There's buns in the oven

By Ruth Kinane
August 12, 2016 at 03:31 AM EDT
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Twelve bakers, 27 challenges, and a whole lot of crème pat and folded dough have brought us to this point. It’s the grand finale, the cherry atop the seven-tiered meringue cake, (a completely made-up dessert), if you will.

For one last time, pour yourself a drink. Your drinking words for this finale are “perfect,” “perfectly,” and “perfection.”

Our three finalists are in equal states of disbelief and fear. Tamal is so excited, he wants to tell random members of the public about being in the final. Nadiya really wants to win and feels strange about it. And Ian’s been writing in his journal about how pivotal a moment this is. Needless to say, nerves are at an all-time high. Even Mary doesn’t have an inkling who’s going to win, so let’s get right to it and find out.

For the bakers’ last Signature Challenge, they’re required to make 16 filled and iced buns. Back in week 1, I was really curious about what happened to the leftovers following each round of baking, but after Mel and Sue’s display of excitement after the bun announcement, I’m pretty convinced those two just polish off anything extra. And who can blame them? According to Paul, “An iced bun is a thing of beauty.” But that also means “There’s nowhere to hide — from the icing, to the bun, to the filling.”

Mary says the finalists will make enriched dough that should be “cram, jam full of flavor” with soft, not crisp, icing. As the judges begin to circle the workstations, Paul keeps throwing around the word “perfect.” (Drink!)

Here’s how the would-be winners hope to achieve that coveted perfection:

Tamal is making two types of buns. One will have a citrus-marmalade filling with a caramel crème pat, and the other is an apple-and-whipped-cream bun with cinnamon and ground cloves. Both will be topped with Royal icing. He’s keeping the icing simple since his filling is so flavorful. Paul looks alarmed.

Ian’s making two batches of dough, rather than making one and splitting it (and in the process, making things doubly difficult for himself.) Time for another glimpse into the Idyllic Life of Ian: While out cycling last week, some fresh elderflowers caught his eye, and he decided they’d make a great flavor for his buns. His elderflower buns will be filled with fresh lemon curd. For his second batch, he’s making spiced buns, flavored with cardamom and cinnamon and filled with apple-and-cranberry jam.

Nadiya is filling her cardamom round buns with almond crème patisserie and making nutmeg finger buns with sour-cream jam… Wait, what? Sour-cherry jam and cream is what she meant. The nerves! Paul has some qualms about the round buns, but Mary puts him in his place: “Why shouldn’t a bun be round?” she demands.

As they get to the baking, it’s clear Tamal and Nadiya have become good buddies over the weeks. It’s cute. They’re comparing notes on the rise of their dough and trying to sneak glances at Ian to see what he’s doing. He’s probably only a few years older than they are, but there’s a parent/children dynamic in the tent now.  

Tamal taunts Nadiya for going against the norm and making round buns in addition to the expected finger-shaped ones. “It’s fine if you want to break the mold on Paul’s favorite thing in the world,” he says. “It works well for you when you break mold. Remember that technical in week 1?” “Yeah, coming in 12th was amazing,” Nadiya responds dryly.

The buns are in the oven, but when they come out they look so similar to hot-dog buns that it’s hard to imagine them tasting too great. Ian thinks his buns look weird and are cooking much slower than expected. He’s beginning to think he’s left something out. Tamal, on the other hand, has no choice but to leave something out; his crème pat hasn’t set, so his buns must go without. It’s a major element to be missing. As they complete the bake, no one seems pleased with where they finish.

Judgment time! Ian’s looks so messy and unappetizing, we don’t even have to hear Mary say it. The cardamom buns don’t have a shine to them, and the flavor of the icing doesn’t go with the flavors of the bun. He forgot to put sugar in his dough — d’oh! — which means they dried out and became, in Paul’s words, “a crispy bap.” That, in turn, threw the flavor off. It’s not a complete disaster, though; according to Mary, the other batch is “sheer heaven on a plate.” Phew.

Nadiya’s are nice and neat with a good amount of jam. They “taste lovely,” says Mary, and “the little round ones are quite different.” All good compliments, but they seem a little like faint praise after Ian’s were just labeled “heaven.” “Both of those tick the boxes,” says Paul. “They’re neat, they’re full of flavor and they’re so different as well.”

