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‘Great British Baking Show’ Finale Recap: And the Winner Is...

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Comedian Alison Leiby recaps the politest, Britishest TV competition one last time

Photos courtesy of Love Productions

Well, we've reached the end of the Forget That the World Is Mostly Terrible and Also Everyone Loves Cake Hour, aka The Great British Baking Show. It feels like only yesterday that we were watching 12 people politely make Black Forest Gateaux and now here we are watching three people politely bake another dessert that I wish I was eating instead of my regular bowl of night cereal.

The final three bakers enter the tent and I'm pretty thrilled with who persevered to the end of this brutal, delicious competition. There's risky at-home inventor Ian, sophisticated if not a bit scattered Tamal, and elegant yet self-deprecating dark horse throughout the competition, Nadiya. They arrive at their stations, all slightly nervous, but positive and playfully ribbing each other.

[Meanwhile, in America: This part of the finale would be exclusively shots of each competitor sharpening knives with serious-to-the-point-of-disturbing looks on their faces.]

Tamal says he's been fantasizing about telling people — mostly total strangers — that he's in the final, and that then they would respond with, "Who are you?" That's the most insane thing about watching this show. The contestants are living their lives for what seems to be the better part of each week and then coming back to the tents to bake themselves to victory for a weekend. In America, cooking competitions are as brutal as being a juror. You're sequestered away for the duration and also everything seems like a human life hangs in the balance.

For this final Signature Bake, the three must make 16 filled, iced buns in two different flavors. Once again, I have no idea what this is. A lot of the desserts on this show sound like they were made up in fairy tales and nursery rhymes. (Take this quiz, for example.) From watching the challenge, I learn that they are kind of like dessert subs. At least that's what they look like to me.

Ian, as always trying to go above and beyond the scope of the challenge, is making two separate doughs for his buns, one spiced with cardamom and featuring cinnamon icing and an apple and cranberry jam filling, and another elderflower-infused dough with lemon curd filling. As a frequent drinker of overpriced cocktails, I'm a big elderflower fan, though it's hard to imagine that taste in a baked good.

Sticking with more classic flavors, Tamal tries to manage his time wisely and do one set of buns with apple, cinnamon, and whipped cream, and the other set with citrus and toffee marmalade. He seems confident, though Nadiya is so nervous prepping her desserts that she flubs the description of her cardamom and almond buns. She's the only one doing two different shapes. For her second set of buns, she's making round nutmeg and sour cherry fingers.

As I predicted with my booze-soaked, cake-loving mind, Ian's elderflower dough doesn't quite translate for the judges, though they enjoy the lemon versions. Tamal's unflavored royal icing doesn't have a very royal shine to it. Mary Berry loves the marmalade, but both she and Paul Hollywood note that timing was once again an issue for Tamal because his crème pâtissière is not completely set.

[Meanwhile, in America: This criticism at such a tense point in the competition would surely break Tamal and he would end up hyperventilating in the kitchen until one of his fellow contestants begrudgingly talks him down so that they could keep going with the challenges.]

And no surprise here, both judges love Nadiya's beautifully presented buns. I have truly wanted her to win from the first challenge, and every time she succeeds in an episode I find myself under my breath saying, "Oh that's so good" — the way you might root for someone at a chess game or in a low-stakes badminton tournament.

On to the Technical Bake, which is fittingly a recipe from ol' Dreamboat McBlueEyes, Paul. The bakers must make six identical raspberry millefeuilles. I only know what a millefeuille is because of a random line in the two-part Paris-based finale of Sex and The City, because I am a woman of a certain age and that show will always matter. Anyway, Paul explains he chose this specific bake because all three of the finalists have struggled with pastry throughout the competition, so he wanted to challenge them.

Gif: PBS/Giphy

Gif: PBS/Giphy

Some difficult elements of this bake: cutting rough puff pastry without it falling apart can be very hard, making six identical versions of this elegant dessert, and, as usual, there are virtually no instructions for how to make it. The recipe calls for simple syrup, but none of the three is confident in what it's supposed to be used for.

[Meanwhile, in America: This challenge would undoubtedly be sponsored by one of the show's many brand partnerships. It would be introduced like, "Nothing pairs better with San Pellegrino than a raspberry millefeuille, so make six identical ones. San Pellegrino!" and then a San Pellegrino ad would air immediately.]

