New reality cooking show, The Great Australian Bake Off, premieres tonight at 8pm on Channel Nine. Hosted by Shane Jacobson and Anna Gare, the competition is judged by Australian cake queen, Kerry Vincent, and Dan Lepard, one of the country’s most respected bakers and authors. Each week, 10 contestants will be faced with challenges in Signature Bake, Technical Bake and Showstopper Bake categories, and the last person standing is set to be crowned Australia’s Best Home Baker. We caught up with all the judges to ask about the new show and their own home kitchens, and here’s the first of our interviews with the talented Dan Lepard.
Q: You’ve written cookbooks, authored columns for newspapers and magazines and worked in restaurants around the world. Judging The Great Australian Bake Off is a little different; what do you enjoy most about your new role?
Standing in front of some of Australia’s most talented home bakers, judging what they’ve battled to bake in tough conditions, is both an honour and a challenge. The biggest buzz I get is in marvelling at how well each baker does, given how extreme the competition is. Right from day one, I felt a gut wrench when we had to send a baker home, only equalled in intensity in the excitement on the first day of the next episode. You’ll see people like you and me making those specials bakes we all love, most baking them well, some baking them disastrously, yet in every case putting every ounce of effort and determination in. That’s something so special that every day I looked forward to the baking Kerry and I would judge together.
Q: Your approach to baking includes getting the most out of simple ingredients and using traditional techniques. Is this a key to success for the contestants and home bakers? When is the right time to try something new?
Well, using what we have and can easily buy is where we all start: it’s certainly how I started. Yes, I think learning to understand how one ingredient works is a good plan for baking success. Try to bake a recipe a few times, making your own changes as you go if you like, and be as precise as you can. Then when you’ve cracked it, play with it by varying ingredients to see how they affect the result. That’s what I still do today.
Q: With all your years of baking experience, do you still find yourself learning new things in the kitchen? Can you tell us about something you’ve been surprised to discover?
Learning never stops. On The Great Australia Bake Off, our bakers would tell me little tricks they’d learned, and favourite techniques they have mastered. I get letters, tweets and emails from readers daily with ideas and knacks they use, so I feel very lucky to be a part of that. One thing I just learned last week was to add a small amount of bicarbonate of soda to lemon or lime marmalade to improve the set, as it reduces the acidity. All marmalade needs acidity, but some citrus fruits, like lemons and limes, have too much. It works a treat.
Q: What three words best describe Australia’s Best Home Baker?
Talented, brave and… Australian!