The Great British Bake-Off is one of Britain’s favourite television shows, and it airs on the BBC. A couple of years ago Nine produced one series of a local version, which was never renewed. Earlier this year, the Lifestyle family of networks announced that they were going to reboot The Great Australian Bake-Off on Lifestyle Food, for Foxtel. I have great affection for The Great British Bake-Off, which serves as an explanation as to why I’m going to be so hard on The Great Australian Bake-Off, or at least the judges. This is my first attempt at reviewing a reality show on a weekly basis, so it should be an interesting ride. The formula and music of The Great British Bake-Off were there, and I enjoyed Mel and Claire as hosts, but I felt that it was a little bit poorer for the lack of Paul and Mary, but we’ll get to that later.
The way I’m going to do this each week will probably be a heading for each challenge, but since this is the first week, I’ll give as much of a bio as I can on each contestant. First we had Dr Pete, a general practitioner from Victoria who is so obsessed with precision in baking that he sifts his flour five times (you can already buy it triple-sifted!). Also from Victoria is Suzy, a mother of two who helps her husband run his business. From Queensland we have industrial designer Brendan who has a pet bird, as well as Ben who hails from the mining town Emerald (they don’t explicitly state his occupation, so I assume it’s something involved with mining). Janice is from Sydney, where she bakes for her family and volunteers with Second Bite or possibly another charity of a similar name, I didn’t get the name of it down quick enough. James is originally from Adelaide but moved to Sydney in order to break into food writing, Mariana is from regional Queensland and a member of the CWA. Angela works at a stable that houses race horses, and she’s also been baking for the Royal Melbourne Show for a long time, using family recipes passed down multiple generations. Jasmin is a barista who originally hails from the UK and now lives in Far North Queensland. Meg is a student from Adelaide, Nathan is an 18 year old social sciences student, and Sian works at a fancy pants clothing store because she loves fashion.
The Hosts and Judges:
Our hosts are Mel Buttle and Claire Hooper, who do a great job, even though they’re not Mel and Sue: they are constantly trying the contestants’ bakes-in-progress, are incredibly cheeky and have great rapport with the contestants and judges, and are committed to their terrible puns. Our judges are award winning chef Matt Moran, owner of the restaurant Aria, which has locations in Sydney and Brisbane, and Maggie Beer, Australia’s television grandma. I’m less happy with the choice of judges than I am the hosts, I think their judging leaves a lot to be desired, because while Maggie is a cook and Matt is a chef, neither of them are bakers by profession, unlike Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood. As such, their comments weren’t particularly constructive, and due to the way the episode was edited, they sometimes came off as unintelligent.
For the signature bake this week, Maggie and Matt wanted our contestants to make a family sized cake that represented them – the proper definition of a signature bake, unlike the increasingly complicated briefs that come further into GBBO. The first bake they tried was Suzy’s strawberry angel cake – Suzy cut her strawberries into the shapes of hearts, and it looked stunning. Matt and Maggie were impressed with the cake and said it was very light. James’ carrot cake with mascarpone icing got good reviews, the citrus and the spices came through well. Jasmin made an absolutely stunning chocolate and salted caramel cake with a marshmallow topping, and the comments that we saw on the show were merely that it was ‘too high’. This is where I get annoyed at the judging, because they didn’t have anything to say about the density, flavour or texture of the cake. Furthermore, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood don’t judge on such arbitrary criteria. Maggie and Matt loved Janice’s Japanese Honey Souffle Cheesecake, which had some of Maggie’s jam in it – apparently it was okay for her to not make her own jam. Despite some issues with timing and melting icing, Maggie and Matt loved Sian’s beetroot chocolate cake. Like Sian, Ben had some issues with timing and his sponges were too dense, but Maggie and Matt really liked his basil infused cream. Nathan made a blueberry and blood orange cake, and they liked it – that’s all I have written down. As I said earlier, their comments weren’t particularly constructive. The only feedback CWA Mariana got on her chocolate and cherry cake is that the chocolate shavings would have looked more impressive if she had tempered the chocolate. Meg made a pinata cake with chocolates in the middle, and Maggie and Matt told her it would have been better if she had made the chocolates/lollies herself – but it’s okay for Janice to use Maggie’s jam. Also it’s week one! Angela’s chocolate cake was dry, they couldn’t taste the parsnip in Brendan’s parsnip carrot cake, and Dr Pete’s tiramisu cake was delicious but messy.
