Rolling pins at dawn! Tears, tantrums and scrumptious treats. This week sees the grand final of The Great British Bake Off, the surprise TV hit of the year

The Mail on Sunday
3rd October 2011
By Emily Hill

Whoever would have thought there was so much drama in a cupcake?
The Great British Bake Off has become the surprise television hit of the summer, turning an apparently genteel pastime into a fiercely fought, emotionally intense contest as heated as any of the contestants’ Neff ovens.
Almost four million viewers a week have witnessed tears over soggy- bottomed pastry and flush-cheeked rages over collapsed meringues, as the dozen amateur bakers felt the pressure of trying to impress the demanding expert judges.
Only three contestants now remain, and this Tuesday, veteran cookery writer Mary Berry and artisan baker Paul Hollywood will crown their winner.
It has taken seven weeks to get this far, via cupcakes, croissants and croquembouche (an elaborate French wedding cake).
In each heat, the bakers have had to master a new task – one week pies, the next patisserie – and tackle three challenges: their signature dish; a technical bake, in which they are given one of Paul or Mary’s recipes with incomplete instructions; and the ‘showstopper challenge’ where they must impress judges with their creativity and tech¬nical talent.
There will be spoils for the winner. Edd Kimber, who won the first series last year, has gone on to hold successful macaroon master¬classes and write a bestselling cookbook, The Boy Who Bakes.
Here we introduce the golden trio vying to take this year’s title.

A slave to her rice bags
She may describe herself as a ‘normal mum’ but when she whips on an apron, Holly is a superhero in the kitchen.
From a black forest gateau croquembouche that conceals a tiny gingerbread house within, to a three-tier, novelty cow cake which packs in 600 calories a slice, the 31-year-old mother of two was said to be sleeping in front of her oven in the run-up to the big bake-off finale.
Holly lives in Leicester with her husband and two children and honed her baking skills during maternity leave from her career in advertising.
Methodical and precise, Holly is a committed competitor, and what she lacks in natural flair she makes up for with hours and hours of baking homework. But if things go wrong, she does burst into tears.
SHE SAYS . . .
‘The competition is insanely intense. We’re all being very British and saying we just want everyone to do well. But inside we’re saying, “Die, one of you, die!” ’
Holly has been star baker twice – on cakes and biscuits – and often excels at the technical challenge, where contestants are asked to bake from a recipe lacking key instructions.
Sometimes Holly’s determination to go above and beyond the other contestants leads her astray. ‘Is life too short to make home-made rice bags?’ She wonders out loud. ‘Yes’, a nation shouts as one at the television set.
Holly has posted many of her recipes on her own website, recipes¬froma and has a growing number of celebrity fans on Twitter.

The girly granny
At 41, Jo is the youngest grandmother in the competition.
Married at 17, she lives in Essex with her husband, Rich, and their three boys Billy, 24, Jesse, 21, and Dylan, 16.
After 25 years of giving everything to her family, Jo’s sons encouraged her to enter the competition so she could finally do something for herself. Totally self-taught, Jo now bakes up to ten times a week for her family and friends.
Sweet-faced and preternaturally girly – her dishes often taste and look as if they have been made by a crack team of fairies.
Her miraculous culinary skills have carried her through to the final, but when the heat is on Jo makes mistakes – and sometimes seems perilously close to crumbling under the pressure.
SHE SAYS . . .
‘It makes me feel like putting their heads in the dinner’ – Jo explaining how, at home, her children give her marks out of ten for their meals, and find it amusing to give her low scores.
Jo’s impressive-looking tower of cream-stuffed profiteroles, the limoncello and white chocolate croquembouche, may have collapsed just before judging in Week 6 but its ‘outstanding deliciousness’ made her star baker in patisserie.
Jo’s attempt to make Mary Berry’s brandy snaps was an unmitigated disaster in the biscuit week tech¬nical challenge – she cooked them in an oven accidentally set to ‘defrost’.
Jo has set up a blog called Jo’s Blue Aga and is holding a series of workshops in cupcake-decorating and Christmas hamper baking next month.
The popularity of The Great British Bake Off means there are very few places left.

Doesn’t do dainty
Mary-Anne once represented Wales in competitive rugby, but she has gone from scrum to scrumptious with her robust enthusiasm for baking.
The 45-year-old housewife, who lives with her husband and five-year-old daughter, is the maverick of the competition. Her technical ability and experimental methods make her stand out. In the final she will make innovative use of an adhesive scraper, bought from her local DIY shop.
Mary-Anne’s weakness is her lack of attention to detail. In the heat of baking, she can forget to make sure her dish appears neat and tidy. ‘It’s not going to win any beauty contests but it’s smelling good,’ is her riposte.
The owner of 700 recipe books, Mary-Anne admits: ‘If I’m not baking, I’m reading about baking.’
SHE SAYS . . .
‘I’m calm now – like a train is coming and I’m just going to let it hit me’ – her comment when faced with seeping macaroons in biscuit week.
Mary-Anne achieved the impressive feat of baking a swirling orange pattern into her chocolate orange mousse cake.
Mary-Anne is the only finalist not to have been pronounced star baker over the series. Her efforts to go ‘dainty’ are invariably thwarted at the last minute – such as when she wrote her daughter’s name ‘Sacha’ instead of ‘Sacher’ on top of her Austrian Sachertorte.
Mary-Anne’s recipes are now sought-after, particularly her apple rose tarts and her method for injecting swirls of colour into melting moments. She shares tips on her website

The highs, lows… and caramel burns

POSH NOSH: Contestants had to make pork pies with quail’s eggs, but Liverpudlian Janet Basu had simpler tastes. ‘I’m not grand like Henry VIII, living on quail’s eggs and larks’ tongues,’ she said.
FABULOUS, DARLING: Ben Frazer, a former West End performer, made food as flamboyant as himself, with a celebration cake with multicoloured straws, smothered in pink sugar paste icing.
BUTTERFINGERS: Handsome Rob Billington, 25, was close to tears when he dropped his chocolate sponge on the floor. On the plus side, he’s received ten marriage proposals since then…
BIAS: Judge Mary Berry was accused of anti-male prejudice when voting off 19-year-old Jason White. But the teenager did confess he had never boiled an egg before entering the show.
H2WOE: Housewife Yasmin Limbert burnt her fingers on the hot caramel for her croquembouche. Turning on the tap to soothe it, water splashed into her mixture, ruining the cake – and her chances.
MAKING THE CUT: Charity fundraiser Ian Vallance made his exit in bread week, shortly after slicing the top off his finger. ‘I’m baking for survival,’ he declared, just minutes earlier.

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