There was a general feeling that the series climax of Bake Off 2.0 wasn’t shaping up to be what we in the TV-appreciation biz call A Classic Final. No “Will and Gareth ’01”, that’s for sure. Possibly not even a Leona and Ray ’06. It was going to be an incredibly hard one to call, although mainly just because we’d forgotten who was even in it.
But then – THEN, in a move that left the internet reeling and social-media managers across the land gnawing through their own fists like bonfire toffee, Prue went and announced the winner on Twitter. BOOM. Just like that, a whole 10 weeks of carefully constructed anticipation blasted into a cloud of meringue dust. It was like walking into a room to find your Christmas present being wrapped, and discovering the present was a geometry set.
Are Prue and Mary Berry currently blazing down a distant highway in a Ford Thunderbird, wearing dark glasses and laughing their heads off?
Was her feed being run by Siobhan Sharpe from W1A? Or was it strategic? Has Prue’s involvement in the whole entire series been a strung-out publicity stunt for her new sugar-free cookbook, Not Worth The Calories? Are she and Mary Berry currently blazing down a distant highway in a Ford Thunderbird, wearing dark glasses and laughing their heads off? And, more importantly, what the hell do we do now?
I’ll tell you what we do now: we pretend. We salvage what joy we still can. We stick our fingers in our ears, sing “lalalala” and calmly pick through the heap of crap on the floor in search of edible bits, like the time Rachel and Chandler dropped that cheesecake on Friends. Because look, it’s the only final we’re getting and I’ll be damned if I’m watching Holby City.
So, what’s going to happen is that I’m going to pretend I don’t know that you know, and you’re going to pretend that you don’t know that I know that you know, and then we’ll all muddle through. OK? OK. Good.
And now, if you’ll indulge me, I am going to use up everything in my “BAKE OFF LEFTOVER BITZ” Google doc. They won’t keep.
- Pithivier the fool!
- Those aren’t hedgehogs – that’s James’ cottage loaf with some eyes stuck on.
- “You don’t know what way that dough’s gonna go.”
- It’s like the carb special of Country Life magazine in here.
- Too stodgy? It’s PruePaul’s Clagg Race!
- Everyone knows the youth these days don’t even touch alcohol! You should have let him flavour it with pumpkin spice vape.
- Is Flo from Liverpool or Bakin’head?
- Refined sugar wears a pocket square and always uses the right fork.
- Collapsing cake? It’s PruePaul’s Sag Race!
- Perhaps we will never truly know how to pronounce “praline”.
- Spinach? It’s PruePaul’s Saag Race!
I PUT A SPELT ON YOU
In the interests of making this final as earnest and swotty as possible, the final signature challenge is bread. In fact, “Steven, Sophie and Kate” even sounds like a gang of nerds from an O-level maths question, back in the days before inclusivity. In the exam, they would be trying to build a bridge from only isosceles triangles and dowling rods; in the tent, they are trying to make three different types of mini loaf – a spelt, a flavoured and a fancy shape – in a timeframe that defies the very laws of physics.
“It’s a dark art that I’ve yet to master,” says Sophie, with the kind of fervour most girls reserve for ouija boards and sleepover levitations. She’s making mushroom ciabatta and spelt boules. It’s no caramel week really, is it?
Meanwhile, Kate is making coconut kala chana loaves with her own special type of brown sugar (alright there, Mick Jaggery), which she discovered in a little shop on Bold Street – the baking equivalent of “This dress? Oh, it’s vintage.” And Steven is bringing out the big guns, his scout badges, with a bap that looks like a Winston knot. Why not tell us about the time you were deputy form captain, too, pal? At this point, it really can’t hurt.
Meanwhile, one person who could never get her personal statement to fit on one side of A4 is Kate, whose meet-the-family video ends up more like an intervention for overachievers anonymous. She’s done dancing. Fishing. Riding. Martial arts. Go-karting. Little did we know that, while we’ve been watching this every Tuesday, she’s also been on three other channels winning Eggheads, Scrapheap Challenge and Crufts.
Anyway, after three hours of furrowed brows and maths equations, the labour of loaf is complete. Paul loves Kate’s loaves so much he’s even eyeing up her peshwari filling (three words, Kate: intellectual property rights). Sophie’s ciabatta is flat, but tasty, and her brioche are beautiful. Steven’s have split and spilled cheese everywhere (terrible when things slip out that aren’t meant to, eh Prue?), but his Winston knots are victorious. “Underproved, underproved, perfect,” chants Paul, which is the version of Duck, Duck, Goose he made up as a child.
“It’s nice to know I’m not starting from behind,” says Sophie. Is it, Soph? We wouldn’t know.
THE ICE BAG COMETH
The technical challenge is iced ginger biscuits, the type I’ve lost many hours of my life to watching videos of on YouTube. The bics need to be crisp and snappy, half iced to look like delicate lace and half with colourful flowers, flooded with royal icing as per Prue’s exacting vision. Genuinely, nobody’s been this concerned about flooding since Noah.