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Tamal’s really do look like hot-dog buns or sandwiches. His icing lacks shine and has an odd texture, and on top of that, there’s the whole lack of crème pat. There are some redeeming features, however: The overall texture of the bun is beautiful and both fillings are great. He was let down once again by his old nemesis: timing.

NEXT: The return of those pesky pastry problems

Onto the final Technical Challenge, the two ‘P’s that put fear into the hearts of the bakers: Paul’s recipe and pastry (again!).  

The finalists are required to make six raspberry mille-feuille (pronounced not exactly like, but certainly similarly to, “Malfoy”) in two hours. These French favorites are made of thin layers of crisp pastry, raspberries, Chantilly cream, and fondant icing.

Nadiya’s never made one before; Tamal knows what it looks like; and Ian thinks it seems like a lot to do in two hours. They’ve all had pastry problems in the past, which is precisely why the judges picked it. The tent dwellers have caught on to this sneakiness, too; “It’s a personalized challenge just for us three,” realizes Nadiya. The bakers are also required to make some sugar syrup, but no one has a clue what to use it for.

As things progress, Tamal feels like he’s losing control of the task. “It’s really hard keeping going when you feel like you’ve done a really bad job at something,” he says. Nadiya can’t figure out how to cut her pastry — the measurements are throwing her off (“I can’t even count!”). Tamal looks at hers and is even more upset with his own. “Your pastry looks so nice,” he tells her. “Mine is awful.” I hate to say it, but his does look pretty bad.

But let’s leave the judgment to the experts and congregate at the gingham altar one last time to see what Paul and Mary have to say.

Nadiya’s is nice and crisp and neat, but the pastry feels like shortcrust, not rough puff. (Do we all remember the difference from week 6?) She comes in first. She’s happy, but not smug.

Ian has good layers, but the pastry isn’t quite done and his piping is gap-y. Good jam, though!

Tamal’s looks a mess and the pastry seems rushed. He also should’ve used the sugar syrup to bond his icing to his pastry. (Ah, that’s what it was for!) He’s last and knows he needs to nail the Showstopper.

It’s about that time. Get ready for the final Showstopper challenge of the season, ladies and gentlemen. There’s also going to be a tea-party crowning ceremony outside the tent — so naturally, in true British fashion, it’s pouring rain. Lovely.  

The final Showstopper challenge is to make a classic British cake: a single-flavored, multi-tiered (three-tier minimum) cake, with all the bells, whistles, and jazz hands they can muster in four hours. “They’ve got to make whatever they do, perfectly,” says Mary. The judges will be comparing each slice out of each cake to make sure they’re consistent. “This is our bakers’ last chance,” warns Mary, as thunder claps ominously overhead. It’s subtle Baking Show drama at its best.

Tamal is putting yesterday behind him. He’s making a sticky toffee pudding fruitcake with figs, dates, oranges, lemons, and prunes, topped with a date-and-toffee sauce and decorated with spun sugar. His decoration is based on an ancient, abandoned Chinese fishing village — hey, whatever works for you, Tamal. In a cruel twist of fate, it’s one of three annual days in England when it’s actually warm enough to cause humidity…and it just so happens that those kind of conditions are the worst for spinning sugar and caramel.

Ian is making five cakes. Five. His Colossal Curvy Carrot Cake (points for alliteration) will be displayed on a stand he built himself. He’s also developed a unique decoration to bring all five of his cakes together: A giant carrot waterfall? A cascading liquid carrot? It’s basically icing that looks like a carrot that starts at the top of the first cake and comes to its tips on the last one. (Imagine that instead of a Slinky going down some stairs, it’s a carrot going down some cakes — that’s what I’m doing. Trippy.)

NEXT: And the winner is…

Nadiya’s doing a lemon-drizzle cake that’s going to be structured and designed like a wedding cake. She and her husband got married in Bangladesh, so they didn’t have a wedding cake. This is her chance! Her three-tiered cake will feature jewels from her wedding day and sarees in red, white, and blue to incorporate that British theme. The cakes will be filled with lemon curd and lemon buttercream, and she’ll cover the whole cake with more buttercream and then cover that with fondant — which she’s making herself out of gigantic marshmallows.

Remember last week, when the contestants had to make soufflés and it was the most stressful thing ever? This final Showstopper multiplies ups that level of tension by 17. Nadiya’s taken to sprinting around the tent and Tamal’s speaking very quietly in a calm tone that belies the real panic he’s feeling. Ian full-on admits he “has the fear.”

