For the first time, I know the result before writing the recap - but I'll keep it under my hat until we get to the end, just in case you don't. Right... on with the show!
Last week we lost... no, sorry... give me a minute... hmm... someone. Oh, Danny, yes! (ahem) and we're left with three - Scottish James, Hyperventilating John, and the bridge between the 70s and today, The Brend. I'm Team James, and most of you seemed to be as well, judging on last week's comments.
|This is the best shot I could get of all three.|
James, sadly, is still in plain blue.
I'm not angry, I'm just disappointed.
We kick off with a retrospective of the previous nine weeks, including all manner of people I'd forgotten existed. It's also a reminder of how dearly I loved Sarah-Jane and Cathryn. The brief snippets of the finalists, in this look-back, suggest that someone in production is keen to give them each catchphrases. A bit late in the day to try that, but ok. I missed what John's was, but James gets "I'm just prepping my cloots", and The Brend says "The male will get a coxcomb." Not really the defining moments of the series, but does show that I'm not the only one who hopes for soundbites every episode. I just wish The Brend had got "I WANT ABSOLUTE UNIFORMITY."
We amble through the highs and lows of the three remaining bakers, which is rather more interesting than last week's "The semi-final is quite close to the final" interview montage - and gives The Brend a chance to start on his self-congratulation. "I think my track record has to make me a very, very strong contender to win," he asserts. Has he never seen a reality show? This is next to "It's not called America's Next Top Friend" in the list of what-not-to-say-if-you-want-to-win. (Some of you will get that.)
Amusingly, Mel's voiceover is remarking on John's 'modern designs', while the camera lingers on his gingerbread Colosseum. Hmm. Not the most modern, is it? John then babbles his way through a nightmare he had about the bake-off tent, which seems to revolve around faulty lighting. Since he's had a bloody altercation with a food processor, the nightmare seems a little tame in comparison. Still, we get an Anxious Apron Shot, and that's got to be worth something.
The Brend has to settle for Anxious Glasses Adjustment, which somehow makes him seem more like a cartoon supervillain than ever.
The Signature Challenge is a pithivier. Which is a great word to say, and Sue doesn't stint on the comic potential of sounding-like-she's-lisping. I love how she is treating the whole series as though performing a sideshow on a pier, which no pun left under-laboured. I half expected her to turn up with a Punch and Judy stall this week - perhaps with Mary and Paul's faces painted whimsically on the dolls? Oh well, better save something for Series 4.
The VTs this week are visits to the bakers' homes and families - what a shame Cathryn has left, we could finally have solved the problem of whether or not she lived in a tent on the side of a road. Scottish James is, Hayley tells me, from Shetland. Or The Shetlands, maybe. Well, it's still Scotland (thank goodness, or I'd have to give him a new innovative nickname) and it's beautiful.
He encourages everyone to apply next year - and I am seriously considering it. But then I discover that his girlfriend is called Fenella, and I start to doubt his life advice. She stares at the camera, and says 'like' a lot, but seems nice. He ends the segment saying 'Knowledge is Power', which makes me wonder if The Brend has successfully inveigled him into a Fascist cult.
Meanwhile they're all making rough puff pastry, which isn't much of a spectator sport, and the programme seems to realise this. We scoot past a clip of Mary and Paul dithering by John's workstation, and we're swiftly back to My Family And Other Animals segments.
Poor John - his parents don't seem very supportive. I did really feel for him, since they all seem to wish he'd hurry up and finish the baking so that he could become a lawyer.
|"Baking ain't gonna keep me in pearls, son!"|
His Mum does basically say she'd hoped John would leave early, so that he could do more revision. Perhaps parents nagging sons to work harder at university is just a touchy subject for me... I did suggest that Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife pay careful attention to this bit! (Only kidding!)
I haven't told you anything about the pithiviers, have I? James and John are both making something involving meat, and The Brend is making potato, pepper, and spinach pithivier. I'm in danger of growing to like him, for his thoughtfulness towards vegetarians, if nothing else. Sue is astonished by the amount of garlic he is using -
- but The Brend is, as usual, unresponsive to humour and informs her that he knows what he's doing, thankyouverymuch. Despite previous home VTs suggesting The Brend lives alone, it turns out he has a partner called Jason, who looks about thirty years younger than him. Jason comments that baking is a way of connecting with one's childhood. [Insert joke about The Brend's age here. Maybe make reference to dinosaur eggs.]
