Last night’s two-hour episode of The Great American Baking Show took viewers from the semifinal straight to the final, and one baker rose to the top to be crowned this year’s America’s Best Amateur Baker. So who took home the title?
Let’s step back and recap the semifinal episode, which aired right before the final.
Last week’s back-to-back episodes sent three contestants home, whittling the competition down to five: Jiwan, Tina, Amanda, Andrea, and Destane.
The first few opening scenes are … interesting. First, we get carolers singing a riff of “Silent Night,” wishing that Sherry and Paul “Eat in heavenly peace.”
Baby Spice and Spice Adams then pretend to be sports commentators gearing up the audience for the show. Let’s get down to business!
First up: the Signature Challenge. The bakers are tasked with making six individual pots de crème, with each containing a decorative element.
Pot de crème is a baked custard that consists of eggs, heavy cream, milk, sugar, and flavoring. Paul warns that overcooking makes them too solid, undercooking it makes it too runny. They need to be cooked slowly and evenly at a low heat.
Jiwan whips up a dark chocolate and raspberry pot de crème with edible glitter. Aesthetically, they’re on point; however, the bitterness of the dark chocolate and tartness of the raspberry didn’t complement each other the way he envisioned.
Destane makes butterscotch pot de crème as a tribute to her grandmother, who made a lot of butterscotch when Destane was growing up. Sadly, her pots de crème are not fully cooked and are runny, but Paul gives her props on flavor.
Amanda is also remembering her grandmother with her creation, and the Christmas Days she spent at her house. Her orange custard with bay leaf and black peppercorn are slightly overcooked, but excellent, according to the judges.
Tina’s goat cheese and fig pots de crème are sure to “be a real punch,” in her words, and hers were Paul and Sherry’s clear favorite. Sherry even sneaks an extra bite before leaving Tina’s station. Tina has been killing it this season!
Andrea’s out to impress with her white chocolate and mixed fruit custard topped with a “very delicate” lace cookie, similar to the Florentine cookie challenge the bakers had last week.
Sherry reminds her that her Florentines weren’t very successful. As if Andrea could forget. A few minutes later, we hear her murmuring, “I feel like I’m gonna bomb this.”
Time to move on to the Technical Challenge, which Sherry selected. She shows no mercy on the bakers and chooses a Princess Cake, a dome-shaped Genoise cake with layers of thick pastry cream, raspberry jam, creme diplomat, and bright green marzipan. There’s no question it’s a complicated cake to assemble, and Jiwan and Andrea seem to struggle the most.
When it comes time for the blind taste test, the judges taste Tina’s first and declare it “not too bad,” but her marzipan could be a bit brighter. Jiwan didn’t quite nail the dome shape — “it’s more like a hubcap,” Sherry notes — and Paul says it’s like rubber. Not exactly encouraging.
Andrea’s cake doesn’t fare much better, unfortunately. Her marzipan coating ripped and wasn’t the right color. She also didn’t have nearly enough pastry cream and her cake was dense. But the judges did give props for the taste of her jam and marzipan.
Amanda’s cake looks stunning on the outside, and the inside is nearly perfect, save for the fact it could have used a bit more cream. Last but not least is Destane. Paul and Sherry loved her piping work on the cake’s exterior and the taste of her marzipan, but her cakes didn’t rise enough.
Finally, the judges rank the cakes from last place to first: Jiwan, Andrea, Destane, Tina, and Amanda. The only person who seems truly surprised is Amanda.
The final challenge, the Showstopper Challenge, sounds easy compared to the other two challenges: create a gingerbread scene. But Paul and Sherry are clearly expecting more than those four-wall houses we all make with store-bought gingerbread house kits.
Andrea’s going home for the holidays with her gingerbread scene. She’s opting to make her parents’ house, with her husband and children out on the lawn building a snowman. She’s even going for gingerbread deer.
Andrea is certainly the most ambitious of the bakers, though that may also be her downfall. When it comes time to present the final product to the judges, Paul felt her detail work was neat and charming, but the gingerbread itself tasted a bit stale.
Meanwhile, to Grandmother’s house Destane goes with her creation, since that’s where she spent most of her holidays growing up (presumably eating a lot of butterscotch). Apparently Grandma lived between two bell towers, and Destane tried her best to get those up, but time got the better of her and she ended up with an unfinished scene.
Amanda’s building is a Lake Tahoe log cabin. She gets high praise for her attention to detail. But her flavor got lost, and her gingerbread was too thick and didn’t have enough snap.
