Previously on The Great British Bakeoff: There was cake, Nancy rocked, and Claire was sent home after a supremely bad weekend.
Biscuits! The Bakewells parade into the tent while Mel and Sue crack fortune cookies and use them to slag each other off. Bakewells are welcomed back and given their signature challenge: savoury biscuits. 36 of them. They need to go well with cheese. In Sue’s words, ‘they need to be cheesier than an Abba tribute band at an all-night fondue party.’ Heh. Paul and Mary discuss various types of biscuits and their characteristics: water crackers need a snap, digestives need a crumble.
Jordan’s using his sourdough starter, Yorick, in his biscuits. I really need to name my starter. Something that’s nourished me for two years really should have a name, don’t you think? He’s making chili cheese sourdough biscuits. If they work, I must make them.
Nancy’s doing fennel and rye biscuits. She’s not too sure about how much fennel to use.
Iain’s using za’atar in his fig biscuits. Interesting.
Enwezor’s working a very wet dough that uses several types of flour and has pumpkin seeds in it.
Kate is making shortbreads with parmesan and apple. She tells us it’s important not to overwork the dough, otherwise it gets tough.
Luis is flavouring his biscuits with black olives, rosemary, caramelized onions, and paprika. Wow, there’s a lot going on there. Could be really yummy, though. He’s making a very crumbly biscuit, by the look of it.
Doughs are rolled out while the judges continue to circulate. Chetna’s making a water cracker-type thing infused with spices. And she’s rolling every one individually.
Diana is making a butter pastry with chives and parmesan. She worries she’s not going to have time to get it done, with the resting necessary, and Paul actually cracks a joke about her putting ‘thyme’ in there. He jokes! Badly, but it’s a start!
Norman is doing fairly basic farthing biscuits, apparently. Sue swings by his station to get a quick lesson on the signal alphabet, which he learned in the merchant navy.
Biscuits are cut out. Martha tells us her dog, Alphie, ate an entire tray of her goat cheese and caramelized onion sandwich biscuits. I don’t blame him. Also, we used to have a dog like that. You couldn’t leave anything out near her. She once scoffed all the candies and chocolates my mother had bought to stuff our Christmas stockings with. And yet, she was never sick. Amazing.
Richard’s making his father-in-law’s favourites: rosemary and poppy seed.
Nancy has some crazy looking contraption to put holes in her biscuit (I think). It’s basically a circle with nails sticking out of it. Seems dangerous. Sue calls it a biscuit iron maiden.
Biscuits are baked. Kate’s aren’t baking evenly, so she’s having to remove some and leave others in. Enwezor is cutting his biscuits after they’re baked. Interesting idea. Kate stresses that she’s coming down to the wire. Biscuit trays are arranged. Time is called.
Richard’s rosemary seeded crackers have a nice flavour and snap. Mary thinks they’d go really well with cheese. He’s relieved. Jordan’s sourdough, parm, and chili biscuits taste burnt to Paul, but Mary doesn’t mind them. Chetna’s are gorgeous and aromatic. Luis’s busy biscuits are really uniform and Paul thinks the flavours are lovely, but they needed a tiny bit longer in the oven. Diana’s triangles have a lovely colour on the underside and pale tops. I personally feel like she was stretching the definition of ‘biscuit’ with those too—you couldn’t put a piece of cheese on one of those and chow down, but nobody else seems to object. Martha’s sandwich biscuits look very uniform and have a good snap. Kate’s parm and apple biscuits look adorable, but Mary says they’re a little too soft from the apple draped over the top. Paul doesn’t seem to like them. Iain’s za’atar and fig biscuits don’t go over well. Enwezor’s pumpkin and sunflower seeds need more of a kick but have good texture. Nancy’s fennel and rye thins have good texture and colour and flavour. Triple threat! Norman’s farthing biscuits have a beautiful texture and Paul says they look really professional. He even shakes Norman’s hand. Norman’s very pleased and he can’t wait to tell his wife, who told him the judges wouldn’t like them. Diana’s disappointed in herself. Jordan can’t believe his were overbaked. Maybe they weren’t. If the sour flavour from the starter was really, really strong, it can create a certain astringency that’s a little similar to a burnt flavour, I’ve found.
We abruptly cut to Sue, who’s here to introduce our first history lesson: the history of the ice cream cone. Back in the day, Italian immigrants settled in coastal cities and brought along their gelato. It would be sold from carts and served in a glass cup known as a penny lick, which was not terribly hygienic. They were outlawed in 1899, and soon after Antonio Valvona invented the twist cone, inspired by similar cones sold in Belgium. They were made from flour, water, and treacle cooked on a griddle and twisted around chair legs or pegs or whatever was round. Sue gets a demonstration and declares them delicious. ‘All the fun, none of the typhoid!’ she declares.