And The Brend suggests that the best baker will be the one who can keep his emotions in check. As a properly repressed Briton, I feel like this gives me a fighting chance for a future series.
Just so it doesn't seem like I'm ignoring the baking process altogether, here's an irrelevant shot of a pithivier being made.
I can't get too excited about savoury challenges, I'm afraid. And is it just me, or is this rather an easy challenge for the final? Notwithstanding Mel's dire warnings that, if insufficiently sealed, the pithivier will leak. This sounds, from her usual tone of doom and gloom, like a tragedy second only to the opening of Pandora's Box. Oh, Mel, I'll miss your absurd attempts to inject drama into proceedings. As Claire amusingly said in the comments from my recap of a previous episode, without GBBO we'd have "no idea of the many perils involved in baking a biscuit or a simple cake".
The Brend scores his first Oustandingly Obnoxious point of the episode, when he comments that his presentation is better than James's. In this particular case, it definitely is, but it's still rather an unpleasant thing to say. Although, thinking about it, the cameraman probably asked him a direct question about it. Oh, you are sly, BBC2. SLY.
Plus, The Brend's looks rather as though it were inspired by Little Weed from Bill and Ben, no?
Out come the pithiviers - after another one of those "Hurry up bakers!" bits from Sue that are clearly filmed altogether sometime after the rest of the episode - perhaps explaining their growing insanity over the weeks, as they struggle for something to say. This time Sue claims that Mel is wandering nakedly through the room, with orange segments. Sure, why not? And then comes plinky-plonky music and establishing shots of hazy flowers.
I'm going to miss these. They're so pointless, but quite pretty, and there's always the faint hope that they'll accidentally include a badger sett or a background shot of David Attenborough stumbling through a thicket. (Did I ever tell you about the time that my friend Lorna and I were in the establishing shots of some programme on Gladstone?)
The Brend is congratulated by Mary on his pithivier's meticulous appearance; Paul loves its base, and the flavour is also complimented. And he was right about the garlic, blast him.
John does well too - no soggy bottom in sight, and Mary loves the flavour. "It's got a good flake," observes Paul. Now, does that really save time, compared to "It's flaky" or "Good flakiness"? No, Paul, no it does not. But at this stage in the game, I shouldn't expect any better. BAD SPEAK, Paul, poor worditude.
Scottish James doesn't come through quite so well - Mary speaks of the 'good flake', which horrifies me - but there is a soggy bottom. Paul says that it's seasoned well - stealing the one and only critique ever offered in Masterchef - and Mary refers to the huge temptation to overfry chicken. As temptations go, it's one I find fairly easy to overcome.
(Check your bingo sheet accordingly.)
In post-judgement interviews, The Brend awards himself ten out of ten. Chuh.
The Blind Challenge! Which, it turns out, is called The Technical Challenge. Sorry for misinforming you about that for weeks. It also features possibly the best moment - not only of the series, but of our time/space continuum to date. (There, Peter, physics!) Sue tells Mary 'off you trot - actually trot, please' and (GIVE THIS WOMAN A DAMEHOOD) she does. A static image cannot contain how wonderful this is.
Anything that follows this (in the programme or in my life) will come as something of an anticlimax, but I am impressed by what they have to make. Fondant fancies! My old housemate Hannah, who is an exceptionally good baker, made these once - simply because they were the most difficult thing she could think to make. I used to love them, and my grandparents often had them, but now I find them rather too sweet and creamy for my merely moderate sweet tooth. Also, bakers - they cost like £1.50 for six. It's not worth it.
|I learnt this week that Paul calls Mary 'Bezza'.|
Nobody seems to have much of a clue what they're doing, and the recipe is even sparser than usual. John makes that fatal transition from enthusiastic-reality-show-contestant to thinks-they're-filming-their-own-show. Do you know how you can tell this moment? The third person plural wanders in. "We need to keep this butter cream nice and smooth," babbles John. Oh dear. (Also, he is using an electric mixer to make butter icing, which is absolutely absurd. I would never use an electric mixer at any stage in baking a cake, unless it involved whipped cream or meringue somehow. Man up, bakers.)
