First, some Bake Off news. Guess who was reading my recaps? Only blinkin' Howard! He references them in this tweet to me, which was exciting if a little unnerving. And if you want to read about the language of some of the things they've been baking, I wrote a piece for OxfordWords. Ok? Ok. Let's set this ball rolling, and get our Bake Off on.
Mel and Sue are looking, as ever, gloriously like the Mums contribution to a half-hearted, no-budget school sketch show, and maintain a love for blazers which nowhere states, but everywhere implies, a covert sponsorship deal with Boden. Of all the wonderful things that make GBBO great, they might be the best. Even above Mary Berry, in terms of if-they-went-the-show-would-be-ruined. Indeed, this is exemplified by how awful that children's series was, without them. I'll even forgive them the unnecessary flatulence joke.
The preview seems to suggest that Kimberley will be cross, Frances will crack and start naming objects around her ("spoon! spoon! spoon!"), Ruby will keep her rageful-neutral face, and the whole thing will be decided by a variant of the egg and spoon race.
This year's final is mercifully short of finalists confiding in us that it's the final, saying how much it means to them to be in the final etc. etc., so it gives me an opportunity to do a bit of it for them. Or, rather, tell you how I feel about the contestants after a break of a few weeks. (Incidentally, I'm not screencapping the bakers walking towards the tent, because they have thoughtlessly circumnavigated the bridge this week. Give us a chance to say goodbye to the bridge, BBC2! Rude.)
There's been a lot of talk in social media about Ruby flirting with Paul, etc., and while I don't think there is any justification in that allegation, she certainly seems to have been given rather an easier ride by both Paul and Mary than someone like poor Frances. I think Mary might be under the impression that Ruby is her granddaughter. Obviously I've not tasted Ruby's food, and perhaps the flavours are as great as the judges say, but her presentation and consistency certainly haven't seemed good enough to get to this stage. "I just have to avoid having an episode," Ruby alerts the viewer. What sort of episode?! Does she have anger management issues? Is she a werewolf? So many questions, so few answers.
My thoughts about Kimberley haven't really changed over the series. She still seems to be an exceptionally good baker, but just too cool and together for me to empathise with her. If she'd 'accidentally' flung a plate of scones on the floor, she might be my favourite. But that accolade is now reserved for...
Jury (of one person; me) was out on Frances in the first week or two, but I swiftly grew very fond of her boundless creativity and endearing gawkiness. I can imagine her knitting a beret for a beagle, and that is a compliment. She was self-aware enough not to be annoying, and presentation-wise she produced wonder after wonder - yet Paul, and even Mary, started getting really mean with her, repeating that mantra 'style over substance' every time they spotted her across the baking tent. Poor Frances seemed quite crushed, and at one point Sue (bless her) even jumped to her defence. "I need to bake my flipping socks off," she says - and thus her transformation into an Enid Blyton character is complete.
The signature challenge! A savoury picnic pie, whatever that means. Almost everyone pays rapt attention to Mel's explanation that it must be served out of the tin.
|Or is she carrying an invisible tightrope pole?|
Ok, reader, here's my problem with this challenge. Mary stipulates that the layers inside the pie must be, well, in layers - defined and separate. As, apparently, indicated by this gesture (which could equally well be the cover of Mary's inaugural hip-hop album):
But who wants to eat a pie like that? Surely if the flavours all go well together, then you actually want them to be altogether?
Frances gives us a little primary school lesson on how rainbows appear, with nary a mention of Noah, which acts as a segue into her seven layered pie. The BBC's magical colouring book is, as always, in play. I particularly appreciate how, for a pie which depends upon its layered interior, they've decided to make it as difficult as possible to see the inside. Maybe they didn't have all the right colouring pencils?
|But they consistently get their apostrophes right. Well done, BBC.|
Mary gives a little shudder or two of joy at the description of the pie, which would have been in contention for OFFICIAL ANDREX PUPPY MOST ADORABLE MARY BERRY MOMENT if it weren't for something rather special that comes up later...
We haven't headed back to the bakers' homes for momentary glimpses into their lives for a while, have we? Well, with only three bakers left the glimpses are rather longer and more purposeful - and include adorable childhood photographs, like this one of Frances:
I assume Frances doesn't still live with her parents, but nonetheless it is to Momma and Poppa Frances' house that we've gone, and I'm getting definite kitchen envy. While in this kitchen, Frances' Mum asserts that she can't smell because she was kicked in the nose when she was fifteen - a story told sotto voce while Frances talks about something else, so that I didn't even notice it the first time. I feel like it deserves a sombre silhouette-talking-in-darkened-room segment at the very least (perhaps an episode of Panorama? Does that still exist?) but instead Frances makes a delightfully catty comment about her lack of substance.
|SUCH a nice shade of green. And that cute window!|
One day I will live in a house which is nothing but kitchens.
And she talks about having won the hurdles in her youth (trivia #254: my brother has a fear of hurdles, having broken his arm while hurdling once) and, cottoning on to the show's love of punnery, says "I've certainly hit some hurdles throughout this whole process." I choose to believe it is simply unfortunate editing that makes this the next shot:
Ruby is having troubles of her own. Her vegetarian pie (which sounds amazing - halloumi, couscous, sundried tomatoes, mozzarella - sorry, my computer is malfunctioning from my mouth watering) is covered in lattice-pastry, and Design Queen Frances is doing the same. "It's a bit like appearing at a do wearing the same dress as someone else," Ruth says (in my paraphrasing), "but the other person wearing the dress is a 6'3'' Brazilian supermodel." Which I think is hilarious. Well done, Ruby.
Were you aware that Ruby was a student? I think it might have mentioned once or twice during the series. Every time she is on the screen. Well, they're hammering the point home, and Ruby claims that she's been doing all her baking in her bedroom. Somebody flick through the tenancy agreement, stat. Her Mum seems fun, and they obviously enjoy hanging out in the kitchen together - although it couldn't be clearer that the cameraman has told Ruby's Mum to stand and watch, and she looms awkwardly in the corner while Ruby slowly chops an aubergine.
Ruby, as always, is self-doubting in the corner - while Sue takes on Mel's usual role of issuing dire warnings in the voiceover about how horrendously wrong pastry can go. I am notoriously bad at rolling pastry and, while I've found a recipe for sweet pastry which rolls like a dream, I haven't got one yet for savoury pastry. Hence this, when my friend and I tried to make a quiche...
"Kimberley has already made her pastry," says Sue in a voice that is smug, if it is possible to be smug vicariously. Not only that, but she's made pastry in three colours - green, pink, and (er) pastry-coloured. The pink pastry (coloured thus by beetroot powder) is shaped into little pigs to go on the side. Because the pie has pork in it. Is is just me, as a vegetarian, who finds that a little macabre? Or adding insult to injury? Cute, though.
And for her home-life VT she is strolling along the Thames (was it the Thames? I think so) with her boyfriend Giuseppe. Can we talk for a moment about how ridiculously attractive this couple are?
Sickening. I feel that, being handsome, clever, and rich (maybe), and having lived twenty-something years in the world with very little to vex or distress her, Kimberley doesn't need to win this. She's already basically a Disney princess, but one with a brain. AND she never dropped scones on the floor.
Because it's pastry week, there's plenty of talk of soggy bottoms, but it all feels a bit perfunctory at this stage. I'm more interested in how delicious Ruby's halloumi is looking. I can't tell you how much I love halloumi.
|I want to make a 'hallo, me' / 'halloumi' joke. Bear with me. HALLO, ME HALLOUMI.|
And now - because I know you've been waiting for it - is the OFFICIAL ANDREX PUPPY MOST ADORABLE MARY BERRY MOMENT. When Frances' back is turned, Mary, Mel, and Sue launch at her leftover asparagus and wolf it down. And, yes, Mary was pirate-eating.
The pies are all ready to come out of the oven, and Ruby's efforts to get hers out of the tin resemble the finesse and coordination that I usually show at such times.
But, oh my goodness, it looks wonderful when it's out. Whereas Kimberley, who would never make such a teatowelly mess of extracting her pie, has got something rather soggy and unappealing. Revenge of the pigs? Who's to say. (YES.)
Judgement time.... DUH DUH DUUUUH. For a show which makes so much of people opening oven doors or the length of time to bake a bread roll, there has been surprisingly little of the DUH DUH DUUUH variety when it comes to judging. Instead, Frances gets the usual 'good bake' from Mary and Paul, and adorable gasps of wonderful from everyone's surrogate mothers, Mel and Sue. (They also remind me of those affectionate people at sports days who fawn over the children whose parents couldn't make it.)
|To hammer home the rainbow theme, Frances has also baked in |
an entire dove and olive branch.
Kimberley's pie has fallen apart altogether, and gets "almost like a glue" from Paul. Mary leaps in with the old faithful "seasoned very well" (a euphemism for 'an aesthetic disaster'). Whereas Ruby's looks perfect:
|As Paul says, "You've finally come up with something that looks like Frances made it."|
When Paul asks Ruby what they should be expecting to see inside, she replies "Hopefully some layers" in the most despondent, wry voice ever - for which I love her a little more. I'm a big British cynic at heart, me. I'd love to see her on America's Next Top Model, where all the girls squeal in frenzied glee at meeting the CEO of a plastics recycling company or the assistant paint-mixer for the country's third biggest supplier of emulsions. She'd stand at the back, arms folded, inadvertently death-staring everyone. It would be amazing.
