Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Boys, Bunting and Baking (or The Great British Bake Off FINAL!)

The Great British Bake Off finalists
Baking. It's not just for girls.
It's the final of The Great British Bake Off.  We kick things off with a short precis of the finalists' credentials.

  • James - he's an innovator, keen on the scientific aspect of baking.
  • Brendan - he's precise, nostalgic, with a '70s feel to his perfect bakes.
  • John - he's passionate about baking.

So, it's all boys in the final. Sue says the musk of testosterone and icing sugar in the tent is heady.  All together now - bleurgh.

First, the Signature Challenge.  They have to perfect a rough puff pastry for a Pithivier.  John has been practising his puff for some time.  James learnt to bake as a boy with his grandmother, at home in Shetland.  He's studying medicine now.  And he lives with a girl called Fenella.

John's family are supportive and encouraging - "he's never won anything before" and "he's got a 33.33% chance of winning.  And if he does, we can be really proud of him.  For the first time ever."  Charming.

They fold and roll and chill and rest and then they do the same thing with their pastry.

John's drying his roasted veg filling with kitchen roll to avoid a soggy bottom.  Not sure what he's doing about ensuring his Pithivier isn't damp-based though.

Brendan's partner, Jason, shown on a VT, says he's there to keep Brendan grounded.  And he cleans out the piping bags (so to speak).

So, the boys construct their Pithiviers, heaping veg in the centre of the bottom pastry disc and covering with a larger one, to create the domed effect.  Brendan's is a work of sunburst art.  James uses a biscuit cutter to trim the edge of his.  John folds foil over his to stop it catching, like tucking in Baby Jesus in the manger (I imagine).

Brendan's has a "great base" (phew, no soggy bottom).  It's lovely, Paul says.  Praise indeed!

John's Italian Sausage and Roasted Vegetable Pithivier...has it got a soggy bottom?  NO!  Hurrah!  And a very good flavour.  Mary particularly likes John's "lovely sausage" and was seemingly keen on the Pithivier too.

Horrors!  James's has a soggy bottom and is a little bit underdone.  It's seasoned well and the chicken is perfectly done.  But the pastry is soggy, which "has prevented the flake".  Head & Shoulders should take note.

Brendan is his usual meek, mild and unassuming self - he gives himself ten out of ten.

On to the Technical Challenge.  The judges have to leave as it is judged blind.  Sue Perkins asks Mary Berry to trot on.  And, a surprise to everyone, she actually does trot out of the marquee.  I'm not sure I'll ever get over seeing it, in fact.

So, what is the Technical Challenge?  Fondant Fancies!  25 perfect squares of sponge, marzipanned, buttercreamed, apricot jammed, fondanted, chocolate drizzled - all in two and a half hours.

Familiar territory for Brendan, he says - I probably don't want to think about Brendan fancying fondant regularly, so I shan't, if that's OK.  You can if you want though.  No, thought not.  Moving on...

Buttercream needs to be smoooooth and soft, so it doesn't break the squares when they are iced.

Marzipan is added to the top of the fondant fancies (does Mr Kipling do this? I can't remember, even if I think exceedingly hard), before they all try different ways to coat them with fondant.

Sue likens Brendan's efforts at coating his fancies to the Generation Game, which is harsh but very fair.  They're a mess.  As are they all, to be strictly accurate.  Splodges of messy fondant and smears of drizzled chocolate coat their glass cake stands as they present them to the judges.

Paul and Mary laugh as they see the finished products - always a pleasing result, to make the judges "Pithivier" themselves laughing.

Brendan's - the application of the buttercream isn't sharp.  Quite a nice bake though.

John's - tiny.  Too small.  Just titchy.  Chocolate OK.  BUT WHY SO SMALL, JOHN?!  And after the success of his sausage, too.  Mary looks very disappointed.

James - fondant thicker than the others, but still too thin.  Nice sponge.  Pungent with rosewater.

The results for the Technical Challenge are in.

