'The Great British Bake Off': final review

Nancy was crowned this year’s ‘Bake Off’ champion after a gruelling set of challenges saw the men make schoolboy errors

by Natalie Hammond

The opening shot of the final ‘Bake Off’ episode was of Mel and Sue in a boat, desperately trying to row upstream unsuprisingly to no avail. It pretty much summed up the programme for us. Just as we can’t quite fathom how we find the two so funny, watching people make cake competitively has brought us indescribable pleasure. It seems we weren't the only ones as last night's final pulled in record numbers of viewers, reaching around 13 million by the time the result was about to be announced. 


As the recipient of five star baker awards, Richard was by far and away the favourite going into the final. But he bombed in a couple of challenges (remember that sad nest of caramel birds and his frangipane pie nightmare?) and has never had quite the consistency of his fellow finalists.  


The signature challenge was a seriously scrumptious one. The bakers were tasked with turning out two versions of Viennoiseries – baked morsels made from yeast-leavened dough that are often laminated (layered to me and you). These little buggers have been a part of Paul’s career for over 30 years, as he gleefully told the camera, so the tension in the tent was palpable. Nancy set herself apart from the boys at the offset. Her freeze-dried raspberry croissants and her delicate kites of apple and lemon were both flavoured excellently and almost perfectly baked. While her croissants collapsed slightly because of the proving and were slightly doughy in the middle, Richard had real problems with his simple pain au lait and pear pain au chocolat. His first fatal error of the weekend was doing his final prove in the drawer, which melted his butter and turned his efforts into bread rolls instead of flaky pastries. Paul was aghast that they had joined slightly in the oven and said he’d never be able to get over it. Wow.


Luis’ savoury pastries of apple, walnut and cheese got thankfully got the male judge smiling again. They loved the flavours and the flakiness, but his raspberry pain au chocolat left much to be desired. Unlike Nancy, Luis used fresh raspberries, which sunk into the bottom layer of pastry and, combined with cream cheese, didn’t work flavour-wise.  


Going into the technical, Nancy was already on top of the pack, with Richard bringing up the rear and Luis was muddling along in the middle.


After the spate of technical challenges we’ve had these year – princess cakes from Sweden, dobos tortes from Hungary and mini pear pies from Mr Hollywood – we were expecting something spectacular for final week. Instead, the poor bakers had to make 12 mini Victoria sponges, 12 mini tarte au citrons and 12 scones in just two hours. The judges didn’t provide any instructions and said that by stripping back the bakes the finalists had nowhere to hide.


Mary and Paul certainly found the bakers’ weaknesses. They were running around like headless chickens, making jam, creaming butter, whipping up custard, and going steadily redder as the minutes ticked by. The tarte au citron proved disastrous – Richard’s was like a sweet scrambled egg (the horror!) and had illegible piping on top that Paul read as ‘colon’.  His jam was also too runny so splurged out when his sponges were sliced, but his scones were passable. Luis’ were far too pale and he was mortified by his tarts (bless his cotton socks), which had patched up pastry that was far too thick and no attempt at chocolate piping. Better none than some that spells ‘colon’ we say.


This was where Nancy’s wealth of knowledge really showed. Her scones had a lovely texture (although were left in slightly too long), her Victoria sponges were expertly baked and her tarts had a glorious shine to them.


Richard failed to redeem himself in the technical and the judges as good as said (in fact they did) that he’d have to pull off something awe-inspiring to win.


The showstopper challenge would make the most experienced pastry chef shake in their boots or hot foot it out of the kitchen. The bakers had to make a pièce montée – a patisserie centrepiece of cake, sugar work, choux pastry AND petit fours. Oh and it had to be sculpted into something meaningful to the bakers. Last year’s lot only had to make a bleedin’ wedding cake for god sake!


Richard’s windmill creation had an almond sponge base, a croquembouche for the tower, almond brittle for the walls and meringue for the surrounding toadstools. Paul said its colours were ‘interesting’ (read: neon), but Mary said his design was ‘fun’. His synthesis of flavours (almonds coming through the cake and a tart jam) were in perfect contrast, his choux buns were nicely stuffed and his brittle had a lovely snap. He knocked it out of the park on flavour – what a way to end.


Nancy took inspiration from the pièce montée’s birthplace and constructed her component confections into a towering Moulin Rouge. Can can jokes were abundant from Mel and Sue's corner as Nancy started assembling her layered cake, orange biscuit walls and passion-fruit-filled profiteroles. Oh we’ll miss those two – they were happily munching down Richard’s rejected chouxs when he was frantically chipping bits out his choux tower. The judges had kittens over the fact that the spokes of Nancy's windmill really turned and the sugar was coloured a deep red.  Paul said her biscuits could have been neater, but her shortbread was first rate, her layers of her sponge were clearly defined and the house itself was quite delectable.


Luis’ homage to his hometown of Poynton was a miraculous sight to behold. He managed to erect a biscuit wheel with a chain of choux buns looping over it, all sitting atop a cake of different types of chocolate. The judges were blown away by the immaculate construction – Paul said it was a ‘work of art’, in fact – but found holes in the taste. His macaroons were perfectly minty and his choux chain was delicious, but his cake was slightly dry.


To the judges’ chamber and with Richard and Luis both doing stellar jobs in the showstopper, we were umming and ahhing over the winner. For once, the judges were in total agreement and Nancy was named winner of this year’s ‘Bake Off’. Paul summed it up by saying she 'absolutely nailed it'. 


It’s been a roller-coaster of a journey, with terrific highs (Luis’ Baileys doughnuts would surely be Mary’s pick) and a fair share of lows (Chetna rescuing a melting Alaska with her hands sticks in our minds), but we’ve loved every second single of the madness. Until next year! 


Image: BBC/Love Productions/Mark Bourdillon

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Carla  Griscti

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