We go into this final week of competition with it seeming like a toss-up between Ian and Nadiya, each one a three-time Star Baker. Nadiya said she had nerves, Ian said not, which the cynic in me said that was the producers’ way of setting up dramatic tension wherein Nadiya would triumph. Ian, you should have said you were terrified and demonstrated that by screaming and sticking your head in the oven every time Paul walked by! Oh well, remember that if they ever have a Great British Baking Show All-Star show. You’re welcome.
Before we got down to baking, we got to meet the families: Ian lives in just the kind of thatched roof cottage you would expect, sharing it with his supportive wife, two kids, seven dwarfs and a flock of singing birds. Nadiya’s got a husband who is glad she’s finally done something for herself, and three cake-loving kids. And Tamal’s sister went all Dolly Levi on the TV audience, taking the opportunity to let all the single ladies know what a catch he is. Forget about being a baker; he’s a doctor too!
For the final Signature Bake, our last three surviving bakers had three hours to make sixteen cream-filled, iced buns; eight each of two different flavors. This assignment gave Paul the opportunity to give each of our already nervous bakers the existential crisis-triggering staredown one last time. Cream-filled iced buns are apparently Paul’s thing. His only advice to them: “There is nowhere to hide. Keep calm and be perfect.” That is actually the British government’s new slogan: Keep Calm and Be Perfect – because attempting to achieve perfection is a great way to calm down.
Tamal’s problems started early on with Paul seeming to not like his choice of plain royal icing to top his apple and citrus marmalade buns. According to Paul, if his royal icing was to have no flavors, it was going to have to shine like the top of the Chrysler Building! But once again Tamal was plagued by time management issues. His crème pat didn’t set and he ended up with what Paul referred to as a marmalade butty (sandwich), which is not necessarily a bad thing unless having cream in the bun was a requirement – which it was. On top of that, the icing on his buns was dull and looked messy. Disappointing because we know what kind of an artist Tamal is with complicated bakes, so how did a simple bun trip him up? It wasn’t a total loss though; the beautiful texture of his apple cream buns were a hit with Mary.
Heaven Can Plate:
All our bakers needed to do was make one dough, and two different fillings, but Ian decided to do two different doughs as well two different fillings. According to Mary, he really, “pushed the boat out.” Unfortunately for Ian, that boat was the Titanic. No sooner had he said he wasn’t nervous and this was just another bake, than he had a sneaking suspicion that something wasn’t quite right but wasn’t sure what it was. It turned out he made a pretty big error – he forgot to add the sugar to the dough for his cardamom, apple and cranberry jam buns! Sugar is kind of an important thing when you’re baking, is it not? Yes, I’d say this was a disaster of Bill Buckner Proportions. It could be that the whole championship rolled right through his feet then and there!
In the end, Mary was amazed that he finished at all. The judges thought his icing was messy and lacked shine and Paul thought there was something amiss; the flavors didn’t go together, causing Ian to admit that he thought he’d forgotten the sugar. Paul concurred that the lack of sugar affected not only the flavor, but the color and extended the baking time, causing the buns to dry out. Luckily the second bun, elderflower and lemon curd didn’t have the sugar problem because he sweetened them with a cordial. They were deemed dynamite and a sheer joy to eat; described by Mary as, “heaven on a plate.” (Though maybe that was just the cordial talking.)
Bun in the Oven:
Paul likes buns to touch. I will be mature and not comment on this revelation. What I will say is that Nadiya took a big risk and baked buns that did not touch. This meant they lacked the side tears that Paul (apparently) views as vital to their identity as buns. But that didn’t matter; she won anyway, with what looked like Judy Chicago-inspired buns with sharp sour cherry jam and lovely flavor, and round nutmeg buns that ticked all the boxes.
How the Pastry Crumbles:
Mary and Paul tend to say that every bake is tricky, but this one really did look seriously tricky. For the final Technical Challenge, our bakers were tasked with making six raspberry mille-feuilles with Chantilly Cream and candy-striped icing. A mille-feuille is a fussy little treat that looks like a tiny puff pastry lasagna. I’m guessing some of you are like me and have seen them many times before but never knew what they were called. As usual, sadistic Paul left strategic elements out of his recipe, then turned on his heel as he exited the tent, laughing maniacally as he went. Something I thought was interesting though, was what Paul did put in the recipe: His technique for making puff pastry, which called for grated butter folded into the dough, rather than a solid block of butter folded in as we’d seen done in previous episodes. I wish he’d explained what that was about. Would this technique have worked for the cream horns or vol-au-vents (from a few weeks ago) as well? Has he been holding out on us? I don’t know. It seems like this shall remain a buttery mystery. But whatever it was, Tamal ignored it at his own peril.
Easy as One, Two, Three:
The results? Tamal had issues with his pastry disintegrating every time he even looked at it. (Was that because he disregarded Paul’s butter brief?) Ian’s icing gaps landed him in second place, and top of the heap was Nadiya, with a neat, strong bake.
No One Left the Cake Out in the Rain:
The final Showstopper Challenge was to make a classic British cake with three tiers, and in classic British weather: A downpour!
Tamal did a mash up, a kind of British cronut, combining two classics; sticky toffee pudding and fruitcake, to make a sticky toffee pudding fruitcake inspired by an abandoned Chinese fishing village, and decorated with spun sugar as old Chinese fishing villages are wont to do. We have come to expect a race against the clock with Tamal, but this challenge brought something new: a race against the weather. Rainy weather and spun sugar do not mix, so this could have been a disaster, but then the clouds parted and the birds sang. In the end, the judges were pleasantly surprised. Mary admitted she wasn’t expecting to like it and came prepared to make rude remarks (which would have been kinda fun), but she thought it was spectacular.
