IT WAS a battle fought with chiffon sponges, fondant fancies and elaborate French puff pastry pies known as pithiviers. But last night’s first all-male nail-biting final of BBC2’s The Great British Bake Off was as intense and testosterone-driven as even a World Snooker Championship.
Scotland’s hope – James Morton, a medical student at the University of Glasgow – was pipped to first prize by fellow 21-year-old John Whaite.
Mr Morton, the son of former Scotsman journalist, author and BBC presenter Tom Morton, had been a firm favourite to win the coveted prize after wowing viewers by his inventiveness. Among his prized recipes was a 3ft-wide bicycle made from choux pastry.
Famous for his woolly Fair Isle tank-tops and spectacles, and deemed a heart-throb, Mr Morton jnr had been crowned star baker three times during the series for his creations.
However, Mr Morton, taught to bake by his grandmother, admitted he had had “a bit of a disaster”.
The medical student won the technical challenge in which all three finalists were asked to make 25 perfectly formed fondant fancies, but was left to rue the “soggy bottom” on his Spanish pithivier with chorizo and red pepper.
His gamble of baking not one but five individual chiffon cakes, meant to symbolise the United Kingdom, for his final showstopper also backfired.
Judges Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood described the creations as far too dry. Mr Hollywood said: “It’s welding my mouth together, unfortunately.”
Mr Morton’s assessment early in the final that there was “nothing to it really” proved ironic. He later conceded: “My girlfriend said I was crazy for baking five cakes.”
Despite losing, Mr Morton described it as one of the best experiences of his life.
The baking competition, now in its third series, has become a Twitter and internet sensation and attracted more than 5.6 million viewers last week, beating Holby City on BBC1.
Mr Whaite said it was the pressure he had been under studying for his final exams, while simultaneously perfecting his pastry techniques, that gave him the “killer instinct” to win.
He said: “It meant I had to be organised and know what I needed for the exam and what I needed for baking, and it helped me to concentrate.”
He admitted: “I don’t think I’d have got such a good grade without Bake Off.
“It was tough, though. I finished one exam on a Friday and went to Bristol to film the semi-final, before getting home late on Sunday in time for another exam on Monday.”
The winner, whose creations have included an enormous gingerbread Colosseum, credited his partner, Paul, with some of his success. Mr Whaite also beat retired businessman Brendan Lynch to first prize.
The graduate now plans to release a recipe book and swap law school for pastry classes. He said he has been surprised by the show’s success and how often he had been stopped in the street by fans.
He said: “The strangest one was in the swimming pool. I was doing a length and had just come up to rearrange my goggles and my trunks, and this man stopped and said: ‘Are you John Whaite from Bake Off?’
“I was so surprised I nearly drowned.”
The programme is also credited with sparking a boom in home-baking and a boom in kitchenware sales at John Lewis.
But Brian Hannan, the chief executive of the The Cookery School, based in Glasgow, said baking was more complicated than it looked.
He said: “You have to know your oven and be precise and scientific about ingredients. It’s like golf, anyone can play, but you’ve got to practise your swing.”
THE WINNING RECIPE
Tartarus et caeli: heaven and hell cake
Hell: dark chocolate and orange cake. Heaven: lemon and coconut meringue cakelets. A stunning cake worthy of a Bake Off final.
Equipment and preparation: You will need a 28cm/11in cake tin, 16 x 5cm/2in cake tins, a chefs’ blow torch, half a dozen straws and a piping bag with a small nozzle.
For the hell cake
9 free-range eggs, separated
60g/2½oz cocoa powder
230ml/8fl oz hot water
320g/11oz plain flour
450g/1lb golden caster sugar
1½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
1½ tsp salt
155ml/5½oz sunflower oil
2½ tsp vanilla extract
2 oranges, zest only
For the heaven cake
285g/10oz plain flour
180ml/6fl oz water
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp salt
250g/9oz golden caster sugar
120ml/4fl oz sunflower oil
2 unwaxed lemons, zest only
6 free-range eggs, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
For the hell filling
600g/1lb 5oz dark chocolate
300g/10½oz double cream
200g/7oz good quality cherry jam
For the hell mirror glaze
2 leaves gelatine
2 tbsp golden syrup
150g/5½oz cocoa powder
120ml/4fl oz double cream
For the heaven meringue and filling
3 free-range eggs, whites only
160g/5¾oz caster sugar
1 tsp golden syrup
½ tsp vanilla extract
200g/7oz best quality lemon curd
300g/10½oz desiccated coconut
1 booklet (5 sheets) gold leaf, to decorate
For the hell piping and chocolate shards
200g/7oz dark chocolate
Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/Gas 2. Grease and line a 28cm/11in cake tin.