Technical bake: La Berry’s Florentines . Everyone laughs knowingly before getting to work. They have 1 and a quarter hours to do 18 of these things. A couple of them say they’ve never done Florentines before. Here’s a question: how is it that these contestants don’t go out, grab as many of Mary’s and Paul’s books as they can get hold of, and try out all the difficult recipes at home before they come on the show? It’s what I’d do. You know the techincals will be one of their recipes, you can probably ignore the ones that have been used before, and leave out the super basic ones, which doesn’t leave that many things. I mean, Paul’s only got a couple of books, so it wouldn’t be terribly hard to do many of his (especially since I’ve found many of his recipes to be super repetitive). Maybe there’s just not much time between finding out you’re going to be on the show and start of filming.
Mary and Paul talk Florentines. They should have a lacy appearance, an even bake, evenly distributed chocolate. Man, now I want a Florentine.
The recipe doesn’t state how finely the nuts and cranberries need to be chopped, which is stressing some of the bakers out. Others worry about making a caramel with golden syrup, which is unfamiliar to many. Martha looks around, uncertain. Diana tries to sort out how to divide the mixture evenly into 18. Enwezor OCDs about getting them into a perfect circle shape. Biscuits start to go into the oven. The recipe only says to bake until golden brown. They start watching obsessively. Apparently, they can burn quite easily because of the high sugar content. As Enwezor starts taking his biscuits out, he recuts them with a biscuit cutter, the same as he did with his savouries. I don’t think that’s such a good idea with something as brittle as a Florentine. They’re not really expected to be perfectly circular anyway. As close as you can get, but not perfect. Chocolate is melted down and smeared onto each biscuit. It’s messy work. At the end, there has to be a zig-zag pattern on the biscuits. Martha starts doing it with a fork, carving it into the chocolate coating, while the others pipe it on. Iain has his biscuits in the freezer, for some reason.
Time is called, the Florentines are presented, and Paul and Mary return. Nancy’s are a good size, but she messed up the zigzag. Still, nice and crisp, because they’re thin. Richard’s are nice and crisp. Martha’s have a good zig, but aren’t as crisp as they should be and are a bit small. Jordan’s look clumsy on top but are crisp. Enwezor’s called out on his use of a cutter, which cost the biscuits their laciness. Luis’s are good. Chetna didn’t wait long enough to put her zigzag on the chocolate, so it’s not showing up as much as it should. Iain overbaked and they’re too small. Diana’s are too chewy and uneven. Norman could have used a bit more chocolate. Kate’s should have spread a little more. Rankings, from worst to best: Iain, Norman, Enwezor, Chetna, Diana, Jordan, Martha, Kate, Luis, Nancy, Richard. Mary sings the praises of Richard’s biscuits and everyone applauds him. He says it feels pretty brilliant to come first. Jordan’s just happy he didn’t come last. Enwezor is kicking himself for cutting the best bits off.
And finally, the showstopper: a 3-D biscuit scene. So, sort of like a gingerbread house? Except it doesn’t need to be a house, it could be whatever they like. Off they go. Nuts are whizzed, sugar is measured. Jordan says this is a strange challenge, because the most important thing about the biscuits is that they be architecturally sound. That’s kind of true of a lot of the signature challenges.
Enwezor is using gingerbread and fondant to make a moon scene with a spaceship. It looks like something his kids would love, and I don’t mean that as a slap at him at all. Mary seems to disapprove of the fact he’s using bought fondant, but I feel like you can only expect so much. Isn’t fondant kind of a pain in the ass to make?
Martha is making a ski village scene, flavoured with things you would drink after skiing, so hot chocolate, coffee, mulled wine. Nice touch, Martha. Paul loves it. Her plan includes a suspended chair lift. If she can make that work, I’ll bow down to her. It looks really ambitious.
Nancy’s doing Hansel and Gretel, also using gingerbread. It’ll include the cottage, trees, a bird, and several other things.
Iain’s making three different biscuit doughs for his wild west scene. One of them is chocolate and chili, another is pistachio and rose water. Interesting.
The VO tells us the key to success here is precision. They’re all sensibly using templates to cut out their dough. It’s the first time Jordan’s used one. He’s doing a monster attack scene inspired by his love of Japanese monster movies.
Norman is making a Zulu boat scene using just shortbread biscuits.
Chetna’s doing a carousel to accompany her seaside scene. Wow. Another ambitious one. The roof is pretty massive. Sue asks her how many times she’s practiced this. Just the once. Mary and Paul seem skeptical that this will even stand up properly.
Diana’s making a little steam train. Cute. She’s baking the round bit of the engine around a tin, which is clever.
