The Great Australian Bake Off returns: ‘This is exactly the tonic we need right now’ | The Great Australian Bake Off

The perfect pavlova. A trifle of macadamia, anise myrtle and bush honey. Baked bread sculptures in the shape of Australian mammals.

These are among the delights the contestants are tasked with creating for the new season of The Great Australian Bake Off, which returns to screens on Thursday after a three-year absence. Bake Off is a global reality phenomenon that began in the UK and has since been adapted by 35 countries around the world, traveling everywhere from Kenya to Morocco and Brazil. The format has remained more or less consistent around the world; what makes each version unique are the peculiarities of the local cuisine. Here in Australia, that means dishes created from indigenous ingredients, classics taken from the pages of the Australian Women’s Weekly Cake Book and, of course, the quest for the optimized pav.

“I like it crispy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside,” says show chef and judge Matt Moran. “But someone else might like it a bit more brittle.”

Moran, along with fellow celebrity chef Maggie Beer, is responsible for evaluating the creations offered to the show’s home bakers each week. He thinks Bake Off is so popular because “it’s a show everyone can relate to, whether you’re a kid baking their first cookie or a retiree baking bread.”

This year, however, there’s another reason viewers might tune in: the Covid effect. The pandemic has transformed many of us from kitchen Luddites into avid bakers intimately familiar with the fine art of sourdough.

For the TV executives behind Bake Off, the renewed interest in cooking creations has been a blessing.

“We are absolutely aware of the enthusiasm Australians have for baking at the moment,” says Kylie Washington, managing director and creative director of BBC Studios Productions, which helped bring Australian Bake Off back to Foxtel after a change in production partners. , then the pandemic , forced its break.

The baking craze also helped with casting this season. “It meant we were really spoiled for choice,” Washington says. “We found a wonderfully diverse mix of people.”

This included “lots of men” – something the producers really had to look for in the past. In addition to achieving a better gender balance, this year’s cast ranges in age from 19 to 62 and includes bakers born in Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Indonesia and Iran. Washington believes the “Australian flavor” of the cast is part of the show’s charm and what helps Great Australian Bake Off find an overseas audience. (It also airs in the UK, US, New Zealand and parts of Europe.)

The show was also relatively lucky when it came to filming, entering before the Omicron variant hit. The cast and crew had to perform rapid tests every day before entering the venue, but managed to avoid any outbreaks on set. “Compared to a lot of other shows, we actually got through Covid really well,” Washington says.

But even if you’ve avoided the kitchen for the past two years, Bake Off still scratches the pandemic itch for comfortable viewing. Unlike the high-stakes competition of cooking shows like MasterChef, Bake Off is friendly by nature. Competitors take on three different baking challenges each week – the first is Signature, where bakers whip up time-tested classics, then Technical, where more specialized skills are required. The latter is the show stopper, home to incredulous culinary prowess that this season will include everything from a hanging biscuit chandelier to a nun-shaped French choux pastry tower. A contestant is eliminated each week, but the show is never cruel in its way of reaching its ultimate winner.

“It’s soft competition, but it’s very supportive and loving,” Washington says. “The candidates are friends and they are beautiful people. When they have finished their own baking, sometimes they will help each other. It’s about helping people perform at their best and bring their creations to life.

That means giving the right kind of feedback is something Moran is aware of. “You can’t sugarcoat things, but you have to be constructive,” he says. “If you want to criticize, you have to tell them Why. You need to be able to prove why you didn’t like it and why it didn’t work. Otherwise, they just think you’re a jerk.

“But it’s not a show where we’re trying to create drama,” he adds. “It’s true.”

That’s not to say things never go wrong on Bake Off land – even if you’ve never seen the show, you’re probably familiar with a viral meme of British comedian James Acaster pitching his dish to the judges on the UK version of celebrities, telling them that he “started doing it, had a breakdown, good appetite”.

“There are always two or three things crashing down and burning — literally burning, sometimes,” Moran says. “And things fall apart. But that’s the beauty of the show. There is always drama when it comes to the cooking itself.

With The Great Australian Bake Off now in its fifth season, Washington doesn’t think the basic ingredients of the show have changed much over its run.

“Bake Off remained consistent throughout the process. You know the saying – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” she says. “People love that he delivers the same thing every time. He offers this wonderful spirit and sense of camaraderie and family. You don’t have to change anything; it’s a beautiful sight as it exists.

And as we enter the third year of the pandemic, consistency is invaluable.

“People just want comfort,” Washington says. “They want to know where they’re headed because the world is so unfamiliar and so unpredictable right now. So slipping into your pajamas, sitting on your couch, immersing yourself in a good ol’ round of Bake Off is just the tonic we need right now.

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