Well folks, we’ve reached the end of another season of “Bake Off.” And what a season it was! There were some disappointing judging decisions along the way. We had a couple ridiculous challenges. But for the most part, it has been a good season, with much stronger challenge setting and a lovely batch of bakers.
The finalists this year are Josh, Dan and Matty. Noel and Allison’s voiceover quickly explains their “type” as they march into the tent. Josh is all precision. Dan is ambitious. And Matty is the underdog. All of them have had two Star Bakers. Josh has probably been the most consistent, and Matty has been in danger the most. That being said, they’re a very evenly matched bunch, making this final very suspenseful viewing.
The signature challenge is eight highly decorated eclairs, with two different flavors. Eclairs are a common challenge, most notably in 2014’s pastry week. However, just making eight is certainly achievable in the two-hour 15-minute timeframe. Yay for achievable challenges!
All three bakers are sticking to classic flavors. Dan is leaving Asian flavors behind for strawberries and cream eclairs and hazelnut praline eclairs. Josh is making summer-y coconut, mango and raspberry eclairs, as well as coffee and chocolate eclairs (my go-to eclair flavor when I bake them). And Matty is making Black Forest eclairs and banoffee eclairs.
Next are the adorable cutaways to the finalists’ families, which is always one of my favorite parts of the final. We learn that Matty didn’t actually apply for “Bake Off,” his fiance did it for him. Dan lied to his kids about being on “Bake Off” and now that they know their dad is in the final, they are feeling quite betrayed. Josh’s mom gets emotional over her mother, Josh’s grandma, who has inspired many of Josh’s bakes in the tent.
It is eminently obvious that Dan in particular is stressed. “I have four pairs of underwear on,” he says to the camera. TMI, Dan! TMI! He is also very chatty with the other bakers and can’t stop pacing around. Josh is keeping his feelings more under wraps. “What is the one thing you’re going to miss about the tent?” Allison asks. “You of course,” Josh replies. Noel gives Josh a hard time about this later. “I’ve been doing this for seven years!” he exclaims as he finally leaves Josh be.
We get our usual innuendos as the bakers fill their eclairs (lots of discussion of holes and filling and leaking and such). And then it is time for judging. Josh’s look good and are well-filled, but his fruit eclairs are oversweet. Matty’s are a bit messy, but the flavors are solid. “That’s the first one we’ve had that is properly firm,” Prue remarks about his pastry. And Dan attempted too much. His eclairs are messy and soggy, with okay flavors.
The technical challenge features some of Noel’s most uncomfortable one-liners, including a reference to Paul fighting a bear in his underwear and Paul and Prue going off to “make sweet sweet love.” Allison is a good influence on Noel, but sometimes he really can’t be stopped. Before leaving the tent, Paul tells the bakers that “for perfection, you’re going to need patience.” It’s a far more elegant variation on the iconic “be patient” advice from 2014’s bread week technical.
The technical challenge is nine lardy cake slices. What is a lardy cake? Well, the bakers have the same question. Meanwhile in the judging pavilion, Prue says that lardy cake is a very “nostalgic bake.” So basically, it’s a childhood favorite for British people over the age of 80.
In all seriousness, a lardy cake is a layered bread dough filled with dry fruit and covered in pig fat. So healthy. In order to get a proper structure and good layers, you need a long second proof, which the bakers probably won’t have time to do.
The first instruction is “make the bread dough,” which is oh so helpful. All the bakers are twitchy during this challenge, clearly terrified of messing up. The final proof and bake also mean that the bakers are waiting around a lot. Dan waits a little bit too long, and his lardy cake is burnt. Matty has the opposite problem, and his lardy cake is a bit dense and soggy. Josh is pleased that he at least has visible layers.
In judging, Josh receives solid feedback. Dan’s lardy cake is deemed “caramelized a lot”, which is a polite way of saying burnt. Matty’s is very underbaked. In third place is Matty, second is Dan, and first is Josh. This puts Josh a bit ahead going into the showstopper. Matty is in provisional second, and Dan has a lot of work to do in the showstopper if he wants to win.
The showstopper challenge is a real “Bake Off” throwback: an elegant tiered celebration cake. That used to be a common final showstopper, but it’s fallen by the wayside for more elegant creations recently. The twist for this year is that the cakes need to be inspired by the bakers’ very first bakes. Paul is hoping for lemon drizzle.
If I did this challenge, I’d have to base my cakes on chocolate chip cookies, which feels like it wouldn’t end well. Luckily, I am not a contestant.
Dan is fulfilling Paul’s wish and celebrating lemon with his cakes. His first two bakes were a lemon drizzle cake and a lemon meringue pie. He is still very ambitious, and plans to decorate his cake with a white chocolate collar and macarons. Josh’s first bake is a Victoria sandwich. His cake is inspired by the seasons and also his garden. It’s a bit confusing, made even more so by the fact that his decoration is just spring and summer, and winter isn’t represented at all. What is fun is that he’s making a mini biscuit greenhouse to go on top of the cake. Matty’s bake is inspired by brownies and he’s making a chocolate genoise sponge and a Victoria sandwich. He says that he doesn’t like to talk about baking in his daily life. He seems to think it’s embarrassing. In fairness, he is a middle school teacher, and working with middle schoolers for an extended period of time will completely skew your understanding of what’s embarrassing and what’s not.
There’s a flurry of cake baking and filling making. All the bakers have multi-page lists to make sure they’re getting everything done. During this, Dan falls behind, and Matty discovers that a couple of his cakes are underbaked. He rectifies this by sticking them back in a scorching hot oven for five minutes.
The tension is real as the bakers dowel their cakes and stack them. Dan is struggling with both his macarons and his chocolate collar, and I worry that today is just not his day. Josh seems unflappable. And Matty is just doing his best in a mad dash to the finish line.
It’s time for the final judging of this series. Dan’s cake has come out pasty and his whole showstopper is “a little bit flawed.” I have a sneaking suspicion that he is not going to be the winner. He’s fallen at the final hurdle, and it’s a real shame. Matty’s cake has a bit of a lean (probably because genoise is a very soft sponge) but his flavors are absolutely delicious. His chocolate cake is so good that Prue does a little dance. “Really perfect,” Prue says. The only real flaw in Matty’s showstopper is the lean. Josh’s showstopper is pretty from far away, but up close, the pipe work isn’t great. His flavors are a bit boring, the apple doesn’t come through and Paul doesn’t think Josh showed enough personality. “Not your best shot,” says Prue.
The bakers walk out of the tent and are greeted with cheers from friends, family and the other bakers this season. A little ways away in the judging pavilion, Paul and Prue have to decide who’s going to win. It’s going to be between Josh and Matty. The two were roughly equal in the signature. Josh won the technical while Matty came last. And Matty had the best showstopper while Josh’s wasn’t quite as good. Meanwhile, all Allison wants to do is get to announce the winner. She’s adorable and I love her.
She gets her wish, and announces the winner, who is … Matty!
Who would have seen that coming in Week One? Not me, that’s for sure.
It was definitely a close call between Matty and Josh, but it’s true that the showstopper is always given more weight than the technical. A great showstopper will always beat first in technical, and Matty takes a well-deserved win. He’s been on a real journey, learning and growing throughout the competition. He’s thrilled, and it’s lovely to watch. And I’m guessing he’ll be more proud of being a home baker from now on.
Well, that’s it for another series of “Bake Off” and another series of recaps from me. I hope you’ve all enjoyed this series and these recaps. And now, we’ll just have to wait until next year’s “Bake Off!”