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November 01, 2019 at 05:22 PM EDT
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After nine long weeks, it’s finally here. We have arrived at the final weekend of The Great British Baking Show, and our three finalists — David, Alice, and Steph — are tying on their aprons one last time. As they take their places behind their workstations, they know that they only have three more opportunities to wow the judges and rise above their cohort to join the ranks of the nine previous GBBS winners. This season has been so chock-full of talented bakers that the extreme pressure leading into this weekend is matched only by the extreme excitement of those who have been following along. An informal poll I conducted around the EW office this week confirmed that the three contestants are equally beloved by all, and the cake plate prize is truly anyone’s for the taking. There is no culinary theme for the final week beyond “Don’t screw up,” and the challenges Paul and Prue have put together will surely test them on full a range of skills. Which of these three bakers will be able to rise above the rest and claim their place at the top? We hope they’re ready, we know they’re set, because it is officially time to bake.

Signature challenge: The ultimate chocolate cake
Creative, impressive, and beautifully decorated to a professional standard.

To me, there is absolutely no better fragrance in the world than the smell of a chocolate cake baking. I imagine that this challenge has the tent smelling like absolute heaven, and I think that from here on out if I ever need to “go to my happy place” I’m going to imagine myself lying starfished on my back on the floor of the tent while these three amazing bakers flit about around me.

David’s masterpiece cake is a chocolate, Armagnac, and prune cake. Along with the prunes, the sponge contains both 70 percent dark chocolate and cocoa powder and will be sandwiched with layers of Armagnac cream. The layers are then enrobed in a dark chocolate ganache and a dark chocolate mirror glaze and topped with tempered chocolate leaves. One of Paul’s favorite things to harp on in any given week is how well a mix-in is distributed in the bake, so he immediately seizes on a concern for the prune sponge. Unflappable David explains that the prunes go to mush in the bake so they won’t notice, but I’m just over here thinking about how hilarious it would be to take Paul to a Cold Stone Creamery and watch him stare down the teen behind the counter until there are exactly the same number of rainbow sprinkles in every bite of his Birthday Cake Remix. Ultimately, it’s not the prune distribution that disappoints the judges, it’s a far too heavy hand with the Armagnac. Even Prue, who usually loves a boozy bake, finds the alcohol flavor to be too much.

Alice is also getting fruity with her chocolate cake. Her chocolate and pear cakes will be layered with a maple cream cheese buttercream and topped with a dark chocolate ganache drip, hazelnut brittle, and wine and cinnamon poached pears. The combination of pear and chocolate and ginger and hazelnut and maple and red wine feels like it could be a little over the top, but heck, this is the final, so if you’re going to go over the top, now is the time. During the bake, Alice struggles to get her middle layer baked properly, and the wonky sponge results in a distinct lilt when the layers are stacked and frosted. In the judging, Prue loves the flavor balance and calls the texture “lovely” and “very light,” but Paul wants the chocolate flavor to be more dominant in the mix. One thing they all agree on, though, is that the presentation is not quite up to the standard of the final week.

For Steph’s cake, the four-time star baker has chosen to interpret a retro favorite: the black forest cake. Her spin on the classic will feature layers of cherry jam and kirsch chantilly cream, a chocolate ganache frosting, and gold-leaf gilded cherries on top. The risk Steph is taking by recreating a classic cake is that the judges have probably eaten a lifetime’s worth of black forest gateaus between them and will pick apart each element to make sure that it is absolutely perfect. When it comes to the judging, they do just that. They find no faults with the jam or the chantilly cream, but Paul remarks that while the chocolate flavor is perfect, the sponge is a bit crumbly.

Should you make this at home?
I firmly believe that everyone should have an elaborate chocolate cake recipe in their back pocket, ready to go at all times for any occasion that should require it.

Technical challenge: Stilton souffles
6 twice-baked cheese souffles served with a thin lavash cracker.

Final week may not have an official theme, but we are officially two for two on extremely fragrant challenges. This technical challenge requires our bakers to make a roux as the base for a cream sauce that then gets folded into whipped egg whites. The egg whites are what should cause the mixture to achieve that signature fluffy and puffy souffle texture. Another key element of achieving the perfect set is the use of a bain-marie, a technique that calls for setting the souffle tins in a high-walled pan and filling the pan with hot water so that the tins are surrounded by gentle heat on all sides. David and Alice both have that skill down pat, but Steph’s use of cold water instead of hot results in soupy souffles that turn to puddles when she tries to turn them out. It’s too late to start over, so Steph must power through with her stinky cheese puddles.

At the gingham table, Paul and Prue notice that Alice’s souffles are nicely risen but a little bit underdone inside, and lacking the desired color on top. Her lavash crackers are similarly underbaked and floppy. As expected, Steph’s souffles are too flat and too soupy for the judges, and her lavash crackers are too thick and do nothing to save the day. David’s lavash crackers are perfectly crispy and thin, and his souffles are a nice color and nicely baked. Steph’s bain-marie misfire lands her in third place, Alice’s equally underdone lavash and souffles come in second, and David’s crispy lavash and nicely set souffles win him first.

Should you make this at home?
Yes, serve with a nice salad and a chilled bottle of bubbly. You are fancy and you have worked very hard, and you deserve this.

