Cake Review: Vegan, Gluten Free & Refined Sugar Free – Holly Tree Kitchen

Photo of a brown and cream swirled cake laid out with a floral plate.

Click below to play an audio version of this post 🙂

The box was bigger than I expected. Inside, it wasn’t a box at all, but a cake-cooling fortress. A layer of metallic bubble wrap-like insulation, brown paper, cool packs (which must’ve been ice before it was sent out, but were now mostly cold water with one stray ice-ball in the middle of a single pack). And then, the inner box. More paper, a plastic edging around the cake itself with little circles of specially cut paper still covering the top of… A 12-slice, chocolate raw cake. With biscuity base and cheesecake-like topping. Plant based/vegan, gluten free, refined sugar free… And all from an independent business run by Holly, who has chronic illnesses herself. So basically heaven. In a box. Delivered to me.

Close up image of a swirly patterned cake.

Full disclosure, Holly hosted a giveaway to celebrate the 3rd (third) anniversary of her business. The cake being the prize. So I can’t do the whole “purchased with my own money” disclaimer, but I can say all opinions are my own, the cake-based winnings were randomly assigned to me, and Holly made no strange requests that the winner be a writer who would subsequently blog about the cake. 

Photo of a Holly Tree Kitchen delivery box.

I’ve often been tempted to buy something from Holly Tree Kitchen (especially when they have sales!!!), but it feels frivolous to buy cake for myself when my mum can bake (with me pretending to help, then actually just falling over into the mixtures) and being ill is expensive… So this giveaway gave me a guilt-free chance to give it a go. And I wanted to share the experience with anyone else who might be on the fence about treating themselves. Please also note HTK’s shipping is UK only, so if you’re in another country, you’ll be limited to exploring their “recipes” section.

The cake looks a touch sadder in these photos than it did upon arrival, with its missing pieces and crumbs here and there. I wasn’t able to photograph it for this post as soon as I would’ve liked so can only apologise for not showing the deliciousness off at its absolute best!

A first taste

When I first tried this cake, I was being videoed. In the garden, in a strapless dress, in the wind and autumnal coldness… Long story (I’ll explain some other time). I took a bite, my mum panned the camera away from me and I was free to make a stunned remark about how rich the cake was. Really, really rich. As in “I had to stop my mum from doing any more takes of me eating cake because I couldn’t eat any more cake” kind of rich. I’m sure there are people who could eat a full slice (my dad claims to be one of them -I’m not allowing him to attempt it) but I’m done after ¼ of that. Meaning the cake has 48 Sakara Slices, as opposed to 12 official/Dave slices. A friend who’s ordered from Holly before said she can’t eat whole pieces either, so this isn’t unique to me or this specific cake. 

(And if you’re still wondering about the freezing-in-the-garden videos, you’ll have to wait a while before I can share those!).

A slice of cake held on a plate held above the full round cake.

The cake itself

The top part of the cake is loosely comparable to cheesecake. It’s similar in that its flavour is strong -almost not-sweet- and it’s not a crumbly cake texture, but it’s thicker than globby cheesecake and feels more like an impossibly thick, solid mousse crossed with the inside of a praline chocolate. It’s really creamy, for something that contains no cream. The base is biscuity, and sometimes reminded me of Nākd raw bars I used to buy. Only this base feels more like eating a mainstream equivalent, with more chocolate taste and biscuit texture, rather than having that health-food bar feel. Together, I found the amount of rich top layer took some getting used to. This is a matter of my tastes though, especially as someone who eats quite a low-sugar diet and doesn’t have rich mousses or deserts often. 

As for the finishing touches… 

To begin with, the little swirls of ‘cream’ on top were my favourite part. They’re so sweet! Not in a rich way like the top layer, but in the classic sugar-hit way. The mini chocolate bars perched on top of the cream are interesting too. They have a slightly grainy texture once they begin to melt in your mouth and a flavour I couldn’t quite describe in a way that made sense. It reminded me of white chocolate and, oddly, the smell of straw or something flaxy (I’d happily eat a full-size bar though if that’s any help).

Another cake close up.

