“Her sponges were too simple, the frosting un-inspired and the relief of flowers and dragonflies cut from sugar paste lacked finesse and was unfinished.”
This year’s all-female final promised to be a close race, but before we got there, the BBC treated us to an hourly catch up of last year’s contestants. Quite a few of them are now involved in baking demonstrations, working for local bakeries and one has made a book on bread-baking. All this raises the profile of quality baking in the UK.
This year’s show has reached new levels of interest: 13,000 applied to take part. Maybe they are the same 13,000 that still own a black and white TV set? Tied to their ovens they don’t have time to watch. Eight million however did, or were predicted to, tune into the final. That is 12.5% of the UK’s population. This represents a lot of people hungry for cake, creating a great opportunity for us professionals to step in.
A savoury picnic pie was the first challenge. Ruby and Frances went for the same idea, giving us a direct comparison of the two. Each embarked on creating a layered, rainbow coloured vegetarian interior, and both opted for a lattice top.
Ruby’s layers were clearly more defined and her presentation and execution was faultless. Kimberley’s black pudding meat pie looked tasty, but was too soft and collapsed on cutting. The coloured pastry exterior did not work - I don’t believe it ever does, as it usually looks dull after the bake or it browns off in the wrong places. The same happened to Glenn a few episodes back.
Next came the Technical Challenge. I take my baker’s hat off to Paul Hollywood for suggesting pretzels, not something they had ever baked before on GBBO. Maybe we will see more German-style recipes on GBBO in future. If so, there are some interesting recipes I could suggest.
Being given a pretzel as my dummy, I know all about the knot and that the origin of the pretzel stems from some aristocrat who wanted a bread through which the sun can shine three times too. What I didn’t know was that you can get the glossy brown finish on a pretzel by immersing them in a hot water/ bicarbonate of soda solution. At home the pretzels were proofed and baked on perforated trays that were briefly immersed in an alkaline solution, then sprinkled with salt just before the bake.
All finalists got the dense dough texture right, but none could figure out the double twist, which really is a quick flick of both hands and has to be performed mid-air. Kimberly recovered in this round making the final section of the show a pretty close race.
The final’s Showstopper Challenge was a three-tier wedding cake. Six hours from start to finish is a tall order, as Frances rightly noted. She had some interesting flavours in her sponges and her edible confetti of oven-dried fruit was going to look good as we could see in the trailer.
Upon watching I could see the chances ebb away for Ruby: the pressure got to her. Her sponges were too simple, the frosting un-inspired and the relief of flowers and dragonflies cut from sugar paste lacked finesse and was unfinished. In fairness, she was the youngest of contestants and had done very well to get this far.
Kimberley’s chequerboard orange and pistachio cake looked precise. I was less sure about the inclusion of poppy seeds in the lemon cake filling, but Mary Berry liked it and that’s all that matters. The cake pop chocolate cake was inventive, but dry, according to Paul Hollywood. Once she started to cover her creation in sugar paste, without adding much else by way of decoration, it started to look a bit second-rate for me. Consistent throughout the previous episodes though, was Kimberley still in with a chance?
Last week I said Frances may well hold the trump card. And, sure enough, after Paul and Mary’s deliberation she was announced as the winner of the 2013 Bake Off. I believe a book by Frances Quinn is already in the making. I assume there will be a strong design element with a hint of quirkiness to her recipes. But maybe GBBO will also be a little more like The X-Factor in that the runner-up will do quite well. I don’t think this is the last we have seen of Kimberley.
“Congratulations to Frances and all the finalists… but I would choose Kim to cook for me any day!”
With three contestants and three challenges left to go, The Great British Bake Off final couldn’t have been any closer to call; Ruby, Kim and Frances each claimed victory in one of the tasks, leaving the judges to make a decision based on past performance that rewarded improvement rather than consistent skill.
The Signature Bake saw the contestants revisiting pastry with a savoury pie, a test to see if they had learned enough from the mistakes of previous weeks to avoid the dreaded soggy bottom. A neatly layered filling was required, and I liked Ruby’s combination of halloumi, couscous and sundried tomato, which cleverly avoided the risk of adding too much moisture. Her shock when it came out okay was unforgettable.
Ruby and Frances both pre-cooked their vegetables to further reduce moisture escaping into their lattice-work pies, but Kim – usually the most technically savvy baker – added her chicken, pancetta and black pudding filling, raw. On removal from the oven, the meat juices were not so much dripping as raining through her pastry, and her attempt at further cooking did nothing to dry out the very soggy bottom.
Pretzels were the surprise Technical Challenge and, as usual, Kim announced that she knew the technique. Ruby and Frances did not, though, and while kneading pastry seemed like second nature, forming the classic pretzel shape proved unexpectedly difficult. Watching Kim’s needlessly complicated technique did them no favours; pretzels can be shaped gently and easily on the work surface without any ‘flipping’.
Knotted pretzels are dipped in a solution of boiling water and bicarbonate of soda to encourage the Maillard effect, the chemical reaction by which crusts turn brown, but Ruby and Frances both boiled their pretzels for much to long, making them swell out of shape. Kim won the challenge, but Paul Hollywood darkly advised the contestants not to clap.
The final Showstopper Challenge was my very own specialism: wedding cake! Chosen because the wedding cake must be the best of the best, this task demanded a three-tier cake in perfect proportion. A great deal of work goes into making sure that a wedding cake is perfectly straight and smooth, not to mention safely stacked, and I was correct to doubt that the bakers knew the techniques to use. The results were disappointing, but not surprising.
Ruby’s tiers were too similar in size to create a nice stepped effect, and her dowels were too long to allow them to sit flat. Her decoration was childishly simple and the lurid pink did not resemble the sunset she had planned. To make matters worse, her cake turned out to be over-baked. Kim’s wedding cake lacked height, and her fondant covering was applied inexpertly, giving a sagging appearance. Mary criticised the monochrome design for being boring and using ready-made elements. .
Frances’ cake had the height, although her tiers were terribly lopsided. Her edible confetti, made from dried flakes of beetroot, sweet potato and mango looked attractive though, and the cake tiers were well-baked and delicious, clinching the task, and then, to her amazement, the competition. Congratulations to Frances and all the finalists… but I would choose Kim to cook for me any day!
You can read Gerhard’s blog here.
Follow Konditor & Cook on Twitter: @konditorandcook
Charlotte’s personal blog can be found here.
Follow Langs of London on Twitter: @LangsofLondon