(WARNING! Spoilers for the finale of the 2021 season of The Great British Baking Show ahead!)
After a nail-biter of a semi-final the previous week, thoroughly (and lovingly!) covered by our own Roxana Hadadi, the finale of this year’s competition aired in the U.S. this past Friday. Who would emerge the victor was anyone’s guess, really. Giuseppe creates consistently quality bakes while Crystelle combines dazzling flavors. Ah, but then there’s Chigs, who, according to him, has only been baking for a year. I don’t know what sort of superhuman ability it takes to go from not baking to creating entremets in twelve months’ time, but his talent is undeniable. Despite his inexperience, his precision and superb instincts earned his way into the finals to the surprise of many viewers (count me among those who were positive Jürgen would round out the top three). With such an even playing field—each contestant having been Star Baker in the past—viewers knew that the winner would come down to a combination of luck and skill.
For the signature challenge, the judges requested a carrot cake. It seemed a surprisingly everyday sort of bake, but it did allow the bakers to run with it however they liked. I will probably dream of Giuseppe’s carrot cake with fig and walnut jam for the rest of my days, though the stress I underwent watching him come in just under the wire probably shortened my life span quite a bit, so those days are likely far fewer. I wish Crystelle had kept her pistachio and cardamom (which also sounds like a magical flavor combination) carrot cake to three layers rather than the overly ambitious four, but I can understand the desire to dazzle during such an important competition. Chigs’ star anise, pineapple jam carrot cake sounded interesting, but goodness, that was a LOT of carrots (though it was the best decorated).
With no one standing out in the signature challenge, everyone went into the technical still on the same level playing field. Paul’s challenge, twelve Belgian buns with sultanas and lemon curd, is probably the meanest technical I’ve ever seen. The directions were literally two sentences long and can be summarized as “make Belgian buns” and “pipe icing.” Poor, poor Giuseppe. I know how easy it is to look at something in the oven and think it looks fine only to pull it out of the oven and realize no, it is NOT fine. With Chigs cutting his dough the wrong way, Crystelle wound up winning her very first technical challenge.
For most fans, however, we know that the winner almost always comes down to the showstopper challenge. This year’s theme was a “Mad Hatter’s Tea Party” display, which featured a combination of savory and sweet bakes, as well as four different baking disciplines. I thought I couldn’t be more stressed out than in that first challenge when Giuseppe almost didn’t make that carrot cake on time but I was wrong; Giuseppe’s cold oven nearly sent me into a spiral. His stricken face made my heart absolutely ache for him. Bless him for holding it together, because I would have fallen to pieces.
In the midst of all the baking madness, Noel performed his normal hosting duties by going table to table, but he wasn’t alone: in his hand was a spatula with a pair of eyes with a lone tear and a tiny, downturned mouth called, appropriately enough, Mr. Spatula. Going table to table, Noel encourage each competitor to plant a little kiss on Mr. Spatula, but only one baker chose to do so. Unbeknownst to everyone, this humble spatula would determine the victor of this year’s competition.
I’m only half-joking. Once the four and a half hours were up, it came time for Paul and Prue to judge. Giuseppe’s giant mushroom chocolate and hazelnut brioche was quite successful but nothing, NOTHING knocked Paul and Prue off their feet like his mango and passionfruit “drink me” panna cotta.
Chigs’ chicken and mushroom pocket watch pies go over quite well, along with his Cheshire Cat cake with orange curd (sadly, sans smile), and toadstool brioche with lemon/lime creme patisserie (the most perfect brioche I’ve ever seen). Even though the flavors didn’t quite work out (the elderflower and pepper were overshadowed by the strawberry), I found myself utterly obsessed with his jammy biscuit playing cards. Never have I seen a more charming cookie.
It was finally Crystelle’s turn. I can’t imagine how nerve-wracking it would be to be judged last in a competition like this. Her chickpea curry-filled Mad Hatter’s pie is a hit, unsurprisingly because, let’s face it, curry is a God-tier food. Her cardamom pistachio toadstool biscuits and chai cake sunflowers also went over well. Alas, the baking gods saw fit to smite someone on that day, and their wrath came in the form of Crystelle’s tragically raw za’atar and garlic focaccia. “What did you do?” a baffled Paul asks, which would be enough for many of us to straight up evaporate from this earthly existence. Crystelle takes it like a champ, but it’s a heartbreaking moment nonetheless because it’s clear that any chance of her becoming the winner is gone.
It came down between Chigs and Giuseppe, but as good as Chigs’ bake was, Giuseppe was declared a winner. His stunned amazement at hearing his name called was already enough to bring back the lump in my throat from earlier, but Crystelle’s happy scream and Chigs’ jubilant smile (god, that smile) brought me right back to tears. Without question, Giuseppe deserved this win, and while logic would dictate that his victory was due to a season full of consistent bakes on top of what looked to be the world’s most perfect panna cotta, I think that maybe, just maybe, that peck he gave Mr. Spatula may have given him the edge.
What’s for certain is that this season of The Great British Baking Show is the best in recent memory. Not only was there a solid selection of lovely bakers—all three finalists’ had a wonderful personal segment, though Giuseppe and Chigs talking about their fathers nearly broke me—but the challenges were once again focused more on baking and less on manufactured drama (the heat meltdowns were minimal this year) and stunt bakes (never forget those godawful celebrity cakes and the preposterous caged tarts). This season was so good, in fact, that I suspect it will go down as a comfort rewatch like the much-beloved ‘Nadiya season.’ Happily, Giuseppe is currently working on a book with his father, a fiercely talented baker in his own right. It will be tough for next year to beat this delightful season, but for all those potential competitors, I can tell you one thing:
Kiss the damn spatula.
Image sources (in order of posting): Netflix, Netflix, Netflix