After ten weeks of bread, buns and biscuits, pastry, pies and puns, the Bake Off furore culminated last night in a weekend of extraordinary baking and culinary creativity. And a new winner was crowned…
The final signature challenge
Where else to start the race for the finish but with French patisserie? The bakers had three and a half hours in their final signature challenge to create two types of viennoiserie (breakfast pastries). With only three of them left in the tent there was absolutely nowhere to hide, literally and figuratively. By this point in the competition there are more cameras than bakers so there’s at least one - and usually two - cameras on you at all times offering no respite from scrutiny, and a constant stream of questions about your processes. And of course, with only three challenges remaining, any errors will be conspicuous and could ultimately be the thing that scuppers your chances of success.
Luis started his bid for the title with a ‘pain au white chocolate’ filled with raspberries and cream cheese, plus an apple, walnut, raisin and cheese pastry. He was the triumphant with the latter but Paul took a particular dislike to the combination of cream cheese (chalky) and raspberry (soggy) in the pain au chocolat. Not a wholesale disaster, but not the steady start that he would have wanted.
Nancy’s almond and raspberry croissants, though underproved and ‘a bit doughy’, were delicious and she cleverly used freeze-dried raspberries in her filling to add flavour without adding moisture. Her apple, lemon and frangipane kites also got top marks for flavour.
Richard’s tactic seemed to be to return to the familiar, an approach which has worked well for him so far, making a pain au chocolat and a pain au lait. He credited the pain au lait, a soft milk bread, with igniting his love of baking so it was admirable that he chose to honour that in the final, but it was also dangerous in its simplicity. The lack of complexity seemed to actually annoy Paul and Richard was under no illusions that his rolls had to be perfect to win over the judges. They were good rolls; a great bake and texture, but placed too closely together on the tray with marks where they had been pulled apart - this made Paul angry again.
What would Kimberley do…
I would have made pinwheels filled with bergamot custard and a date and tamarind plait.
The final technical challenge
There should have been nothing unfamiliar about the bakes set in the technical challenge. A Victoria sponge, a tarte au citron and a plain scone. These are the baking basics and some of the things the bakers would have made as part of their application for the show. The only thing was that they had to make 12 - of each - in only two hours.
Looking into his bowl of soupy scone mix, Richard realised he’d over-egged his pudding and had to start again. Though he did manage to present a decent batch of scones, his underset jam and overbaked tarts left him trailing in third place. Luis had pastry problems and ended up with leaky tarts, while Nancy came top delivering good versions of each bake.
The final showstopper *spoiler alert*
We were told at the start of the showstopper that, after a disappointing first day, five-time star baker Richard would have to pull off something miraculous to be in with a chance of winning the victor’s cake stand. Though miracles are not unheard of in the tent of dreams it looked now to be a sprint for the finish between Luis and Nancy.
Truth be told, I’m not sure I understand exactly what the final challenge was. It was billed as a pièce montée, which typically is a croquembouche, but I think pièce montée was meant in its literal sense of ‘assembled piece’ because the bakers appeared to be baking everything. Everything! Cakes, biscuits, macaroons, brandy snaps, profiteroles and meringue mushrooms were all incorporated into structures that represented something meaningful to each baker.
Richard opted to recreate Mill Hill windmill in colours straight out of an episode of The Smurfs, each of his elements a success. Could this be the miracle that he was hoping for? Sticking with the windmill theme and hinting at a mysterious past as a dancing girl, Nancy chose a gingerbread rendition of the Moulin Rouge, replete with working windmill made of red caramel – a tremendous effort. She had commissioned a bespoke brandy snap mould from her husband for the occasion and was complimented on her well-balanced flavours as well as the feat of biscuit engineering.
Luis honoured his hometown of Poynton with an edible interpretation of a colliery. All the feedback seemed to be good for Luis, except the texture of his cake foundations, which were a little dry. As the judges retired to deliberate it was still a hard one to call, for me at least. Mary and Paul, on the other hand, were agreed on the winner and it was announced to a crowd of friends, family and former bakers that cool, calm and confident Nancy was the new Queen of Cakes. Congratulations Nancy, and to her fellow finalists.
What would Kimberley do…
Who knows what I would have done given this challenge? Blancmange bust of Bion? Actually, no, I’d have made a ridiculous and sacrilegious attempt at the Peace Pagoda that sits atop a hill in Nepal that I trekked to a few years ago. It’s a special place and one that is probably impossible to replicate in shortbread.
So that’s it for another year. Applications for next year’s show will no doubt open soon and good luck to anyone who applies!
Kimberely Wilson was a finalist on the 2013 series of The Great British Bake Off and will be with us every week to reflect on the happenings in this year's kitchen.
Did you watch The Great British Bake Off final? We'd love to hear who you were rooting for and what you thought of final result...