The Great British Bake Off is over, another winner crowned, and I learned something that has nothing to do with baking technique: much like MasterChef in Australia, TGBBO absolutely kills in ratings in the UK.
Last week’s final featured Ian, Tamal and Nadiya battling it out for the much sought-after title of Winner, and it was as satisfying as the ones before it. Too bad we don’t get to actually taste the delicious desserts!
In the three rounds, the contestants had to tackle iced buns for the signature challenge, a mille-fueille for the technical, and a show-stopping 3-tiered (mininum) cake. Nadiya’s creations were phenomenal in each round, and she won it fair and square.
Her iced buns were perfect. They looked the part, and according to Paul and Mary, tasted it too. Her mille feuilles were excellent, and boy, that show-stopper of a cake was spectacular.
It’s not just the Ian messed up his bun dough mixture by forgetting to add sugar, or that Tamal’s creme pattisserie was runny; it’s simply that Nadiya’s flavors and execution was far above the rest. Maybe she got lucky, maybe the others were having an off day. But for the purposes of this competition, she absolutely killed it, and totally deserves the high praise.
Although I’ve been partial to Ian since day one, I’m very happy about Nadiya’s big win. She’s sweet, soft-spoken and modest, and despite her initial stumbles in technical challenges, she got her groove back and definitely proved she has the baking chops. I’m also glad that, in a white male dominated field, the Bangladeshi mother of three not only held her own, but brought it home!
However (and regardless of who actually won) I can’t but feel a little underwhelmed by this sixth season of the Bake Off. Not because the contestants weren’t up to par – on the contrary, the level and skill keeps rising with each season! It’s the challeges themselves that didn’t feel completely satisfactory.
As a home baker myself, I enjoy learning new things, exploring new recipes and flavor combinations. Most of all, I love experimenting with new techniques and challenging myself to bake more exotic desserts I haven’t heard of before (this is often the case for me with traditional british desserts).
Past seasons have provided plenty of such inspiration: from bakewell tarts to battenburg cakes and from suet pastry dough to brandy snaps, a lot of the contestants might have grown up eating a few of these, or a load of iced buns, but to me they were a novelty. Not to mention, of course, the recipes that posed a mystery to the bakers themselves, such as the sachertorte, the 8-strand plaited loaf, the couronne, the prinsesstarta or the kouign-amann. Other recipes have puzzled the bakers but seemed perfectly run-of-the-mill to me.
This was the case with most of this year’s challenges. Layer cakes, quick breads and baguettes, cheesecakes and cream horns just don’t seem all that challenging to me. Obviously several layers of difficulty are added given the time contraints and the pressure to produce something that not only tastes amazing, but looks spectacular. I’m not taking anything away from the bakers here; I’m simply questioning some of the (producers? judges?) decisions when setting the challenges.
I mentioned this in the semi-final’s chocolate recipes. A chocolate tart and a chocolate souffle are among the most straight-forward desserts you attempt when tackling chocolate. Were they technical enough for the semi final? Definitely not as technical as tempering chocolate and creating a centerpiece, so thank god for the show-stopper challege for upping the ante.
Similarly, the final’s challenges were pretty tame. The contestants have had to make puff pastry before. They’ve made buns before. They’ve made classic cakes before. These challenges could have easily been set in Episode 1, instead of the final. Maybe the rationale was that it’s harder to shine when doing something simple, because everything needs to be just perfect.
Whatever the case, this is a teeny tiny gripe that in no way made the show less enjoyable to watch. It just didn’t give me as much inspiration to bake as some of the previous seasons. I’m definitely looking forward to the Masterclass specials.
So once again, congrats, Nadiya! May you have many happy bakes in your future =)