With The Great British Bake Off’s proper return still months away, Tuesday nights just don’t feel the same. There’s no Paul. There’s no Prue. There’s no Noel or Sandi playing about in the background. And there are no cakes, no biscuits, no tarts and (in our living room, at least) no soggy bottoms. What, then, is a baking fan to do? Why, turn to a cooking contest you’ve never heard of before: Zumbo’s Just Desserts.
Here are nine reasons why it’s the ideal show to fill that Bake Off-shaped hole in your life:
1. It’s just like The Great British Bake Off…
The title may sound unusual, but this is exactly the sort of fare Bake Off fans are used to: 12 amateur bakers gather in one gigantic kitchen to compete at making fancy desserts. In place of Noel and Sandi? Britain’s own Rachel Khoo, a co-judge and talented chef in her own right. In place of Prue and Paul? Adriano Zumbo, an Australian pastry chef with a knack for extravagant creations. Think Heston Blumenthal. But crazier.
2. … but every round’s a Showstopper
Sausage rolls and sticky toffee pudding, this ain’t. Zumbo is presented as Australia’s answer to Willy Wonka, and he doesn’t disappoint, setting the bar ridiculously high with all manner of absurdly edible treats, from desserts within desserts within desserts (within desserts) to a golden chocolate duck in a mini-bathtub, complete with gingerbread bubbles. Expect deconstructed puddings, lots of dry ice, chocolate domes, oodles of fruity foam and carefully sculpted flowers. At one point, Zumbo actually unveils a gigantic hat, which floats and spins around in mid-air. The Great British Show Off, more like.
3. The set is pure Willy Wonka
That over-the-top vibe infuses everything about the programme, from its impossible tasks to its vividly coloured set. Done up like a magical dessert factory, the floor is covered in a giant rainbow, the ingredients line the walls like your favourite childhood sweet shop, and the contestants enter through huge industrial doors. To complete the Willy Wonka feel, Zumbo’s assistant – skilled pastry guru Gigi Falanga – runs about shouting at everyone about how much time they have left. In case the massive lit-up clock hanging from the ceiling hasn’t made it obvious enough already.
4. The stakes are real
It’s not just the timer that’s ramping up the tension, though: unlike Bake Off, the stakes here are real, as the contestants battle not just win a cash prize of $100,000, but also to have one of their own creations included in Zumbo’s chain of shops. It’s like the food equivalent of Simon Cowell giving you a record deal on The X-Factor. Except, you know, you can eat it. And potentially be photographed alongside a chocolate duck.
5. The contestants are fun
You’d have to be mad to take on such a challenge, and the contestants are certainly colourful types. There’s car salesman Daniel, who genuinely believes that he would be a famous chef if only he started cooking 30 years ago (spoiler: he doesn’t win). There’s no-nonsense mum Kate, whose wide-eyed enthusiasm is instantly charming – she spends most of her time swearing at the camera about how she can’t believe any of what’s happening. And there’s perfectionist Ali, whose attention to detail makes for impressive results, but agonising viewing.
6. And they never leave
The one weak point in Zumbo’s Just Desserts? Zumbo himself, who is so good at cooking that he’s actually quite unnatural on camera. Khoo is a seasoned pro, but that only makes the difference between their styles more noticeable – although they do both have strong poker faces when it comes to eating each dessert with a deliberately straight face. Fortunately, the show’s come up with a neat way to circumvent the lack of chemistry in the room (the show is missing a Mel and Sue): it keeps each contestant from previous episode in the studio, so they can watch from the sidelines. They cheer on their favourites, sigh in sympathy at baking fails and pretend not to be bitter about being knocked off in a previous week.
7. The drama is high
Did we mention the $100,000? The show isn’t about to let us forget what’s at risk, and it ramps up the drama every single chance it can get. That includes loud music, a cheesy voiceover and – in a move that’s bound to prove divisive – gets each contestant to offer running commentaries on events via vox pop. The fact that they were recorded after it happened might frustrate some, but as they wince, sigh and shout at themselves (or get excited that the judge’s scores might be about to go in their favour), the editing is so slick that you can’t help but be caught up in it.
8. The rules change
The show’s format is simple: each episode has two challenges, rather than Bake Off’s three (allowing extra time for gazing in awe at the madness). The Dessert of the Day round gives contestants free reign to match a brief given by Zumbo, then the bottom two of the week have to take on a Zumbo Test, which requires them to replicate one of his own creations. But along the way, things are mixed up neatly, with one week taking the top two into the Zumbo Test to win a Golden Ticket that will automatically enter them in the grand final.
9. It’s all on Netflix
The show originally premiered on Australia’s Seven Network in 2016, which means that you should avoid Wikipedia if you don’t want to know who wins. But it does mean that the whole season is available on Netflix to binge whenever you like – or space it out over Tuesdays to really help with the Bake Off cravings.
Zumbo’s Just Desserts: Season 1 is available on Netflix UK, as part of an £8.99 monthly subscription.