Life is what you bake it!

Meet Fae­nia Moore – the un­sung hero­ine be­hind the na­tion’s favourite TV show

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Get ready for Bake Off! Here’s the hero from be­hind the scenes

Let’s be hon­est, most of us would be the size of a sub­ur­ban semi-de­tached if we worked on The Great Bri­tish Bake Off. Woman can­not live by bread alone – and she doesn’t have to when there’s peanut salted caramel and chocolate tart go­ing beg­ging! But the truth is, you can have too much of a good thing. Take it from Fae­nia Moore. She has the def­i­ni­tion of the per­fect job, if you want a li­cence to stuff your­self silly. For al­most eight years, she’s been home econ­o­mist on the na­tion’s favourite TV show. Not a post for the faint­hearted, it takes mil­i­tary lev­els of or­gan­i­sa­tion and knockout bak­ing know-how. And it’s not, ap­par­ently, work you can do while in a carb coma!

That’s why Fae­nia rarely, if ever, eats any bakes on Bake Off. ‘Well, I might if it was bread week, but it’s a rocky road,’ says the 35-year-old, who lives in Bris­tol. ‘I’m not re­ally into sugar, and I’m al­ready over­sat­u­rated with sugar, but­ter, eggs and flour from cast­ing the con­tes­tants, be­cause I have to taste what they make. That’s not to say I don’t ap­pre­ci­ate what’s baked on the show. What the bak­ers cre­ate is re­ally amaz­ing. And ev­ery­thing is eaten – there’s plenty of crew and they’re lo­custs!’

Fae­nia favours lighter bites while on set. ‘Ryvita, toma­toes and av­o­cado is my sta­ple food. If you’re work­ing 16 hours a day, I found out the hard way that eat­ing car­bo­hy­drates at lunch is not a good idea – all my en­ergy was zapped.’

Here, Fae­nia whets our ap­petite for Bake Off’s re­turn with a look be­hind the scenes…

AU­DI­TION TIME

‘Thou­sands ap­ply and, first of all, we carry out phone in­ter­views. You im­me­di­ately get a feel­ing if some­one knows what they’re talk­ing about. I start meet­ing peo­ple with the cast­ing team in De­cem­ber. Each po­ten­tial con­tes­tant brings a

sweet and a savoury bake. My job sounds like one of the most won­der­ful in the world, but when you’re meet­ing 50 peo­ple at a time, tast­ing 100 things over 10 hours, the nov­elty can wear off.

We see hun­dreds over a cou­ple of months and I have to keep up my en­ergy. It’s like mark­ing an exam: you want the first per­son to re­ceive as much at­ten­tion as the last, so there’s a lot of dig­ging deep and palate cleans­ing. I take mi­nus­cule bites, but I can kind of tell just by look­ing at a bake if it’s go­ing to taste amaz­ing.

DING, DING – ROUND TWO

Next, they bake some­thing. This is to see how they cook and if they’re go­ing to be com­fort­able in front of the cam­eras. If some­one’s shy but their food is as­ton­ish­ing, then fine. Peo­ple like this can gain con­fi­dence. It’s up to the big bosses to choose the fi­nal 12 and it’s to­tally based on abil­ity. That’s why the pro­gramme is a suc­cess. It’s not about fill­ing de­mo­graph­ics or choos­ing some­one with a sob story – all the con­tes­tants can bake.

GET­TING STARTED

Be­fore film­ing, I spend a month or­gan­is­ing whole­salers and check­ing equip­ment. You have to be or­gan­ised. There’s a team of three home economists and we’re a pretty slick unit at this stage. Each week dur­ing film­ing, I have my of­fice day, then an on-site prep day in the kitchen. We de­cant in­gre­di­ents into jars and put fruit in bowls – it’s got to look pretty, and we dress the tent to make sure it looks nice. The night be­fore film­ing, ev­ery­thing is put in place: con­tes­tants have a fridge shelf with their pic­ture on it, plus ev­ery­thing is la­belled and their spe­cial­ist equip­ment is ready. By the next morn­ing, we’re good to go.

STAND­ING THE HEAT

We buy new ovens ev­ery se­ries and th­ese are cal­i­brated by the peo­ple who make them. If you set one to 180°C, then it heats to ex­actly 180°C. A sponge is baked in ev­ery oven be­fore each episode, so that we know that no­body’s has a hotspot. Those cakes are then used for dress­ing the set. All tasks need lots of equip­ment. For the tech­ni­cal chal­lenges, ev­ery­thing has to be iden­ti­cal. If one baker had a dis­as­ter while an­other did well, one might say: “But she’s got a dif­fer­ent whisk…” It sounds ridicu­lous, but it might hap­pen.

THE VI­TAL IN­GRE­DI­ENTS

I source and or­der all the in­gre­di­ents for the show. We get a lot de­liv­ered at once to be as en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly as pos­si­ble and try to buy large quan­ti­ties whole­sale, so we don’t have to buy five mil­lion pack­ets of some­thing. If a chal­lenge in­volves a 1kg of ground al­monds, for in­stance, that could mean buy­ing 10 pack­ets from a su­per­mar­ket, so we buy in bulk in­stead.

Our eggs come from a lo­cal farmer, our flour from a lo­cal mill and our but­ter from a lo­cal dairy. Con­tes­tants might say: “I’d like tinned peaches from Tesco” or “I’d like Waitrose Strong Flour” be­cause that’s what they’ve used to pre­pare for the show. It makes a dif­fer­ence, so we go with it.

I’m pretty good at re­solv­ing is­sues, so noth­ing has been detri­men­tal to film­ing so far. In the se­cond se­ries, the freeze-dried rasp­ber­ries didn’t ar­rive in the post. My as­sis­tant and I ended up buy­ing 30 pack­ets of Spe­cial K ce­real and pick­ing out the freeze-dried rasp­ber­ries!

THE CHAL­LENGE OF CHAL­LENGES

Food pro­ducer Lucy has to come up with The Chal­lenge Grid this year with judges Prue and Paul. It gets harder each se­ries. You want fa­mil­iar bakes, but also new things to test peo­ple. You don’t need too many prins­esstårta, though. That was in­tense! With 124 in­gre­di­ents, it’s the most com­pli­cated bake we’ve done. That was a long prep day. I thought: “Can we not do beans on toast? That’d be a great tech­ni­cal…” Next se­ries, maybe.

KEEP­ING UP WITH TRENDS

Bak­ers have re­quested lots of flaked co­conut this year and they’ve been us­ing air­brush guns, for which you need spe­cial paint. We have some­body us­ing a spice called Grains of Par­adise, too – it’s a bit like pep­per­corns. I source in­gre­di­ents like this from spe­cial­ists on­line.

SU­PER­MAR­KET SWEEP

We have some­body on standby at the su­per­mar­ket in case we need any­thing dur­ing film­ing. We buy so much at a time. When­ever su­per­mar­ket staff ask: “What are you do­ing?”, I make up stuff. I once said: “I’m cook­ing for the vil­lage fair…” An­other time I said it was for a sur­prise birth­day party for my sis­ter. We never say it’s for Bake Off.’

Paul Hol­ly­wood, Fae­nia and Prue Leith on set

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