Our resident pundit, Rhodri Marsden talks through a tense GBBO final, packed with classic bakes and not one but two coveted Hollywood handshakes...
The pinpoint precision of Andrew. The creative flair of Candice. The unwavering consistency of Jane. Three very different but brilliantly talented bakers arrived in the tent for the last time, with barely anything to separate them except three workbenches, three ovens and a gigantic dollop of fate. “It’s an open field,” said Mary and, with everything to play for, Andrew began the signature bake by dropping a bowl. These were nervy times.
The signature challenge
The challenge was to produce a “family sized” meringue crown, with “at least” three layers, which of course meant that Candice immediately opted to do four, the top one inspired by Queen Victoria’s crown. She created it by piping meringue across the underside of a red silicon mould, creating something vaguely reminiscent of lingerie that Madonna might have worn onstage circa 1985. But while Candice pushed baking boundaries, Jane was keeping things more simple, making her husband Ray’s favourite dessert. (You’d have to say, though, that if your partner’s favourite dessert was a three-tier pavlova with two compotes, you’d wish that they would develop tastes a little more frugal.)
Andrew’s Jubilee Crown, a construction of muscovado meringue and blackberry fool, would be a test of his engineering credentials (a “severe” test, according to Paul) and there was no moment more nail-biting than watching him gingerly shift the thing onto the top of an unnamed queen's head, ready for presentation. Thankfully, it didn’t fall off. It was a beautiful construction, but Andrew was to lose out to phenomenal bakes from his two colleagues. Candice got a rare handshake from Paul – and she would have thought she had things sewn up, but Jane, in scenes absolutely unheard of, also got a handshake from Paul for a pavlova he described as “three layers of heaven”.
The technical challenge
Andrew would surely be out of the contest if he didn’t shape up in the technical challenge, which was to make a perfect Victoria sponge. With no instructions. The bakers laughed as they looked at the virtually empty sheet of paper, the equivalent of being told to drive to Llanwrtyd Wells without a map or a satnav. “I don’t make many Victoria sponges,” said Andrew, opting for the creaming method, while his more confident opponents both went for the all-in-one method reportedly favoured by Mary Berry. But it was Andrew who aced the challenge, with a spot-on pale golden sponge, and jam and buttercream of perfect consistency. Candice and Jane could only watch and marvel. Going into the showstopper, it was all square.
The showstopper challenge
And what a herculean task this was, with 49 items to be made in just 20 minutes (quickly revised up to five hours by a mischievous Sue Perkins.) A chocolate cake, 12 sausage rolls, 12 quiches, 12 fruit tarts and 12 scones, all in one oven. Successfully completing this challenge in the allotted time would be something akin to witchcraft, and Andrew’s strategy was to use a spreadsheet allocating every five minutes of his time. Jane, however, was more sanguine, figuring that if she just kept going that everything “should be fine”. As the challenge progressed, however, Jane’s voice got deeper, huskier and more serious as the enormity of the task began to weigh on her. The white chocolate collar for her cake failed to adhere successfully, and emergency glitter was called for to replace it. Across the kitchen, Candice put the finishing touches to “little piggy” sausage rolls with crackling tails and peppercorn eyes, while Andrew’s soda-bread influenced scones emerged from the oven looking like the sheer perfection that Paul Hollywood had demanded.
Paul and Mary would have had to starve themselves for three days to prepare for this mammoth judging session – but ultimately this year’s Bake Off title came down to the puff pastry around a sausage roll. Despite Andrew’s meticulous preparation, his was underbaked, as was Jane’s; but as Candice’s little piggies were cut open, it was clear that she’d succeeded where the others had failed, and her beautifully presented orange and cardamom chocolate cake was merely the crowning glory. Candice, with her incredible imagination and her innate baking skills, became the last BBC winner of Bake Off, and it was richly deserved. It’s been a wonderful series – a wonderful seven series, in fact – and while we wish it every success in its new format, we’ll miss it terribly. Safe travels, Great British Bake Off.