The Great British Bake Off: 11.10 The Final
Then there were three. After nine weeks, twenty seven rounds and a handful of Hollywood Handshakes, we have reached The Final of The Great British Bake Off. It would be easy to praise the contestants for getting this far, especially away from their families and loved ones. For Dave’s constant improvement, Peter’s sheer consistency and Laura’s tenacity in getting this far.
That would be looking past simply having the show on our TV screens at all. How the show has looked so seamless is testament to the commitment of those working behind the scenes. The real heroes of this season are the ‘Bake Off Bubble’ of medics, cleaning staff, hotel staff and the production team itself. For bringing a slice of joy and normality to our homes during the most trying times, they deserve all the credit.
As ever with the final itself, past form went out of the window and anyone could win it. They just needed to stay cool, in a tent, at 35°C. Easier said than done when the Signature Challenge was Custard Slices. The high temperatures increased the tension as a set custard could only be achieved with perfect timing, specifically time spent in the fridge. So of course all three of them opted for rough puff pastry bases.
This was likely a chance for Laura to show that she could get her timings right when it mattered the most, and she failed. Time was not on her side for her Yuzu Custard Slice as it clearly hadn’t set with five minutes to go; even the pastry was tough. However, the flavours were there for the Lemon and Coconut Gel and Yuzu in the custard itself. The slice itself looked somewhat bizarre; of viscous bright yellow custard, wiggles of piped Chantilly Cream and a randomly placed raspberry. As if the batch had been left out in the sun for the afternoon. Could she pull it back?
Dave opted for decadence with his ‘Caramel Latte’ Custard Slice. There was a decent wobble to his Coffee Custard, underneath a rich Caramel Glaze and Caramelised Hazelnut Slices. The pastry was audibly crisp though the custard was slightly stodgy and smacked of espresso flavour. Cooking with coffee would certainly set him up in the next round.
That left Peter, who was keeping to his Scottish roots. He even upped the level of difficulty by making two different custards; a Raspberry Crème Pâtissière coupled with a Whisky Crème Pâtissière for his version of Cranachan topped with Caramelised Oats. We have come to expect neat and professional looking creations from him and he did not disappoint. There were clear layers in his pastry which was maybe too thick but the flavours were balanced as per usual. A solid start.
Most of us have had a Walnut Whirl, a pimped version of which became the Technical Challenge. Broken down into layers this was a Walnut Sablé Biscuit base topped with a Coffee Ganache filling surrounded by Marshmallow. They were told to keep things cool though this was arguably too warm for tempered chocolate, especially when you consider they were each wearing a frozen tea towel as a sweat neckband.
Laura again looked out of her depth, hardly surprising as she doesn’t like coffee. She also appeared rushed as the egg whites were not whisked enough for her marshmallow, which failed to set. There were further timing issues as the chocolate hadn’t set either giving the whole design a soft, unkempt look. As if to cap her off day, she finished third. What was a three horse race, was now a race to the finish between two.
There’s an exact science to the way Peter tackles a Technical Challenge, an almost forensic approach with which he tackles each task. Using the residual heat from the pan to melt the gelatine for instance, though his marshmallow still ended up weeping and he finished second. This would turn out to be a precursor to the next round as there really was not much between them. Perhaps the only differences being the size and crumbliness of Dave’s biscuit, the evident swirls and the fact that he dipped his whirls in tempered chocolate instead of smothering them.
Then the Showstopper to end them all. A Colossal Dessert Tower as a recap of each contestant’s own Bake Off journey with Nougatine as a candied nut adhesive (of course). By the final, final reckoning, little would separate Dave and Peter.
Understandably, most had written off Laura’s chances and perhaps she knew that herself. Instead of feeling overly flummoxed by the occasion, the pressure was somewhat off. Thankfully, she redeemed herself with a Rainbow Dessert Tower of moist Carrot and Walnut Cake, squidgy Chocolate Orange Chelsea Buns, delicate Lemon Macarons and tiny, zingy Key Lime Tarts. As a combination of treats they weren’t quite a picture, yet she had proved that she had earned her place in the final.
For someone with a shot at winning the competition, there was an admirable risk to Dave’s ‘Tower To Redemption’. In trying to perfect the bakes he felt he let himself down on he could prove how much he had learnt and how much of an improved baker he had truly become. The design itself was enticingly rich and brown with a tender and light Fraiser Cake as well as gooey White/Dark Chocolate & Macadamia Nut Brownies. However, the Chocolate Babkas were overdone and the Raspberry Profiteroles were flat and underdone. As he had sat eating raspberries and asking if his fellow contestants needed help, he had shown he was assured with his efforts. If he really wanted to win though, shouldn’t he have gone with bakes he knew he was comfortable with?
Then Peter looked to be scuppering his own chances by going renegade at the worst possible time. There was something off with his ‘Bonkers Bake Off Bubble Cake’, as if a new Peter had unveiled himself, one without a plan to execute. There were stodgy Christmas Pudding Friands and a Puffed Rice Christmas Tree that just about came together at the end. For most people, an uneven set of what were SUPPOSED to be checkerboard Chocolate & Orange Biscuits was ok but for Peter it signalled a disaster. When it came to the tasting it all seemed to have come out good. The biscuits were tasty enough, the Lemon & Blackberry Choux Buns were crisp and sharp yet the real star was an almost perfect Victoria Sandwich.
Perhaps a draw would have been a fair result. Perhaps there was too little to separate Peter and Dave. Minor details made the difference; the layers in pastry, the look of a showstopper and the balance of flavours. Dave had been one of the most improved contestants that the show had ever seen, but there could only be one winner. He might have been the youngest finalist yet Peter would be going back to university as the winner of The Great British Bake Off 2020.