The thought of spending a Sunday at a cookery school with a Great British Bake Off contestant, hosted by Holland & Barrett to promote their free-from range was an opportunity too good to miss. With a focus on Christmas, I couldn’t think of a better way to get into the festive spirit!
An early train down to London with my fellow foodie blogger, Sophie (Sophie’s Scran) on Sunday 13th December saw us hop on the Underground over to Cactus Kitchens aka The Michel Roux JR cookery school, a gorgeous converted chapel which hosts cooking classes and also where Saturday Kitchen is filmed. Yes, before you ask, we of course had a peek in and got a few photos – watch out, James Martin!
Upstairs we were met by six other foodie and lifestyle bloggers and the wonderful, charismatic Ugne Bubnaityte, who many will recognise from this year’s Great British Bake Off. A religious viewer of the show, I loved Ugne’s healthy and free-from take on recipes and her passion for food in terms of fuelling her fitness; a woman after my own heart! Meeting her in person, she was as smiley, funny and down to earth as she appeared on the series. She got even more (healthy) brownie points for saying how striking and ‘expressive’ my eyes are…what a babe 😉
Enough fan girling. Set at our cute little work stations, we were ready for our Christmas baking challenge: we had one hour to re-create a dairy, wheat and gluten-free low sugar Apple Pear & Cranberry Cake, all following the same recipe.
On your marks, get set, BAKE!
The recipe was pretty straight-forward to follow, so for those who weren’t too familiar with baking, this made it a little easier. The method involved simmering apples and pears in cinnamon as the basis for cake, plus grounding pecan nuts and combining the mixture with other clean ingredients from Holland & Barrett, including coconut oil, cashew nut butter, oats, almond milk, maple syrup and spices. I usually add eggs and baking powder to my #IndulgingInnocently recipes, so I was quite intrigued to see how this would turn out.
Cakes in the oven, Ugne gave us a demo of her signature Christmas free-from bake, an Apricot, Chestnut & Coffee Cake. Taking us through the recipe (gluten-free and , we all had a chance to ask her some questions. The Lithuanian bodybuilder shared some interesting insights with us, from what it was like being a contestant on the show to why she chooses to eat free-from and consuming 4,000 calories to support her gym workouts. What a woman.
What struck a chord with me most was Ugne’s approach to health, food and lifestyle – reiterating the fact that balance is key and everything can be enjoyed in moderation. When asked about why she doesn’t eat wheat and gluten, she replied that eating this way is generally healthier, our bodies don’t necessarily need these things. Keep food as natural as possible and focus on the quality of ingredients you put together to create something. You can see from her blog that her recipes reflect this approach, and one which I also feel passionately about.
Our timers started to go off, signalling that our cakes were ready. It was interesting that although we all had the same recipe, we all tweaked them in little ways, whether adding more almond milk or replacing some ingredients for others due to other allergies. I was quite happy with mine in that it was cooked through, wasn’t burnt and cake out of the tin perfectly – although as I had anticipated, it hadn’t risen and seemed quite dense.
Time to decorate them – we had free reign in terms of how to do this with ingredients on hand, so I thought about creating a dairy-free ‘butter icing’ using coconut oil, cashew butter, vanilla and maple syrup. The idea and mixture looked brilliant; although stupidly, I started spreading this on my cake before it had chance to cool down properly – cue rapidly melting down the sides. Dammit! It’s easy to see how the contestants must have felt on GBBO when the pressure is on, you’re competing and also taking to others at the same time. Placing it in the fridge and praying it would set, it was time for a lunch break.
Can I just point out that I annoyingly brought my camera but left the memory card at home, thus I only had my crappy phone to take photos on – thanks to Soph for letting me borrow her phone too! Anyway, as far as free-from spreads go, we were treated to a delicious selection of superfood salads, gluten-free bread, hummus and crudites and incredible vintage cheese. It was so nice for us to all sit together with Ugne and chat about all sorts, from what we do for work, life stages like getting married and having kids, and how we got into blogging. These kind of events really do bring people together while bringing a brand to life in a meaningful way.
Back upstairs to add the finishing touches to our bakes ready for the nerve-wracking part: Ugne judging the winning cake! Going all Paul and Mary on us, she tasted each one and gave her comments about each; the consensus was that most were slightly undercooked and too moist – soggy bottoms were coming to haunt us. However bare in mind that this wasn’t Ugne’s own recipe so it was perhaps more difficult to know how it should have come out…
Sadly, although neither Sophie and I won, it was a great laugh and we were able to take our festive cakes home with us. To be honest, I also though the finished result was too heavy as opposed to how a cake should be – I’d be interested to make it again but add baking powder and perhaps an egg to it (as long as it’s gluten-free, I don’t mind).
For the final part of the day, Ugne finished off her demo by decorating her cake and talking us through some more useful tips, plus sharing her love for Sukrin products like the almond flour and brown sugar alternative – which I use a lot, yey! We were lucky enough to sample this absolutely delicious creation over coffee and tea and my god, it was good. SO MUCH CAKE – we certainly didn’t go home hungry!
So, armed with our cakes and a generous free-from goodie bag from Holland & Barrett, it was time to say goodbye and head home back to Manchester. A day of meeting new people and feeling even more inspired thanks to Ugne’s infectious enthusiasm for healthy baking – thanks so much to iProspect for organising it, along with Ugne and Holland & Barrett for being great hosts, and Cactus Kitchen for providing the most ideal setting for the bake-off.