Things I wrote in 2016

I’ve seen various writers post things they’re proud of this year, so I decided to do the same. This year I started to pitch pieces to other websites, which was scary, but I’m glad I did it. My experience working with editors has been positive, and I’m looking forward to doing more of it next year. This list of pieces is things I’ve written for the blog and other websites, roughly in chronological order.


Claire Hooper and Mel Buttle in The Great Australian Bake Off

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The Great Australian Bake Off, Season 2 Episode 10: Finale #BakeOffAU

Olivia: Last bake dudes, have fun!

Antonio: Good luck!


The final three.

It’s the last week of The Great Australian Bake Off, the nicest show on Australian television. There may be swearing, but the way the contestants care about and help each other is heartening. There’s also cake. We’re down to Olivia, Antonio and Monica. I’m picking Olivia to win.


Matt, Maggie, Mel and Claire look on like proud parents.

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The Great Australian Bake Off, Season 2 Episode 9: International Week

Olivia: Goodbye oven. I’m done with you.

We’ve reached the second last week of Bake Off, and the judging is fierce. The four best bakers are in the semi finals, and even a small mistake could be the difference between making it to the finals and going home.

Signature Bake: Baked Cheesecake

There have been some great challenges this season (bagels!), and a baked cheesecake is a a perfect signature challenge for the semi finals. The bakers have two and a half hours, and they need to make their cheesecakes spectacular, which is no longer a criterion exclusive to the showstopper. We’re at the pointy end, people. Mel tells us that the earliest recording of a baked cheesecake was in Ancient Greece! Maybe there should be a time travel week next season. Ancient bakes? I’ll work on it.

Antonio is making an Italian ricotta, vanilla and citrus cheesecake with a side of vanilla bean ice cream. Matt asks how he’s going to make it special – that’s what the money ice cream is for! The ice cream is delicious, and Maggie nearly offers Antonio a job, but the cheesecake is slightly overcooked. It’s the semi finals, so the judges are being more critical than they would have been in week 1.


I couldn’t resist. Source: Tumblr

Olivia is making a black forest cheesecake, which Maggie deduces from the ingredients on her bench. The judges are looking for something extra, and Maggie asks Olivia how she’ll make it special. Olivia replies that she’s making a cherry tree to go on top as decoration. The cake itself will have a chocolate biscuit base and a chocolate and cherry filling. It’s so good – Matt even uses the word ‘superb’ – that the judges forgive the cracks on top, and Olivia has made the best cheesecake for the day.


Olivia is the rolling champion!

Monica‘s cheesecake has a pre-bought biscuit base so that she has enough time to make the three layers of her Neopolitan cheesecake. That’s how I make cheesecake bases, but it’s the semi finals, so Maggie and Matt are probably expecting the contestants to make their own bases. The layers for Monica’s cheesecake are milk chocolate on the bottom, vanilla and white chocolate in the middle, and strawberry on top. The strawberry is the best of the three, followed by the milk chocolate layer, but the white chocolate didn’t work out as well.


Maggie and Matt aren’t angry, they’re disappointed.

Liesel is making a German cheesecake. She found the recipe on the back of a letter that her aunt wrote to her mum, which is great. The cheesecake has a shortcut pastry base, ricotta filling, and is topped with sour cherries and vienna kipfel, aka almond shortbread. The flavours are great, but the judges think it’s more of a tart than a cheesecake.

Technical Challenge: Porcini and three cheese soufflé

This is a Maggie Beer recipe, and before she leaves she tells the bakers that burnt butter is better. As this is a souffle challenge, the bakers will have staggered start times, so Maggie and Matt can taste their bakes when they’re fresh. Olivia is the first to start, and Monica, Liesel and Antonio leave the shed before Olivia hears what she will be making. The bakers start at five minute intervals, and this is how Olivia feels after she’s put her souffle in the oven:


Diagnosis: Souffle

The trickiest part of this challenge is waiting. The soufflé needs to be in the oven for 40 minutes, but you can’t open the oven to see how it’s going because it will deflate.

Olivia’s soufflé is the first to be tasted, and it’s risen well. It’s golden on the top and Maggie says the mixture is perfect. Olivia watches on nervously because she can’t hear what the judges are saying. Antonio’s soufflé is golden, but it hasn’t risen as much as Olivia’s. The flavours are all there, but unfortunately it’s a little overcooked. They love Monica’s, and Liesel’s had some problems with her crumb.


This is why they judge the souffle straight away.

From fourth to first: Antonio, Liesel, Olivia and Monica. The judges tell Olivia that Monica’s was slightly better, which is a demonstration of how close this competition is.

Showstopper: Around the World cake

For the penultimate showstopper, the judges have left a lot of room for interpretation of the brief. The contestants are asked to draw inspiration from their heritage, their travels, and people that have inspired them. Maggie says they need to pull out all the stops to make it to the final.

Antonio has abandoned his Italian heritage to make a French cake. His Gateau St Honore has alternating layers of choux buns and puff pastry, a lychee and a raspberry creme patissiere and rings of tempered white chocolate. Matt says the profiteroles are some of the best he’s ever tasted on the show, but Maggie says the puff pastry is a little undercooked. She said she could just sit there and keep eating it though, so this will be a tough challenge to judge. After Antonio takes his cake back to the bench, Maggie and Matt are still talking about his flavours, which is a very good sign.

