Spoiler alert: this review reveals the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2019
It was the twice-baked Stilton soufflés that started the decline. Failing to rise to the occasion, and collapsing in a soggy heap, was Steph's fate – the soufflés did the same. Going into the final of The Great British Bake Off (Channel 4), she – the four-time star baker – was the one to beat. Watching the prize slip from her floured hands, crestfallen under her fringe, was heartbreaking to watch. Even Paul Hollywood couldn't bear it. "It doesn't matter, alright?" he said, comforting her after the only thing her showstopper stopped was her Bake Off-winning dreams. Of course it doesn't matter. But it also sort of does: this is the Great British Bake Off, cultural institution, a pick-me-up for troubled times, comfort food for the nation.
Except this hasn't been my favourite Bake Off year – a splash of vinegar has been added to the recipe. It wasn't thrillingly dramatic to watch Steph come undone, it was uncomfortable, and the natural endpoint of a show that has become overly technical and stressful. Joy has not been liberally sprinkled, at least not since the jolly goth Helena – she of the octopus custard pie – was thrown out in a mean double eviction in week five. The judges' comments have become more withering, and the skits between presenters Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig more forced (please, no more jokes about the diminutive Toksvig hiding in a sack). The showstopper this week suddenly seemed well chosen: the bakers had to create food that, deceptively, looked like something else. I fear the show may be going the same way – all the pastel-coloured, crème pat-making elements are there on the outside, but inside there's a hint of curdling.
The three bakers left – David, Alice and Steph – did deserve their places. David is so trim, I suspect he never eats the cake he makes. Neither, by all appearances, does his partner Nik. Having got to know the bakers over the past nine weeks, there is something really touching about seeing snippets of their home lives. Steph’s mum hints at a tough time for her. There are videos of Alice baking as a child. Her parents, Jane and Henry, say they have always taught her the value of “good management”. It is advice more suited to an appraisal than child-rearing, but I am going to remember it.
The first challenge is – thankfully, simply – a chocolate cake. David does a good mirror glaze but – has he learned nothing during his time in the tent? – his Armagnac flavour is too much. Alice’s looks a mess. “Maybe it will taste nice?” she says uncertainly. Steph’s black forest gateau is “a very nice cake”, even though Prue Leith says it is “very 70s”, as if this is a bad thing.
I hope the producers manage to find the warmth again. Nothing big, just a recipe tweak – and a plea, too, to drop the cringeworthy "Hollywood handshake"
There is a surreal moment when Paul and Prue pretend to freeze and fail to leave the tent before the start of the technical challenge. It is deeply weird, but also quite funny. The bakers have to make six stilton souffles; their faces drop. Toksvig is astonished at Alice’s limited life experience: “You’ve never made a roux?” she asks, incredulous. Steph is struggling – she doesn’t know a bain-marie needs hot water and her souffles are a puddle. The tears start, and then don’t really stop: “I just feel a bit stupid,” she says. “It’s like eating a sauce,” says Prue.
Then it is showstopper day but – disaster! – Alice’s parents may not make it, as their flight from Dublin has been cancelled. More tears: “I couldn’t imagine it without them.” (She doesn’t, however, mutter anything about “good management.”)
They have to make a “picnic” of baked treats made to look like something else, using airbrushing and paintbrushes. David is making wedges of lemon pound cake that look like cheese, Alice is doing a carrot cake “pork pie” and Steph is making a lemon poppyseed cake in the shape of a chicken burger, but the cake has stuck to the tin. Her macarons are not going well, either. “I don’t know how I can get through it.” What little confidence she had before has now deserted her. Alice’s creation is “exceptional” but David’s cheeseboard collection is not only that but “stunning”, too. He is the worthy winner. There is always something redeeming about the triumph of the underdog – and his little bread rolls, made to look like peaches, were amazing.
I hope the producers manage to find the warmth again. Nothing big, just a recipe tweak – and a plea, too, to drop the cringeworthy “Hollywood handshake”. I wouldn’t dump Bake Off in the bin just yet – this is no ruined baked alaska moment. Maybe, like poor Steph, it’s just having an off day. – Guardian