Everywhere I’ve gone for the past few weeks the question on everyone’s lips has been, “So who do you think is going to win this year’s Bake Off?”
It’s become a real fixture in the national calendar and with just one day left to go before the 2015 final, there’s a whole lot of anticipation in the air.
This is going to feel like a crazy week for Ian, Nadiya and Tamal, but soon they’ll get to watch the final episode for themselves and all the memories of their fantastic summer in the tent will come flooding back.
Here's my assessment of the three finalists.
Strengths: Ian, the kitchen alchemist, has been fantastic to watch this year. His flavour combinations have often been quite unusual but from the judges’ reactions and his consistent praise, it seems to have paid off more often than not.
He’s also brought some impressive engineering into the tent, from his bread flowerpot to his cutter for perfect ladyfingers via his bird pie mould and incredible chocolate well.
Ian has taken the competition very seriously, and obviously thought carefully about each brief – appearing well organised and under control every week. He’s creative and inventive and seems to have quite a breadth of baking experience. While it’s been a few weeks since he last won Star Baker, he’s definitely in with a shot of winning the final.
Weaknesses: Sometimes Ian’s experimentation hasn’t paid off, for example with his black squid ink vol-au-vents. He’s also been criticised on occasions for finishing his bakes too simplistically. But he’s dealt with criticism very well and it doesn’t seem to have fazed him.
If the final challenges call for particularly elaborate or decorative bakes, Ian could struggle against the other two finalists. Let’s hope this cool, calm and collected customer hasn’t peaked too soon and has saved some innovative flavour combinations for the final.
Strengths: Nadiya has had my sweet tooth going since the first episode. She’s shown that she’s not only an extremely confident baker, but an excellent craftsperson too, as her bread snake and chocolate peacock testify.
She’s produced some of the most attractive showstoppers of the series, particularly her star shaped ice cream rolls and her perfect Charlotte Russe. Nadiya seems to have excelled on sweet food more than savoury and some of her flavour combinations have worked perfectly, for example in her cream horns and her peanut butter chocolate tart.
She is definitely the crowd-pleaser, and she’s been my personal favourite from the start, making the sort of food I’d be most likely to buy in a patisserie myself. I’m particularly impressed at her ability to come back from disappointment in the tent – the girl’s got guts and that is as important as anything else at this final stage.
Weaknesses: Nadiya’s flavours haven’t always appealed to Mary, for example her soda pop cheesecakes and her bubble gum éclairs (although they've certainly appealed to me!). I sometimes worry about her all-round baking experience – she has had an erratic performance in her technicals.
She’s also struggled with timing on occasions throughout the series so will have to stay very cool headed during the last few bakes if she’s to go all the way.
Strengths: Tamal has been a fantastic all-rounder and consistent throughout the series. He hasn’t looked like he’s in danger once, and has finished in the top half each week. Tamal’s sense of humour has helped him cope with the stresses of the tent and he’s remained pretty unflappable.
His flavour combinations have been sophisticated and well-judged, and he seems to have been really competent with both sweet and savoury bakes. I’d really like to try making some of his recipes as they always seem very well balanced.
I think Tamal has got his eye on the prize, is quietly competitive and could definitely pip the other two at the post. Having the fewest star baker awards of the finalists doesn’t reflect the excellent performance he’s had throughout the series
Weaknesses: Tamal has shown very few weaknesses in the series so far. Both Mary and Paul have appreciated his bakes and commented very favourably.
However, Tamal’s never won a technical challenge, which could be an indicator of a lack of experience of different baking disciplines. He’s had a small amount of criticism from Mary, particularly about the decorative finish of some of his bakes, so if the final calls for something quite detailed, I’ll be interested to see how he handles that.
Richard Burr's new book BIY: Bake it Yourself is out now