Olivia has German heritage, but her family moved to Australia a generation before Liesel’s. For her showstopper, Olivia is making a Schichtortte (a great GBBO series 5 technical challenge), which is a cake baked in thin layers. Olivia’s cake will have 40 alternating layers of orange and almond, and will be decorated with a chocolate glaze and sugar work. Her cakes are moist, and the decoration is stunning. Matt counts all the layers in the cake just to make Olivia nervous. Maggie loves the almond and orange flavours together, and it looks as if Olivia will be this week’s Star Baker.

Liesel is also making a Schichtortte! She knows she’s going to be judged directly against Olivia, so she’s understandably nervous. Liesel’s Schichtortte will have 20 layers, some of which will be apricot jam. She’s decorating the cake with a mirror glaze and tempered chocolate. The presentation is simple, but the work went into baking the cake. There are clearly defined layers, but it’s unfortunately a little dry. Maggie suggests that she add jam to more layers of the cake, which would solve that problem.


It appears that Liesel needs 2 dozen eggs for this challenge.

Monica is making a Pomme Charlotte. With lady fingers for decoration, the cake will have alternating layers of sponge and apple bavarois. Matt doesn’t want anyone to have an easy time today, so he tells Monica that Pomme Charlotte is one of the first things he made in a kitchen. Monica had fun with her decorations, but Matt thinks it’s a bit much. It tastes great though, and the apple isn’t too sweet.

Olivia wins Star Baker, and Mel pauses just long enough to make me doubt my instincts. She tells us that she really wants to win. Of course you do! Liesel is going home, and it’s tough to just miss out on the final. The final shot of the week is Antonio calling his Nonna to tell her he made it to the finale, it’s gorgeous.


We’ll always have this gif.

Other thoughts:

  • As always, you can find this week’s recipes on the show’s website.
  • These recaps are also being published at Decider TV. Take a look around, there are some great articles going up at the moment.
  • Also: Vote for Bake Off in the Molkies! And other shows in different categories. I just bluffed the sports ones.
  • I’m in a church choir, and when all the stops are pulled out of the organ I can barely hear my own voice.
  • Bake Off related images courtesy of Foxtel, Fremantle Media and BBC Worldwide.

The Great Australian Bake Off, Season 2 Episode 8: Sweet Dough

There are only five bakers left! Olivia can’t believe she made it past week one, and Fiona wants to “rise with the dough.” That or she’s auditioning for a hosting job, which comes with this magnificent spread:


Signature Bake: Finger Buns

The signature bake this week is an Australian classic, the finger bun. The judges would like 24 identical iced finger buns. Unlike Bakers Delight finger buns which are baked at 28 a tray, these finger buns must also be filled.

Olivia is making blueberry and custard finger buns. They’ll be filled with custard and a blueberry compote, and topped with a blueberry and lemon glaze. With half an hour to go, Olivia hasn’t put her buns in for a second prove, so she could be in trouble. Maggie and Matt love the flavours, but since the dough isn’t proved properly, it tastes more like a bread roll than a finger bun.

Fiona is making Vietnamese coffee finger buns for her dad. The dough is made from Hokkaido milk bread, filled with condensed milk chantilly cream, and topped with coffee icing and tempered chocolate. Fiona didn’t get to finish decorating her buns, so there are squares of tempered chocolate left on the bench. The judges like the flavours, but the milk bread is a bit too heavy for a finger bun.

After his success bread week, Antonio has once again decided to prove his dough only once. The finger buns will have vanilla and coffee filling and an almond praline. As Maggie and Matt visit his bench, they say his dough looks good, so he might get away with only one prove. He’s making a milk glaze rather than an egg wash glaze because that’s his preference, but we can see that Matt disagrees. The finger buns aren’t identical because he ended up having to make a second batch of dough, but he has a way with flavours, and the judges love them.


Monica’s Ed Sheeran themed finger buns

Monica‘s finger buns have a citrus theme, with an orange cream filling and mandarin icing. Monica was the only person who didn’t have any problems with the timing of this challenge, so her finger buns are beautifully presented. The judges are a little confused with some of the decorations. They taste great, and Maggie and Matt can’t stop eating them. Mel applauds the homage to Ed Sheeran’s beard, and Maggie asks who Ed Sheeran is.

Liesel is making passionfruit finger buns, filled with passionfruit curd and chantilly cream, and topped with passionfruit icing. The dough is very good, but because Liesel struggled for time at the end, the passionfruit curd is inconsistent, and Matt’s bun has more filling than Maggie’s.

Technical Challenge: Bee Stings

Bee stings are traditional German sweet yeasted cakes topped with almonds and filled with honey cream. Monica says the most challenging thing about this bake is that she doesn’t know what it’s supposed to look like. Liesel has an advantage because her mum used to work at a German cake shop, although she’s never made one herself. Everyone has their cakes out of the oven with ten minutes to go, but they need to cool down before they’re filled.


Look at those bee stings!

From fifth to first, we have Monica, Fiona, Liesel, Antonio and Olivia. The judges are impressed with all the bee stings, and there’s not much separating fifth from first. Liesel would have been first except that she dropped her tray as she put it into the oven, so the bottoms didn’t cook properly. This end of the competition is tough.

