“When I see THAT, that annoys me,” said Paul Hollywood, pointing his beard accusingly at Richard’s pain au lait.
In the grand final, signature bake (two types of Viennoiserie), the five-times star baker had started to flake. “They should NOT be touching. This isn’t a batch bake!” said Paul, remorselessly suggesting that Richard had made something that wouldn’t be out of place in the “1000 calories for £1” section at Asda.
This was the first sign that this year’s denoument would be a rollicking sporting contest, ebbing and flowing and brimming with surprises. Luis, who has always talked the best bake, patiently explained to the camera exactly how to fold a thin sheet of butter into dough. Confidently he presented to the judges, only to be told his raspberry and cream cheese filling was, simply, a “no”.
Nancy got away with it, serving up slightly doughy and under-proved croissants that, in the melting pot of the hot finale tent, were winners. Could there be a shock female champ in a year dominated by gentle giant men?
The technical bake was devilishly easy and yet, simply impossible. Twelve mini Victoria sandwich sponges, 12 mini tartes au citron and 12 normal-sized scones, in two hours flat. The recipe provided merely said: “Make these. Make my day. Mary.”
“The result has to be sheer perfection, that’s all,” hooted Mary outside the tent.
“Not much to ask,” cackled Paul.
Which to make first? And how could it possibly be done within the time limit, without ending up whisking with one hand, folding with the other, kneading with your feet and mixing lemon custard in your mouth?
Only Nancy seemed vaguely in control, since the Victoria sponge demanded homemade jam, and in her everyday life Nancy makes more jars of jam than most people make cups of tea. Richard had to abandon his scones when he double-egged the mixture, while Luis seemed befuddled by the basic recipes. He looked like a man who wished he were, say, building a mining wheel out of biscuit with a choux rope.
Luis was first to be judged, scoring low for pale scones with no glaze and tartes au citron with punishingly thick pastry and no fancy chocolate writing.
Nancy fared better, despite dry scones and a cream filling in her sponge that had been slapped on with the old spatch, not piped decoratively from a pointy bag. Mary wondered if spreading the cream might be alright actually. Paul said not. “This is the final of The Great British Bake Off, Mary. You pipe!” Alright, she was only saying.
Judging by Mary’s reaction to his tartes au citron, pre-match favourite Richard had thrown her one of the worst bakes in the programme’s history: up there with Alan’s locust fancies (series 2) and Sandra’s spicy bacon and passion fruit macarons (series 4).
“They are TOTALLY overbaked and the mixture has CURDLED,” said Mary, looking as discomfited as one can in a lovely floral blazer. “It’s a sort of sweet scrambled egg.”
First the anonymous slagging, then the face-to-face slamdown. “I’m going to tell you who came third,” said Mary, eyeballing the finalists like Mr Bronson with a detention class. “Who did this?”
Richard confessed to baking 12 of the worst tartes au citron in human history. He had, in the words of Paul Hollywood, to “do something magnificent” in the showstopper to avoid throwing the trophy away – especially with Nancy having romped home in the technical thanks to her excellent tartes, making the rough scoreline 2-0-0 to Our Nance with one round to go.
The final binge was a pièce montée, a big mound of cake smothered in tricky trappings and dripping with personal, emotional resonance.
The judges agreed that Luis would be in his element here, and so it proved. “I’m making a mining wheel out of biscuit, with a choux rope,” he proudly promised, describing his tribute to his home village of Poynton and holding up a complex grease-proof template.
Richard closed one eye as he flattened off a profiterole skyscraper. Luis daintily put his choux rope in place, secured by some sort of fondant tendant, then cried when it was over. One of the sails fell off Nancy’s windmill.
“Interesting colours,” scoffed Paul at Richard’s green grass icing. Surely a gigantic children’s birthday cake hadn’t moved him from last to first? It was possible – the judges loved his flavours, praising his ginger sponge (“That’s lovely, that” – Paul) and the upper echelons of his tower (“That is a first-class choux” – Mary).
Nancy tottered up next, bringing with her a Moulin Rouge that was designed to be red and black and “sort of sinister”. Her windmill span round! Ignoring the fact that this really ought to have won the contest immediately, Paul and Mary attacked the cake, finding virtually nothing wrong. “It’s beautiful,” said Paul, chewing on a burlesque profiterole.
Luis needed to have built something amazing. He had. “That really is a work of art,” said Paul, surveying the big wheel. It wouldn’t have been too surprising if he’d turned it and seen cake miners mining for Italian buttercream.
But not all Luis’ flavours were on the button, so it wasn’t enough. Nancy Birtwhistle, grandmother of eight, microwaver of dough, bottler of homegrown fruit and the one with decades of wily kitchen knowhow, had gloriously come from miles behind to win.