English lecturer takes hobby to national TV competition
KENNESAW, Ga. (Dec 4, 2017) — For Molly Brodak, baking is a passion and a way to balance life. The Kennesaw State English lecturer honed her confectionery talent by watching YouTube videos and cooking shows and reading cookbooks.
This month, Brodak is one of 10 contestants vying for the crown as America’s best amateur baker on ABC’s “The Great American Baking Show,” a competitive baking show. The eight-part series premieres Dec. 7.
A fresh start
“We moved to Atlanta in 2011, and I didn’t really know anyone, so I started baking a lot,” she said, filling her extra time as she pursued a poetry fellowship at Emory University. Brodak, who has been teaching at Kennesaw State since 2013, taught herself to bake over the past six years and now balances her faculty role with her creative hobby.
As a child, she saw the kitchen as a place to play and experiment. As writer and a teacher today, baking provides an extraordinary balance for her.
“Baking is definitely more hands on,” she said. “Writing is much more conceptual, and it’s so in my head, but baking provides the hands on that I crave.”
As her hobby grew, Brodak launched her blog, Kookiehouse.com, to track her creations and baking journey.
From blogger to TV contestant
“My husband and I like to watch baking shows, and I would say, ‘I could do that,’” she said. One day, she saw the casting call for “The Great American Baking Show” on social media and applied.
During the first audition in Atlanta, Brodak had to bring two baked goods to the interview – one that represents her and the other a loaf of bread made from a recipe supplied by the show.
As others arrived with trays of brownies, or “something homey”, Brodak showed up with an elaborate pink swan-shaped cake with edible flowers. A culinary judge and the show’s producer evaluated the taste, but they were also looking for those who would be comfortable in front of the camera.
“There’s the baking side and the camera side,” she explained. “You had to be good baker and be able to express yourself on camera. I think my teaching experience helped with that.”
Brodak was then invited to a final baking audition in New York City before being selected for the show.
“When I received the call, I was at a conference with other KSU colleagues,” she said. “It was a weird confluence that I was presenting a paper about composition.”
Teaching and baking
Once she accepted the show’s invitation, Brodak had to write original recipes to submit to the show in advance. She also began to plan for fall classes by pre-recording several of her lectures so she could move her courses to online units while she would be away in the UK, where the show would film for nearly a month.
Brodak left for the show in late August, but continued to balance her teaching load while participating in the baking show overseas.
The show filmed in two-day increments, followed by one day off, and then repeated the three-day cycle for the competition’s three-week duration. The show filmed six episodes, with three bakes in each episode, she explained. Each episode was filmed over two days.
“During my off days, I was still teaching. I was grading papers and talking with my students,” she said. While the filming schedule was grueling, Brodak managed to withhold her involvement on the show from her students.
“I didn’t want that to be a distraction for the students,” Brodak said, who taught undergraduate honors composition and world literature courses at the Marietta Campus.
Her experience, however, has helped Brodak gain abundant perspective.
“I’m always telling my students that they just have to try,” she said. “I tell them to start a blog, to be their best steward. And I tell them to stop waiting for instructions and be proactive makers and learners.”
“When I started my blog, I challenged myself to fill it, not focus on being discovered, but on producing. I had to put myself out there,” she said. Taking that leap of faith, Brodak is pleased with her performance on the show.
An experience to remember
During the contest, she baked a variety of holiday-themed confections. Each episode included three bakes: a signature bake, which was a planned item within a specific category; a technical bake, which was a surprise; and the showstopper.
“Cookies were my medium,” she explained, noting her affinity for them. “This flexible baked good could be any flavor or texture. They are humble and everyone can make them.”
Brodak initially thought she’d sweep the competition during the show’s cookie challenge, but says she “went in with too much confidence.”
“My cookie was almost raw, and crumbled in the judge’s hands,” she said. “Now I have a bit of bitterness toward the cookie.”
Stress was a large part of the competition, and although she went in with a casual attitude, she quickly embraced a competitive spirit, learning to integrate color and texture in her bakes and forming new friendships along the way.
“I watched colleagues on the show go home, and I was sad to see them go,” she said. “Some just have an off-day. And it was heartbreaking.” Brodak knows this show has pushed her own boundaries.
“There were some great bakers, but it’s not all about talent, it’s about making a great show,” she said.
One of her favorite show memories was having to build a gingerbread house. Brodak, who owns chickens, created hers to resemble a chicken coop.
“The chicken coop made me think about home. It was, by far, my best bake,” Brodak said. “But the defining moment was when the judge Paul Hollywood smiled and said that it was cute and how it made him happy. That’s all I want my baking to do – to make people happy.”
Check out Brodak’s debut on The Great American Baking Show on Dec. 7 at 9 p.m. on ABC.
– Tiffany Capuano
Photos by Lauren Kress and ©American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.
A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers more than 150 undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 35,000 students. With 13 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia and the third-largest university in the state. The university's vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the region and from 92 countries across the globe. A Carnegie-designated doctoral institution, it is one of the 50 largest public institutions in the country. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu.