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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

The Great British Baking Show says goodbye to the bubble with a genial, gentle “Final”

The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix
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The Great British Baking Show has a few different modes it likes to choose from for its finales. Sometimes the show goes all-out for an emotional, triumphant win, ala series six (collection three on Netflix and season three on PBS). Sometimes there’s a cat-and-mouse rivalry between two or even three real contenders. And sometimes, to quote Eddie Izzard, a season-long favorite slowly collapses like a flan in a cupboard. Thankfully, this season the producers opt for a comparatively low-pressure final, setting fun, but very doable challenges. Perhaps the show’s production bubble is wearing on everyone or perhaps the producers anticipated that by the airdate, 2020 would be wearing on a good chunk of the audience. Regardless, the producers and judges focus on delivering as feel-good of a finale as possible, sending this unique season out with a cheery, supportive wave.

The finale begins with a quick montage, reminding viewers of some of our gone-too-soon favorites. It doesn’t linger, however—there’s tension to build. Given Laura’s weak recent showings, it’ll take a lot for her to contend. She has the chops if her day goes well, but with her weak presentation skills, she’ll need Dave and Peter to falter in either flavor or execution. Dave has stepped up his game over the course of the season, but has he done so enough to take it all? And Peter may have been an early favorite, but he’s had his off weeks, and overconfidence going into the final can be disastrous.

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The bakers head into the tent for their final signature challenge. They’ll have two and a half hours to make eight custard slices. These must have flaky pastry on the bottom, nicely set, sliceable custard on top, and be beautifully decorated. As the bakers get to work, Paul and Prue lay out their expectations. The pastry must be laminated, the custard must be silky, and they must use their refrigerators strategically, lest they fall prey to yet another hot day in the tent. Laura’s going for refinement with her yuzu custard slice. She’s using rough puff pastry, yuzu custard, lemon and coconut gel, piped Chantilly cream, and fresh raspberries. Dave is returning to familiar flavors for his caramel latte custard slice. He’s chosen rough puff pastry, coffee custard, a caramel glaze, caramelized hazelnut spikes, and a chocolate drizzle. Peter wants to distinguish himself with his custard slice, so he’s taking on twice the work and twice the risk. He’s returning to the flavors of cranachan, which served him well in “Biscuit Week,” layering raspberry and whisky custards on top of rough puff pastry, with fresh raspberries in the whisky custard and a caramelized oat topping. All three sound absolutely delicious, and for the first time in a while, there’s no overlap.

Because of the production bubble, the bakers won’t be able to be joined by their families for the final, so they’re sent video messages instead. Dave gets a video from his wife, encouraging him and reminding the audience of just how far along the expectant mother is. Peter’s parents and brother wish him well, and Laura’s husband and her father are as charming as expected as they cheer her on. Back in the tent, Matt jokingly warns Peter of the future waiting for him at university after the season airs. Peter doesn’t seem to have considered that he’ll be Bake Off famous when he returns to school, quite a change from his experiences thus far.

The Great British Baking Show
The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

Before long, the custards are chilling in the fridges and the bakers have pulled their pastry back out, preparing it for the oven. When they finish baking, Peter is happy, Dave is uncertain, and Laura is nervous. They set to layering their slices and then it’s back to the refrigerators with the assembled bakes. The custards look good going in to chill, but alas, they don’t all set. Peter and Dave are rewarded with tall, solid custards, but Laura’s is runny. As Peter and Dave carefully cut and decorate their slices, Laura scrambles to present anything, her custard running out the sides of her pastry. In a season as close as this one has been, this mistake is enough to put her in a secure third place, and she knows it. After time is called, Dave checks in on Laura as she hides her face in the freezer, gutted, and Noel comes over and gives her a shockingly earnest pep talk. Her judging will not be pretty, but Laura puts on a brave face and the episode moves forward.

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Peter is up first with the judges. Both Paul and Prue compliment his neat presentation. Prue loves the textural component of his oat topping and while Paul says the custard is overly thick, the fresh raspberries in the custard keeps the slices light enough. Dave is second and his bakes, like Peter’s, easily pass the slice test. Even the sound as Paul cuts through is tempting, a crisp top layer, smooth middle, and solid thunk as the knife cuts through the pastry. The judges love his pastry and flavors, with Prue tempering Paul’s critique of the custard as stodgy—apparently there’s a good stodgy? Compared to Laura, though, he’s in great shape. Not only has her custard not set, her pastry’s lost too much of its butter, making it tough. Paul loves the flavor of her custard, as ever, but her pastry is not good. As Prue says, she’s had a bad morning. Hopefully, it won’t become a bad first day.

Prue has selected the final technical challenge, and as with the signature round, she advises the bakers to make good use of their refrigerators. The bakers will have two hours to make eight walnut whirls, small discs of a walnut cookie base with a thick dollop of coffee ganache piped on top, a swirl of marshmallow wrapped around the ganache, and a tempered chocolate coating. In a nice finale change, the bakers all seem familiar with the bake and at least Dave and Peter are excited to dive in. Paul and Prue break down the challenge, which Prue notes will be tricky because of the whirls’ small size. The biscuit base needs to be thick enough, the ganache needs to hold its shape, the marshmallow needs to be beautifully soft, but still hold a distinct swirl, and the chocolate will need to set, no small task when dealing with temperatures in the tent around 35 degrees Celsius (95 degrees Fahrenheit).

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The judges’ example technical, The Great British Baking Show
The judges’ example technical, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

The bakers seem on track at first, finishing their walnut sable biscuit dough and resting it while they infuse their cream with the coffee beans to make the ganache. Then it’s time for the biscuits. Here the bakers begin to differentiate themselves. Dave decides to use as much of his dough as possible for the eight small discs, resulting in thick biscuits. Peter rolls his thinner, then opts not to reroll the dough when he decides his are likely too thin. Laura starts second guessing herself and lags behind the others, heading into a detrimental headspace. She rushes her marshmallow and has to remake it, while Dave and Peter start assembling their whirls. Peter’s ganache has a flat rather than triangular tip and his marshmallow is too thin, leading to a rather lumpy shape, but Dave and Laura’s look good. The bakers put their whirls in the fridge and start tempering their chocolate. This is a painstaking process even when the tent isn’t absurdly hot. The bakers eventually manage it, but Laura, having lost time to remaking her marshmallow, just barely finishes and her chocolate isn’t able to set.

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Fortunately, the judges take into consideration the temperature while looking over the bakes. Laura is dinged for her freshly poured chocolate, but Dave, whose chocolate is nearly set, gets a pass. Laura’s biscuit is crisp, but there isn’t enough textural difference between her soft ganache, soft marshmallow, and melted chocolate. She winds up in third. Peter fares better. His shape may be off, but his chocolate is set and his ganache is perfect. He’s in second. That leaves Dave in first, whose whirls look great. His ganache could be better, but he has the best biscuit and his chocolate is just about set.

Going into the showstopper, the judges are clear. Laura is all but out of contention. Both Dave and Peter would need to make major mistakes on their showstoppers for her to overcome her weak first day. She knows this, though, and is focused not on winning, but on pleasing herself and going out with a great final round. For the last showstopper challenge, the bakers have four and a half hours to make a massive, four-tier dessert tower based on their experiences on the show. The bottom layer must be a large cake, but the other three can be whatever the bakers would like, as long as they demonstrate at least three different disciplines of baking. The bakers are encouraged to repeat challenges from earlier in the season, showing off everything they’ve learned rather than stretching new baking muscles.

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Dave’s showstopper, The Great British Baking Show
Dave’s showstopper, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

Laura plays to her strengths, making a carrot and walnut cake, chocolate and orange Chelsea buns, lemon macarons, and mini key lime tarts. She’s going with a rainbow theme, looking for the bright spot on her rainy finale. Peter takes a risk, throwing caution to the wind with his Bonkers Bake Off Bubble Cake. He’s making a Victoria sandwich cake, lemon and blackberry crème diplomat-filled choux buns, and a puffed rice Christmas tree on top, decorated with chocolate and orange biscuit presents, to resemble his “Cake Week” Battenberg cake, and spiced friand Christmas puddings. As for Dave, he’ll be rectifying past mistakes, reworking bakes he struggled with earlier in the season. He’s making a fraisier cake, mini chocolate babkas, white chocolate and macadamia nut brownies, and raspberry profiteroles. Once again, everything sounds delicious, so the question will be execution.

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The finale builds two main narratives. Will the winner be Dave, the expectant father, or Peter, the life-long Bake Off fan who’s living his childhood dream? Overall, the round goes well. Peter has a couple minor hiccups first with his Battenberg biscuits and then his puffed rice tree, but both times he gathers his thoughts and manages to right the ship. To hold up their higher layers, the bakers are making nougatine, which they’ll shape into dessert trays. Laura eventually runs out of time for this, but both Dave and Peter manage it and begin their assembly, pulling their final bakes out of the oven. Everyone’s feeling the crunch as time ticks down, asking for time checks left and right, but Dave manages to complete his tower with a few minutes to spare, Peter delicately places his Christmas tree topper in the final minute, and Laura places her rainbow just as Noel and Matt call time. These aren’t the most visually stunning final showstoppers in Bake Off history, but they’re charming and homey, and that’s the tone the series has gone for all season.

Laura is first up for judging, and while her presentation is once again, not great—her bake is very straightforwardly a set of tarts and macarons stacked on Chelsea buns stacked on a cake, she needed spacing and height to make a strong visual statement—each of her bakes is delicious. They judges don’t have a single harsh word for her. Had she done better the previous day, she could have taken it. Next is Peter, whose showstopper has the best proportions of the tent. The judges love his cake, though it’s a little dry, they have nothing but praise for his choux buns, and they like his biscuits, though his friands are a bit stodgy. The weight of Dave’s upper layers start to distort his fraisier cake, and he would have benefited from a few well-placed dowels, but his bakes are lovely nonetheless. Paul and Prue rave over his cake and finally, someone nails brownies. However, his babkas are slightly over and too tough, and his choux buns have a few issues. It will be close between Peter and Dave.

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Peter’s showstopper, The Great British Baking Show
Peter’s showstopper, The Great British Baking Show
Screenshot: Netflix

The bakers head out of the tent with their bakes, sharing them with the assembled production bubble. Since the bakers’ families and the eliminated bakers can’t return for the finale party, the production has brought together everyone in their bubble, from the medics to the production team to the hotel staff and cleaning crew. It’s convenient for the needs of the episode, but it’s also a lovely way to thank the hardworking team who’ve been stuck together for the past six weeks. The judges’ deliberations are entertaining, if a bit simplistic. Suddenly Peter’s slightly dry sponge is perfect and his good biscuits need work, and there’s no mention of Peter’s slight edge on Dave in the signature round or Dave’s first place technical finish. This isn’t as close as the judges are painting it, essentially calling it a draw, but the producers are going for an everyone wins finale, so Laura’s showstopper is a triumph and both Dave and Peter deserve to win.

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In the end, after much anticipation and build up, Peter is declared the winner, the youngest ever winner of The Great British Baking Show and the first ever Scottish winner. His experience growing up with the series gets plenty of play and despite a few weak showings here and there, he has been a strong contender all season. He’s a very likable winner, and a deserving one. Laura’s happy with her showstopper and as for Dave, runner up is nothing to sneeze at. He’s still happy with his experience on the show. Besides, much more important developments are waiting just around the corner, as the season-ending montage will show.

Peter’s closing interview is heartwarming, and if the shots of 12-year-old Peter starting to bake don’t get you, the closing dedication will: “This Baking Show is dedicated to everyone helping us all get through 2020. Thank you.” The producers knew exactly the tone they wanted to hit with this season, and they nail it here. The closing montage feels even more emotional than usual, celebrating the hard work and dedication of the bakers, the friendships found, and in the final moments, the birth of Dave’s son, Ronnie, and the life of the recently deceased Luis Troyano. This may not have been the best season of Bake Off, for reasons both within and outside the production’s control, but it’s been a reliable, comfortable watch and in a turbulent and stressful time, sometimes that’s enough.

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Stray observations

  • This concludes The A.V. Club’s coverage of this season of The Great British Baking Show, but I’ll be back next week with a truncated double write-up of the 2019 Christmas and New Years’ specials, which Netflix will be releasing as The Great British Baking Show: Holidays season three.
  • While I miss Sandi—she’ll be back for the 2019 holiday specials—I’ve enjoyed Matt as a cohost this season. He and Noel have a good rapport and they play off each other well.
  • Dave shows very good baking instincts throughout the technical, from his biscuit height to his marshmallow to his decision to dip his whirls in the chocolate. It’s a great example of exactly what the technical is supposed to demonstrate.
  • The walnut whirls seem delicious, but for a production that loves its innuendos, how did they manage to go a full round with these and not make one poop emoji joke?
  • I have no patience for Paul mess shaming Laura. Some people work best with a clear bench, or a clear desk, and some work best amidst the clutter. As long as you clean up when you’re done, it’s no one’s business how you work.
  • Channel 4 will be again airing two holiday specials this year, with returning favorites Helena, Henry, Jamie, and Rosie from series 10, Ruby and Rahul from series nine, James from series eight, and Nancy from series five. Paul, Prue, and Matt are on hand for both specials, but Noel was on paternity leave when the Christmas special was filmed, so Tom Allen stood in for him. He’ll be back for the New Years’ special.
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