them often here. They’re typically something I associate more with the U.S. – and I think most New Zealanders do too – so I found it sort of a weird challenge really. Like the producers were maybe grasping at straws for a GF showstopper. But I thought as showstoppers go, some people really pulled it off.

I was a little confused by Sue’s statement that the bakers had to ensure their bottom cake be strong enough to support the top tier, because it seemed like none of the bakers placed the top tier directly on the bottom. Maybe I’m wrong but it seemed to me that all the top tiers were sitting on cake plates supported by dowels – or in Larissa’s case, toilet rolls – stuck all the way through the bottom tier, so that the bottom cake plate bore the weight of the top cake, not the bottom cake itself. Which is how I would do it. So why does the bottom cake have to be strong?

The Result

Sue made a comment at the judges’ table about how impressed she was with Jeff and how he “knows how to pull out a showstopper when he has to.” This faith in Jeff’s abilities seems completely at odds with the whispered conversation she had with Dean during the Showstopper Challenge, where she revealed that she was worried because he has a tendency to “overcomplicate things” and the final result “might be a little bit too busy.” She’s really coming across a bit two-faced, but maybe all the back to back judging is leaving her a bit addled and she can’t keep all the challenges straight?

At any rate, Jeff may have ranked highly with them but it’s Larissa who ended up winning star baker and while I’m pleased for her once again, it does feel a bit like they’re going through the remaining bakers thinking, “okay, who can we reasonably give it to who hasn’t had it yet?” I write that only because only Joel and Stacey really stumbled on both challenges – everyone else got lots of lovely feedback and as cheesecakes go, Hannah’s and Jeff’s looked more like a showstopper than Larissa’s did.


I had an interesting though re: gluten free diets while I watched this episode. I’ve recently read a few articles on the development of both a vaccine and a pill under that could enable coeliacs to eat gluten. 

But thousands of people, actually probably millions at this point, who don’t suffer from coeliac disease have switched to a gluten free diet and feel it has cleared up other ailments. 

What do you think will happen when either the vaccine or pill is released? Will it be available to non-coeliacs? Should it be? Would it be effective for them, since the issues they have with gluten aren’t the same as those with coeliac disease? Just some (gluten free) food for thought…


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