Also amazing is her pie. I want it right now. As Mary says, "I think this is an excellent example of a vegetarian pie - what a difficult thing to get right." If only more places would realise that vegetarians don't only want 'cheese and onion' in their pies. (Revenge of the pigs is complete!) (I realise that in this scenario I have somehow become the pig, but... er, it's a metaphor.) (Oh, I don't know, leave me alone.)
Paul and Mary are sent to 'frolic in the buttercups' (the very thought... eugh) and the bakers are given the technical challenge of making sweet and savoury pretzels. I didn't even know you could get sweet pretzels, and I can't really imagine they'd be especially nice.
"Who makes a pretzel?" says Ruby wonderfully, and perhaps it's not too late for me to love her - and the editor, who segues immediately into Kimberley saying "I've made bread like a pretzel." What, pray (as my friend pointed out) is like a pretzel?
|Tell me... what is baking?|
Paul explains how to make a pretzel to Mary, who must know already, and wanders madly through the first, second, and third person so that his explanation sounds oddly like a recipe translated into and back out of Russian.
Frances explains that she's good at kneading dough because she often gives her friends massages - as she says this she is flinging her dough violently onto the table, and it conjures up lines of Frances' friends with broken and disfigured necks, wincing when they see her enter a room.
Everything is going well with making the dough, but nobody seems able to make the pretzel shape. Paul's instructions have had the old Russian treatment again, and sound (as Sue observes) like the rudiments of a gymnastics routine.
But it doesn't much matter what shapes they've concocted, as the next step is dropping them in boiling water and bicarbonate of soda - and that's where things go awry. Sue warns, over the voiceover, that the pretzel dough 'only needs to be in for seconds' (which could thus be anything up to and including eternity) and we pan to Ruby leaving hers for a nice long soak. Sue wanders over and comments cheerily "They've been in a while" in a manner which is neither subtle nor, at this point, particularly helpful - but bless her for trying.
Paul and Mary re-enter the tent to judge the baskets of pretzels, and they all look pretty impressive to my undiscerning eye. "There's a sort of pretzel-look about that one" seems pretty damning with faint praise, but Mary's "That's a lovely orange flavour" is similarly damning. I could make something a lovely orange flavour. Just add orange zest. But we all know Mary's love of strong fruit flavouring.
Kimberley's are leagues ahead of the other two, and although Ruby comes second and Frances comes third, it's much of a muchness down the bottom end of the table. Even Kimberley gets the comment from Paul "It's the closest thing to a pretzel, but don't clap." Ouch.
I included this picture just because I think Mary looks adorbs, but I hadn't spotted before those framed pictures of pies and cakes in the background. They seem to be by the same 'artiste' who is forever launched on the magical colouring books. Also: how many series in do you think we'll get before (a) Paul learns how to be natural with his arms, and (b) starts wearing blazers? Do Boden have a men's range? Get on it, Bake Off stylists.
It's time for the very last challenge of series four - and, hurray!, the bridge!
|Bye, bridge. Take care.|
Thankfully there was no Welcome To Cake History section this week (although some have been unusually interesting of late) so instead Paul and Mary recap the entire first half of the show, for anybody who's flicked channels after Holby City, or whatever else was on.
And the showstopper challenge is... three-tier wedding cake! In earlier series they've made entire tea parties in the final challenge, so this one doesn't sound all that tricky to me. Essentially they're making lots and lots of sponge cake. To divert attention from this, Paul follows Mary's lead and attempts to flog his hip-hop album.
Frances is making a 'Midsummer Night's Dream' wedding cake - although what it has to do with the play I can't think, unless a donkey is shoved in the middle of it - and decorating it with dried beetroot, sweet potato, pineapple, and mango. That sounds horrifying to me. Dried fruit I can understand - but in what world is sweet potato a fruit?
We haven't had a Mary Berry Reaction Face for a while, so perhaps it's time to see what she thinks of dried sweet potato?
|sweet mother of what now?|
Kimberley is making a wedding cake covered in the word 'love' in many languages, and Mel pruriently asks whether she has anybody in mind. Kimberley coyly confesses that the bottom layer of the cake is her boyfriend's favourite flavour - which leads to an altogether more adorable Mary Berry Reaction Face:
Cleverly, Kimberley has made 'cake pops' and pours her chocolate fudge cake mixture over it. She's also making poppy seed butter cream, which sounds absolutely heavenly, and something I'll be trying soon - but I've noticed that they tend to make butter cream which is much gloopier than the variety I make and, dear reader, it troubles me.
