Bake Off 2018 final review: Rahul joins an illustrious list of imperial bakers
GBBO proves a durable format that surely has another slice or two to offer before it goes mouldy
Edd Kimber, Joanne Wheatley, John Whaite, Frances Quinn, Nancy Birtwhistle, Nadiya Hussain, Candice Brown and Sophie Faldo... The next name in that proud, long, illustrious list of imperial bakers, like a litany of popes or presidents, is... Rahul Mandal, a coronation watched, as in 1953, by a nation in rapt attention.
By the grace of gluten, defender of the fillings, crowned by Paul, Archbishop of Bakery, blessed in the Memorial Cathedral Tent of Saints Mel and Sue, The Holy BBC Martyrs, anointed by the lemony drizzle of Princess Prue of Patisserie, attended by the Baroness Sandi Toksvig and Sir Noel Fielding: King Rahul. The Great British Bake Off winner 2018. Send Rahul victorious, long to reign over us. Well, until the finale of the next series, that is, when the Vanilla Cream Crown passes to the next victor. As he embarks on a career as a borderline B/C-list celebrity and enjoys the close attention of our tabloid press, and of course Britain’s vibrant gammon community, well, may we say god help him.
How did he do it? “I have a glass of milk and put everything into it.” There you go.
Rahul is one of the sweetest, if you’ll pardon the expression, contestants ever to appear on Bake Off, and he seems an unlikely kind of winner. In the final round of the final episode, the showstopper challenge, he suffers an unlucky break, literally, when one of his storage jars explodes, placed too near a hob. His creation of a showstopper “landscape dessert”, a Dr Seuss-style fantasia rock garden, is disrupted, emotionally as well as practically (and, though brilliant, his nerve is brandy snap brittle).
In true GBBO style, though, any fears that he might be disadvantaged evaporate as the judges allow him another quarter of an hour to produce what turns out to be an extremely impressive – and winning – creation, a fantasy landscape dessert. Miserable anti-baker that I am, I confess even I am inspired by the weird lanky cacti he creates with no more than an icing gun and an over-active imagination. As has been seen many times over the weeks, his ambition is both his strength and Achilles heel; here he assembles some 200 separate elements, at great risk. It pays off.
Kim-Joy Hewlett, like Kim Jong-un a slightly polarising figure among the public, opts for the Lost City of Atlantis. The clever thing here is that of course no one has ever been to the Lost City of Atlantis, not even Liam Fox seeking an “encouraging meeting” with the Atlantean trade minister. Thus, no one can argue that the Lost City is in fact little more than a ginger bread house with a salted caramel treasure chest, some crushed praline “sand” and, of course, a few fondant seahorses.
Earlier, Kim’s doughnuts had impressed everyone with their delicate bee-themed detailing (even attracting a real life bee to her plate). Ruby underwhelms the judges with some under filled attempts, but it is Rahul who encounters the most trouble on his procession to his crowning.
The task is to create a dozen mixed doughnuts and he impresses with his filled ones, containing a lavish helping of mango creme patissiere (that’s custard to the likes of me and you). However, Rahul’s delicious ring was so elaborately decorated that it became a bit of a messy mouthful anyone who came near it. Noel Fielding, lopes around with an inexplicably morbid air, wearing what looks to be a blouse he’s borrowed off Elvira, vampire queen, and requests that Rahul’s ring doughnut be displayed at his (ie Noel’s) funeral. He really is a fruitcake, that boy.
The usually ebullient Sandi Toksvig seems not to be quite her usual self. Maybe it was the very hot weather, or being overawed by the momentous events unfolding around her. Or indigestion.
For the technical challenge, the contestants were invited to leave the tent and cook pitta bread on an open camp fire (though not quite the campest thing about this odd show). This looked to be Paul Hollywood’s idea, because “it’s a technique that’s been around for thousands of years”, and a spectacularly futile exercise, too. It sadly highlights the futility of Bake Off; vast trouble and expense to create some rubbish, burned pittas that would disgrace your local kebab house.
You see, there’s really no need to return to the baking methods employed in the Assyrians some 3,000 years ago: Tesco will do you six perfectly good large wholemeal pitta pockets for 75p. But, yes, I know, I am missing the point.
Is the point of the show the personalities as much as the pastries and pasties?
By the way, has any reality TV cookery-based show hosted a candidate as determined as Ruby Bhogal? Now there is a celeb in waiting. During the usually dull biographical sequence we spy a startling post-it note on her fridge at home, carrying the yeasty slogan: “I AM THE WINNER OF THE GREAT BRITISH BAKE OFF”. Nearly right. Seems she has quite a nutty texture herself. Like all great bakers, she knows triumph (scale model of the Dolomites constructed from choux buns), and disaster (her layer cake sliding off the stand in vegan week). Now, though her inconsistent form let her down, she reveals the real secret of the successful baker; like golfers and journalists, the key ingredient is perseverance in the face of soul destroying multiple failures.
I wonder how much more the viewers can take of GBBO, but the format is obviously durable. So maybe another slice or two before it goes mouldy. In any case, say what you like about Brexit and the great British industrial productivity problem, we may rest assured that our amateur baking skills lead the world. Let’s make Britain bake again!