This week is quite an unusual one on The Great British Bake Off – contestants are being asked to make baked creations without gluten, dairy and sugar. For anyone who has tried baking without some of the standard ingredients, you’ll know it can be a bit of a challenge for the first few attempts. However it is possible to bake some fantastic biscuits, cakes and slices using alternative ingredients. Don’t necessarily expect to exactly replicate the texture and taste of some of your favourite baking recipes, but you can sometimes get pretty close. There are also certain recipes for brownies and more dense cakes which are really difficult to tell apart from the normal versions.

There’s a definite increase in special diets and some people do of course need to exclude certain foods, as they have mild through to severe reactions. It’s worth remembering that most people can consumer gluten and at least some dairy without too many adverse reactions. However one benefit of looking at alternatives is that it can help you vary your diet and also expand your palate. It’s also a matter of listening to your body and understanding the type of food that helps you feel the happiest and healthiest.

When it comes to sugar, I often reduce the amount included in recipes for cakes and biscuits without too many issues (though I haven’t tried it for more delicate recipes that normally need sugar for structure, such as meringues). You can also choose less refined sugars, such as golden caster sugar, rapadura sugar and coconut sugar. I find that maple syrup and honey are often good substitutes, but bear in mind that you’re increasing the liquid content so may need to compensate with a little more of the dry ingredients. In some cases you can also use fruits, such as mashed bananas and apple purée, as natural sweeteners.

On a personal note, I’d encourage you to avoid dairy-free margarine. Yes, some are better than others, but they are by their very nature quite processed. There are alternatives like olive oil and coconut oil or coconut butter (along with eggs) that can provide the fat you need.

Below is my contribution to special bakes week: gluten-free and dairy free vanilla cupcakes. These are a little more dense than a standard cupcake as they use mostly ground almonds, but are still delicious. This recipe was inspired by Teresa Cutter’s flourless chocolate cupcakes and includes a chocolate ganache on top. If you want something a bit lighter brush the cupcakes while they’re still warm with a little maple syrup or honey glaze (syrup or honey mixed with warm water). Happy baking!


Gluten-free cupcakes


Simple vanilla cupcakes with chocolate ganache

(gluten-free, dairy free, reduced refined sugar)

Makes 12


150g ground almonds

50g rice flour

1½ tsp gluten-free baking powder

¼ tsp fine sea salt or Himalayan pink salt

3 medium eggs

50ml maple syrup

2 tsp vanilla extract

60ml extra virgin olive oil (light flavoured)

60ml almond or rice milk

Optional: 1 portion chocolate ganache icing (see recipe below), 15g toasted chopped almonds


1. Preheat your oven to 160° C (140° C for fan ovens). Line a 12-hole cupcake or muffin tin with cupcake cases.

2. Mix together ground almonds, rice flour, baking powder and salt in a bowl.

3. In a separate bowl, beat the eggs with an electric hand mixer for 2-3 minutes until they are light and fluffy. Mix together the maple syrup, vanilla extract, olive oil and milk, and then fold into the eggs.

4. Add the liquid mixture to the dry ingredients and mix until just combined.

5. Spoon the mixture into your tin, filling each hole to about 2/3 full. Ideally the tops should be fairly smooth, so either smooth slightly with the back of your spoon or very gently shake the tin to distribute the batter.

6. Bake in the oven for 25 minutes until the cakes are lightly golden. Check at 20 minutes: if the tops are browning too quickly, test a cupcake with a skewer to see if it comes out clean or turn the temperature down ten degrees.

7. Take out of the oven and leave the cakes in the tin for 5 minutes. Then remove them from the tine and place on a wire rack to cool.

8. Once the cupcakes are completely cool, use a small knife or palette knife to spread the ganache on the cakes. Top with a sprinkle of almonds.


Gluten-free cupcakes


Chocolate Ganache

Enough to coat 12 cupcakes (this is a generous amount, so if you have any leftover use it to make some chocolate truffles)


150g good quality dark chocolate (dairy free)

75ml boiling water

Pinch of Himalayan pink salt or sea salt


1. If you’re chocolate isn’t already in small buttons, chop it into small pieces and put it into a glass or ceramic bowl.

2. Pour over the boiling water and add the pinch of salt, stirring until all the chocolate is melted and the water is thoroughly combined with it.

3. Leave the mixture at room temperature to thicken for 30-45 minutes, depending on how thick you’d like it. Stir again slightly to make sure the ganache is smooth.


Dairy free ganache


Dairy free ganache


Dairy free ganache

Have any comments or suggestions? Just let me know by leaving a comment below.


Gluten-free cupcakes