Showstopper: Decorative Babka

A babka is a Polish celebration cake made from sweet yeasted dough, filled with cinnamon or chocolate swirls. Our bakers’ babkas can either be made in a tin or freeform.

Olivia is making a three-tiered spiced babka with figs and spices for the filling. She’s put szechuan pepper in her spiced filling, and Matt warns her that it could overpower the other flavours. It looks fantastic, and Maggie is happy that the spices haven’t overpowered the figs. Matt says it’s what a babka should be, so it looks like Olivia’s safe for this week.


Olivia’s showstopping babka

Antonio is making a pannetone with an orange and lemon flavoured dough, a custard filling and marzipan fruit decorations. After seeing everyone else’s tiered babkas, Antonio’s concerned that his pannetone isn’t enough of a showstopper. Maggie and Matt say it’s not a babka, but it tastes so good that Maggie asks Antonio to make her one for Christmas, which is almost as good as winning the show.

Fiona‘s East Meets West babka has two tiers, a matcha tea infused dough, and chocolate and coconut flavoured custards for the fillings. She’s decorating her babka with tempered chocolate. She’s working on more elements than usual, but it’s a showstopper and she needs to do well in this challenge to stay in the competition. The dough is a bit more cakey than the judges would have liked, but they love the flavours, especially the white chocolate and matcha.

Liesel is making a free-form babka, which she will shape and stack to look like a tree. The tiers will have alternating layers of chocolate and hazelnut, and cinnamon and pecan. The decorations will be tuile biscuit leaves. She’s a bit concerned that it’s too small to be a showstopper, but she’s the only person who has made her babka without a tin. The flavours of the fillings are great, but the dough is too thin and the babka is too dry.

Monica‘s baking a three-tiered babka with three different kinds of dough: one milk based, one water based, and one without butter. The top two layers will have a banana and caramel filling, and the bottom layer will be filled with chocolate and hazelnut. She’s decorating the top with mini babkas soaked in rum. It’s huge, and I was worried it was going to fall apart when she took it up to the judges’ table, but it was okay. Matt says it’s definitely a showstopper, and it tastes as good as it looks, so Monica’s made up for her placing in the technical challenge.

Back in the potting shed, the judges discuss this week’s bakes. Star Baker is between Monica and Olivia, and the judges have a tough decision to make over who goes home as Fiona, Liesel and Antonio all had bad bakes this week.

Monica wins Star Baker for the second week in a row, and Fiona is going home. Liesel and Antonio are shocked at the decision knowing that their names were also under discussion. Bye Fiona! You were a great contestant, and it’s been fun watching along with you on Twitter!

Other thoughts:

  •  If you came here looking for recipes, here you go.
  • Programming note: these recaps are also being published over at Decider TV. This section is all mine, though.
  • If you’re a fan of the show, you should definitely be following Fiona on Twitter. Yes, I’m telling you twice.
  • All images courtesy of Foxtel, Fremantle Media and BBC Worldwide.

The Great Australian Bake Off, Season 2 Episode 6: Retro Bakes

James: You are an incredibly talented baker, but right now I’m just waiting for things to cool down, really.

Mel: With our relationship, or with your sponge?

We’ve made it halfway through the season, and they’re going back in time! Retro bakes isn’t a theme I’ve seen before, although my knowledge of GBBO’s back catalogue has a gap when it comes to seasons 2-4. So we’re going retro! The bakers tell us what they think of as retro, and there’s some delightful footage of Liesel dancing, which I have turned into a GIF!


I’ve learned how to make GIFs, so expect more of these.


Signature bake: Swiss Rolls

When I was young, I assumed all Swiss rolls were made with jam and cream. At the time I didn’t particularly like jam or cream (I have become slightly less fussy as I’ve aged), so I had no interest. These swiss rolls however? I’m sure they’ll all be delicious – and at this stage of the competition you have to do something a little more impressive than jam and cream to impress the judges. Maggie tells us that Swiss rolls are so retro they were part of her childhood. The bakers aren’t quite sure of the origin of Swiss rolls…

…which is Austria. Of course it is.

Olivia has gone full retro with her Sticky date Swiss roll. The sticky date sponge will be filled with butterscotch and have a wallpaper design in homage to the 70s. This is getting into the theme completely, I love it. Unfortunately Olivia’s Swiss roll cracked because she didn’t roll her sponge until it had cooled, but it looks terrific. The flavours are fantastic, and Matt thinks it’s a cracker.


Liesel is hoping that getting into the theme will help the ‘vibe’ of her bakes, and she’d probably do really well at the short lived MTV themed reality show 70s House. Her Swiss roll is lemon thyme flavoured, and will be filled with lemon turmeric curd (I’m fascinated to see how that turns out) and cream. Liesel had some problems because she decided not to make her sponge until halfway through the challenge. It was too warm to put the cream on, and the curd has melted. Luckily the judges love it, and the only problem is the presentation.

Monica is making an upright Swiss roll and immediately has Claire confused. Her sponge is flavoured with chai, and will be filled with apple jam and cream. Matt isn’t quite sure what to make of how it looks because it challenges traditional notions of what a Swiss roll should be. It tastes great, but the judges aren’t sure whether or not it’s still a Swiss roll. I have no idea any more. Keep on challenging those notions, Moncia. You do you.