How you can eat it

The cake comes in a box stickered with instructions: Holly Tree Kitchen recommend you eat it within 7 days when stored in the fridge, or 3 months when frozen. Yes, you can freeze it! I’ve had reports from a friend that it’s still enjoyable when frozen for longer than 3 months, and she hasn’t died so I’ll take that as evidence that it doesn’t become poisonous. However, the official advice is what it is and I’m no expert, so take what I say with a pinch of anecdotal salt (or non-refined sugar, if you prefer).

When parcelling up for the freezer, I cut the big slices into 2 or 3 pieces, saving about 4 as whole ones in case I wanted to get out a big chunk to share. It’s difficult to cut from the top down, as the top layer can stick to your knife and the bottom layer is solid in comparison. It’s much easier to cut each slice into smaller sections if you lay it on its side, but then you lose the pointy segment shape. The choice is yours!  

The cake sits on a windowsill.

How would eat it

This cake is lovely on its own, especially if you have richer tastes than me. But I started experimenting with adding extras from the fridge and fresh fruit really suits it! I sliced strawberries to put with a sliver of cake one evening, using pureed fruit mixed with stevia (a plant-derived sugar substitute) the next. Today I poured a little chai tea on the last piece I had left out of the freezer. That was good too! 

If the dairy-free aspect isn’t the draw for you (or you have dairy-free alternatives) you could try it with custard or cream (though I personally don’t fancy either). When I retrieve my mini-slices from the freezer I might try soaking one in a dish of coffee, as I love coffee cake and can imagine the chocolate complementing it well. 

I wish I’d thought of the fruit ideas sooner as a full cake would look divine photographed with a covering of strawberries and raspberries spilling over it, a little jug of fruit puree at the side. But, forget photographs, that spread would be perfect for a summer picnic party or even a bigger event- seriously this cake could sustain a wedding’s worth of guests. I couldn’t have a party for my 21st but if I had, this cake would’ve looked so pretty on a little table in my garden in late July. Though that all sounds a bit too grown up really, maybe I’m planning my 30th

A photo of someone about to cut into a slice of the cake.

Price reveal! How much would my massive cake have been?

The raw chocolate swirl cake is £40 for the full 12 slices. Which feels a bit panic inducing but makes it a shred under £3.34 per massive slice (cheaper than a lot of gluten-rich cake shop equivalents, which probably don’t have such a high ingredient cost), and if you take my 48-slice small-serving number, it’s less than £1 a go, just add your own strawberries! 

However, you might want to consider teaming up with friends for your first order (and stocking up your freezer all in one go with future orders, once you’re sure you like what you’re getting) as the flat rate for shipping (UK only) is £10. (Or £3.65 if you don’t need anything chilled).

Has Holly Tree Kitchen gained a proper customer?

Quite possibly! Their full-size raw cakes would be a stretch, but what with the option of choosing 2 flavours (like a pizza! Full 12 slices but divided down the middle so you can try more than 1 cake) and possibly splitting with a friend, it might happen yet! 

I’m drawn to their make-your-own energy ball mixes, where you just add coconut milk to mix up your own little flavoured bites (approximately 20 balls per £9.99 pack). Something which could be a great activity to do with a low-energy friend (or alone, so I can eat them all).

An ideal order for me would also include their new “odd boxes” of 6 brownie squares which very occasionally come up for sale. They consist of spare corners, slightly misshapen squares and any little cube who didn’t find a home in a standard mixed box. (They’re £15 instead of £20 and all brownies have free postage).  

As a giveaway winner, this was the perfect experience. It doesn’t come naturally to me to spend money on ordering fancy cake to my house, but HTK will definitely come to mind the next time life feels a bit too boring to bare without a sweet treat, or when somebody offers to buy me a gift (no energy for ‘experiences’, no space for more stuff! So cake is a wonderful alternative). By the time I’ve eaten it all, I don’t think life will make much sense without a spare slice of HTK cake in the freezer. So I might need a full-scale cake on order after all… 

Did this post give you cake cravings? Let me know…

Until next time, enjoy your swirled, sugary dreams!


*cat not included in order, just wanted to hang around in hope of cuddles or crumbs.

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