It's finals week! Dave, Claudia and Barb are our top three, and there are only a handful of bakes between now and the end of the series. There's not much fanfare at the beginning of the episode - the judges congratulate our finalists and then it's onto the first challenge!
Signature Bake: Battenberg Cake
The bakers have three and a half hours to make a Battenberg cake, which must have at least two flavours and a hard covering. Before they make a start however, the bakers meet in the middle of the shed for a hug - another demonstration of why this is the nicest show on television. We're at the serious end of the competition, but there's always time for kindness (see also: Paddington 2). And Mel and Claire always bring the levity.
Claudia makes a citrus-themed Battenberg, with orange and lemon flavoured sponges, a key lime buttercream, and two kinds of marzipan: pistachio for the outside of the cake, and almond marzipan for her fruit decorations. At the beginning of the challenge, Claudia says some words to the camera about how great Barb is. Then Barb overhears and thanks her, because this is that kind of show. The judges love the flavours of the cake, particularly the key lime in the buttercream, and Maggie praises Claudia's marzipan fruit decorations.
Barb made a lemon and lime Battenberg, using small tins that save time when it comes to assembling the cake. The sponges are glued together with an orange jam, and the cake is decorated with marzipan, which is painted to look like a planter box and buttercream flowers. Barb gets the shakes towards the end of the challenge, and it almost looks like she won't make it. The judges praise Barb's flavours, but Matt says the sponges are a little too dense (he doesn't bring this up later in the show which indicates this is a finale nitpick).
Dave made a lemon and chocolate Battenberg cake and took it one step further, as he is wont to do. Instead of long fingers, Dave cuts his sponges into cubes, which he sticks together with buttercream. He covers his Battenberg with modelling chocolate, and makes buttercream sunflowers for decoration. The judges say that it looks amazing but there's too much buttercream, which is a side-effect of using cubes instead of fingers.
Technical Challenge: Kumquat Rum Babas
A rum baba is some sort of Polish bun that's soaked in a rum syrup, and it sounds delicious. I'd like to try making them one day. They're made from an enriched, yeasted dough and need to be proved twice, so the bakers are busy for all three hours of this technical challenge. My favourite part of this challenge is when Barb brings Claudia and Dave some oranges for half-time and gives them a pep talk as she would her own netball team.
Despite the half-time oranges, this was a tight challenge. So much of the baking time was devoted to proving the rum baba that the bakers had a lot to do in the last hour: bake the babas, soak them in the rum and citrus syrup, cool the babas in the freezer and add the chantilly cream and kumquats to serve. Dave decided to poke holes in his babas so that the syrup would soak through quicker, Claudia followed instructions, and Barb left them in the syrup for as long as possible, which meant that the end of the challenge was quite tight.
Dave is third because his Babas weren't soaked long enough and there was too much cream, Claudia was second (not enough syrup), Barb came first. The judges emphasise that even though they have to give the bakers official places, there's barely anything in it.
The next morning Matt and Maggie discuss who could win, and it seems like it's down to Claudia and Barb before Matt says they can't rule out Dave. It's very close, so we'll have to go to the showstopper.
Showstopper: Pièce Montée
Throughout the day we see the various stages of the finale picnic, which is always fun. There's a sausage sizzle, plenty of baked goods and even a merry-go-round, so we get to see what Matt and Maggie get up to when they're not walking around the tent talking to the contestants. We also see the Ghosts of Bake Offs (Bakes Off?) past, including this season’s eliminated contestants. One of the highlights of the season has been Chris and Barb's friendship, and I'm delighted that Barb's family has adopted Chris.
Right, the showstopper. The bakers have four and a half hours to make a pièce montée - a stunning decorative centrepiece suitable for a grand occasion that also tells a story close to their heart. This was also the final showstopper challenge in series 5 of The Great British Bake Off. A pièce montée is traditionally made from choux pastry, spun sugar, nougatine and marzipan. The bakers must use at least four elements in their pièce montées, two of which are choux pastry and spun sugar.
Claudia's pièce montée is a cockatoo, because she likes the bird that gets a bad rap - Claudia painted cockatoos on her biscuit puzzle earlier in the competition. The cockatoo is made from choux buns filled with vanilla and chocolate, the wings are nougatine with rice paper feathers, the face from white chocolate and it has a pulled sugar crest. The cockatoo sits on a log of choux buns, which is topped with lemon myrtle marzipan, and is accompanied by a spun sugar nest. It looks amazing, and Maggie says she doesn't want to take it apart - Matt does though. The nougatine is sticky which means it hasn't been taken far enough but that doesn't matter because the flavour is good. The judges love the marzipan with lemon myrtle and appreciate that Claudia has used native flavours in her bake. The crispness of the choux pastry is fantastic - Matt says it's some of the best he's ever had - and the sugar on top gives it another texture.
Barb's pièce montée is a treasure chest representing her time on Bake Off. The chest is made from nougatine, and is filled with lemon biscuits, a spun sugar nest and choux buns filled with vanilla and chocolate custards. The scene also includes choux seaweed, puff pastry sea creatures and a fondant floor. When the judges come to Barb's bench, Maggie asks Barb who she's most excited to see, and Barb says her daughters. Then Maggie makes Barb cry when she asks if she's seen them at all throughout the competition. This may be the first time Maggie Beer's made anyone cry on this show and it's with kindness. Barb has to shape her nougatine chest while it's still hot, and she does it with her BARE HANDS. Barb is a warrior. When she's putting the chest together, the worst thing happens - a piece of nougatine cracks. She takes a moment before gluing it back together with something edible. Claudia finishes her cockatoo early and helps Barb fill her choux buns. Barb thanks Claudia and says she owes her another piece of her soul. Is Claudia secretly the Devil? The judges say that the detail on the chest is fantastic, and that the nougatine is spectacular. When it comes to the crack, Matt says it's just been on the ocean floor for a while. The nougatine is perfect, the lemon biscuits are great, and they love the chocolate-filled choux buns.
Dave lived next door to an oriental garden as a child, which he uses as his inspiration for the pièce montée. The tiered pavilion is made from passionfruit cake and covered with white modelling chocolate panels. It's surrounded with cream-filled choux buns and sits on a river of spun sugar. The judges praise Dave's intricate work and say that it looks amazing, but it could be bigger for a showstopper. Last time they said that to a contestant Chris made a giant trifle, so they're lucky this is the final week. The judges love the fillings for the choux buns and praise Dave's cake, which Maggie says gets better with each bite.
The judges go to deliberate, and the contestants finally get to see their families for the first time in nearly two months. There are lovely clips of their family members saying what they love about them. Barb's daughters didn't think she'd make it past auditions, and Claudia's son is easily distracted. I thought he saw a puppy, but it turned out that he was describing Claudia as happy - which her daughter repeated for the camera.
And the winner is Claudia! I guessed Claudia about halfway through the season when I spoke to Robert. Claudia's a deserving winner, and I'm very happy with this result. Congratulations to Claudia as well as Barb and Dave for making it to the final. It's been a fun ten weeks and the online community around this show is one of the best, with interaction between the contestants and fans. The show leaves us with an update on how the bakers are going, which is one of my favourite things (yes, they're all my favourite things). I'll speak to you all on Twitter next season, if not before.