Here Comes the Bride:
Nadiya decided to make a wedding cake because she got married in a fever, in Bangaladesh, and they don’t have wedding cakes there, so she was going to make up for it – and how! Her lemon drizzle cake with lemon curd and lemon butter cream was smothered in marshmallow fondant and sounded insanely good. And her technique for creating fondant was something new to expert Mary. It looked fun and easy to make. (At least, it did when she did it.) I’d actually love to try it, but I don’t have a microwave, so I’d probably just end up with s’mores. The cakes looked elegant and the judges called the taste stunning and beautiful, and the icing delicious.
What’s Up Doc?:
Like with the buns, over-achiever Ian went an extra step and made a colossal curvy carrot cake of five tiers instead of the required three. Unfortunately, the Buckner Bun jinx followed him along. Right through his feet again! He was plagued by miscalculations, had to recalibrate his first batch of batter, then he forgot to add the oranges to his second batch. Then he forgot to take his cream cheese out of the fridge. But he said he felt OK with it all because Tamal hadn’t gotten his cake into the oven yet either. No! You want to learn from Tamal’s decorating skills, not his time management skills! ARGH! In the end, Ian was racing against the clock and almost didn’t make it — or maybe it was just the background music that made it seem that way. (I swear that background music is going to start turning up in my nightmares.) Paul said it was spot on, different, and, “one of the best carrot cakes I’ve ever had,” and Mary loved its combination of spices.
The Little Nadiya That Could:
The judges agreed that this was the best tasting final ever, making it a close race. Each of these bakers presented veteran bakers Paul and Mary with something they had n’er seen before, which is pretty amazing in and of itself. Sadly, there can be only one winner, and it was Nadiya, much to the tearful, screaming delight of her adorable kids. She says this experience has changed her outlook on herself, and taught her to never say never. From now on her mantra is, “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can…” Early on in the competition, Nadiya could have easily been eliminated on any given week. It was sheer luck that kept her in the running. At the same time, both Ian and Tamal dominated during the first half of the season. Then something changed. Was it that her confidence caught fire and pulled her up the track, just as her competition struggled under the weight of high expectations? I don’t know, but there is a message about perseverance in there somewhere. Both Ian and Tamal should be proud too. They produced some amazing creations along the way as well!
If I knew You Were Coming I’d Have Baked a Cake:
For my final bake I decided to go with one of my favorite flavor combinations: Chocolate and mint. Not groundbreaking like cardamom, patchouli and Swiss cheese, or one of those similarly wacky combinations our adventurous contestants come up with, but to me it’s a classic. I baked a three layer chocolate cake with peppermint butter cream icing. I can’t recall even having peppermint butter cream icing before, so I was very happy to find a recipe online. It’s nothing fancy, but if you go back to my first column of the season and see that mess of a chocolate cake I’d made, you’ll see this result does represent the pretty significant steps forward my baking has taken from all the practice I’ve gotten in the last ten weeks.
I did, however, make the same sort of mistake Ian made, even though I didn’t have the excuse of competing for title (and all that comes with it) on the line. My mistake? I mixed up the baking powder and baking soda. I put in 1 ½ tsp of baking soda and ½ tsp of baking powder instead of the reverse that the recipe called for. I then tried to pull it out to fix it, but I’m not sure how well I did with that since they look the same. Immediately I thought of Mary and Paul telling Flora that they could taste the rising agent in her cake. Thankfully my judges did not mention that. (They never knew.)
Taste the Sensation!:
I felt my cake was a bit on the dry side and a bit crumbly. I think it was dry because I baked it slightly too long, and crumbly because it was gluten free. I could have added xanthan gum to the flour, which helps replace a little of the elasticity you lose when you lose the gluten, to make it less crumbly. But to me that affects the taste and all things being equal, I’ll take taste and live with the crumbles. The results: Entirely positive again, though one coworker (whose mum is a retired pastry chef) agreed with me that he wished it was moister. Three other coworkers said it reminded them of Peppermint Patties, so not the worst feedback.
When I was searching for chocolate cake recipes I founds LOTS of them — so many it was tough to choose. The next time I make a chocolate cake I’ll probably try a different one. In fact, I think I’ll keep trying different chocolate cake recipes (in the name of science, of course) until I find the one that will become my go-to recipe. It’s a sacrifice, but I am willing to make it.
All’s Well That Bakes Well:
This season of The Great British Baking Show has been a great learning experience for me. (And I hope for you as well!) I’ve learned the proper way to fold, the best ways to measure gluten free flour, and I’ve also learned that if you walk around New York City carrying a cake you draw a lot of attention. (Forget about eHarmony ladies and gents; just carry a cake!) Baking along with this season’s Great British Baking Show has been fun. Now that it’s over (for this season, at least) it’s time to take stock: What have I gained? I’ve gained a tart pan, a loaf pan, a dome top cake carrier, a rolling pin, a pastry brush, a sifter, a cooling rack – and six pounds! Sigh. Oh well. Let’s say there’s just more of me to love.
The Good News?:
Next up I’ll be recapping the new season of Poldark, and considering that the residents of 19th century Cornwall are impoverished and usually starving, I expect to lose those six pounds in short order – unless I need to plunder a ship for barrels of fish and such. I am a method blogger after all, so that is a possibility. Anyway, join me there! And until then…
What’s Up Doc?:
If you ever need to bake five carrot cakes at once, here’s Ian’s carrot cake recipe. I couldn’t find Nadiya’s Lemon Drizzle cake recipe, but here’s Mary Berry’s lemon drizzle. And not to be outdone, here’s a picture of a snow monkey channeling Paul Hollywood updating his Facebook status.
On your marks, get set…BAKE!!!
It’s not too late to post your bake along pics. If you baked along, please post pictures of your own baking creations using the hashtag #PBSBakingShow.