And then there were three. Three charming British bakers, trapped in a quaint tent in the verdant countryside. Three bakers who will bake their hearts and their souls and their lives into whatever a stern, blue-eyed judge throws their way. It's the finals!
"In the beginning, there were 12," the voice-over intones, reminding me that I incorrectly assumed all these weeks that the season had begun with 13 bakers. And now only Tamal, Nadiya, and Ianyeth Paltrow remain. The fluff at the top of the episode runs through our contestants again, who I'm sure we all know and love as if they were family at this point. Tamal is confident! Nadiya is nervous! Ianyeth is a teacher's pet who maybe, just maybe, hides some of his weaknesses behind artisanal ingredients and structural engineering, like we all do. None of that matters anymore. All that matters here and now is the three challenges before them.
For the final SigChall (thanks, Sue!), the bakers will make 12 iced, filled buns of their choosing — two different types, any flavor — in three hours. Perfection is expected at this point; there's nowhere to hide in an iced bun. Please be sure to watch Mary's rapturous description of an iced bun, too. It may be short, but it's worth the ten minutes of frustration you will spend trying to rewind on your streaming platform of choice. Anyway, here's what the kids are making:
Tamal has a ponderous concoction of citrus marmalade and caramel-crème patisserie, and another of spiced apple and whipped cream bun. Both buns will be glazed with a simple royal icing that has no flavoring. The look on the Male Judge's face when he hears this bit of news feels a tad bit outsized for the situation, but the Male Judge takes baking very, very seriously. "Just make sure that it's perfect," he says. "This is the final."
Ianyeth didn't know what to do for his buns, but then on one of what I assume to be his daily walks throughout the damp, verdant countryside, he caught a whiff of fresh elderflower in the early morning air and decided to make a lemon curd and elderflower bun, with no sugar — just elderflower cordial and a spiced bun, filled with some sort of apple jam. I expected nothing less.
Nadiya is the most nervous of the bunch — see how her hands shake! — but despite this, her buns sound the most ambitious. She's doing a cardamom bun filled with an almond cream, and a nutmeg-spiced "finger" filled with a sour-cherry jam. The almond and cardamom buns will be round, just for funsies.
Tamal and Nadiya are smart and make one dough for both buns. Ianyeth, being the person that he is, makes two doughs and mutters something about how the dough should be a wet one. Both Ianyeth and Nadiya spice their actual dough, but Tamal prefers to rest on the strength of his filling for flavor, which seems like a terrible mistake.
Fun fact: The Male Judge loves iced buns! Also, some minor drama: Nadiya is batch-baking her buns. Ianyeth and Tamal are not. In fact, Tamal gently teases her about the batch-baking, and Nadiya reacts precisely as I do when I make a tough cooking decision and immediately regret it once it's too late: She crouches in front of the oven, staring at its contents and sweating.
As I watched the bakers assemble their buns, I realized that I had no idea what an "iced bun" really was. They're éclair-esque in shape, but the dough is yeasted and the texture of Nadiya's little round buns in the close-up gave me soft-seeded-roll vibes. Hmm. Ianyeth's buns look like hot-dog buns, straight up. Fifteen minutes out, and Tamal's filling is still in the freezer. Even after it comes out, it's still not ready to go. From a gustatory standpoint, that might be okay, but something tells me that the Male Judge will be very disappointed.
Judgment time, part one! Ianyeth's icing is sloppy, though the filling looks nice. And he forgot to use sugar in one of the buns? Huh? Nadiya's buns are adorable and — surprise! — they taste good too! Tamal sits at the end of his workstation looking disappointed. I do agree that the royal icing is a bit sloppy, but the tastes of both buns are delicious, despite his time-management skills. Not bad, kids. Not bad.
As the TechChall arrives, I am nervous for the bakers to learn it's a Male Judge recipe. They'll be making raspberry mille-feuille — a fussy, multilayered French thing, made of rough puff pastry, raspberries, and magic. The Male Judge is a rude, rude man, and probably chose this challenge because puff pastry is a weakness for all three contestants.
I guess when you make a rough puff pastry, instead of folding the butter in giant, flattened sheets, you grate it and then sprinkle the butter shards over the dough. Tamal, for some reason, decides to either skip or ignore this step and just goes at it like he normally does, folding giant butter squares into the dough while everyone else dutifully grates. Is this wise? Probably not.
"I'm interpreting the instructions," he says. Here's the thing, Tamal: If the instructions say, "Grate the butter," then why on earth wouldn't you just grate the butter? The Male Judge will most likely throw your mille-feuilles in your face if he doesn't like them, if only because his patience is up. Also, Tamal: I like you. I think your lilac-colored shirt is nice and I want you to do well. Follow the (minimal) instructions! Grate the butter! Do it right!
A half-hour out, it's time to assemble this thing. Everyone forgets how to use a ruler or cut something to measure, but none as much as Nadiya, who stares at her pastry as if it were reciting Shakespeare. The construction of this strange tart looks really hard — it's basically like a strawberry shortcake, but thinner, with raspberries and a big slab of fondant on top. Blergh.
Sorry Tamal, but your mille-feuilles are a mess. Nadiya's are tidy, but the crust is a bit off. Ianyeth's pastry came out fine, but the piping is wrong and the Male Judge takes a particularly cruel pleasure in cutting down the middle of the thing with his giant knife. It doesn't sound like any of these bakers did what they were supposed to do.
