For weeks we’ve all been frantically running to the TV at 8pm on a Tuesday and turning to BBC 2. This week was no different; though really it was, because it was the final of The Great British Bake Off. I, along with an average of 8.4 million other viewers tuned in to see who would be crowned 2013’s Bake Off champion. Would it be calm and collected Kimberley Wilson? The young, quirky and emotional Ruby Tandoh? Or substance versus style Francis Quinn?
Let me introduce our finalists.
First we have our youngest baker – at twenty one – philosophy student Ruby Tandoh. Ruby has been known to crack under pressure, but has demonstrated a creative twist on old favourites and a passionate flair, always presenting an interesting twist, especially with her vegetarian options. She’s often remembered for her amazing edible allotment cake as well as being crowned ‘star baker’ an impressive three times. She can be what is called our instinctive baker, or ‘the wildcard’.
Next is the girl that was perhaps the favourite to win this year; the eager yet steady Kimberley Wilson. The woman who probably holds the most technical knowledge remainined unflustered when faced with every technical challenge set by Mary and Paul. Kimberley has shown exemplary skill with different flavours and has had the steadiest journey throughout the bake off towards the final. Kimberley is often seen as the safe bet and is certainly a capable baker.
Last – but certainly not the least – of our three talented bakers is Francis Quinn. She is without a doubt the most creative baker that has ever entered the Great British Bake Off. However with all this creative and design talent there is a huge problem that has plagued Francis throughout Bake Off and that is the need to balance style with substance. She is often criticised for weak flavours and prioritising the look of the bake. But will out style queen be able to balance the dichotomy and win? We shall see.
The first bake – the signature challenge – was a savoury picnic pie. The pie would be made using short crust pastry, have some sort of design inside when cut and also be presented outside of the tin. Francis chose to do a rainbow themed basket picnic pie using a combination of rice, two types of trout (rainbow and smoked), and different summer vegetables. She flavoured the rice with turmeric, shallots, garlic and roasted pine nuts. Who ever said pies were easy eh?
Also doing a lattice basket-style picnic pie was young Ruby. Though as with all her other savoury pies this one is again vegetarian; it consisted of layers of halloumi, mozzarella, couscous, sun dried tomatoes with seasonings of oregano and basil. If there was ever something to make me believe in vegetarian cooking, it would be this pie.
Kimberley decided to challenge herself by creating a three coloured pastry pie in order to create a design on the outside as well of a farm scene with pigs. Kimberley’s bake was a ‘chicken and pig’ pie consisting of a chicken mouse, pancetta with pistachios and a pork tenderloin pâté all packed around a black pudding running through the centre.
Unfortunately viewers may have witnessed a fatal mistake before Kimberley did. While Ruby and Francis cooked their fillings before placing in the pie – to avoid excess moisture – Kimberley simply arranged the filling within the pie first and then baked, incurring serious moisture troubles. If there was any time to have a soggy bottom, it certainly wasn’t the final. With Paul commenting that Francis’ bake could have used another ten minutes to be perfected in the oven, it seemed – for the first round at least – that Ruby had edged into the lead.
Next came the dreaded technical challenge. Unfortunately for the finalists the recipe was one of Paul’s; they were to bake Pretzels – six savoury and six sweet. Now I don’t know about you but I have never baked a pretzel in my life nor know of anyone who does, and it seemed neither had the finalists. The judges were looking for a deep, glossy coating, a dense, chewy interior and of course; that classic double knot.
After the initial struggle – of creating dry, dense dough and attempting to twist it into a double knotted pretzel-esque shape – the biggest challenge soon followed. The pretzels had to be quickly placed in boiling water with bicarbonate of soda, but – as Paul Hollywood sneakily revealed in a side scene – the recipe did not state how long the pretzels should be in the water. The outcome was three batches of oversized pretzels. Overall no one stood out hugely or mastered the challenge but the contestants were eventually ordered with Francis in 3rd, Ruby in 2nd and Kimberley in 1st.
A new day dawned for the bakers and with it came the last bake on the show. It was the showstopper. They were asked to bake the most celebrated of cakes; the wedding cake. And all in 6 hours.
Frances had always been known to excel at these tasks and this one was no different. She challenged herself to creating a ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ wedding cake with the bottom layer being flavoured with rhubarb and ginger, the middle a lemon Victorian sponge filled with raspberries and cream and the top a carrot, apricot and orange flavoured cake. She then used a motif of falling confetti made out of dried beetroot hearts, mango and sweet potato as well as creating dried pineapple flowers and bumble bees from icing. She can bake my wedding cake any day!
Kimberley chose to battle with a ‘languages of love’ wedding cake. The first layer was a chocolate fudge cake, followed by an orange and pistachio flavoured checkerboard sponge and a top layer of lemon and elderflower cake with a poppy seed buttercream. The decoration consisted of a fondant ‘love’ cake topper, sugar paste icing and decorations and last but not least, the use of a stamp to mark love in twenty eight different languages. Show off!
Ruby then finished off with her raspberry, lemon and passion fruit wedding cake decorated to look like sunset on a warm summer’s eve. The top layer consisted of a sponge filled and layered with a passion fruit curd, the middle a Victoria sponge filled with fresh raspberries and mascarpone cream and the last a lemon Victoria sponge layered with a lemon curd. Perhaps most striking about this particular bake is that Ruby has revealed she hasn’t written any of the timings for the bakes down!
Then the real judging began. Ruby was faced with disappointment when both Paul and Mary expressed regret that she had not shown her true potential or the wide variety of her skillset that she had gained over the challenges. Coupled with two of her tiers being overbaked, things looked glib for Ruby and inevitably tears were shed.
Complimented for her contemporary feel and good flavouring, Francis was pleased with her feedback, though was told that perhaps her icing could be a little sharper and that the rhubarb in the bottom layer was useless when coupled with the overpowering ginger. Overall though, a great centre piece for any wedding.
Unusually for Kimberley, she was criticised by Mary, with comments that her cake was very simple and lacked wow factor as a centrepiece. Did anyone else notice the squiffy printing? Though the chocolate layer was said to have been a bit dry, the actual taste of the cake seemed to go down a treat, but with the design remaining disappointing is it enough to clench the crown?
As is normal of the Bake Off final, the outcome looked uncertain. With all the finalists having been incredibly strong throughout the ten weeks of challenges, it seemed they would all be deserved winners. But ultimately Ruby cracked under the pressure of the final task and Kimberley disappointed first in the signature challenge with her leaky pie and then in the showstopper challenge with a lacklustre design. Our style queen managed to balance design and substance to be named 2013’s Great British Baker. Francis Quinn won.
What is the next step for our bakers? Who knows? But after tears, soggy bottoms and countless amounts of flour explosions, I for one cannot wait to find out. After finding an extraordinary winner this year, I feel it’s time to do our own baking. Let’s hope us students can face it!