How are new vegan and gluten free cake recipes created?

Bling Bar Batch 1-24

What is NPD?

At Honeybuns we view NPD, or new product development, as one of the most exciting and rewarding aspects of working in the UK bakery sector. We get to experiment in the kitchen again, trying out new gluten free ingredients and flavour combinations. It’s our opportunity to get creative again and reignite some excitement from our early start up days. Much of our day to day production is necessarily routine and risk averse in order to maintain our quality and safety standards – so being able to make mistakes, learn from them and grow is vitally important for the overall health of our business.

Some of the post Covid challenges facing UK small businesses

Running a small artisan bakery in today’s current economic climate has certainly proved challenging. Electricity price rises is the obvious biggie – we not only need to keep the ovens running but we also freeze all of our cakes before shipping to our wholesale customers. Our trusty solar panels have proved a wise investment but we still need to buy electricity in to meet our needs. Like so many other businesses we know, our energy bills are currently set to quadruple once our current contract runs out.

Here at Honeybuns we are all acutely mindful that this year is likely to be even tougher with continued pressure on international supply chains and prices. In simpler terms – if we are lucky enough to get hold of the ingredients we need; they are going to cost even more than this year.

Now more than ever, we need to run a very tight ship in terms of minimal waste and maximum efficiency and sustainability. Using inferior and cheaper ingredients is not an option for us. As Warren Buffett famously said “”It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”6 Nov 2021

Instead, we need to work smarter and avoid waste, whilst maintaining quality. By grouping more orders together and being able to have a “plain flapjack day” or a “vegan dark chocolate brownie day” we are now able to avoid a lot of “stop, start and clean down” interruptions. This has necessitated communication to customers and asking them to accept a slightly long waiting time. We’ve explained our reasons for changing our working patterns and (fingers crossed) everyone has been very supportive.

Some of our traybakes ready for packaging

Tips on keeping motivated whilst working on your business

In the midst of these strong business headwinds, we are definitely in need of a bit of fun and distraction! By having new cakes, both gluten free and vegan, to invent, tweak and perfect we have something positive to look forward to and to share with our customers. I firmly believe, despite some doom and gloom news, we need to remember what we love about what we do and keep thinking forward. Happily we are currently working on 5-6 new cake ideas including a dairy free, vegan and gluten free Bakewell slice, a wonderfully light and fluffy vegan lemon cake and a ridiculously moreish wheat and egg free pecan slice. These products are currently in the “pipeline” stage and will be launched this May.

“What’s new?” is the question we most commonly get asked both by our trade wholesale buyers as well as our online customers and Honeybuns pop up shop visitors. New equates to exciting and we are conscious of always needing to keep a step ahead to keep people interested and tempted to buy. We are super happy to have two brand new cakes available online at the moment – we launched the Red Berry Brownie and Toffee Apple Slice in time for this Veganuary. They are innovative, delicious and designed to brighten up a dull day!

Coming up with new gluten free cake recipes

Friends and customers of Honeybuns bakery often ask us how the process of creating a new cake works. To illustrate the process, I’ve chosen one of our favourite cake slices – the delicious and very pretty Persian Flapjack to apply some FAQs to.


Where do you get your ideas for new cake recipes from?

Each cake has its own unique provenance. I was very lucky to have inherited old family cake recipes both from my granny and my mum. Many of these recipes provided the basis for the current Honeybuns cake range. For example, our wheat free Lemon and Ginger Shortbread was based on my granny’s melt in the mouth lemon biscuit recipe.

Elizabeth David and her many lyrical cook books are also inspirational. Writing in the late 1950s onwards, she described fabulous ingredients such as almonds, olive oil and salted pistachios which were pretty much unknown in post war Britain. I was introduced to her seminal book “Is there a nutmeg in the house” by a friend when I was in my twenties and I’ve learnt so much from her passionate embrace of ingredients and places.

Our Persian Flapjack has had a different journey though. One of our long standing wholesale customers has a fully fledged team of development chefs and it was one of these chefs, Pam, who asked us if we could convert a flapjack recipe into a gluten free, dairy free and vegan version. Pam already had a working “regular-non free from” recipe which used butter and wheat flour. The Persian influence was in the form of orange zest and the pistachios. Our brief was to convert this into a free from version which was also more flavoursome – with a stronger nod to middle eastern flavours. It also had to be very pretty and “Instagram” friendly”.

We got to work. One of our all time favourite vegan alternatives to butter is refined coconut oil which we feature extensively in our Honeybuns All Day Cook Book. Refined coconut oil does not have a distinct coconut flavour but it does have a gorgeous, satisfying and buttery “mouth feel”. We then swapped out any wheat flour and replaced it with British grown and milled gluten free oats. Flavour wise we went all out and added toasted pistachios (toasting them really brings out the full flavour), orange zest and cold pressed orange oil plus a delicate rose water icing, pretty blue cornflowers and a hint of cinnamon.

