Is It Possible That The Great American Baking Show Is Too Friendly?
The finale comes down to Good Baker/Nice Person versus Good Baker/Nice Person! Two will enter the tent, but only one-- Wait, I'm being informed that both will leave, and will still be very good friends when they do so.
As we close out The Great American Baking Show, I'm grateful again for its understatement. MasterChef got me desensitized to the assumed two-hour season finale, replete with endless montages and recapping and the repetition of the amount of prize money and worldwide prestige about to be showered on the winner. Not so GABS! One hour, no waiting. A minimum of nostalgia, and we're right into the finale.
Amanda vs. Stephanie: each named Star Baker twice. I bet they're out for blood! No, each of them talks about how good the other is. I suppose if I'm being honest I should admit that I could stand a little more drama from this show. I'm not saying I want contestants showing up and saying things like, "I'm not here to make friends," but a little more metaphorical blood in the kitchen wouldn't go amiss.
Having said that, it's sweet that the finale is simply another episode with the three challenges. To wit:
The Signature challenge is two dozen savoury hand-held pastries. Two types, each featuring different doughs, filling, and shapes.
The Technical challenge: British checkerboard cake called the Battenberg. It's sponge cake held together with apricot jam and wrapped in marzipan, and looks insanely difficult. We've seen it being cut in highlights since the first episode, and I have been waiting for this one. I'm on board with any cooking where you get to use a ruler!
For the showstopper: an elaborate winter celebration dessert display, whatever the bakers want to do.
So long, Stephanie, and her super-cool earrings. For the Signature challenge, she makes American Brunch and Chinese Dim Sum pies: plump with nice crust, good proportion of filling, and outstanding flavours, say the judges.
Stephanie takes first place in the Technical challenge. While her Battenberg is shorter and squatter than Amanda's, and the squares aren't perfect, it's firmly put together and baked very well, and the marzipan is very even.
For the Showstopper, Stephanie makes mini-éclairs, black sesame and champagne buttercream macaroons (easily the thing I wanted to eat most from this episode) and a butterscotch pot de crème topped with a rosé wine marshmallow.
Are you kidding me with these?
The macaroons have the perfect texture, and the éclairs are very professional apart from slight rising problems with the dough. The pot de crème looks a little greasy and is a bit undercooked but still has excellent flavour.
I have to be honest: I thought, based on tonight's performance, Stephanie was going to win...
...but the finale brings us to the end of the Blossoming of Amanda, as she realizes that maybe she is a pretty good baker, and we see a sweet clip from her husband explaining that if she wins, it could mean she'll realize what he already knows: she's extraordinary.
For the Signature Challenge, Amanda busts out Handheld Breakfast (mustardy ham and cheese) and Lunch (ground turkey) Pastries: properly baked with great flavour and packed with filling. When it comes to the Battenberg, her cake looks a little more like Mary's than Amanda's does, but the marzipan is a shade too thick and the checkerboard is missing the apricot jam mortar in spots. Flavours are good, though! She places second.
For the Showstopper, Amanda makes peppermint hot chocolate cake, stacked puffs filled with mocha pastry, and stacked mulled cider cookies (apple jam sandwich). This segment gives us the single moment of "drama" on this episode, when we go to break with Amanda fretting because her puffs are sticking to the parchment paper. "Trying not to freak out," she says. (Spoiler alert: she manages not to freak out.)
Amanda's desserts are a hit with the judges, with Mary giving the puffs that ultimate understated British praise: "This is a bit of all right," and that bit of all right puts Amanda into the winner's circle. A very reserved, sedate, confetti-less and oversized-novelty-cheque-free winner's circle.