Holland & Barrett, The #HBBakeOff


The lovely Cactus Kitchen – home to Saturday Kitchen

Last weekend I had a really lovely day courtesy of Holland & Barrett who put on a ‘Free From’ bake off, hosted by the marvellous Ugne of GBBO fame, known for her use of nutritious free from ingredients. This was one part of a noticeable stepping up of gears by H&B on both their free from range and its marketing. (Earlier in the year you may recall we made a video for their competition).


Filters on the H&B site

The ‘relaunch’ of H&B into the free from world has not been without its minor stumbles, for example – their website update has introduced a host of filters intended to help those with allergies/coeliac to identify products free from even traces of allergens; but in practice leaves me confused about what is genuinely gluten free (remember that is a legally defined term, by its nature something called ‘gluten free’ should also be free from traces of gluten). I have also been frustrated (as with other retailers) with their free-from shelf only approach to the category, whereas their naturally gluten free whole foods products like buckwheat flour (which I feel is more core to their brand) carry contamination warnings. Their choice of Jameela Jamil to front their launch campaign was controversial in the allergy community.  But on the whole, their enthusiasm and response to feedback has been good, and being able to order delicious products from favourite niche brands like Delicious Alchemy, Ugg Foods and Cocoa Libre to collect from my local branch is brilliant. (Plus they have Pudology on offer a lot in the Windsor branch – the way to a girl’s heart & all that!).

Ugne demos her festive chestnut cake using high-protein almond flour from Sukrin

Ugne demos her festive chestnut cake using high-protein almond flour from Sukrin

The day itself was a great opportunity to learn new ways of baking (without refined sugar), understand new perspectives on free from, and get insights from Ugne on everything from combining a love of baking with fitness goals, to Mary Berry’s little naps between takes on GBBO.

My fellow bloggers were from diverse backgrounds- most were new to free from and blog more about lifestyle, fashion or fitness – it seems H&B are keen to tap into the ‘lifestyle’ free from market. So I was the only allergy geek asking for a brand new tin to avoid gluten contamination of my cake, and subbing gluten free oats for something I can tolerate more easily. ‘Everything is free from today’ I was assured, but free from what? All of the recipes had nuts in, so not free from the major 14 allergens. I think the team may have fallen for that common misconception that free from = gluten free.

Instagrammers via cake!

Instagrammers vs cake!

The prevailing myth of the day, though, was that free from = healthier. That’s such a big topic that I’m not going to tackle it properly now, it needs a post of its own (for a start you could look at Alex G’s piece on gluten here.) We talked a bit about the nutritional profiles of packaged free from goods; and I believe Ugne’s approach to free from, and the focus of the day (i.e. using higher protein, lower fat & sugar whole food ingredients) qualifies as healthier by most standards (depending on your nutritional needs); but in that context, I would like to see H&B focus on those sorts of ingredients even more, and less on the gluten free cakes & biscuits!

So all in all I was proud to be flying the free from flag on behalf of my fellow coeliacs and allergy buddies at the HB Bake Off, especially when my substitution efforts resulted in my cake being crowned the star bake of the day- woohoo! H&B are clearly putting a big focus on free from and bringing it to everyone which is lovely to see; I hope they continue to work with the free from community and qualified nutritionists to fine tune their approach so they can use their market presence for the benefit of their customers’ health. All credit to them, when I gave them my feedback on the event, they promised to do so, so let’s watch this space. For now, you can watch my vlog about the day:

In case you are interested, my on-the-fly adaptation of the recipe from the Bake Off is below. As the cake contains no raising agent and is packed full of fruit and nuts, it is a very heavy cake with a close texture; but benefits from being free of gluten, oats, dairy, egg and refined sugar. I would be tempted by a small slice with a good strong cheddar for threeses.

Apple, Pear, Pecan & Cranberry Cake



Adapted from a recipe by Holland & Barrett – Serves 12


  • 3 red apples
  • 2 pears
  • 170g ground pecans + 170g coarse polenta
  • 90g brown rice or buckwheat flour/gluten free oats
  • 250ml dairy free milk
  • 4 tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 tbsp cashew butter
  • 1 tbsp coconut oil
  • 4 tsp cinnamon
  • 2 tsp nutmeg
  • 2 tsp vanilla extract
  • 125g additional pecans, roughly chopped
  • 225g cranberries


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°c, grease and line a round baking tin.
  2. Peel the apples and pears, and put in a saucepan with 1tsp of the cinnamon. Allow to cook over a low heat until nice and soft.
  3. Meanwhile, place all of the ingredients, except the additional pecans and cranberries into a food processor, and blitz until completely blended. Once the fruit is cooked, add that too and mix again to combine.
  4. Stir in the remaining pecans and cranberries until well combined, then place in the tin.
  5. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the top is brown and a knife stuck in the centre comes out clean. Allow to cool for 5 minutes in the tin before removing and cooling completely.

4 responses to “Holland & Barrett, The #HBBakeOff

  1. Its great that people are starting to talk about coeliac health in general. Its not just about avoiding gluten – fibre, protein, minerals are vital to maintain good health. One cannot eat cake alone! Free From Italy have been talking to retailers about our higher fibre, high protein foods made with buckwheat, chickpeas and lentil but they just don’t understand!

  2. Well done Carly for winning, your cake looks lovely can I pop around for a slice? ;D These days I do most my shopping at H&B and I like the direction they are headed in, they just need to sort the errors. I get very frustrated that in recent times people think Gluten Free = Free From. I notice recently when eating out and asking for allergy advice, they hand me the gluten free pages, perhaps it’s just what is asked for the most but it grates after a while. My sister is coeliac and I have allergies so I understand how important the market is for both of us and the growth in gluten free is amazing for her but I do feel allergies are getting forgotten about.

  3. Looks like you had a fun day and more than rose to your challenge – well done! I totally agree this misconception about gluten free being healthier needs to be explored further. I have a very similar outlook to Ugne’s – which I do think is healthier – but it takes much longer to explain this when just labelling my creations and food choices as gluten free. I love using whole foods flours that are naturally GF – they usually have such an interesting flavour which can be celebrated!
    Cake perfect for this time of year – lovely!

  4. I think H&B are trying to get it right and have invested a lot in this area to get it off the ground to this extent in such a short period of time, so inevitably there are going to be teething troubles, I guess. I like a lot of what they’ve done – eg a dedicated freefrom Twitter account. And it’s going to be very interesting to see what the non-free-from bloggers say in their write-ups with regard to free from etc.

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