• For the ‘tartarus’ hell cake, beat the separated egg whites in a bowl until stiff.
• In a large mixing bowl, mix the remaining ingredients for the hell cake together. When well combined, fold in the egg whites.
• Pour the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1¼ hours.
• Remove the cake from the oven and, once hot enough to handle, turn out, upside down, on a cake rack to cool.
• For the ‘caeli’ heaven cake, grease and line 16 5cm/2in diameter cake tins.
• Repeat the process for making the hell cake with the heaven cake ingredients, but pour the cake mixture evenly into the 16 moulds rather than one cake mould.
• Bake for 17 minutes. Remove from the oven, trim the cakes to make them exactly the same size, then turn them out upside down onto a cake rack to cool.
• For the hell cake filling, make a ganache by placing the dark chocolate and cream into a bowl and heating in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, until the chocolate has melted. Mix the cream well into the chocolate. Set aside in a bowl.
• For the hell cake mirror glaze, soak the gelatine in cold water for five minutes until it softens.
• Heat the sugar and 120ml/4fl oz water in a pan until boiling. Add the golden syrup, cocoa and cream. Heat through, then strain the glaze through a sieve into a jug. Add the soaked gelatine to the strained glaze, stirring to make sure it’s evenly dissolved. Set aside until needed.
• For the meringue coating for the heaven cakes, place the egg whites, sugar, golden syrup and two tablespoons water in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Whisk the mixture for 7-8 minutes, or until stiff and glossy. Add the vanilla extract and mix in well. Set aside.
• Cut the cooled hell cake horizontally, to make two discs. Wrap each disc in cling film and place in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up and cool further.
• Place the lemon curd in a piping bag, with a small nozzle. With a small knife, cut a hole into the heaven cakes, to create space to pipe the curd into. Pipe the curd into the cakes.
• Cover the filled heaven cakes with the meringue (reserving a little of the meringue to hold the heaven cakes in place) and roll in the coconut.
• Stack the heaven cakes on a 15cm/6in cake board using straws to hold in place.
• Remove the two hell cake discs from the freezer and spread one with one-third of the ganache and another with the cherry jam. Sandwich the cakes together. Using a palette knife, cover the outside of the cake with another third of the ganache.
• Carefully place the coated hell cake in the freezer for 10 minutes to firm up.
• Meanwhile, temper the chocolate for the chocolate shards. Chop the chocolate into equal sized pieces, and place half of it in a bowl set over a pan of simmering water. Allow to slowly melt. Once melted, take the bowl off the heat and add the remaining half of chopped chocolate. Mix into the melted chocolate until everything has melted and allow to cool to 30C/86F (use a thermometer to measure this). Once it reaches temperature, it’s ready to use. Spread most of the tempered chocolate onto silicon paper and leave to cool completely - once cooled, it should snap into shards. Pour a few tablespoons of the chocolate mixture in a piping bag with a small nozzle and pipe ‘tartarus’ on the silicon paper - leave this too cool too.
• Add another coating of ganache (using it all up) to the hell cake to get very straight sides, and return to the freezer for 15 minutes.
• Remove the cake from the freezer, warm the glaze in a small pan and carefully pour the glaze over the hell cake and smooth.
• Heat the glaze with a hairdryer so that it is very shiny and even.
• Place the ‘tartarus’ piped chocolate nameplate on the cake.
• Insert straws into the hell cake, to hold the heaven cakes in place. Cut the straws off to a suitable height. Place the stack of heaven cakes onto the hell cake, secured with the straws.
• Pipe swirls of meringue over the gap between the heaven and hell cakes, then toast the meringue with a chefs’ blow torch.
• Finish the cake with shards of tempered chocolate around the edges.
Finally add gold leaf to the heaven cakes to decorate.