BISCUIT WEEK (GREAT BRITISH BAKING SHOW RECAP)
It’s crunch time! Welcome to biscuit week! Last week we said goodbye to the Reverend Lee, and Sue is also gone—but she’ll return. Where could Sue be? Seaside holiday? Spy mission? Detox from deliciousness? She still provides much of the narration track, so you won’t be completely without Sue during biscuit week.
The brief for their signature challenge is to make twenty four identical biscuits that either snap, or crumble like short-bread, although a crispy biscuit (as crisp as Paul’s hair) definitely seems to be preferred. It most definitely should not be soft like a scone or one of those devil super frosted pillowy sugar cookies you can get at the grocery store.
Mary’s advice is to not be too ambitious, as consistency in bake, size, thickness, and decoration are important. Paul loves biscuits and just hopes his mug of tea will be big enough to dunk them all.
Louise is making biscuits that have the flavor of a very moist Welsh fruitcake, where the fruits are soaked in strong tea. When Paul asks her about the texture of her biscuits, Louise reluctantly admits, “It’s a softer biscuit, it’s not too crunchy.” Mary makes a face and Paul tells her, “Well, good luck anyways.”
Val is making shortbreads that look like ice cream cones, in honor of childhood seaside excursions where all the kids would get coronets for a treat. She needs to make sure she keeps herself on task and isn’t messy in her presentation.
Most bakers are creaming their butter and sugar, for a more crunchy biscuit, Kate, Val, and Andrew are “rubbing in” for a shortbread dough. Andrew is making a honey shortbread with a geometric shape, and decorating it with a stylized bee design. Andrew reveals that in the seventies his father won a shortbread competition that was only for women, which, yay, feminism? We also learn that in his spare time, Andrew participates in a musical theater club. “It’s not as snappy a biscuit as some other iced biscuits,” he says, and I can just hear Paul’s hair shards tinkling in disappointment as he shakes his head.
Kate is making a lavender and bergamot biscuit, and Mary pulls another face. Paul hates both of those flavors. Kate’s a Brownie leader (this will be important later) and her shortbread will be in the shape of swallowtail butterflies, and she has a secret ingredient: HAPPINESS. (Kate is a cinnamon roll too good and pure for this world. She and Selasi just need to travel all over hugging people and telling them everything will be fine).
Tom is making spiced chai frappelattechino biscuits. Tom, you bastard! That name! Ugh. Anyway. He’s putting a lot of spice and coffee in his biscuits, hoping that the flavor will come through. He enjoys experimenting with novel flavors and intense flavors, as well as pounding sausages.
Selasi is making motorbike shaped biscuits because his hobbies are baking, basketball, and biking. His cookies will have spice—scotch bonnets, a type of chili pepper that looks like a Tam O Shanter—with some lime as well. It’s a risk! We know the judges aren’t huge fans of spice.
Michael is making cookies that resemble mugs of beer, since of course as student he drinks a lot. He’s been really involved in his baking and has flour in his ear, which Mel helpfully clears out for him.
The bakers all have various methods for ensuring a uniform height for their rolled out biscuits. Andrew has a rolling pin with guides, Tom uses a pound coin as a measure, and Val has a ruler. For all the bakers, the dough needs to be thin enough to snap, but thick enough to hold its shape and stand up to the amount of icing required.
Benjamina is very aware of having the right amount of biscuit to icing. Her biscuits are chocolate and orange with a spring bouquet icing design. The naked biscuits, however, look like chicken drumsticks.
Jane also has a flower motif. She’s making almond biscuits with fairly involved flower pot design (you really gonna outline six petals on all twenty four biscuits in time, Jane?) Jane hasn’t practiced decorating her cookies within the time, which could prove to be her downfall.
Now the cutting of the shapes is beginning. Most bakers have created templates of varying degrees of complexity. Kate is cutting out very detailed butterfly bottoms, which seems like a terrible idea but if you have the patience, Kate, you do you.
Andrew hopes his hexagons tessalate together quite nicely, which, is that even a thing? Does he mean a tesseract? Isn’t a tesseract how the Murray kids traveled through time to save their father in A Wrinkle in Time? Wait, Andrew is a tall ginger—is he somehow a descendant of Calvin O’Keefe?? Oh, helpfully Andrew defines “tessalate” as any shape that fits together without any gaps. Sure, Andrew O’Keefe.
On the other end of the complexity spectrum we have Rav with his triangle for his coconut and lime flavored British pennant shaped biscuits. Triangles can also tessalate, but Rav doesn’t really care about that.