Showstopper challenge: Picnic basket and its contents
A deliciously deceptive feast made from cake, enriched bread, and biscuit. The items will be placed in a nougatine basket and should look like one thing but be made from another.

It was David’s partner’s birthday this week and since David’s attention has been understandably elsewhere lately, he is offering this showstopper as a belated gift. David’s basket contains a biscuit cheese board with lemon poundcake cheeses and saffron and orange blossom bread peaches. True to form, David’s nougatine basket is extremely prim and proper, and he even goes so far as to stencil “P&P” on the front in honor of our beloved judges.

Alice is a bit rattled after finding out that her parents’ flight was canceled and they might not make it to the celebratory picnic, but hopefully she’ll be able to stay focused because she has a lot on her plate today — or rather, she has a lot in her nougatine basket. Alice’s picnic is a celebration of the end of the school year and contains raspberry macarons in the shape of strawberries, orange and cardamom bread buns in the shape of ice cream cones, and fried chicken, Scotch eggs, and a pork pie, all made from carrot cake. At about the time that her macarons are failing to form their characteristic film, Alice finds out that her parents are indeed on their way, and she channels that excitement into whipping up a second batch of macarons that do indeed form a seal.

After a tragically disappointing technical challenge, Steph is hoping to course-correct with a classic picnic of burgers, fruit cups, and cupcakes, except the burgers are really lemon poppyseed cake, the strawberries are almond macarons, and the cupcakes are spiced orange bread buns. Steph’s resiliency is tested, though, as the hamburger cake breaks coming out of the pan and the macaron batter is just not right. Managing to keep the panic at bay, Steph trudges on and pulls together a magical basket of treats.

And then the moment has finally arrived. It’s the final judging of the season, and we can imagine that our finalists must be feeling simultaneous waves of heavenly relief to be finished working and waves of chest-tightening nerves at what the judges will make of their final attempts at greatness.

Up first is Alice, and with a purposeful step-back, a furrowed brow, and a sweeping arm gesture, Paul declares, “That is exceptional.” Prue takes the opportunity for one last swipe against blueberries for the season, claiming that the apple buns don’t work because “blueberries don’t have much flavor.” Let that be a reminder that even these brilliant judges are human and can be wrong sometimes. The carrot cake Scotch eggs delight and the tomato-and-strawberry-shaped macarons are full of flavor. Finally, Paul tastes the cardamom and orange ice cream cone cakes and says plainly, “Love that,” and comments that it has a “lot of zing.” The judging wraps up with a “Pretty good effort” from Paul, and Alice can return to her station and breathe a deep sigh of relief that her parents are waiting for her outside.

David’s basket elicits an “I think it looks amazing. Stunning.” from Paul, who is clearly wowed by the illusion of each and every item in the basket. Prue calls the peach buns “lovely,” and Paul calls them “very clever.” Prue and Paul agree that David’s basket is the complete package and admire that he went to the extra length to create biscuit plates and fondant cheese paper, sending him back to his work station with an “exceptional” and “bravo.”

Steph, who has wowed the judges week after week and was the certain favorite going into today’s final, is the only one of the three who is not immediately met with words of praise upon placing her showstopper on the table. Prue points out that the basket itself has some problems, and Paul comments that the bun topping is “not right” and the macarons are missing the signature “glisten.” They do both agree, however, that the hamburger bun is very convincing in appearance. In the tasting portion of the judging, Paul points out that the buns are a bit underproofed and the macaron filling is overwhelmed by liqueur. The hamburger that they loved the look of so much is lacking in flavor and overbaked. It’s very hard to watch Steph receive this tough feedback after so many weeks of glowing success, and even Paul is inspired to comfort her, saying sweetly, “Never mind, Steph,” before sending her back to her station. He even goes so far as to follow her back and offer a big hug and says quietly, “It doesn’t matter.” To me, that means that he knows this showstopper, while gutting, is not representative of the amazing work he knows Steph can produce. But will a history of triumph be enough to bury one very important tragedy?

Should you make this at home?
Look, you’ve made it this far. You’ve mastered everything this show has to offer. You can proof perfectly tender buns, you can ponder your reflection in a glossy mirror glaze, you can temper chocolate to a snap that rivals Thanos himself. So you better believe that you have what it takes to bake a nougatine picnic basket of delicious, delicious lies.

Drumroll, please!

The winner of season 10 of The Great British Baking Show is… Michael’s salmon shorteralls! Just kidding, it’s… David’s partner’s extremely fit legs! Sorry, couldn’t help myself, it’s… Dan’s topknot! Henry’s baby blue tie! Amelia’s pink hair! Helena’s spooky vibes! Michelle’s sharp Welsh bob! Sandi’s perfect red lip!

Okay, enough! The winner of season 10 of The Great British Baking Show, taking home the crystal cake plate and a lifetime of international bragging rights is… David! David’s eye for detail and fearless approach to flavor, coupled with laser-like focus and a completely unflappable attitude, served him well all season and carried him straight through this frantic final weekend of baking challenges. He proved time and time again that baking should and can be a perfect marriage of both style and substance, and that we should all be considering Bulgaria for any future European holiday vacations. And maybe, just maybe, we could all afford to bake a fat-free cake now and then.

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