Turning gluten-free baked goods into a vegan success

Cracking the egg problem was the biggest challenge for B-Tempted founder Sarah Hilleary, who recently launched a new range of cupcakes and muffins.

7 August 2018
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It hasn’t been long since the word went out that gluten-free bakery B-Tempted would be selling vegan cupcakes and muffins in Whole Foods, but already the initial sales forecast has tripled. These morsels are selling like, well, hot cakes – and it’s all down to a combination of inviting flavours and the right ingredients.

B-Tempted was created in 2011 with the goal of producing a better quality of gluten-free baked treats. Stocked in Harrods and Selfridges, the start-up’s sweet treats proved popular with not just retailers, but Dragons’ Den’s Tej Lalvani too, who made an offer to invest in the business.

This year, founder Sarah Hilleary decided it was time to take things further.

“I did a lot of new product development with vegan, just because it’s a growing trend, and a lot of people are wanting to buy vegan,” she says, adding, “I think it’s here stay.”

In some ways, the new ranges are a return to B-Tempted’s roots. Hilleary actually launched with cupcakes, but decided to change direction and focus on more mini bites – it was simpler distributing an ambient product than one that had to be chilled because of its frosting.

Seven years on and with more experience under her belt, she asked customers how they’d like to see the brand expand. The most common responses were cupcakes and muffins, leading her to develop both. In fact, her vegan muffins are slated for a national supermarket later this year.

So what has made her baked business a rising success?

Cracking the egg problem

Taking out the animal products while preserving a traditional texture is an ongoing quandary when it comes to vegan baked goods. From her dedicated gluten-free bakery in Leytonstone, Hilleary’s answer to the problem emerged out of trial and error.

“The moisture content and the shelf life are the biggest issues with having both a gluten-free and a vegan product,” she says. “For me, it’s easy to replace gluten and dairy. It’s the eggs – that’s the biggest problem. You’ve got classic things like putting flaxseeds and chia seeds in with water, but then that just creates a really strange, jelly-like texture. You need to balance that out with something else – I don’t think it’s particularly nice.

“So it’s trying to figure out [how to replace egg] using natural ingredients. We experimented a lot with sweet potatoes, bananas, courgettes and carrots.”

However, she found the courgettes and carrots imbued a very strong colour to the cupcakes. Determined to launch at least one of her new vegan ranges into a major multiple this year, Hilleary set the two vegetables aside – though she may return to her courgette and chocolate idea at a later date.

Rather than a custom mix, B-Tempted is made from a gluten-free flour from Doves Farm. “I think there are a lot of people out there that do [gluten-free flour], so I’d rather just use some of their innovations rather than invent the meal myself,” remarks Hilleary. “I would like to just focus more on the flavour, because I really want to make sure we have a great tasting product.”

Crowd-sourcing taste

Banana and raspberry, chocolate and strawberry, and banana are among the flavours of the new cupcakes and muffins. To decide which ones to focus on, Hilleary turned to Instagram, using the ‘stories’ function to ask her followers which flavours had them salivating?

“When I was doing the cupcakes earlier this year, I wanted to use some real out-there flavours, but I actually ended up scaling it back and using slightly more traditional flavour combinations,” she says, noting that she played with pandan (“very difficult to put into a cake and a frosting… the sugar would just overpower it”), ube (“difficult to get in the UK”) and charcoal.

“With the charcoal, people were just like, okay, that’s a little bit too weird,” she laughs, adding, “A balance has to be struck for new product development.”

Hilleary aims to be in all the major supermarkets over the next two years. She’s also mulling over ideas for savoury muffins, such as a courgette and sweetcorn product that could appeal to the breakfast market, delivering less sugar and more veg.

Then there are the vegan macarons she’s experimenting with, made using aquafaba, though she has had some issues with sourcing the ingredient.

It’s certainly no cakewalk making baked goods without animal products.

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