Antonio is having fun annoying Noel, but he’s also got a lot of work to do on his Swiss roll. It’s going to be filled with a banana and dark chocolate ganache and a passionfruit jam. Antonio’s presentation is impressive, and the flavours are all there, but the chocolate is dominating the other flavours in the sponge because he’s used it for both the decoration and the filling.

James is making a classic swiss roll with apricot jam and white chocolate cream. And stripy decorations! James, I hope you’re doing enough to impress the judges. The judges think it looks plain and for some reason Matt wants James to know that he prefers raspberry jam to apricot. Maggie likes the apricot jam, which isn’t too sweet, but there’s not enough cream. But Matt says it’s ‘not bad’. I cannot decipher these comments.

Fiona is making the most multicultural of Swiss rolls, with a Japanese theme! Japanese flavours, Swiss name, Austrian origin. Her Swiss roll will be filled with ginger cream and yuzu jam. Maggie loves yuzu, and Matt praises how light the sponge is. This could be Fiona’s week!

Noel knows what he’s doing, and is pre-rolling his sponge before he fills it. Like James, he’s going for traditional flavours: a lemon sponge, raspberry jam, cream, and covered in chocolate. Maggie comments that it looks like a Yule log, and Matt says the chocolate ganache was taken too far. Maggie would like a little less chocolate, because the sponge is so good.

Technical challenge: Neenish tarts

Another thing I wasn’t particularly fond of due to my aversion to jam as a child! I don’t think I’ve had anything resembling Neenish tarts for over 20 years, so I don’t really have much of an opinion on this bake. Our bakers need to make a dozen, and Maggie gives them a few hints before she and Matt leave for the potting shed to “listen to their Walkmans.”

Neither James nor Antonio knows what a Neenish tart is. Haven’t they been to bakeries in country towns? I may be a few years older than Antonio, but I’m in my mid-twenties. Maybe I know what they are because I never wanted them. The Neenish tarts I’ve seen in bakeries are flatter than Maggie’s. Maggie Beer has put gelatin in the recipe for the ginger buttercream, just to confuse everyone. I assume that’s why she’s done it, because everyone’s confused. Noel says “I’m too old for this.” Noel doesn’t realise this yet, but he’s not the only one having difficulty with the butter cream.

From seventh to first: Olivia, James, Fiona, Noel, Monica, Antonio and Liesel! The young’uns are doing really well at the technical challenges.

Showstopper: Bombe Alaska

The Bombe Alaska is perhaps the most well-known challenge in the history of the Bake Off franchise. Bin-gate should be a question at trivia nights. Now it’s time to see how our Aussies go at the Bombe Alaska. The criteria for the dessert are baked base, frozen centre and meringue shell. The bakers have four and a half hours, which I hope is enough. Maggie says that the timeframe is pushing it – we agree on so many things, Maggie.

James is determined to get Star Baker, despite being quite low in the technical challenge. His Giant Cherry Bombe Alaska has a cherry flavoured sponge for the base, dark chocolate and sour cherry ice creams, and a red meringue shell! He has a secret decoration that he’s keeping secret from the judges, which turns out to be a giant tuile. James cackles like a mad scientist when he blowtorches his meringue. The judges love his concept of ‘oops, I dropped my ice cream cone!’, which is a great concept for a showstopper. Matt says it’s James’ best showstopper, and I’m so happy he pulled it off.

Once again, Antonio has found a way to cook with alcohol. His Tiramisu Bombe Alaska will have a baked biscuit base, hazelnut, espresso and marsala gelatos, and a coffee meringue. That’s three frozen elements, good thing he’s a fast worker. Antonio has also been watching a lot of MasterChef, because he decides to make his ice cream with dried ice rather than the ice cream machine. It all tastes fantastic, and Maggie asks for gelato tips. Antonio tells them about the dried ice, which prevents ice crystals from forming too quickly. Then he said he hasn’t made ice cream before. Serious contender, this one.

Olivia has gone for a concept, and I love it. Her Volcanic Bombe Alaska has a coconut base, as well as lime and coconut and raspberry ice creams. She’s using Swiss meringue to cover the dessert. Now I just need to know if Swiss meringue is from Switzerland or Austria. She says you just have to have fun. Mel eats so much of his ice cream that I wondered if it was just some looped video, and then he soaks his sponge in a liqueur that you can only get from his Nonna’s village in Italy. Olivia tries some of his ice cream and says that 16 year old boys shouldn’t make her feel this way. Olivia’s as happy as she can be for someone using plastic palm trees. Matt Moran says that it looks ‘amazing,’ which is just about the highest praise he can give. It also tastes great, so after a bumpy technical, Olivia’s looking good for Star Baker again.

Monica is making a Pumpkin Bombe Alaska. The base will be pumpkin, as will one of the ice creams, and the other ice cream will be hazelnut, with a sweet meringue to finish. One of her ice creams hasn’t set, but she has a contingency plan. Even though her hazelnut ice cream didn’t set, it tastes good, and the judges love the cake and the concept.

Liesel challenges herself this week by making an Indian ice cream that doesn’t use egg, just a milk base. She’s making a Bombe-bay Alaska with a lime base, as well as mango, cardamom and pistachio ice creams (I don’t know how to spell the other thing). When she takes her ice cream out of the freezer, it has set, but some of the plastic has gotten into the mango layer, which she’ll have to carve. It looks fantastic, but the flavours didn’t quite work, and Maggie can taste the condensed milk.

