In her unexpected role as a reality TV star, Sydney Hayden has already risen to the occasion. As a contestant on “The Great Canadian Baking Show,” the first-year graduate student traded her anatomy books for an apron and is dazzling the judges with her knack for precision and whimsical flair.
Hayden, who is in the Master of Science Program in Modern Human Anatomy at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus, parlayed her love of baking into a coveted spot on the Canadian spin-off of the popular “The Great British Bake Off.”
The beginnings of the croquembrain.
Hayden is always looking for ways to combine her passion for baking with her studies, and most recently put a cerebral spin on a classic French pastry. The CU Anschutz student turned a croquembouche, an elegant dessert featuring cone-stacked cream puffs, into what she dubbed a “croquembrain.”
From croquembouche to croquembrain
“The croquembrain was made as a study tool and analogy for the action potential in a neuron. It takes into account all of the ion concentrations, voltage gates channels, and the phases of the action potential. Each cream puff is analogous to a single neuron, filled with banana pastry cream (high potassium inside the cell) and coated in dark chocolate with salted candied walnuts (high sodium outside the cell),” she said.
On the show, a group of contestants – starting with 10 – compete in different baking challenges every week, with one contestant eliminated each episode. The show airs every Sunday on CBC Television in Canada.
Hayden jokingly calls herself a “C-list Canadian celebrity” who loves to bake. She has risen through the ranks so far, advancing through the first few weeks of competition.
Hayden started baking when she was a little girl growing up in Nova Scotia, Canada. “It was only in the last year or two that I started taking it more seriously."
Turning heads with a fiery snowman
Hayden wanted to make a splash when she attended the open call audition. She baked a three-tier cake shaped like a snowman and planned to light it on fire.
The flaming snowman.
“I wanted to juxtapose hot and cold, so I coated it in meringue and made it into a flaming snowman. When I bake I like to do the unexpected and give you something maybe you never thought was possible, visually or flavor wise,” she said. In the end, the hotel hosting the auditions nixed the idea, but Hayden nonetheless made a lasting impression. The producers chose her to compete on the show’s seventh season.
She continues to find creative ways to blend baking and bone structure. She said, “I have so many ideas about anatomical desserts that I could make! Every time we learn new structures and functions I can picture it as a bake. I mean come on, the layers of the cerebral cortex are just BEGGING to be an intricate layered cake.”
When asked about her status on the show – has she fallen or is she still on the rise – Hayden said, “No spoilers, but definitely watch the show. That's the fun of it: It's so wholesome you don't even want to know anything going into it because then you get surprised by what everyone's creating and their amazing talent.”
The finale airs Nov. 19.
Photo at top: Sydney Hayden; courtesy of the CBC Media Centre.