Joint last are Brendan and John.  So the winner is James.  Just.  But Mr Kipling would be very disappointed.

Paul Hollywood tells the boys to consider themselves chastised (brief moment to imagine being chastised by Paul Hollywood - do I hear a rargh, ladies?  I think I do).

And it makes tomorrow all the more important.  Who can win?  Well, any of them.  We're back to the 33.33% chance again.

The Showstopper Challenge is for the perfect chiffon cake - to be served at the village fete with "limp bunting and torrential rain".  Nice.  And it has to be THEMED.

Oil and eggwhite-based batter for this cake.  It's vulnerable to sinking and often too light to support a tiered cake design.  Sounds straightforward - what could possibly go wrong?

Brendan's theme is family reunion, because he's brought together two different strands of his family.  An almond-coated raspberry chiffon, with another one on top (he didn't get the memo).

John's theme is heaven and hell, a mirror-smooth chocolate base cake and white lemony cloud cakes on top.

James is making five chiffon cakes, four using Turkish delight, pistachios, blueberries and raspberries and one bringing all those flavours together, to unite them.  His theme is "nation".  Or it could be "horrendous" - depends if he can sort that flavour balance!

James has dropped an unbaked cake.  Oh, dear.  Brendan, sympathetically and helpfully, says, "It's the one thing you dread happening."

Look!  It's all the people who left Bake Off, coming back for the village fete!  They all say positive things about the finalists and try not to look really fucking envious.

The cakes are baked.  And they look OK, hurrah!

So they ice them and balance things on them and it all gets a bit exciting and James has to substitute raspberries for Turkish delight.

James thinks his shows less skill than the others, but great baking.  We'll let Paul and Mary be the judge(s) of that.  Obviously.

Brendan gets emotional as he talks about what he's achieved with his baking over the decades - against the odds (not sure what the odds were, but anyway, he gets quite teary about it all).

So, this is it - the final judging of The Great British Bake Off.

John's heaven and hell themed cake has turned out as planned - a mirror-smooth chocolate and orange sponge base, with the white cakes perched on top injected with lemon curd.  It looks superb - glossy brown chocolate contrasting "hell" cake with the fluffy white of the "heaven" cakes.

Brendan's family reunion cake is raspberry and almond, with a gingerbread man dancing round the base.  The cake is a tall, multi-layered delight, a nice bake all the way through it.  The sponge is like a cloud, says Paul - all poetic like.  Mary's just impressed Brendan made his own jelly.

James brings his five cakes over on a colossal board.  Mary applauds James for being the main contributor to village fete, but Paul is concerned - the brief was "a cake" and James has made five.  The overachiever.  Anyway, they decide to judge the middle one, with the Union Jack on it.  Or is it the Union Flag, given that it's not at sea, it's on a cake?  I can never remember (partly because I've never tried to remember, I suspect).  Anyway...  Horrors - it's too cakey.  It's dry.  So they try another one.  It's still a bit cakey.  Overall, they're not impressed.  Although I'm not sure "too cakey" is necessarily a good criticism of what is, when it boils down to it, a cake.

Has James blown it?

Has Brendan done enough?

Is John the last-minute dark horse?

It's decision time for Paul and Mary.

James smiled even when went things went wrong.  Good, good.

John lost his mojo halfway through the series.  Not good, not good.

Brendan was good at things he could rehearse at home.  And he has amazing knowledge.

Who is it?  Paul and Mary agreed in their discussions, by saying the same name at the same time.  Spooooooky.

The finalists and the previous contestants huddle together in the summer drizzle for the results.  And...

And what a surprise!  John's won!  His heaven and hell cake nailed it for him.  And the best thing for him?  He's made his mum proud.  All together now - ahhh!  And he got a First in his law degree too.  Well done him!

Want to be on the next series, to try your hand at cooking eggs, flour, sugar and other guest ingredients in interesting and creative ways?  What are you waiting for?

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