Noel tells us that back in the retro days, you didn’t need a machine to make ice cream. His Traditional Bombe Alaska has a choc-hazelnut base, a rum and raisin ice cream, and a dark chocolate and coffee ice cream. He’s making Italian meringue, which is probably originally from Hungary. It looks plain to Matt, but Noel’s just being Noel. Noel’s coffee ice cream is too icy, and it’s seeped a bit out the bottom. For this challenge I think the judges are going to have to assume that some of the ice cream is melted, like how the MasterChef judges eat cold food. The flavours are good, but the layers aren’t distinct enough.

Finally, Fiona is making a Watermelon Bombe Alaska. She’s worried because she’s a bit behind the others. It will have a base of yuzu sponge, raspberry ice cream and apple gelato filling, and will be covered in green meringue. The judges love the concept, and the flavours are all great together, but Matt calls her sponge “the worst [he’s] ever seen, ever.” He compares it to polenta that’s been sitting in the fridge, Maggie was thinking of a block of cheese.

Antonio wins Star Baker for the second time, which means both he and Olivia have won twice, and Monica and Liesel have won once each. Unfortunately Noel is going home. I’ll miss you and your wonderful dancing! This is such a great group that it’s always sad to see someone leave. At least he and Antonio made peace before the end of the signature bake.


Noel and Antonio listen to Antonio’s Swiss roll to make sure it’s baked.

Other thoughts:

  • GIFs! Adding the text took much longer than expected, which is why I only have them from the first five minutes. You can definitely expect more in the future, depending on how far in advance I write these recaps. It’s much quicker to take a screenshot.
  • MTV’s The 70s House was a show I learned about on the Rose Buddies (A Bachelor fancast) facebook page. It’s all on YouTube and it’s bizarre and compelling. Here’s a link to Episode 1.
  • Antonio points out the irony of the youngest baker winning retro week.
  • Come back next week for pastry!

The Great Australian Bake Off, Season 2 Episode 5: Bread

Olivia: I love white bread. Screw this wholemeal shit.

BREAD WEEK! It’s my favourite week of the show, and today’s challenges look absolutely delicious. Mel is bready for puns. Noel likes wholemeal and wholegrain bread, but Olivia disagrees.


Olivia remembers that Monica’s Lady Marmalade joke made the cut last week.

Signature bake: Burger Buns

Liesel: If you don’t have a good bun, why have a burger?

Our contestants have to make 6 burger buns, along with a filling, so our judges will be getting bout 8 full meals on the first challenge. How do I apply to be designated leftovers eater?

Fiona is making a brioche bun flavoured with lemon and dill for her salmon and crème fraiche filling. I’m not a big salmon eater, but I would definitely try it. She’s had some issues proving the dough, so her buns are a bit dense. Other than that, the flavours are great, although Matt would like some more creme fraiche.

Noel is hoping that the addition of spelt will help his burger buns stand out. His beef patty and caremelised onion is accompanied with an avocado and garlic aoili. Maggie warns that too much spelt makes a dense bun. It doesn’t matter, Noel’s done a great job! The bun cuts easily, and the flavours all go well together.

After Mel accuses Noel of making graphic artwork with his vegetables, we go around the tent for some innuendo.

Monica has decided that making a hamburger from scratch isn’t enough work. In addition to a milk bun, beef patty, cheese and salad, she’s also making fries and a milkshake so it’s an entire meal. Fillings fall out of the bun as Matt cuts it (a good sign) and the judges love the flavour, but think it’s a bit too big to eat. Once again judges, no such thing. That’s what the paper from the fish and chip shop is for!

Jeremy‘s Fancy Burgers have a meat patty, brioche bun, and a spicy jalapeno sauce. Jeremy’s quite nervous becuase he’s never made bread before. Good luck Jeremy! His patties are ‘Jeremy Burgers’, which means he can only fit three in the hot plate at a time. You’re still doing this show right Jeremy, don’t listen to the judges. Jeremy’s brioche is a bit cakey, but the judges love the flavours.

Antonio‘s classic burgers have a beef patty, with cheese and home made tomato sauce (the best kind) inside a brioche bun. He likes the classic flavours, which is fine, but he also seems to think that bacon doesn’t go on a burger. This is news to me. Antonio is finished with a few minutes to go, and he’s worried that he hasn’t done enough. The brioche is a bit too dense and Matt would like more filling in there. Maggie thinks the meat is cooked well. One of the issues with this challenge is that there’s more focus on the burger than the bun.

Olivia seems to be taking Matt’s advice and is adding pineapple to her burgers. With a beef patty and white bun, her burgers are what she likes to cook on the barbecue at home. While Matt believes that an Australian burger should have pineapple on it, Olivia’s using tinned pineapple, which has the judges worried. Maggie gives feedback on the bread part of the challenge, which is that the bun needed a bit more proving, and Matt says the burger tastes great.

Just as Matt says he wants to see something a bit different, Liesel tells us she’s making German burgers! The bun is half rye with carroway seeds, and will be filled with chicken schnitzel, sauerkraut and mustard. I would like to eat this one, please. The judges love it! Maggie praises the bread, and Matt’s just a fan of the whole thing.

