The Great British Bake Off Final
Forget about the baking for a second, this series of The Great British Bake Off has been about characters. Now there were only three left in the final. Would the consistency of five-times Star Baker Richard win out? Or would it be the creativity of Luis? Or the knowledge of Nancy? Let the best baker win.
The signature round was to present two sets of Viennoiserie, basically pastries and laminated breads. Yet again the issue of proofing raised its tedious head and patience would be tested once more. The signs of tension were there and hands were visibly shaking as time constraints came to the fore. You would have thought that by now each would have had enough proofing practice yet they all seemed to need extra time, whether they used the warming drawer or left their dough at room temperature. As usual, time was a prized commodity.
Undoubtedly, the two favourites were the two male finalists yet Richard was to show signs that he is in fact human already. While you could probably get away with a batch bake in an earlier round the fact that his Pain Au Laits were actually touching got Paul Hollywood markedly upset. This was Bake Off blasphemy, as if he had insulted the prestige of the final itself and you half expected Richard to be sent outside into the rain to think about what he had done. Once Paul had calmed down he deemed over zealous proofing (if there is such a thing) had sucked all the joy and butter out of his Pear Pain Au Chocolat.
Nancy had found herself in the final by supplementing her sizeable experience with little innovations along the way. Her Apple and Lemon Kites looked a little flat from a lack of proofing yet proved impressive enough with good layers and flavour. However, it was the freeze dried raspberry powder in her Almond and Raspberry Croissant that proved the difference here.
The technique was there for Luis, it has been throughout, yet the fillings were to be his downfall here. In his best 'franglish', the Pain Au Chocolat with Raspberries and Cream Cheese sounded a little over-ambitious and Paul certainly disagreed with the combinations. The Apple, Walnut, Raisin and Cheshire Cheese Chaussons proved to be a winner though.
After coming up with the most extravagant, exotic cakes known to man (and unknown to the contestants) the judges decided to go back to basics for the technical round. Three sets of 12 undisputed classics; Victoria Sponges, Tartes au Citron and Scones. All in two hours. There was no doubt that each were familiar with the recipes yet this would test their time management, multi-tasking and prioritising skills to the absolute max. No extra marks for ornateness, no need for intricate design, just the basics done to perfection. While Luis and Richard had excelled at the elaborate, this would suit Nancy to a tee.
Well, you would have thought that everyone would be familiar with the three bakes then Richard announced that this was his first go at a Tarte au Citron. His scones were suitably soft enough and his sponges had good texture yet his 'Tartes au Colon' proved disastrous. The icing was appropriately runny and the custard resembled scrambled egg leaving him in last place. After his batch bake, was he taking the final seriously?
Luis fared slightly better even if his scones looked as washed out as a Mancunian summer holiday. His sponges had good texture yet his tartes were overcooked, patched up and did not even feature any piping on top. It was not looking good for the boys and it was Nancy's time to shine.
While Luis and Richard have excelled at the spectacular, Nancy could approach the classics in a calm and comfortable manner, drawing on her years of experience without feeling the need to over-impress. That sense of formality perhaps got the better of her when she failed to pipe the cream for her sponges, a fact that left 'the male judge' dismayed considering that this was indeed the final. Thankfully, her scones were nicely baked. Her piece(s) de resistance were clearly the tartes, basically because she was the only one to get them right with the sort of shine and neatness we have come to expect from her. From miles behind a few weeks ago, Nancy was now in the box seat.
Then the Showstopper round to end all Showstopper rounds; a Pièce Monté. This sounds fancy but, put simply, it is a big piece of cake topped off with showy bits. Being the finale there was the need for a personal theme and some emotional resonance, their families, friends and fallen colleagues were there after all. This also acted as a nice round up for all the skills and techniques the contestants have mastered throughout the series. From sponges to choux via sugar work and petit four, all woven together in one extravagant showpiece.
This was a test of design as well as intricacy so you could expect graphic designer Luis to shine. 'The Village Where I Live' was all we have come to expect from him with a great design executed with precision and panache. The theme running through it was mining so naturally chocolate was used extensively. A prolonged silence indicated that the chocolate sponge layer was dry and the buttercream was lacklustre, not a good start. The chocolate biscuit mining wheel remained intact and the top half fared better yet it was not enough.
Could Richard pull it out of the bag with his 'Mill On The Hill'? As soon as he brought the showpiece out with its droopy sail you felt it was not to be. The almond sponge was very, very good according to Paul and the ginger sponge was spicy and moist according to Mary Berry. There were great, contrasting flavours at work including an elderflower liquor white chocolate ganache which he somehow managed to pull off. Even his choux was first class yet that was not enough either.
If Nancy could keep her cool, the title was hers. As she has done throughout the series, her consistency was there and this time it mattered. She has always found a way of making her bakes seem effortless and her all in one sponge was another example, even if she failed to put the lid on her mixer and begun the round with a flour explosion. That aside her 'Moulin Rouge Windmill' was a triumph. The symmetry was prominent and it looked spectacular, a feature that Nancy has struggled with but has clearly worked on. The sponge was light and the flavours shone, including an intense passion fruit cream, even a broken sail was fixed before going to the plate.
The final judgement appeared a little harsh if based on the efforts of the boys throughout the series. Richard has been awarded Star Baker five times and Luis has provided some of the most stunning cakes ever seen throughout the shows history. However, if this was to be judged as a final exam then the boys clearly struggled yet this looked like plain sailing for Nancy, which made her a worthy winner.