14 October 2019

Tessa pursues slice of gluten free market with her eye-catching, sumptuous cakes

| Ian Bushnell
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Tessa Hancock

Tessa Hancock in her home kitchen with an array of her gluten-free cakes. Photos: Michelle Kroll, Region Media.

Food-loving Tessa Hancock has always had a weakness for cakes, so she wasn’t about to give them up when her doctor advised her to cut gluten from her diet.

The trouble was she couldn’t find a gluten-free cake that matched her admittedly demanding standards, culminating in the sad tale of celebrating her 30th birthday last year without a cake.

That was the turning point for the former Commonwealth public servant who in July launched a full-time tilt at the gluten-free market with her Wild and Pure boutique bakery out of her Googong home.

Diagnosed with the autoimmune disorder Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in 2016, Tessa was told the chances of developing other illnesses such as Coeliac disease was high so she embarked on the gluten-free journey, which only involved a few tweaks to what was already a low-carb diet due to earlier digestive issues.

The result was a welcome one, with clearer skin, less bloating and more energy. But there was still the issue of cake.

There were gluten-free products out there but they were either too heavy like mud cake, too sweet or lacking in flavour.

Edible flowers as decoration

Tessa loves to use flowers to decorate her cakes.

“I wanted something different. I wanted something with fruit and more natural flavours in it,” she said.

So Tessa, who had loved baking with her mother and making muffins and sweet gifts for friends and family, began researching gluten-free flours and bakers, eventually deciding to create her own individual blend to achieve a satisfactory result.

It took about eight months of experimenting to find her basic blend – buckwheat, brown rice, tapioca and a few other flours – that provided the consistent texture and flavour she wanted. She now buys her flours in bulk from a gluten-free wholesaler.

“I baked one cake flavour and it was sensational and tried it with a few other flavours and it worked, and I haven’t needed to change it since,” Tessa said.

For now, she won’t be expanding into other allergy areas, wanting to specialise in the gluten-free niche.

“I have tried experimenting with vegan cakes and dairy and egg-free cakes but I can’t get the same taste. I want to be unique and stick to my kind of baking ethos as well,” she said.

“I love the cream cheese icing, I haven’t found anything that comes remotely close to the taste and the flavour it gives the cake … and I don’t believe in margarine.”

Cup cakes

The cakes come in a range of sizes, including mini-cakes.

She tested the waters in March with a wedding cake, for which guests came back for seconds, and in April launched her Wild and Pure website, and Facebook and Instagram sites.

Finding herself baking into the wee hours after a day at the office, and not finding enough time for her partner and dog, Tessa took the plunge and left the Department of Defence after 11 years.

Demand was shaky at first but a steady flow of orders emerged as her products became known around local markets. A recent stall at Floriade was as an “amazing opportunity and experience” for her to fly the Wild and Pure flag.

Using quality local products and unrefined sugars, Tessa bakes to season, with eight varieties currently available on her website in different sizes, ranging from fruit combinations to classic carrot and pecan, and Black Forest.

She has berry cakes all year round, lemon and lime through the winter and spring, with mangoes and passion fruit now coming into season, and plums in the summer.

Beautifully decorated, the cakes carry edible flowers to spectacular effect.

“I find there is so much beauty in nature, and flowers are simply perfect. There is so much detail and colour in a flower, it speaks for itself,” Tessa says.

While she is operating from home in an adapted kitchen for now, her dream is to open her own cake shop, where she can serve coffee and all manner of her favourite teas.

Tessa is currently undergoing accreditation with Coeliac Australia, which means she will be the only cake business in Canberra endorsed by that body and only the third in NSW.

For more information visit http://wildandpure.com.au/.

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