Tamal comes in last. Ian places second. Nadiya, my beautiful angel of baking, comes in first. She's so happy! Ianyeth, less so. Tamal … yeah.
The final ShowChall is a doozy: a single-flavored, multitiered cake, chosen from the repertoire of classic British cakes. These include words that I assume are made up, but probably aren't: a Victoria sandwich, a lemon drizzle, a Battenberg. Each of these imperialist bakes must be at a three-tier minimum and perfect, obviously.
Tamal's going for a sticky-toffee-pudding fruit cake with figs, dates, oranges, lemons, and prunes. It'll be decorated with spun sugar, the inspiration of which is taken from a story he read online about an old Chinese fishing village that was abandoned and taken over by nature. The spun sugar represents cobwebs. Hey, it's not Dorret's modern-art-inspired bread bed, but it's close.
Oh, time to get some background on these people! Tamal's sister taught him to bake, and we are treated to some pretty adorable baby pictures of a young Tamal in overalls and a grown Tamal in scrubs.
Ianyeth makes a carrot cake, but he's using five different kinds of cake. Yes. He is making five different cakes because he's a show-off. I'm sure he's quite nice, but he's totally a show-off and we all know it. He's calling this thing "Ian's Colossal Curly Carrot Cake" and he built his own stand for it because of course he did. It's going to be some sort of carrot-cake waterfall situation. No, he's not on LSD. Yes, his children are adorable. And yes, he lives in a ramshackle Tudor farmhouse with a kitchen rendered so disastrous by his baking experiments that I broke out into stress hives upon seeing it.
Everyone second-guesses themselves while doing an awful lot of math on their recipe sheets. Mel slinks in, swipes a finger full of something out of a bowl, and quietly walks away. Sneaky Mel.
Nadiya makes a lemon-drizzle wedding cake, which excites me because I will finally find out what a lemon-drizzle cake is. She didn't have a wedding cake when she got married in Bangladesh, and if she'd been married in the U.K., this is the cake that she would have wanted. There will be saris and wedding jewels and fondant flowers. The cake will be filled with lemon curd and buttercream, then covered in marshmallow fondant. Nadiya's children are also adorable. Her husband seems the teensiest bit stressed, looking after the kids and all. But this is the first time she's done something for herself, and you know what? I hope she wins this damn thing. I love her.
There's nothing even remotely jokey to say about their baking processes because everyone seems so anxious. I love all these contestants — even artsy-fartsy Ian! — so I'm good with whatever happens. Except I want Nadiya to win. She has to win.
Oh, this tea party looks lovely. There's Flora! There's Ugne, with a new hair color that's really working for her. Sandy's relieved that she's not competing anymore. Stu and his trilby are back, too. As per the group, Nadiya is the favorite to win.
Let's just acknowledge once and for all that the Male Judge is a huge creep. As Nadiya ices her cake, totally in the zone, the camera pans out to reveal Paul Freaking Hollywood, tan and ruddy, lurking in the corner. "Happy, Nadiya?" he asks. It is a testament to her unflappable nature that she doesn't startle. Don't sneak up on people, dude. It's not nice.
One hour to go and everyone's doing a lot of very stressful, fiddly work. Tamal's toffee is frozen solid and requires microwaving. Nadiya's homemade fondant looks fantastic. Ianyeth is silent and his conceptual melting-carrot-whatever looks fine.
And it's over! They're done! No more baking under crazy time constraints. Just a big group hug, some judging, and then we'll know who wins this glorious competition. Oh, and some tears from Ianyeth. You know what? I'm sorry I've made fun of you, Ianyeth. Please don't cry.
Nadiya's cake is really, really pretty. It looks professional and as per the finger test, it's an even bake. As the judges chew, the silence is nerve-wracking. Mary loves it and the Male Judge does that whole head-shake fake-out bit before admitting that her cake is stunning.
Tamal's abandoned Chinese fishing village cake is an awful lot of look. Mary loves it and the web that he made with the spun sugar is beautiful. The taste is fabulous, despite Mary's expectations to make "rude remarks" about the cake being a pudding instead of a cake. It works! And he did it in time. Congrats, Tamal.
Ianyeth, bless him, waddles up to the front with his creation, which actually does kind of look like a carrot. From the look of it, it's a good little carrot cake. The Male Judge says it's one of the best carrot cakes he's ever had!
The bakers carry their cakes out of the tent, where they're met with thunderous applause and hugs from family. I imagine they sit down, try not to vomit, and feed their loved ones refined sugar while the judges sit in the tent and talk things through. Though it's terribly close, I'm pretty sure Paul and Mary won't have to resort to the mud pit to work things out.
Okay, enough is enough. Time to give some bakers those lovely bouquets. The winner is … Nadiya! Ahh, I'm so pleased! She's definitely crying. "There has to be a mistake!" she says. She gets a cake stand and some lovely flowers and the gentle touch of Mary Berry's well-manicured hand wiping away her tears.
"I'm never going to say maybe," Nadiya tells the camera through tears. "I'm never going to say, 'I don't think I can.'" This woman! She's a national treasure.
"Sheer perfection," Mary Berry titters through some tears of her own. "And I enjoyed every minute of it."
I'm sad this season is over. I'm happy that all these lovely people tried so hard. I'm not sad I missed Mary Berry's famous twerking routine. What a complicated rush of emotions. Until next season!