It is always a bit nerve wracking when it comes to presenting new products to customers. Fortunately Pam and her colleagues loved it and it has remained a firm favourite ever since. We are now glad that we were challenged to make something suitable for Insta too. As a bit of a dinosaur I tend to be a little dismissive of visuals. I’m more about the taste and texture of a product, but as the old saying goes, “customers buy with their eyes” – nowadays more than ever.

How often does Honeybuns come up with new cake recipes?

I equate the NPD pipeline to a sausage making machine. To ensure that you have sausages popping out at the far end you need to be regularly feeding ingredients in at the start. During the process there is plenty that can go wrong, so you need to keep a keen eye on the progress of each product. Sometimes we get everything spot on from the bakery’s point of view only to find that the cake will not slice cleanly or it is too sticky to be decanted from its baking tray in the Packing Room. Or we might discover problems once we’ve run freezer tests. For example, one type of vegan cinder toffee pieces we were hoping to use as a brownie topping melted into soggy cornflake look-alikes upon defrost. There is naturally a lot of trial and error but fortunately after 25 years of experience we’ve now got a robust process and checklist to follow.

We like to start each year with say 3-4 new cakes ready to present to trade buyers.  Please don’t shoot the messenger – but often this will include 1 or 2 lines for Christmas! So it can be really quite surreal, working on festive cake slices for 2023 before we’ve sat down for Christmas dinner in 2022….

Do you have a special test development kitchen?

This is a bit of a sore point. Before Covid we were really lucky to have our lovely Bee Shack team room and kitchen available. Converted from a humble chicken shed, the Bee Shack was beautifully and gently repurposed using recycled materials and vintage furniture. The kitchen was large, airy and open plan – meaning whoever was working on NPD in there could leave cakes on the communal Bee Shack dining table with a “comments and feedback” box. The system worked beautifully. The sure fire way to tell if we had a winning recipe was to gauge how long it took for the cake to get munched!

Sadly, due to financial pressures during lockdown the Bee Shack has now been converted into a residential abode. Everyone of the team who can remember the original  Bee Shack set up misses it, but needs must.

On a positive note – with NPD now being done in the bakery itself the process is in fact more efficient and smoother. We are using the proper commercial equipment and can discover straight away what the glitches might be. With the old system, there was a domestic oven and kit in the Bee Shack which often yielded different results to the actual bakery which led to time consuming adjustments and tweaking.

We still bring the new cakes in development into the office where we have a central farmhouse style table. The same premise holds true: the faster the cake disappears at tea break time the faster it sells once we launch it.

Delivery and courier drivers are amongst our most enthusiastic tasters.

How long does it take from recipe idea to finished cake to get a new product into the shops?

It can easily take a whole year from idea to product launch date. It all depends on the unforeseen pitfalls that may lie ahead.

A time consuming step is the approval of the packaging.

For a regular gluten free cake we need everything checking by a trading standards officer and the product also needs to be tested for allergens by an outside laboratory.

This is so we can confidently state on label that a product is gluten free. With vegan cakes, we send samples and packaging to The Vegan Society as well, who then need to check everything before approval.

We totally get why these stages are necessary, it just adds time to the process.

To get the cake boards for the individually wrapped slices checked and back from the printers can take up to two months….we just have to manage our New Cake Excitement whilst all the necessary details are sorted out.

Then there is the product photography, freezer testing, and so it goes…

What makes the Honeybuns vegan Persian Flapjack so special?

Before we go ahead with developing a new cake we check that we are not simply doing something that is already being done perfectly well. We see no point in duplication. We need to bring something different and better to the party.

We were aware of a Persian inspired loaf cake on the market but nothing like a flapjack. We also ensured it was utterly unique by:

– Using gluten free ingredients including British grown gluten free oats

– Making it dairy free

– Making it vegan and registering it with The Vegan Society

– Using edible bright blue cornflowers to make it pretty enough for Instagram

– Focusing on layering of subtle and complimentary flavours – something we love to do with all our cakes

– Baking low and slow for 35 minutes minimum for a depth of flavour and gorgeous “just right Goldilocks” texture

We cannot share the recipe here for Persian Flapjack as it is bespoke to a specific trade customer. But you can treat yourself online here. We can deliver small batched baked gluten free cakes to you and your loved ones directly to your door across the UK.

Why not take a look at our ‘Behind the Scenes’ social post here.

Or try making our lovely vegan and gluten free Oaty Raspberry Bar here.

Like the Persian Flapjack, this recipe uses a similar base of refined coconut oil, gluten free oats and date syrup. It also has a similar icing to go on top.

For more delicious recipes try our two free from cook books. There are plenty of dairy free and vegan recipes included in the All Day Cook Book.

Make sure you don’t miss out on our product updates, gluten free baking tips, all the news from the bakery, and a monthly discount code for our yummy cakes. Sign up to our newsletter here.

You might also be interested in this easy gluten free and vegan almond cookie recipe.