How to WIN with a Checkerboard Cake! (and the GABO gluten dilemma)

Easy-to-make Checkerboard Cake by The Gluten Free Lifesaver

GABO or “Great Australian Bake Off” is sweeping over the nation with soggy sponges and crumbling cupcakes in tow. A self-raising baking frenzy is taking off like a rogue blender, and the heavily frosted pink counterpart to the much applauded Master Chef and MKR, is eagerly waiting to claim it’s 15 minutes of fame.

For a couple of years now, the reality themed cooking shows have been hotter than a Thai curry,  and we’ve pulled together as a nation making starters and mains galore. We’ve switched back from skim milk to a dollop of cream, started poking our fingers into the fish fillets at the supermarket, and we’ve garnished everything down to our sandwiches. Australians everywhere now have “jus” instead of gravy with our Sunday roast, we secretly think friends who bring over a casserole are Gatecrashers, and we sometimes catch ourselves saying “Where’s the seuss!”

So it’s time. High time in fact, to put down the ramekins and bring out the sweet endings. Enough of the cravats and yelling egos, back to basics and mums apple pies. Perhaps GABO can reheat our hearts after all those loud and lewd kitchen remarks, or bring our confidence back from a series of falling soufles? Here’s to hoping, although reality likely promises another year of conflicting personalities and edited commentary. Either way I’m happy to sit back, buckle up and watch this bake-off turn from sweet to sour!

I have to say it is cool that GABO has managed to bring a coeliac onboard! Bliss Nixon from the Gold Coast intends to prove her skills in a world where gluten rises the highest and stretches the furthest.  Can she do it? Is she really baking gluten free? If so, should she be judged on the same scale as her competitors? Last time I checked it was a tad bit harder to bake that price loaf without the dreaded G.. I have my doubts. I only hope for her sake that she indeed bakes without the villi-killer, or I wouldn’t like to have her “hangover” in the morning!


Bliss Nixon GABO (source)

Besides, as much as it is awesome to see coeliac disease promoted all over national TV, it so far does nothing to advocate the importance of gluten handling. I’d hate for GABO to add to the already underwhelming knowledge of cross-contamination issues faced by coeliacs. Are they telling the world that coeliacs can “try a little” glutened cake, lick their fingers or even bake in an environment where flour practically puffs through the air? Is Channel 9 jumping on the gluten-free bandwagon to score some greedy points with the growing GF fad’ers, or will they take responsibility for the road they’ve chosen to go down? What about Bliss Nixon? Does she feel a responsibility to inform?  If not, GABO can prove to have dangerous side-effects.

gluten bad

Great Australian Glutening? (pic source)

Wouldn’t it be lovely if GABO instead sparked a gluten free baking revolution, and Channel 9 became a coeliac safety megaphone. It could happen, although I’m not holding my breath. Never the less, a giant national Bake-Off certainly invites a following, and all critical questions aside; there is fun to be had!

Never a crumb of compromise on the gluten, I’ve had a go at the Checkerboard Cake as seen in the first episode of GABO. I imagine I’m not the only one (!), but if you found yourself in trouble with the assembly, here’s how easy it really is!


GABO versions – with more or less luck (source)

Easy-to-make Checkerboard Cake by The Gluten Free Lifesaver

Who needs gluten?!

Taking the opportunity to simultaneously test and review BASCO’s cake mixes which I had yet to try. Plus, if you don’t want this cake to take the 4 hours the GABO crew were assigned, I reccommend cheating with a cake mix. Besides, if you’re baking it GF then you’re allowed to cut some corners to even the scores 😉

Easy-to-make Checkerboard Cake by The Gluten Free Lifesaver


photo 2(2)


For my Checkerboard Cake I used:

  • 1 pk Basco chocolate cake mix (no frosting)
  • 1 pk Basco vanilla cake mix (no frosting)
  • Eggs and butter for preparation as per cake mix description
  • 400 g Chocolate buttons (for ganache)
  • 400 ml cream (for ganache)
  • two oranges for juice (plus the zest of one)
  • Some orange essence and yellow food colouring

Pre-heat your oven to 180 c (160 c fan forced) or as directed on your cake mix.

As for Bascos mixes, I found them easy to work with and they baked very well. However, it is a bit annoying that the box has no mention of whether the butter should be whipped or melted before it’s added to the mix. Seeing as it didn’t specifically say to melt it I simply whipped it in, only to find that the mix is left with lumps of butter through it. The cakes came out beautifully, but I still believe that the recipe was lacking.

All though the cakes baked really well, I’m sorry to say that I won’t be buying the Basco cake mixes again because they have a strong artificial flavour, almost that of uncooked baking powder. Did not like it 😦

Moving on..