For this final Technical Challenge, Tamal comes in third, Ian second, and Nadiya a triumphant first! She's come a long way from being at the bottom of these bakes earlier in the competition. Seems she always had the skill, just maybe not the confidence to do some of these as well as she can. It doesn't matter now, though, she's killing it.

Time for the main event. Sure, the judges mull over each baker's performance in all three of the challenges in the finale, but we all know that the Showstopper Challenge is really the one to win. The bakers must make a single flavored, multi-tier cake with as many bells and whistles as possible. They can make any kind of cake they want. Paul names some options, "such as a Victorian sandwich, such as a lemon drizzle." I don't know those cakes. It sounds like he's just listing places on the game board of the British version of Candyland.

It sounds like he’s just listing places on the game board of the British version of Candyland.

All three cakes will be tasted and served at a tea party outside the tents. I mean, of course this all ends with a tea party. Also, it's raining outside while this is all being explained. That is the most quintessentially British thing I could possibly imagine. That would be like if in the American version it ended with a jorts-heavy BBQ or if in the French version the show ended with everyone rolling their eyes while smoking a cigarette.

Tamal is doing a sticky toffee pudding fruit cake, a bold move as neither Paul nor Mary seems quite confident that he can make a good cake out of sticky toffee pudding. Ian is doing a classic carrot cake with a non-classic presentation. Nadiya is doing lemon drizzle with fondant icing. These are all excellent cakes, and it's really hard to say which is the best without me flying to England (while also going back in time to when this taped) and tasting all of them.

Tamal's Showstopper cake

Top: Tamal's Showstopper cake; Bottom: Ian's Showstopper cake

Nadiya is actually making a wedding cake, as she didn't have one at her wedding in Bangladesh, so she's adorning the tall, elegant cakes with saris and her wedding jewels. Also, she's using marshmallows to make the fondant instead of doing it from scratch, a trick she taught herself at home.

While the bakers are busy making their cakes and decorations, their families, friends, and eliminated contestants from the show are gathering outside for what is probably the least organized tea party in England's history. Thankfully, the rain has let up, so everyone can enjoy the lush grass, and also Tamal can comfortably do his sugar work without worrying that the rain or humid air would destroy it. Everyone is baking and assembling right up until the end. When time is up, they all hug.

[Meanwhile, in America: Nope.]

Nadiya's wedding cake is up first. It's beautiful, it's delicious, it's flawlessly made. It's so good that Paul shakes his head to tell her that the cake is stunning. Also stunning is Tamal's beautiful spun sugar work. In addition to a visually impressive piece, he somehow made sticky toffee pudding work as a fruitcake, much to Mary's surprise. He seemed to finally figure out how to manage his time and produce the kind of bake he can be proud of. Ian's waterfall of carrot cake is even and perfect all the way through the five different-sized layers that support the long carrot icing design. Paul says it's one of the best carrot cakes he's ever had.

There are no criticisms in this challenge, no missteps, no mistakes. Everyone showed up and delivered a truly wonderful dessert.

The guests are gathered outside the tent as the three finalists and the judges emerge. There are three gorgeous wildflower bouquets waiting for the bakers. Sometimes in these shows it's tough to figure out who will win, but in this case it seemed pretty cut and dry. Nadiya wins!

[Meanwhile, in America: This wouldn't happen in a pastoral countryside, but on an overly produced soundstage with confetti falling from the rafters and even though the praise and the glory and the achievement would be thrilling, you'd know that this is all about that too-often mentioned $125,000 cash prize furnished by KitchenAid.]

Nadiya's Showstopper cake.

Nadiya's Showstopper cake.

Nadiya's whole family is jumping up and down and cheering and so happy for her and it's thrilling to see her support system actually there for the win. She wins the title, she wins the prestige, she wins the bouquet, she wins the giant glass disc trophy, but most importantly, she wins A HUG FROM PAUL. This is enough to make me throw away my career and teach myself how to bake, somehow become a citizen of the U.K., and get on this show. It would be totally worth it.

Through tears after her win, Nadiya says, "I'm never going to put boundaries on myself again. 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." It's mind-blowing that the most civilized, seemingly low-stakes competition on television could yield such an empowering and inspiring message. Hooray Nadiya, you're a real hero.

Alison Leiby is a writer and comedian.
Editor: Hillary Dixler

· All Great British Baking Show Coverage [E]