James is going for a Japanese themed hamburger! His nori (seaweed) bun will be filled with fried chicken, wasabi mayo and pickled vegetables. Matt says there’s too much bun (once again, that was the baking part of the challenge), and it’s a bit too dense. Fortunately it tastes great, and the flavour combination is good too. Matt’s decided to keep eating after he’s finished judging it, and that’s all that really matters.

Technical Challenge: Baguettes

These baguettes are a Maggie Beer recipe, so naturally the recipe includes figs, walnut and fennel seeds. Also verjuice, which is Claire’s beverage of choice this week. It doesn’t go so well.


This week in Claire tries something she shouldn’t: Verjuice!

As the bakers wait for their dough to prove, Olivia mentions it’s a mind game. The next Survivor immunity challenge should be making bread.


Mel, Claire and Antonio watch Australian Survivor as they wait for Antonio’s baguettes to bake.

From eighth to first: Noel, Jeremy, Fiona, James, Liesel, Monica, Olivia, Antonio. Noel makes an unintentional double entendre and everyone laughs.

Showstopper: Bagels and edible basket

For this week’s showstopper, the bakers need to make 12 bagels (6 sweet and 6 savoury) and an edible bread basket. They have four and a half hours, because they have a lot of proving to do. Maggie is glad that she’s not a contestant.

Fiona is aware that she’s in trouble this week, so she’s hoping her Japanese inspired bagels will get her through. She’s toasting sesame and poppy seeds (maybe more) in her frying pan, which is a good start. Her bread basket will contain six savoury Nori bagels with the seeds, and six sweet matcha tea bagels with read bean filling. I hope James gets to have some of the leftovers. The judges praise Fiona’s presentation, and Matt says her basket actually looks like a basket. The judges love her savoury bagels before they even try them, and Maggie waves one in front of Mel and Claire. They love it, and Matt says it’s the “essence of Japan”. Mel and Claire also take some time to sample the savoury bagels. They’re impressed. The sweet bagels are also delicious with the matcha setting off the red bean paste, so I think Fiona’s safe for another week.

Jeremy is a bit more confident coming into the showstopper. His sweet bagels will be filled with craisin (dried cranberry) and freeze-dried raspberries, and he’s making spinach and feta savoury bagels with pistachio paste. Yum. Matt is worried that the pistachio paste will overpower the other flavours. The savoury bagels are a little flat, but Maggie enjoys the dense and chewy texture. Unfortunately the sweet ones don’t work out as well, and they’re a bit too tough.

Antonio is being daring with his flavours again. His savoury beetroot bagels are bright, and he’s gone back to the booze with a rum and raisin sweet bagel. He has some trouble getting his basket off his tin, but Olivia helps him, and I think this is the first time we’ve seen relief on young Antonio’s face. The judges test Antonio’s basket, and it doesn’t fall apart when they lift it by the handles. His bagels are all very nicely glazed. The judges love the beetroot bagel’s dough, and the rum and raisin bagels are also a hit. Antonio could very well win back-to-back Star Baker.

Liesel is also making beetroot bagels with some thyme added for good measure, and a sweet spiced orange bagel with sultanas, which sounds delicious. Matt’s feeling generous today, so he suggests to Liesel that she add some sugar and vinegar to her beetroot. Then he makes a joke! “Sweet and sour – just like us.” Unlike Antonio’s beetroot bagels, Liesel’s have beetroot chunks, so they don’t get the colour of Antonio’s. Luckily Maggie enjoys the chunks of beetroot. Liesel’s sweet bagels are a bit flat and heavy, but the judges enjoy the flavour, saying it reminds them of Christmas cake.

Monica is going for a French theme with sweet strawberry bagels and savoury French onion bagels. Another reminder to not watch this show on an empty stomach. Matt asks if there’s going to be melted gruyere on the top of the French onion, which is something Monica hasn’t planned for. Monica appreciates the tip, because she loves cheese. Claire accuses Matt of disguising his requests as tips. The French onion bagels are delicious, and Maggie praises the addition of the cheese. The strawberry bagels are a little tough on the outside, but the flavour comes through, and her presentation is excellent, so Monica has done well.

Noel is making savoury onion and thyme bagels, and sweet cinnamon, orange and fig bagels. They sound like great flavour combinations and if it goes well, Maggie Beer will love the fig. He’s poaching the sweet bagels in Tasmanian leatherwood honey. How do I place an order? When he takes his bagels out of the oven, they’re stuck to the paper. I hope it all works out, Noel! James and Liesel help him out because everyone on this show is wonderful. The flavours on the savoury bagel don’t come through enough, and Matt says the sweet ones also lack flavour, but he also says it tastes like a hot cross bun. Mixed messages!


Little-known fact: Rihanna’s “Halo” was inspiredc by Maggie Beer [citation needed]

James really wants to try Fiona’s Japanese bagels, but he’s decided to focus on his own while he waits. His savoury bagels are flavoured with onion, garlic and fennel, and the sweet bagels are blueberry, white chocolate and vanilla. The onion bagels are a little bit too dense, but the judges love the blueberry ones.

