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I Attempted A Zumbo Dessert Challenge And It Was So Terrible

Just fucking terrible.

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"What if I recreated one of the challenges from Zumbo's Just Desserts," I heard myself say in a meeting. "It would be funny because, you know, I can't cook."

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I imagined I'd be in a kitchen for a few hours, there'd be a bit of a mess, but there'd also be a reasonable attempt at finishing a cake also. A fun, easy experience with a delicious outcome!

How wrong I was.

Just Desserts is the latest in competitive cooking shows, with mad genius Adriano Zumbo testing the limits of some of Australia's best amateur bakers. Zumbo, for the record, has been referred to as the "Dark Lord of the Pastry Kitchen". I now understand why.

Channel 7

At the end of each episode, two bakers must face off in what's known as the "Zumbo Test". I asked for the recipe of one of these tests, to see how I'd fare.

When the publicist sent it over, the selected recipe was EIGHT PAGES LONG. THAT'S BASICALLY A SMALL NOVEL.

Channel 7

There were 55 ingredients listed. FIFTY. FIVE. I had to read through it twice, just to make sure I didn't miss anything.


It's like the Turducken of desserts.

Out of the components, I had only made brownies before. One of those box mixes that uses eggs and oil to transform brown dust into batter in a matter of seconds. Zumbo's brownie recipe called for couverture chocolate, something I had to google to make sure it was real.

The contestants on Just Desserts were given three hours to make their FrankenZumbos. So with a time frame and a novella of instructions under my wing, I set off on an arduous adventure.

The first steps went surprisingly smoothly. My raspberry gel came together and set perfectly, despite calling for pectin and some kind of citric acid. Was this a dessert or something Macaulay Culkin would spread on the floor of his basement in Home Alone?

"LOOK AT ME," I screamed, "I MADE LEMON CURD! IT'S VERY TART. TASTES LIKE LEMONS!" I shouted with joy. "FUCK ME, THERE'S CREAM EVERYWHERE," I lamented. Emotions were running high, but everything was on track for success.

But my luck was about to change. As if by simply opening the oven, disaster began to strike again, and again.


At first my pastry sat in a completely cool oven for 15 minutes. I didn't even notice there was no heat in there at all. Then, once I actually turned the oven on, I realised time was starting to slip away from me pretty rapidly.

While I had successfully created a few of the components (the raspberry gel, the tart pastry, and the chantilly cream), an hour had already flown by. That's when things really started to go downhill.


In what we'll call a tragedy in three parts, my pastry base was too big to bake into any brownie tin I had, so I had to trim it down.

Trimming the base not only screwed with the integrity of the pastry, but it also looked a fucking mess. "I'll use the brownie batter like cement, sticking the pastry back together!" I said, like a big, optimistic dumb idiot.

What I had hoped would look at home in a patisserie was more reminiscent of a truck stop bathroom.


Time was rapidly escaping me, and everything started to become so much more stressful than I had anticipated. At one stage, the recipe cried out in bolded capslock "MULTITASKING". It felt like it was mocking me.

At the four-hour mark I realised that at this point in the episode everyone would have finished. They would have probably got a cab home and were spending time with their families. I was only halfway through the recipe.

A few reasons why I believe my time management was such an issue:

– I had to google a lot of maths questions.

– I had to wash every damn bowl I used so I could reuse them 100 times.

– Seriously, so much maths googling.


By the time it came to the macarons, the aspect I was most dreading, I was already losing my mind.

Just spent a good 5 minutes measuring out 150g of almond meal. Probs should have just read the packet.

I was nearing my FIFTH HOUR.

Probably suffering from fatigue, things continued to unravel. My macarons, which I had hoped would be a pink fantasia on the top of my delicate dessert, were anything but.

The dry, lifeless discs lost their "tickle-me-pink" colouring and became jaundiced, cracked, and sagged with disappointment.

"I already washed the sieve, I'm not washing it again," I foolishly said when I was forced to make my THIRD BATCH OF MERINGUE.


You heard me. The macarons, pavlova, AND the ricotta pancake all had some kind of meringue component. PANCAKE WITH MERINGUE?

The first batch made for the macarons was a disaster. I ended up adding my sugar well before it was near meringue form, which might explain the tragic result. The pavlova was chunky, with clumps of icing sugar clogging the piping bag. I tried to thin the mixture out with my tears. "At least the pancake will be OK," I hoped.

Needless to say, I wasn't taking all this defeat very well.


The sun had well and truly set, and I was on my second glass of wine. Friends had come over for dinner and were watching me struggle to put everything together. They were worried for my mental state.


While my monstrous baby was baking, the clock slowly ticked toward the seventh hour. SEVEN HOURS. TO BAKE A DAMN TURDUCKEN CAKE.

And then, after seven hours, it was out of the oven. And it was a fucking mess.

As if collapsing from the exhaustion of its own creation, my FrankenZumbo looked like it had been in a bar fight and lost. Bleeding from the face, it was cracked, defeated, and a little bit tragic.

Much like the doctor from whom the FrankenZumbo gets its name, I had created a monster.

I guess this is where I'd reflect on the process and tell you what I learned, but all I can remember is the satisfaction of crawling into bed after seven hours of baking.


Despite looking like a mess, most of it actually tasted fine. The pavlova's chunky sugar situation wasn't ideal, and the macarons were more like macawrongs, but every other individual component was actually pretty tasty.

For now, I'll stick to what I'm good at: recommending episodes of Barefoot Contessa that you'll enjoy and finding great deals on Menulog. Because if there's one thing this experience taught me, it's that I'm no master baker. I'm barely even an amateur.