Easy-to-make Checkerboard Cake by The Gluten Free Lifesaver

I wanted my checkerboard cake to be of the Jaffa variety, so I made the vanilla cake mix with freshly squeezed orange juice instead of water, and I added the finely grated zest of one (washed) orange. I also added a bit of orange flavouring and a tad bit of yellow food colouring just for show. Make the cake as directed on your mix, or use recipe of your choice.

Now to the great checkerboard challenge…

Use 4 tins for your two mixes. I used 18 cm ones. It will pay off to use tins with straight sides so that you won’t have to cut the cake straight later.

photo 1(3)

..buttering the tins

I butter the tins and sprinkle ground rice in them.

photo 1(5)

Using ground rice so the cake doesn’t stick

I then divide the chocolate batter evenly into two of the tins, and the orange batter into the two remaining. If you can’t fit all tins evenly into your oven all at once, then I strongly recommend waiting with making the second lot until the first one is baked so that the batter doesn’t collapse whilst waiting. Mixed batter should go straight into the oven!

Once the four cakes are out of the oven I let them cool down completely. In the mean time I prepare the ganache.

  1. Gently bring the cream to the boil whilst stirring constantly.
  2. Pour the hot cream over the chocolate buttons 
  3. Let the chocolate sit for a few moments and melt, before you whisk the mixture into a smooth ganache.
  4. Let ganache cool to room temperature; smooth enough to spread on a cake. Not too runny or it’ll soak the cake, not too hard or it’ll only rip your cake apart.

Once the cakes are completely cool I start cutting. Whatever you do, do not start cutting a hot cake. You WILL ruin it. Firstly I even out the top of the individual cakes to make them flat. This is important if you want your cake to stack evenly.

photo 4(3)

I use cookie cutters to cut rings out of the cakes. You can use anything circular and cut around it, just make sure that the circles are as even as possible, as unevenly sized rings will an uneven checkerboard. And by all means make sure that you use the same rings in the same place on all the cakes, or this puzzle will never assemble!

photo 1(2)

Use the ganache to “glue” the pieces together. The consistency of your ganache can be the difference between a checkerboard cake and a train wreck, so make sure it is at a good temperature and don’t use too much or too little. If you spread it on much like you would Nutella on a piece of bread, you should be fine! It pays off to separate the ganache you will use as “glue” from that you will use for icing, for the simple reason that you will probably get crumbs all through it in the process. Crumbs in the icing doesn’t look great..

A good tip: lay down three pieces of baking paper beside each other under the cake to cover the plate before you start frosting. You can then simply pull away the pieces of paper when you’re done and your plate will be clean. You probably will not be able to move the cake once it’s done, at least not before it’s been sitting in the fridge for a bit, so use the good plate from the get go 🙂 Like so:

photo 5(2)

photo 2(5)


When you puzzle your cake pieces together, make sure you go every other colour. This is what makes the checkerboard pattern.

photo 1(6)

Continue to use ganache as glue between the layers, once again making sure to use the right amount. Remember to stack every other colour!


In the end your cake stack should look something like this:

photo 2(3)

When you have put all your layers in place you wanna ice your cake with the rest of the ganache. Try to use a long, flat spatula to get the nicest result.

photo 3(3)photo 4(2)

I like a neat, clean look, so I simply sprinkled some orange zest over top to decorate, but you could always use a piping bag and decorate your cake with the left-over ganache.

I recommend letting your cake cool down for a while before you cut it, although I know it’s tempting.. If the ganache isn’t left to cool, your cake might fall apart.

And voila, Checkerboard Cake GABO style!

Easy-to-make Checkerboard Cake by The Gluten Free Lifesaver



15 Comments on “How to WIN with a Checkerboard Cake! (and the GABO gluten dilemma)”

  1. OMG GABO is soo much more fun now that we can attempt to make the same challenges! Thankyou for your amazing baking guides, I love the color contrast that you got with your cake!
    Thankheavens we have a GABO helper hehe


    • Hi Elise,

      thank you for stopping by, and thank you for your kind words! It’s fun for me too that GABO dishes (!) out such great challenges every week. I’m just happy to bake along 🙂



  2. This cake looks wonderful! It looks very complicated but these descriptions make it understandable. I might try it for my daughters birthday, maybe in pink!


  3. I can’t believe this actually works!!! I feel like things I pin are destined for disaster, but I tried this recently and it totally works. Beautifully. (Well, still working on my technique, but I’m close!) Thank you so much for the step-by-step guide!


    • Haha that’s a cute comment if ever I saw one!

      Of course it works! I only ever post recipes that actually work, I promise! 🙂

      I’m so glad that you had fun with it, and that you’re excited about the result. Perhaps you’d like to send me a picture of your cake? I might post it so that everyone can see that it can indeed be done! You can reach me on

      Thanks for your wonderful comment!



  4. Pingback: Diced! Dessert Challenge Round 3 – Jenee – Godiva Chocolate Checkered Cake with Coffee Buttercream | Rantings of an Amateur Chef

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