Right now Olivia‘s bagels are the ones I most want to try. Her garlic bagels are poached in beer, and her sweet bagels will have cinnamon and brown sugar to give the impression of French toast. She poached them in molasses and maple syrup. All of these contestants should seriously consider opening bakeries and sell their bagels. Matt says the garlic bagels are some of the best ones he’s tasted, and describes the French toast bagel as “bloody good” – the most Australian compliment you can get. Maggie loves the crust and the sugar topping, so Olivia is in contention for Star Baker this week as well.

Olivia wins Star Baker again, and I’m looking forward to when she opens her bakery with those bagels. Jeremy is going home, and the elimination is easily my least favourite part of the show. They’re all so lovely! I will miss Jeremy and his wolf apron.

Other thoughts:

  • If you’re looking for recipes, click here.
  • One of the best burgers I’ve ever had is the snapper burger at Piggery Cafe in the Dandenongs. That was over 18 months ago, so the menu may have changed since then.
  • Pineapple doesn’t belong on burgers. Or pizzas.
  • Should we have a larger discussion on hamburger buns as a challenge? By requiring the contestants to make an entire meal, they’re not being judged on the baking as much as they would be for other challenges.
  • Podcast fans: If you’re after a short discussion of the show, check out Tegan Higginbotham and Paul Verhoeven’s The Cooling Rack.
  • Melbourne: where do you buy your favourite bagels? Leave a comment or contact me on Twitter (I am 100% serious about this).
  • #wildlifewatch: WHO PLANTED THE AGAPANTHUS?

Agapanthus is a weed. Our bakers are lovely.

  • All images courtesy of Foxtel, Fremantle Media and BBC Worldwide.

The Great Australian Bake Off, Season 2 Episode 3: Pies and Tarts

Claire: No Lorraines please, don’t be a quiché.

Last season I was a bit annoyed that this show didn’t follow the tradition of doing bread on Week 3, but no more! Pies and Tarts is a fun one, especially after biscuits (which I love to eat, but aren’t the most compelling television. Mel and Claire are looking forward to wardrobe loosening their waistbands.


They know how many pies they’re going to eat this weekend, and they’re looking forward to it.

Then, after a year, Mel gets revenge on Claire for last season’s stunt. Claire only has one face though…


I guess they filmed this bit last. That, or this is the pre-pie outfit.

Signature challenge: Savoury Quiche

For the signature challenge, the bakers are making a family sized savoury quiche. Maggie emphasises the importance of savoury vegetables for the camera, and Matt provides us with a list of all the different ways a quiche can go wrong. I hope he did that out of earshot from the contestants.

Olivia is making a bacon, feta and asparagus quiche, which she makes for her husband and her brother. It’s just something they love to eat, and she has some experience making it, which helps. Matt says the quiche is a bit too firm, but the flavour is “beautiful,” which is high praise for him. Afterwards Olivia says that bacon makes everything better, and she is correct.

Monica is “fondling her mushrooms” (her words) for her Trio of Mushrooms quiche, with wild, porcini and button mushrooms. Matt warns that the porcini mushroom can overpower the other flavours. The mushrooms aren’t cooked enough, and it needs more salt. Maggie says that mushrooms are the vacuum cleaners of salt.

Noel is making a smoked salmon quiche with asparagus and leek from his garden. His pastry is perfect and golden, and Matt cuts a big slice because he anticipates loving it. It’s definitely the judges’ favourite quiche so far.

Antonio is taking a risk by not chilling his pastry dough before blind baking in order to save time. His pea and asparagus quiche also has parmesan cheese. Maggie likes the creativity of the asparagus over the edge of the quiche, but she’s worried the tips are over cooked. It tastes fantastic, and Maggie’s surprised that not chilling the pastry has worked.

At this stage Liesel’s quiche is the healthiest. It’s filled with asparagus and capsicum, and topped with broccolini. She’s the first baker to have a soggy bottom on her quiche, and Matt says it’s underseasoned. Liesel knows it’s not her best work.

Diana is making a Mexican taco quiche complete with minced meat, which is a new interpretation on the quiche in Australia, but it’s a popular Friday night dish in Sweden. I’m interested to see how this one turns out. It turns out quite dense, and there’s not enough room for the custard. It’s too “out there” for our judges.

Fiona is making a zucchini and feta quiche (some more traditional quiche fillings), seasoned with mint and garlic. Maggie is concerned about the amount of water in zucchini. She was the last person to get her quiche in the oven, so she’s worried it won’t set in time. The pastry is baked well on the bottom, but the moisture of the zucchini has seeped into the pastry at the top. Maggie would like more seasoning.

After last week’s disaster, James is flustered and gets zucchini confused with asparagus. His vegetarian quiche has asparagus, tomato and roast pumpkin. Mel’s concerned about James’ knife skills, so she gives Maggie and Matt a quick demonstration. He’s done well; Maggie can taste the herbs, and Matt loves the roast pumpkin.

Jeremy‘s quiche is inspired by curried egg sandwiches. His curried egg quiche also has potato and eggplant. The pastry is very good, but Maggie and Matt advise that he makes his own curry powder next time.

Bojan‘s Loaded quiche is filled with chorizo and sundried tomato, and topped with caremelised onion. This is the one I most want to eat. Matt says the seasoning is “pretty good”, but Maggie says the egg to filling ratio isn’t quite right.