Tina constructs a winter woodland wonderland, complete with adorable animals. The judges eat it up literally and figuratively. “Beautiful on the outside, delicious on the inside,” Paul declares.
Last but not least, Jiwan builds a gingerbread castle — complete with a gingerbread dragon to watch over the place! Unfortunately, he wasn’t quite able to pull off his vision in time. Paul felt it looked rushed. But what Jiwan lacked in decor, he made up for in flavor.
Time for another random interruption from the Spice twins! Spice Adams wanders out as Santa, and yells, “Dough, dough, dough! Merry Christmas!” Baby Spice tags along as a jolly elf. The bakers barely look up from what they’re doing. “I don’t have time for Santa,” we hear one say.
At the end of the episode, Tina won Star Baker for the second week in a row. Is it too early to call Tina the winner? Sadly, Jiwan and Destane were sent home, leaving Tina, Amanda, and Andrea as the final three.
The kid gloves (kid oven mitts?) are off and the heat is cranked up for the final. We waste no time jumping into the Signature Challenge: the final three must make a dozen identical cannolis. Easy breezy, right? Not exactly. There’s always a lot of pressure on any baker to masterfully replicate any classic confection, whether you’re at home or in front of a television camera on national TV.
Andrea and Tina both hail from New York, so they know what a traditional Italian cannoli is. Poor Amanda, on the other hand, is from Lake Tahoe, California, and admits to not only never making cannoli, she’s not even sure if she’s ever eaten a cannoli. Do they even have cannolis in California?
Sure enough, Andrea’s cannolis get rave reviews. Gorgeous presentation and fantastic flavor, with the perfect amount of crispiness in the fried cannoli shells. Tina’s were a bit thick, but delicious. Sherry took the rest of hers to go!
Amanda’s cannoli, meanwhile, were bready and chewy. But let’s remember she’s from California and did her best.
Time for the last technical challenge, and this challenge is without a doubt the most difficult of the season: a baum kauchen (a German tree cake). In case you’re wondering, it’s a 20-layer cake (nope, that’s not a typo: 2-0. Twenty), each layer alternating in color, topped with a shiny chocolate glaze and caramelized hazelnuts.
But the trio pulls it off. Poor Andrea, who’s struggled with the Technicals, takes last place with her cake, which didn’t quite have enough layers and was dense.
Tina’s cake comes in second — her layers look good and her ganache is smooth, though her alternating colors are inconsistent.
And so Amanda nabs first place with her cake, which Sherry declared “elegant” in presentation. Her layers looked the most even, too. Uh-oh, Tina. Look out!
And so it all comes down to the Showstopper Challenge. The last challenge of the season is a three-tiered holiday celebration cake. It must have two flavors and at least one filling and contain a crunchy element. Sherry wants to see a cohesive cake with color and an obvious festive theme, a cake that “tells a story.”
Tina’s whipping up a dark chocolate cake with espresso mousse, and her crunchy element is a biscotti.
Andrea is making a red velvet and snickerdoodle cake (yes, please!). Paul says he’s never had a snickerdoodle before, and everyone is horrified. No cannolis in California and no snickerdoodles in England? Tragic all around.
Amanda is making a “Tahoe forest cake,” (lest we forget she’s from Lake Tahoe) a take on a black forest cake, decorated with chocolate bark and honeycomb. Taking the opportunity to remind us she’s from Lake Tahoe, she says the lake near where she lives is as “blue as Paul Hollywood’s eyes,” and everyone is nauseous. Save some butter for the cakes, Amanda!
The final few minutes leave the three bakers frantically putting all the last-minute touches on their cakes. Amanda’s adding “Tahoe trees.” Did you all know Amanda was from Lake Tahoe?
Time to present to the judges. Andrea is first. Her cake is gorgeous and the taste is good, though a bit on the sweet side.
Tina’s cake is a red and green masterpiece, though Paul feels it’s a bit busy. Her layers are even, and her flavors were executed superbly.
Last but not least is Amanda. Sherry calls her cake “charming.” The flavor is excellent, but the flavor of the honeycomb got lost. All in all, though, a great cake.
After intense deliberation (well, as intense as can be with less than five minutes left in the show), Paul and Sherry reach a conclusion.
But before the winner is announced, the carolers are back — and they brought guests! It’s suddenly a party in the tent, with former contestants and the final three bakers’ families milling about. Good thing there’s plenty of cake!
Drumroll, please … and the winner of Season 4 of The Great American Baking Show is …
Congratulations, Tina, on your well-deserved win!