The Brend says "Cover me, I'm going in" - presumably thinking that he's back in 'nam. Awkward.
And John is listening to his cake again. The final seems to be turning everyone's head.
|"The sponge TOLD me to burn down the tent."|
The bakers all seem to struggle with cutting 25 pieces of cake from a square sponge. 25 is a square number, people! John gets fixed on the idea that the fondant fancies must be cubed - and disposes of a lot of his baked sponge. Hmm.
And then they start adding the fondant around the outside. I don't remember them saying what's in this - is it just icing sugar and water? And food colouring and flavouring, of course. Coating the fondant fancies is apparently the trickiest part of the process. The Brend initially warns against 'dipping them bodily', which seems unnecessarily somatic, but ultimately all three bakers opt for dipping - although 'dipping' is rather too delicate a word for the clumsy, messy way in which they fling their hands into the mixture. John even mouths 'help' to the camerman at one point.
Even The Brend is struggling. I'd have thought Fondant Fancies - being garish and dated - would have been right up his street. My words alone cannot express his difficulties. This sorry image sums them up:
Sue leans over The Brend and teases him... he does his best to ignore her. Plus ça change. She (brilliantly) observes that it is more Generation Game than French Patisserie. Next, Mary and Paul will eat as many as they can, blindfolded with their arms tied behind their back, while tapping out Ode on a Grecian Urn in Morse Code with their feet. (Er, Spin-off Alert! Who wouldn't pay to watch that?)
None of the displays look particularly impressive... John doesn't disappoint with his supply of half-hearted, scarcely relevant platitudes - "What's done is done and cannot be undone." Thanks, John. Never change.
Mary and Paul literally snigger over them...
Mary is disappointed with all of them. "I wouldn't say that this is a very high standard at all, for all of you." It's a little heartbreaking. She should do drugs awareness videos - nobody would do anything illegal, lest Mary do that slight frown, and pained voice. Oh - The Brend and John share last place, and James scrapes into first place.
The judges and presenters sit around a table and unite in saying that it's all level pegging at this point. And it does genuinely seem to be - rather than the usual in reality competitions, when everyone agrees in forced voices that it could go any way, when it's entirely obvious who has won. At this point, my money is still on James. Sue, incidentally, makes a witticism about James being able to prescribe beta blockers. Mel is confused, and Mary (how I love her) spells it out in tones best suited for a peculiarly unintelligent reception class: "Because he's a DOCTOR."
Showstopper Challenge time! They're making chiffon cakes, inspired by notable moments in 2012, to be served at a GBBO Village Fete "complete with limp bunting, and torrential rain." I'd never heard of chiffon cakes before (their main characteristic is being fatless), but Mel assures me they are 'notoriously fickle' and 'volatile'. I predicted sentient cakes weeks ago, and now they're going to happen!
The Brend is making a colossal tiered cake inspired by family reunions - he has been mending rifts in his family. He's going to make it difficult for me to dislike him this week, isn't he?
John is making a 'Heaven and Hell' cake, because his year has gone up and down. Well, that's vague. And there go my hopes that everyone will make three-dimensional busts of the Queen in cake. JUBILEE YEAR, PEOPLE.
Scottish James, bless him, is making FIVE CAKES, one representing each of the four UK nations, and one representing their unity. Apparently in a year dominated by discussions of Scotland becoming independent, unity is a key feature... (This, by the by, reminds me of my final project for my Food Technology GCSE, where I decided to make eight vegan sponges. Goodness knows why. Sorry, family.)
"Even though they've finished their sponge mix," warns Mel, "every move the bakers now make can still radically alter their chiffon's texture." That sounds like over-statement to me. John's frantic wanderings back and forth are especially worrying, if it is true. As is the unusual baking equipment he requests - cue-tips.
Why were these even in the baking tent? Surely there is no shop nearby - not if the aerial establishing shots of Nature Red In Tooth And Claw are to be believed.
Here is James's cake, in mid-fall... I think it's Northern Ireland. Make of that what you will.
Curiously, given the presenters' desire to over-dramatise the most mundane moments of the baking process, Sue refuses to get animated about this genuine mishap. She comforts him much in the manner of a mother clapping her hands in joy to avert a toddler from the pain of a scraped knee.
