Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Free From Cake Wars : The ultimate taste test of coffee shop bakes.

Previously my light hearted, cake munching trip to chain coffee shops around the high street has involved sampling a number of wheat packed, dairy filled, baked treats, but what do you over indulge on when your faced with just a branch of Costa or Starbucks to fill your cake cravings? I've taken to a number of coffee shop chains over the past few months to put their free from options to the taste test.

First stop was Costa, having been faced with a small option of free from treats in the past I already knew they had a few options in store to try. Their free from options are sadly few and far between, but it's good to know that there are alternative options available to try in their cafes. They already offer a dairy free drink option of soya milk, but having something to munch on along with that coffee is a great addition.

Blink and you'll miss them, in a separate section, usually in front of the tills, you'll find their wrapped selection of baked free from treats. Their Mini cherry bakewell tarts are gluten and dairy free, but not vegan unfortunately, a full break down of the allergens can be found on their site, almost bite sized but great for a small snack and delightfully sweet. These have been opted out in some stores though for Mini dairy and gluten free pecan pies, so if you can't find one you'll definitely find the other for a free from snack option, these are also sadly not vegan.

Their Fruity crumble bar however is entirely vegan and gluten free, so a great alternative with a tasty cinnamon flavoured base and plenty of yummy fruit filling.

A small selection when it comes to sweet treats, with the occasional appearance of their Gluten (but not vegan/dairy free) brownie on the counters too, but what options they do have are usually always found in store, so you can be sure of a tasty baked treat. 6/10

Next up is Starbucks, purely worth mentioning for their free from drink options alone, having added coconut milk as another dairy free alternative, alongside soya milk, for their drinks to their menu in recent months, as someone who can't stand soya milk (yet reluctantly drinks it in coffee shops) it's a great addition!

That's sadly where the praise ends though, their free from sweet options are almost non existent, making them a better option to visit when you just fancy a drink. You will find a Gluten free brownie available, but this is often left near to the wheat filled treats so you may want to check the snack set up before purchasing, it's also worth asking for a wrapped brownie if they have any in store. It's a yummy option, even if it is the only one, with plenty of chocolate chunks in the bake, making it worth the lactose after effects for me! 4/10 for drinks options alone.

Next stop is Caffe Nero, another place that offers soya milk as a dairy free drink option, so good to note for a quick coffee, for fellow lactose suffers/vegans please note that their Chai latte is unfortunately not milk free like Costa and Starbucks versions of the drink, but everything else is safe.

On to the important stuff, the treats, much like the other chain cafes their free from options can be hard to spot at first, they do offer gluten free bakes, but it's best to check their nutritional info online beforehand as some of the cakes are wheat free but not gluten free, like their Carrot and raisin cake, you'll find this next to the rest of the cakes under the glass top counter, it's a deliciously sweet bake though and a great take on the carrot cake, the wrapped version if you can find it near the till is also dairy free but not vegan.

Cakes that are gluten free include their Wrapped brownie (this is not dairy free/vegan) and their Coconut and raspberry slice which is also dairy free (but not vegan), it's a deliciously sweet treat with a gooey jam filling, great with a cuppa! It can be a bit of a minefield negotiating their allergy info, so I would advise checking their guide online first to see what's safe to eat, but the options they do have are pretty tasty. 5/10

Next up as a relatively new addition to the free from cake selection is Patisserie Valerie, whilst it may say on their FAQ that they don't currently offer soya milk, some of their branches have now started getting this in stock so it's worth asking for it. Alternatively they also do some great fruit tea blends and tea's without milk which I regularly do when dining here with their Earl grey and Darjeeling blends.

With just a sole Gluten free brownie on their menu previously, they've recently added a whole new range of gluten free treats including a Chocolate cake on their cakes to order selection. Whilst all of the options may not be entirely dairy free or vegan it's still a step up from their previous selection of cakes. You can find the full list of gluten free options online here with allergy information available on each item.

There's several gluten free treats to choose from including a rather deliciously sweet Chocolate chip muffin, their popular Gluten free brownie, and a Chocolate and vanilla marble cake which is so delicious, you wouldn't know it was gluten free at all! All of which are kept in sealed packets away from the other cakes, which is fantastic. Certainly worth at least 5/10 for adding these additional options.

It can be pretty difficult to negotiate eating out when faced with allergies or a vegan diet on the high street, but it's good to note that these places are making an effort to improve their choices, even if it is just a solitary cuppa with soya milk at the moment. With this minefield of choices to negotiate it's hard to pin point a favourite, but with their range of choices catering to everyone, and some pretty tasty treats to boot, Costa's the clear winner here with gluten free, dairy free and vegan options to snack on.