Baking twenty four biscuits to the same color and consistency in the tiny ovens is going to be a challenge. Taking them in and out of the oven without dropping the whole tray also seems to be a challenge for some bakers, including Louise, who drops a whole tray and has to try to replace them with her remaining dough.
Mel announces that they have ninety minutes left, and many of the bakers are removing their bakes from the oven. Rav is pleased with the brownness of the bake, and says he made an extra so he can get rid of one that looks too brown. (I always wonder why bakers don’t, say, double their dough and make as many as possible to pick and choose the best? I wonder if it’s an unspoken rule not to, the way presidents only served two terms because of George Washington until FDR came along). Mel asks this, too, then leave to tattle on Rav to the judges after promising not to tell.
Candice, in her Doctor Who brainy specs, has made her challenge more difficult by deciding to make chocolate and salted caramel sandwich cookies, which need a bottom and a top, requiring forty eight total biscuits.
Val has time management problems again. Most bakers have started decorating their first tray while Val is…I don’t know exactly what Val is doing, bless her heart “Everybody else is ready! And I’m not!” she sings. Then she drops some biscuits on the floor. “Whether I can serve these or not, I’m not sure,” she says, looking at very broken biscuits that are definitely not edible any longer. You’re not alone in the kitchen, Val, you can’t just wash off the chicken and still serve it like Julia Child.
Mel poses a baking koan to Jane: Is it better to get some of them done fully, or is it better to get all of them done partly? (Since the brief is to look uniform, you can guess which answer I’d choose).
The bakers show us how good (or bad) they are at counting as they try and make sure they have the required number of crispy, crunchy biscuits. Paul’s all-devouring maw and ocean sized mug of tea demand satisfaction; do not disappoint, bakers!
With ten minutes left, the tension music kicks in, and everyone is piping like the Queen of the Night in Mozart’s The Magic Flute. Tom’s hands are shaking and Rav is making a right dog’s breakfast of his banner. Selasi just casually eats a leftover cookie. Val insists ice-creams aren’t supposed to be identical anyway.
Selasi sings to Louise, “Don’t stress don’t stress don’t stress don’t stress” which, could Selasi come and whisper that it in my ear every night as I try to fall asleep? Because that would be the best.
Finally Mel puts us all out of our misery by calling time. Biscuit bakes are moved to the ends of benches, and the judging begins.
Michael’s biscuits are crispy and well done. “Now that’s crispy!” Paul says. Andrew’s are well decorated, but they taste like “a stale biscuit” according to Paul. Louise has massive consistency issues, and her biscuit is so soft it’s like a scone. Benjamina’s attention to proportions pays off, and Mary notices. Jane’s biscuits are half-iced, but a good thickness, “Altogether a very nice biscuit.” Val’s shortbread is good, but since several are ground into the carpet, she’s failed the brief. Candice: They look hideous but they taste amazing. Selasi’s spice gamble pays off. “Great fun!” Mary says. “I think they’re wheely good,” quips Mel. Rav’s presentation is messy, but a nice coconut biscuit. Kate’s bergamot and lavender biscuits are a winner, with “informal” icing. Tom’s crunchy, well-spiced biscuits please everyone. Paul says, “Nice one Tom, you nailed it!” and offers the Hollywood handshake (I only hope Tom washed his hands well after all his sausage making).
This week’s technical is a recipe of Mary’s. They need to make twelve Viennese Whirls, using only very helpful directions such as “make a jam.” It’s a sandwich biscuit with a filling of raspberry jam and buttercream.
Mary tells us the secrets: the biscuit ingredients are simple, but the butter needs to be very soft to make it pipeable. However, this means they might need a moment in the fridge before baking. The whirl on the top is important, and the jam and buttercream need to be in proportion.
The technical can be summed up by: take a drink every time someone says stiff, hard, whirl, sandwich, or pipe.
The bakers have little trouble with the raspberry jam. Most of the bakers are able to get a good consistency with their mixture right off; however, Michael and Selasi need to work on theirs to get it to work. Michael puts his batter in the microwave, which seems like a dangerous choice.
Rav’s mixture is also hard and difficult to pipe. Mel helpfully asks, “Do you need a pair of warm hands, either on your bag or on you?”
There’s a baking temperature but no time, only a direction to bake until “pale golden brown.” The bakers will need to keep an eye on their bakes while they move on to making the buttercream. In a flurry the bakers apply jam and buttercream and sandwich their whirls together, then place them on the gingham altar for judging.
Tom’s biscuit has no definition but good flavor. Candice needed a longer bake but Louise baked hers for too long. Andrew did a good job with his jam. Benjamina’s were good overall. Kate had good whirls and a good taste. Michael’s whirls are flat with no definition. Jane’s have “everything right.” Val has good whirls but needed a longer bake. Rav’s are “dinky” but otherwise well done. Selasi, even though he’s made them before, comes in last with “oily” biscuits, while Bejamina, Jane, and Kate take the top three spots in the technical.