For the technical challenge, our home bakers were asked to make a Constitution Cake, which is something Maggie made for the government (possibly at their request) when she was awarded Senior Australian of the Year. It’s a fruit cake that contains indigenous fruits, is topped with royal icing, and decorated with wattle seeds. Oh and there’s a layer of macadamia marzipan in the middle. I didn’t write down the feedback for the technical challenge, just the order in which the bakers were placed, beginning at twelfth and ending at first: Mariana, Nathan, Peter, Sian, Brendan, Suzy, Meg, James, Janice, Jasmin, Ben, Angela. Mariana and Brendan are in trouble, and Angela and Janice are looking good.
The first showstopper challenge for the series was a hidden design cake, which as far as I’m aware (I haven’t seen every series), has never been done on The Great British Bake-Off. The bakers were asked to bake a cake which when cut open revealed a design/pattern, so that’s what they did. As it turns out, I didn’t take notes on the judging of this challenge, because my main observation on that was that Maggie and Matt were judging more on whether or not the cake was a “showstopper” than how it tasted, except obviously for the one that was under-baked. James made a starry-eyed cake, which looked great on the inside, but wasn’t showstoppery enough on the outside, which makes sense, because it’s a hidden design cake. Suzy put a shoe design inside her cake, which was very impressive. Pete did a Red Cross cake that was once again a mess, Janice made a birthday cake inside a cake that was covered in jelly. Mariana, who was in trouble, saved herself with a citrus cake pop surprise cake. Meg (who is my favourite purely based on her personality) did a leopard print cake and did the whole thing in batter rather than baking some cakes more than once. She baked it in a loaf tin, so it wasn’t enough of a showstopper, apparently. Brendan managed to save himself with an orange and chocolate gateau that tasted good enough that Maggie and Matt could overlook his split icing. Angela made a stunning mint and chocolate checkered cake, complete with tempered chocolate on the top. Nathan made a chocolate and peanut butter cake with some animal patterns through it that didn’t quite go how he expected. Jasmin made a stunning “British at heart” cake, which was decorated with Australian landmarks but had a Union Jack pattern with a heart at the centre when cut open. Sian made a Battenberg that seemed to be quite good, and Ben made a Baileys and Guinness swirl. Angela was awarded Star Baker for week one, while Dr Pete was sent home.
I will watch all of this show, but it has a lot to live up to, given the high regard in which I hold The Great British Bake-Off. I like most of the elements of The Great Australian Bake-Off, but so far I find the judging to be wildly inconsistent. Why is it okay to bring in store bought jam but not store bought chocolates? Is it just because it’s Maggie Beer’s jam? Did the contestants make their own fondant? Someone was eliminated from GBBO last year for bringing store-bought fondant. If you’re asking for a hidden design cake as the showstopper, surely the showstopper aspect of the brief should be judged when the cake is cut open, not before. It will be an interesting ten weeks, and I’m looking forward to seeing how biscuit (or bikkie) week goes.
- Wildlife sightings: a pelican at the beginnin, and a kookaburra during the showstopper
- Unlike GBBO, our amateur bakers bring their own aprons, which I like.
- Instead of a tent, we have a shed, which looks quite nice on the inside. Is it on Matt Moran’s property?
- Mel affectionately calls Nathan “ginge”, and as they’re both redheads, they speculate that they could be related – it’s entirely possible, Mel’s dad was in the Navy.
- Some of the indigenous fruits that went into the Constitution cake were quite bitter. After trying one of them, Claire exclaimed, “Maggie Beer, you weirdo!”, which was my favourite part of the episode.
- The judging has really left a sour taste in my mouth, so I’m wondering exactly what the selection process was. The cynic in me believes it was related to the fact that they’re already high profile Australian foodies and Matt Moran definitely has his own show on Lifestyle Food, I’m not sure about Maggie Beer.