When Raeesa and Zubair Khatree immigrated to Australia from South Africa 11 years ago, neither could have anticipated how big a focus baking would become in their lives.

The couple moved to Australia after falling in love with the country’s way of life and following suggestions by Zubair’s parents, who already called Australia home.

Raeesa came to Australia a lawyer and Zubair, who now coordinates Ipswich City Council’s internationally recognised Smart City Program, a business consultant.

Baking had never been more than a distant thought for Raeesa who spent much of her life studying, travelling and raising two children – Sahal (12) and Aaliyah (11).

That all changed when her daughter Aaliyah turned five.

“When I could not find anyone to make my daughter her fifth birthday cake, I asked myself the rhetorical question ‘how hard could it be’,” she said.

“Little did I know that life was about to change. So after 35 YouTube videos, 20 hours on Google, five hours of sifting through recipe books and 13 international phone calls to my mum and dear aunt for every bit of baking advice they could offer, there was a cake.”

The cake was a hit and Raeesa found herself quickly “gliding down the rabbit hole of the baking world, enthralled by the thrill and fun of it all”.

“Here I am six years later, feeling like Alice, having one of the most surreal experiences of my life, being chosen as a contestant on The Great Australian Bake Off,” she said.

Raeesa said competing on the series, which airs on Foxtel’s Lifestyle channel, and cooking in front of some of Australia’s most highly regarded chefs was both rewarding and challenging.

“It did involve heightened levels of stress, immense sleep deprivation, teary moments of pining for Zubair and the family, however with all that came the sheer enjoyment of meeting so many incredible and talented humans who all share a similar love of baking,” she said.

“I was so fortunate to have Zubair only a phone call away at crazy and sometimes emotional times of the night and day. His motivating words and constant love and support kept me strong.

“Having my bakes judged by two of Australia’s most iconic chefs in Matt Moran and Maggie Beer was definitely no easy feat.

“I must admit that Matt often had me shaking in my baking boots but dear Maggie was always on hand to give our comforting hugs.

“My baking motto is ‘be a whisk taker and make sure your bake tastes as good as it looks’. I love trying out new flavour combinations and my favourite part is the decorating.

“The best feeling is having someone look at a cake, blown away by the decorative aspect, then take the first bite and say ‘wow’. That brings me such satisfaction.”

Raeesa said competing on The Great Australian Bake Off had cemented her focus and she now planned to help others try their hand at baking.

“I am starting cake making and decorating workshops and demonstrations soon,” she said.

“I have also launched a business called Edible Love which provides gourmet cupcakes delivered to your door.

“People can check out my creations on Instagram at Rae_ediblelove or on Facebook at Edible Love by Rae.”

Get your bake on with Raeesa’s Tree of Life biscuit puzzle

Chocolate, hazelnut, gingerbread and vanilla bean make up the biscuit flavours in this elaborate biscuit jigsaw puzzle.

Ingredients

Gingerbread biscuit

125g unsalted butter

1/2 cup brown sugar, firmly packed

1 egg yolk

2 1/2 cups plain flour

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

2 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/2 tsp ground clove

1/2 cup golden syrup

Chocolate biscuit

120g butter

3/4 cup caster sugar

1 egg

1 tsp vanilla bean paste

1/2 tsp salt

1/3 tsp baking powder

1/2 cup cocoa

3 cups flour

Royal icing

1 egg white

1 1/2 cups icing sugar

Drop of lemon juice

Food colouring

Decorating

1/2 cup milk chocolate melts

White and coloured fondant pieces

Method

For the gingerbread biscuit

  1. Using a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar. Then add egg and beat until smooth. Sift dry ingredients and add to mixture. Then add golden syrup and combine to form a soft dough. Add a tablespoon or more flour if necessary.
  2. Knead dough well on a floured surface. Roll dough between sheets of baking paper and refrigerate for 1 hour.
  3. Thereafter, using template or cutter, cut out shape and bake in preheated oven on 180C for 10-12 minutes or until lightly browned.

For the chocolate biscuit

  1. Using a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar well. Add egg and vanilla essence. Then add baking powder and salt and combine well.
  2. Stir in sifted cocoa powder and gradually add 1 cup of sifted flour at a time.
  3. Once dough has formed, roll out onto lightly floured surface or baking paper and cut out shape required from template of tree bark and branches.
  4. Place on baking pan and bake for 8-10 minutes on 180C.

From the royal icing

  1. Using a small bowl, beat the egg white with an electric mixer until frothy. Sift icing sugar and add gradually to egg white and continue beat until the mixture is smooth and can be piped with.
  2. Colour icing with gel colours as required for decorating. Keep icing covered always to prevent drying out.

To assemble

  1. Arrange the biscuit pieces starting with the chocolate biscuit as the tree bark and branches.
  2. Melt chocolate on low heat and brush over chocolate biscuit to give the effect of bark. Using royal icing, pipe detail on biscuit. Using fondant pieces, decorate biscuit accordingly.

See more of Raeesa’s recipes from the show here.