But, despite their intricate aesthetics, Prue is eager to maintain that this challenge is “all about the bake”. Which is confusing, as the rest of the series was all about oxbow lakes.
Kate throws caution to the wind by cutting her biscuits after baking and ends up woefully behind on her timings, while the other two whizz through effortlessly, like they have piping bags for fingers. “I think everybody needs to learn how to speed-pipe,” says Sophie. She means this – so much so she’s actually set up a foundation, The Sophie Bake Off Center for Kids Who Can’t Ice Good, working to bring the sugar-based arts to underprivileged children.
Come judging, our bakers’ efforts can be divided neatly into three: snap, cackle and plop. Sophie’s bics have spread and her icing is lumpy, Kate’s are only half dressed, but Steven – Steven has flipped everything on its head and redeemed himself with near-perfect bics. Lo, after the flooding, he rode to safety on a narrative arc!
At this point, I’d like to posit a new 'Liam wins by default' clause, if I may. We’re living in post-logic times; it can’t hurt
“Going into the showstopper, everyone’s going to be starting from roughly the same point,” explains Kate, stopping just short of a side-glance to camera. Funny that. It’s almost as though they want to keep us in suspense, right up to the end.
“What happens if they’re all even at the end of the showstopper?” asks Noel. At this point, I’d like to posit a new “Liam wins by default” clause, if I may. We’re living in post-logic times; it can’t hurt.
ENTREMET THE BEST BAKER WIN
It’s the final day! The deciding challenge is an entremet, a layered French mousse cake originally served between courses, and supposedly “the most unforgiving showstopper in Bake Off history”. This is a bit hard to swallow when we’ve seen these people build rainbows and wearable handbags with little more than flour and gumption, but OK, sure. More importantly, can we go back to this whole “dessert between courses” thing?
As you’d hope from the final showstopper, the entremet is an exercise in perfect timing, as well as a pleasing stream of fancy words we don’t know. Bavarois, dacquoise, financier, Genoise, feuilletine, gelatine... Joe DiMaggio. They didn’t start the fire (Prue did), but smoke is practically rising off our bakers’ fingers as they race to make and freeze one fiddly layer after another.
“This is what we call ‘concurrent activity’ and it is an actual principle of war,” says Sophie, lest we forget she’s actually qualified in military precision. Her cake is some kind of tribute to Billie Piper’s Honey To The Bee – and very nice it sounds, too – while, also drawing inspiration from things I was really into around 1999, Steven is shaping his like a yin yang. The two halves will be filled with 14 different layers and decorated differently, giving him twice as much to panic about. Perhaps the biggest twist of all is that, suddenly, we’re rooting for Steven. He’s pink-cheeked with stress, doing labour breathing exercises and flapping in front of the freezer, while the others calmly plop discs of glossy filling into place.
A very zen Kate is flavouring her cake with yuzu, which is notable because it makes at least one appearance on Bake Off every single year, but always has to be explained as though nobody has ever heard of it before. It is the Groundhog Day of citrus fruits. The 50 First Dates of left-field cake flavourings. Yuzu… didn’t they sing Only You? Nope, you’ve lost me again.
Kate has also vowed to do a naked cartwheel through the tent if she wins. One MIGHT suggest they wouldn’t have left that bit in the edit if there were any chance of her actually winning... but that would be cynical, so one won’t.
And back in the age of innocence, familiar faces are gathering outside. Liam! Julia! Flo! Some bloke who’s come about the ad for a broken cooker on Shpock! No wait, sorry – that’s Chris from episode one. And what shape will the end-of-term party take this year? An immersive boutique festival? A nude yoga retreat? A masquerade ball with a Sinatra covers band and a 10ft vodka luge? Ah, no, it’s a garden party again. Well, that’s nice, too.
THERE’S MOUSSE LOOSE
Back in the tent, Sophie and Kate have both turned out spectacular entremets – glossy as Pantene ads, with perfectly defined fillings and almost poetic flavour combinations. But Steven’s flavours are basic and his layers are bleeding, along with his heart. “It’s almost too much of a good thing,” says Prue. Oh, you want to talk about restraint do you, Prue?
“I could still win,” says Steven, eyes brimming with tears. Oh, mate. You’re still in the running for Miss Congeniality, if that helps.
When it comes to announcing the winner, Sandi and Noel both so choked with emotion they make Mel and Sue look like a pair of Victorian headmasters. I’m still partially hoping Liam will leap in, snap the trophy into pieces and throw a bit to every single baker… but no.
It’s Sophie! Well, knock me down with a piping bag, THAT IS BRAND NEW INFORMATION.
Having knocked out her nemesis, bread (biff!), annihilated her rivals (pow!) and made turning out world-class patisserie in a canvas sauna look like a gentle stroll down a breezy hill, the tent’s woman of steel has pulled off her greatest stunt yet. Sophie, you nailed it. And I say this in all sincerity – we knew you would.
Next week: The John Lewis Christmas advert comes to save us all. No spoilers.