Their showstopper challenge is a 3d gingerbread “story” that says something about the bakers. It also needs to be thirty centimeters high, with eight characters or objects. The bakers have four hours. With gingerbread, you need to create something sturdy enough to stand but also delicious to eat.
Val’s make a traditional gingerbread recipe depicting her family’s roots, including a “pit” for Yorkshire, which…what is that? Is there a famous Yorkshire pit I’ve never heard of? She’s also including a gingerbread empire state building and a gingerbread version of her sister Susan, which is not at all weird.
Louise is making a gingerbread wedding, including a church and some really festive gravestones.
Selasi is also making a church like the one he attended in Ghana as a boy. He’s also making his gingerbread with honey, which is a bold departure. There’s a lot of discussion about eggs vs no eggs.
Jane is creating Hastings, including a beach and fishing nets.
Candice was brought up in a pub like some kind of Dickensian child, and is making sticky ginger cake for a sticky pub carpet.
Michael, the sweet baby, is recreating a childhood visit where he met Santa in Lapland.
Kate is making three different flavors of gingerbread for her Brownie camp scene, inspiring a recitation of the Brownie motto and the flashing of the Brownie gang signs.
Tom’s creating a mountain where he and his friend Pod (Pod? Isn’t that a character on Game of Thrones?) got LOST on the MOUNTAIN. I enjoy how no one is disturbed by this or has any questions about it at all. Just, yeah, sure, kids lost on a mountain. The usual.
Andrew has to create thirty-seven pieces for his punting in Cambridge scene, including a winking boat rower and a passed out drunk who look very much like Mr Bil. Very charming. Mel mistakes a bike biscuit for a platypus, and we just barely get to hear Andrew say, “I did get attacked by a platypus once.” Which is not at all weird or worth investigating.
Benjamina is building a Chrysler building out of gingerbread, remembering a family trip.
Rav is making a dark clove-y gingerbread for his Christmas ferris wheel scene.
Again the bakers are up against having a lot of baking to do with just a single small oven. The bake is crucial to ensure that their structures are sturdy. It’s certainly a test of their time management. Andrew has a sheet with tick boxes to keep track of his pieces, which seems like a good way to go.
A lot of the bakers are using royal icing to glue their structures, but in my research I’ve found that caramel syrup would be a much stronger glue to use. The anxiety provoked by watching the bakers attempt to build gingerbread structures is excruciating.
With ten minutes left, the bakers struggle to assemble their scenes, with varying degrees of success. “God I hate gingerbread,” Jane mutters, which, after enduring this challenge, I do, too. Louise ends up with a pile of frosting covered trash. Val’s scene also collapses, and she mutters “Damn it!”
Andrew creates a brilliant structure, and his biscuits remind Paul of his mum’s ginger biscuits, so good on you, Andrew. Val’s pit looks like the end scene of Planet of the Apes, but Paul likes the relief work on the Empire State building. But her biscuits taste good. As Mary says, “Your sister’s absolutely scrumptious.” Benjamina’s is a bit messy, but a good gingerbread. Tom’s surreal near death mountain adventure is deemed “artistic” with a good biscuit. Kate’s cheerful Brownie scene has good piping but the biscuits are too soft and lacking flavor. Jane’s biscuits are spicy but soft. Rav’s scene didn’t go to plan, and the clove is too strong—and the biscuits are burnt. Michael’s Santa scene is hellish looking, but his biscuit is crispy and the best gingerbread so far.
Selasi has crisp gingerbread lacking in ginger flavor, but with excellent design. Poor Louise and her hot mess have a good flavor, and that’s about all we can say.
When it’s time for Candice to be judged, she says to Mel, “Could you come and grab my jugs, please?”
The overall effect is beautiful, and the judges are delighted by the inside. “Superb” and “smashing” are their final effusive adjectives.
Mel: “Who wants to eat some carpet?”
Mary: “I’ll eat a bit of carpet!”
The judges go into their fake kitchenette to express their delight and disappointment once again in the bakers, and then they emerge once more with Mel to announce the bakers’ fates.
Mel has to play both roles this week, and first she announces the somewhat inevitable: Louise and her sad church wedding need to GTFO of the GBBO. Then, to happier news: Candice’s carpet has made her star baker! Her reaction is adorable:
Next week is bread week, aka Paul’s favorite week to be the worst.
Until then, may your bottom never be soggy, and may you and your loved ones be as absolutely adorable as Candice and her pug, Dennis.