The fete is set up, coconut shies and all (I've been to dozens of village fetes in my life, and never seen a coconut shy) and our past contestants give us their tips for the winner. They're fairly evenly divided between all three bakers, rendering this segment pointless, but it is rather nice to see them all. Especially, of course, darling Sarah-Jane and Cathryn. They plump for John and James respectively, by the way.
|Gone, but never forgotten.|
Cakes begin to emerge from ovens, decorations begin, and James is (predictably) lagging behind everyone else. John uses unorthodox methods...
and things seem to be going wrong with James's Turkish Delight St. George's Cross...
It look quite plasticky, and apparently James has never made it before. Oh, James, why? His first mistake, of course, was making anything Turkish Delight flavoured seeing as it is, as we know, the food of the White Witch. And disgusting. In the end it is discarded for a raspberry St. George's Cross. What a fun sentence to write.
Mel declares the final baking competition OVER. John does this:
I still don't know why. If I'd seen it for the first time in my poorly state, I'd have assumed that Lemsip had taken control of my senses, leaving me with a cold-induced hallucination. As it is... nope, no idea. Are rabbits notorious for finishing baking on time?
And then, dear readers, The Brend breaks my heart. He has an incredibly moving interview, where he is rendered speechless by emotion, about his life over the past decades. This is just like when Danny went and made me feel guilty about teasing her... oh, you guys. Love you really.
Luckily James and John are on hand to give The Brend a hug - which mostly serves to demonstrate how tiny Brendan is. And how co-ordinated they are with their clothes. And how much chocolate John got over himself whilst making his chiffon cake.
I like to think they'll all stay penpals after this. Or follow each other on Twitter, which I suppose is the 21st Century's equivalent.
The final judging begins...
John's Heaven and Hell cake (with 'Tartarus' etched on top, believe it or not) is declared stunning by Mary, and (after a worrying pause, where Paul starts scraping the cake with a fork, and I worry that he may have lost his marbles) the judges love the texture and flavour.
I think The Brend's Family Reunion cake looks rather silly and top-heavy, but the judges like its appearance - and the fact that, for once, it is not over-decorated. Even-layers, nice-bake, etc. And Paul thinks the sponge is like a cloud. Maybe I spoke too soon on that losing-marbles thing.
I promised you a picture of Mary's Pirate Side-of-Mouth Eating, and she did not disappoint. Love you, Mary.
And finally, Scottish James's dozens of cakes.
They try the middle one. Oh dear, Paul thinks it's too dry. Mary thinks it's 'too cakey' - although how a cake can be that, I don't know. Scotland goes down almost as badly. Mel chirpily suggests, from the sidelines, that they try Northern Ireland next - but before this becomes a baked tour of Europe, the judges draw their critique to a close. Everyone seems a bit sad that James has fared quite poorly, not least me. But at least he's feeding most of the assembled crowd all by himself.
Mary, Paul, Mel, and Sue assemble to chat about the bakers. Mary proudly attests that "they are all home bakers - they don't make scenes, they cope." What a wonderfully British compliment! It makes me, as a home baker myself, feel like I'm part of the D-Day landings, or at least Dad's Army.
So, who has won?
At this point, my money was on The Brend. But, although I've grown rather to respect him, I still really wanted James or John to win...
Drum roll, please. Just tap your hands on the desk, for me. Humour me, please.
And the winner is...
It's only flippin' John!
Hurrah! My friend Ellie and I cheered and clapped when this was announced, somewhat to the bafflement of our friend Grace (who had joined us, but not watched all the previous episodes, or developed our distaste for The Brend.)
Did he deserve to win? Well, possibly not. He scraped his way through nearly every episode - The Brend was more consistent, and James was more innovative, but nobody tried harder than John, or wanted to win more. Bless his wee face!
I shan't bore you with the 'Since the Bake Off' slideshow, which shows that most of the contestants are doing whatever they were doing before it all started, but I will leave you with this fantastic piece of news...
Thanks to everyone who has read my recap posts, and encouraging me to write more - they've been great fun, albeit surprisingly time-consuming to put together. Back to books from now on, but I daresay I'll be recapping Series Four next year - and, who knows, might even apply to be on it!