Ruby is making a cake which sounds equally delish, particularly the passionfruit/raspberry section. And it strikes me for the first time that these Magical Colouring Book pictures are made after the fact, hence why this one so accurately resembles the end result.
But Ruby is no fan of weddings. She considers them an 'exercise in narcissism'. Lovely - there goes her chances of snaring a baking column in Your Wedding. Kimberley, meanwhile, is doing clever things with circles.
I wonder what it would be like if I tried to make it... A quick reminder, everyone:
|Excuse me, I'm writing my acceptance speech for Baker of the Year.|
And look who's back!
Well, and several other GBBO bakers too, but it's Howard we're all here to see. He's cheering on Frances, Beca is championing Kimberley, and interestingly Glenn just says 'I think Ruby will win'. Not especially effusive, but then there are incidental shots of trombones and small girls in polka dot dresses to montage.
Back in the tent, Mary Berry is reiterating that Ruby is 21 - "very young!" - adding that she has "always winged it a bit". I'm pretty certain Mezza Bezza has never used that expression before or since. We've whipped through the baking process pretty quickly, and somehow everybody iced their cakes without me noticing. Indeed, we've come down to the final bits of decoration, and Frances has somehow sourced a great big tree trunk. Ruby is struggling, and her decoration does look a bit ham-fisted... (revenge of the pigs! No, wait, wrong baker.)
Aaand.... they're done! Cue rather sweet group hug.
|The joke with caramelised sugar went too far |
when they all had to be taken to A&E.
Judging time! But not before we've had three rather curious shots of the bakers staring poignantly at their creations.
I've got to say, for the showstopper challenge in the final of the fourth series, I'm not particularly impressed by the way any of them look. Ruby's is especially amateur, without the icing even being even, while Frances' is fine but rather unambitious. Perhaps she was terrified of providing style over substance? Kimberley's is my favourite - I love the quilting detail - but even her cake isn't anything to write home about. Which I have been doing on occasion, actually, but generally by email. Hi Mum!
Ruby's critique doesn't go very well, and she does have a bit of a cry, the poor thing. Paul has to lug Frances' cake (and tree trunk) across the room, and - perhaps dizzied by this display of masculinity - the judges are very complimentary. "I think the bride would be surprised" is one of the odder things Mary says. It's apparently a compliment, but since every bride who doesn't appear on Don't Tell The Bride would choose the flavours herself, then surprise can only be a terrible thing, leading to a ruined honeymoon and a protracted journey through the courts to get a full refund.
|Of course, most cakes look like this after an ant infestation.|
"If you know what you want and you set out to get it, there's always a good chance you can achieve that - otherwise, what's the point?" Kimberley, just before her judging, sweeps away decades of children's television telling us it's the taking part that counts, and it's not her finest hour. Mary isn't impressed by her finish, which I thought was nice, but they love the poppyseed filling (drool) and give the flavours a general thumbs up - but find the chocolate cake dry.
And now it's time for that egg and spoon race.
|Yes, I'm reusing screencaps. What of it?|
Paul and Mary repeat everything they've already said. "We'll always remember Ruby's picnic pie," says Mary - which, since it was a matter of hours ago, is no great testimony to her baking legacy. They're proud of Frances for learning, and - yes - say everything about Kimberley that they said earlier in the episode. And honourable mention for OFFICIAL ANDREX PUPPY MOST ADORABLE MARY BERRY MOMENT comes when she suggests that Mel, rather than Sue, might win the trophy. And by trophy I, of course, mean cake stand.
And the winner is...
I'm not ashamed to say that I clapped my hands with glee and shouted "yes!" - I was so certain that it would be Ruby or Kimberley that it came as a wonderful surprise. She was definitely my favourite of the final three, totally deserved it, and was touchingly shocked at her win.
And the final moment of my recap must go to old Howard, who takes the opportunity to have a sly dig at Deborah and, in his accompanying clip, reminds me why I love him so. I like to think that he, Mel, and Sue will all go on activities holidays together.
Thanks all for your kind words and enthusiasm this series! I know I only recapped five episodes, but it somehow felt like I'd done the whole series - I definitely wouldn't have put in the hours if it weren't for your encouragement and good humour.
And thank you, GBBO, for being such a delight! The final episode got the most views of any programme on BBC2 since records began, and they'll all be back next year... hopefully, so will I.