Signature bake: Pistachio and frangipane tarts

Before our bakers know what they’re baking, Maggie Beer tells them to get their pastry blind baking as soon as they can and really push it. No soggy bottoms allowed. The challenge is to make four pistachio and frangipane tarts with rhubarb and raspberries. They have two hours to complete the challenge. Matt remarks that a lot can go wrong, but Maggie insists it’s worth it. Noel has some trouble getting his Kenwood device to crush his pistachios, so Monica helps him out for a kiss on the cheek. Noel tells Mel he’s had technological issues, so Mel asks what’s wrong with his iPhone. Noel doesn’t have an iPhone, but he bought his first mobile phone last week. Liesel realises that she doesn’t know whether to classify rhubarb as a fruit or a vegetable. She also says that you can call the colour of the filling spring green or baby puke green.Olivia accidentally takes Jeremy’s rhubarb, so they swap!

From soggy bottom to top we have Jeremy, Noel, Diana, Antonio, Monica, Fiona, Olivia, James, Liesel and Bojan. Bojan thinks it’s time to get a Maggie Beer tattoo. At least he’s going to tell his wife first.

Showstopper: Three-tiered pies

The restrictions for the showstopper challenge is that the pies must be united by a common theme and they need to be self-supporting. The bakers have a choice of sweet or savoury.

Jeremy‘s pies have an apple theme, and he’s pairing apple with a different ingredient for each pie: caramel, rhubarb and pear. They taste great, and the apples have kept their shape even though they’re perfectly cooked.

Once again, Olivia is cooking with bacon, because she knows what she’s good at. Maggie is happy to hear that Olivia’s made a hot watercrust pastry for her pork pies, accompanied with apple, quince and fig respectively. Matt is impressed with Olivia’s choice of filling, which will be dense enough to support the structure. Maggie loves the pastry, and Matt said the fig pie is one of the best things he’s tasted in the competition so far.

Liesel is also going for an apple theme, with different flavours in each pie. The top is cinnamon, the middle is quince and ginger, and fig and honey at the bottom. Unfortunately they didn’t stack well, so she’s had to put them on two boards. Maggie and Matt love her fillings, and Matt just says she tried to do too much as Maggie keeps eating.

Bojan is using onion as the theme for his pies, and he’s been creative. The top tier is accompanied by mushroom and prosciutto, hamburger in the middle and beef stroganoff on the bottom. I have a lot of recipes to look up tonight. They love the pastry, so he’s off to a good start. The fillings are great, so I’m definitely looking up these recipes. Bojan is definitely up for Star Baker this week.

Monica’s pie is a three course meal. The top tier is kale, spinach and cheese (one of my favourite savoury pies), chicken and leek in the middle (another one of my favourites), and a spiced apple pie at the bottom. Monica gets an “excellent” from Matt.

Antonio is making sweet cheese pies flavoured with lemon, vanilla and raspberry. He’s a bit worried because the filling for all three pies is the same, so it’s going to have to taste great. Maggie loves it, but Matt thinks it’s a bit grainy, and would have liked more flavours. It wasn’t a disaster, so he’s probably safe.

Fiona‘s pies have a winter fruit theme. Her top pie is rhubarb and pistachio frangipane topped with a rhubarb lattice, pear and nutmeg in the middle, and apple and salted caramel on the bottom. With only two pies to present to the judges, the apple pie is delicious, but there’s too much nutmeg in the pear pie.

Noel has already over-cooked his pistachios for his three tier frangipane pie. The top tier is a bakewell tart, a berry frangipane in the middle, and pistachios, dates and apricot at the bottom. Matt questions whether it’s a pie or a tart during the challenge, but doesn’t seem to mind when he’s eating it. The frangipane is cooked perfectly, but the date is overpowering the pistachio.

James‘ pie is a Ploughman’s Lunch. The top tier is apple and custard, cheese and potato in the middle, and pork in the bottom. The cheese and potato pie isn’t great, but the judges love the apple and custard.

Antonio’s pies are in the oven, so he wanders around the shed, sniffing Liesel’s fortified wine before Olivia puts him to work.

Something at Diana’s bench catches fire, which catches Maggie and Matt’s attention. She’s making princess themed pies presented as a castle. The top tier is elderflower and vanilla for Frozen, apple and saffron in the middle for Snow White, and spiced pumpkin at the bottom for cinderella. Unfortunately the spices weren’t properly balanced.


Maggie and Matt are drawn to Diana’s station like moths to a flame.

Disaster strikes when Fiona’s frangipane pie slips out of her fingers and splatters all over the oven door. She’s understandably upset, because she cooked it perfectly. Everyone feels horrible for her, and James can sympathise. Noel just wants everyone to be able to present three pies to the judges because he’s a gentleman.

Olivia wins Star Baker, and really, it’s about time. She’s been in discussions for Star Baker every week so far (I watched the first three episodes in the space of 24 hours, so I could be wrong on this, but she hasn’t made any big mistakes), so it’s about time. Unsurprisingly, Diana goes home. Diana, you have been great, and I will miss you.

Other thoughts:

  • #wildlifewatch: Wherever they film this show is home to kookaburras, bees and magpies, as well as the small birds whose name I don’t know.
  • All images courtesy of Foxtel, Fremantle Media and BBC Worldwide.
  • EDIT: Here are the recipes from this week’s episode.