And rightfully so. He’s having some issues: He miscalculated his first batch of cakes, and now something’s wrong with the second lot, too. He forgot to add the orange to the mixture. Ian’s been awfully forgetful lately. Maybe don’t eat everything you forage in the forest, sir.

Beyond the tented walls, everyone’s gathering on the lawn for the tea party, including all the former contestants. It’s “so weird being back” for Flora — hasn’t it been just one week? How do you think Stu is feeling? The most recent bakers to depart are asked to predict the winner. There’s one vote each for Ian and Tamal, while Nadiya takes two.

Meanwhile back in the tent, Mary and Paul are creeping around and making everyone nervous with comments like, “are you nearly there?” and “are you happy?” Tamal’s onto his sugar work; thankfully, the rain’s stopped so the moisture in the air won’t wreak havoc on the process.

With three minutes to go, the finalists add the last decorative flourishes and gather for a group hug. “I’m going to do a you and cry,” says Tamal, to either Nadiya or Ian. It really could be either of them at this point. Ian gives in and starts sobbing as he tells the camera he’s “put a lot into this” and “given it me all.” Let’s find out if he’s done enough…

It’s the last judgment.

Nadiya’s wedding cake looks so neat and elegant, and when Paul cuts it, each slice looks very evenly baked inside. Mary loves it — the lemon comes through perfectly. There’s a suspenseful interlude when Paul shakes his head for approximately three full minutes and stares at Nadiya with those steely blue eyes before saying, “Oh, Nadiya, that’s stunning.” Sighs of relief all around.

Tamal’s looks spectacular, or as Mary puts it, “breathtaking.”  The web of caramel is really cool. His fruit is evenly distributed throughout the cake, which (as we all know by now) pleases Paul. Mary admits she was expecting to make rude remarks about it being a pudding and not a cake (c’mon, Mary, we know you’re not actually capable of being rude), but as a cake she thinks he’s done “exceedingly well.” Paul offers a “this works” and “For once, you managed to do it on time.” Yay, Tamal!

To me, Ian’s carrot icing looks a little odd and comical, but the judges find it simple and sensible. It really doesn’t matter what it looks like because when they dig in, they’re completely blown away by the flavor. “That’s one (or five) of the best carrot cakes I’ve ever had,” Paul tells him. “It is a different carrot cake,” says Mary, but she loves it, too. Spot on, Ian.

And now, because their day hasn’t been stressful enough, the bakers are tasked with carrying their cumbersome creations outside to the tea party while the judges confer.

Sitting around picnic benches adorned with wild flowers, the contestants and their families munch on the Showstopper cakes. Soon, Paul and Mary appear to deliver their final verdict. The bakers gather for a second group hug and hold their breath. Drumroll, please (not really, just the sound of birds chirping in the background)…

The winner of season 3 of The Great British Baking Show is: Nadiya! Cue applause, hugs, tears, and an older gentleman — I’m assuming her father — leaping into the air repeatedly. Mary presents Nadiya with the cake-stand trophy and wipes tears from the winner’s cheeks. (I’m not crying, you’re crying.)

In an adorable aside, Tamal tells Nadiya’s kids he’s coming over for dinner at their house next week: “Your mummy’s promised me.” Can you even imagine? He’ll bring a dessert, Nadiya will make a dessert… Maybe they’ll just have dessert for every course (invite me, please!). Tamal’s all teary, too. He’s so proud of his buddy and jokingly tells the camera, “She’s going to be insufferable now, though. She’ll never shut up about it.”

In her winner’s interview, Nadiya is literally speechless. She just points at herself, like, “What, me?” When she finds her words, they’re empowering, to say the least. “I’m never ever going to put boundaries on myself ever again,” she says. “I’m never going to say ‘I can’t do it.’ I’m never going to say ‘maybe.’ I’m never going to say ‘I don’t think I can.’ I can and I will.” Go, girl.

That’s it for season 3, folks! It’s been a sweet, surgery, and, at times, stressful journey. I’m off to find some carrot cake and a man who resembles Nadiya’s husband. I leave you with this parting thought: Do they dismantle the tent between seasons or repurpose it? Great British Sewing Show, anyone?

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