COMMENT:

Just last week, I very confidently stated that any self-respecting reality TV show needs a villain.

But then, precisely six days later, my theory was politely and cheerfully blown out of the water with the arrival of The Great Kiwi Bake Off, a television show with a sweet recipe for success that would only be ruined by the presence of a bad guy.

After years of enjoying The Great British Bake Off, New Zealand finally got their first taste of a local version last night and discovered little variance in the flavour. Hosted by the comedic dream team of Madeleine Sami and Hayley Sproull, the show is very much like its British counterpart, although that's no bad thing, considering the original's iconic status.

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Filmed at Auckland's Kelliher Estate, the show certainly looked the part in its opening episode, as a dozen of the country's most enthusiastic home bakers began their quest to impress judges Sue Fleischl and Dean Brettschneider (or Fleischl-Schneider as hosts Sami and Sproull have so handily christened them).

The contestants got to ease their way in to the competition with a signature bake (i.e. a recipe they've made before) and were tasked with creating 24 of their very best cupcakes in two hours.

And, oh, the cupcake porn that poured forth.

There were dietitian Jennie's beetroot red velvet cupcakes with vanilla bean cream cheese icing and candied beet crisps. Sonali, a woman after my own heart, whipped up 'Luck of the Irish' cupcakes, that oozed with booze. Candied bacon was bandied about.

It was entirely overwhelming.

But as Fleischl-Schneider critiqued the cupcakes, the bakers' various sins were revealed. There were dry cakes, several gritty batches of icing, and – gasp – one contestant who had the audacity to adorn her cupcakes with glacé cherries. Glacé cherries!

But the real pressure was yet to come with the bakers plunged straight into a showstopper challenge – creating the ultimate kids' birthday cake.

Contestant Jeff said he hadn't made many kids' cakes before and it showed immediately with his decision to bake a pistachio and mandarin cake – exactly what every child wants. It didn't help matters when his cake began to bleed curd and took on the look of an oozing rubbish bin.

TV producer and single dad Clayton gave himself the challenge of recreating an apparently famous Whanganui dinosaur slide in cake form, that later looked like it was being hacked to death as Fleischl-Schneider cut into it.

Elsewhere, 19-year-old Annabel designed a buzzy bee creation, made up of vertical layers of honey and chocolate cake. It was easily the most delightful children's cake of the bunch, although you could say she had an unfair advantage, given she was a kid herself just a few years ago.

It was all very proper and civilised television, especially whenever Sue Fleischl stepped in to deliver her verdicts.

She managed to eat cupcakes elegantly. And as she grilled a contestant about their igloo birthday cake and its many store-bought elements, it was a tiny bit terrifying, but very elegantly so.

Meanwhile, the double act that was hosts Sami and Sproull worked overtime to inject a little nuttiness into the show's syrupy mix.

They offered a perfect blend of gentle teasing, moral support for the frazzled bakers, and a genuine enthusiasm for what was unfolding before them. Their excitement as hundreds and thousands spilled out of a freshly cut birthday cake was adorable.

And while Sami might be the bigger household name on the show, it was Sproull who was well and truly in her element in the Bake Off tent. Always ready with the perfect dry quip at hand, she was the star of the series debut.

Jennie's igloo cake was penalised for using too many store-bought ingredients and she was the first baker sent home.
Jennie's igloo cake was penalised for using too many store-bought ingredients and she was the first baker sent home.

But as is the Bake Off way, Sami and Sproull's humour never ventured into belittling contestants, which was gloriously refreshing, especially given they were competing with a bunch of newly married strangers arguing amongst themselves over on the other channel.

Contrasted with the barrage of bad news and toxic vibes we're confronted with across all of our screens right now, I reckon The Great Kiwi Bake Off and its charming mix of baking and banter might just be the perfect escapism to end the day with. I know I'll be going back for another slice.

• The Great Kiwi Bake Off airs Tuesdays at 7.30pm on TVNZ 2