Kate is making a family teatime scene. She gasps about how hot the oven is and confirms for all of us that that wasn’t a hot flash. Thanks, Kate!
Bakewells start baking.
Jordan’s biscuits have somehow welded themselves to the baking paper. I’m so confused as to how that can even happen. Do those biscuits have no fat in them at all? Actually, it looks like they welded the baking paper right to the baking sheet. Seriously, how does that happen?
Luis pulls his St George and the Dragon biscuits out. He’s a graphic designer, which he’s hoping will help him out here. Paul likes the sound of his design.
Richard is making a pirate ship scene. With a peanut butter cookie island. Oh, that’s pretty awesome. It also sounds delicious.
Construction begins. Luis’s dragon already looks really beautiful. Martha’s mountain stands up and she gets to work coating something in marshmallow. Sue observes that Enwezor’s spaceship looks a bit like a puffin. Heh. It does.
With 30 minutes left, decorating ramps up. Enwezor tells us he’s such an amateur at it that once he made a dragon for his daughter and when she saw it she started to cry. Ouch! Maybe the dragon scared her? Kate’s piping away on her teatime family. Mel grabs Richard’s bags of day glow frosting and says they remind her of the late 80’s, clubbing with glo sticks. Chetna’s carousel is standing up, despite the judges’ doubts. Towards the end, Martha’s hands start shaking. One of Jordan’s pieces falls apart, so he laughs, says it hasn’t been a good morning, and just eats it. Heh.
Time is called. The Bakewells laugh at how covered with multicoloured icing they are. Everyone’s pieces are standing up, so that’s one hurdle overcome.
Iain presents his wild west scene, which has cowboys, horses, and cacti. The cacti are a really brilliant green, which is impressive, because I’ve always found green to be one of the harder colours to get right in baking. It discolours quickly under heat. He used oatmeal biscuits and another one with green tea, as well as that chocolate chili. The biscuits are yummy.
Diana’s train is a little lopsided, but cute. She’s got tuile smokestacks that are perfect and pinwheel biscuit wheels. Paul says it could have just been a little bit neater, but he and Mary both give her kudos for out-of-the box thinking and excellent biscuit execution.
Richard’s pirates are totally adorable. Cartoony, but adorable. And there’s a lot going on in that scene. There’s a sea serpent coming out of the water, a mermaid, a tiny little treasure chest with treasure inside. Wow. Paul thinks it’s brilliant. They taste the mermaid. The peanut butter biscuit island is beautiful. It’s all wonderful.
Jordan’s monster attack is also a little cartoony. Paul says it looks a bit of a mess (the buildings don’t really fit together), and Mary pouts and wonders why there isn’t an aeroplane. But the biscuits are good.
Chetna’s day at the beach is colourful and fun. Paul says the flavours are ok, but it’s a little burnt.
Nancy’s Hansel and Gretel scene is enchanting and scrumptious. Mary loves the brandy snaps on the roof.
Kate’s teatime scene has a good bake, design, and flavour. She managed to bake the little people in the sitting-down position, which is impressive.
Enwezor’s moon scene has biscuits that are a tiny bit underbaked. The judges also seem to take issue with the design, seeming disappointed that the spaceship is stacked round biscuits instead of a structure. I see no issue with it, personally. I think it looks pretty cute with the biscuit stack.
George vs the Dragon is next. Mary says he’s clearly really good at design. He’s also made really excellent biscuits. Paul raves about the heat coming from the dragon, which I guess has a chili biscuit.
Norman’s boats are too simple for Paul. The butter biscuit is good, but Mary thinks it’s too basic.
Martha’s ski village worked out pretty well. The flavours are great too. Mary, of course, goes right for the mulled wine biscuit.
Post-showstopper confab. Iain’s saved himself with his wild west scene. Jordan’s design wasn’t well executed but it tasted great. Luis and Richard are the tops, both for flavour and design. Norman and Enwezor are at the bottom. Mary notes that Norman basically made the same biscuits for the showstopper that he did for the signature. They know who’s the top, but choosing someone to go home is a bit more difficult.
This week’s star baker is: Richard! Well done, pirate king! He blushes and it’s rather sweet.
Sue announces that Enwezor is the person going home. Aww, that’s too bad. I actually think his design was really adorable. It would be great for a kid’s party. He should keep that in mind, having four kids himself. The judges tell us that he is a very good baker, but this just wasn’t his week. Richard can’t wait to tell his wife and kids he won star baker, saying his wife will probably go ultrasonic on the phone. Hee! Diana has a really fake moment where she wonders if it’s going to be like that every week. It’s week two, Diana, do you not know yet how things are?
Next week, we land right in my wheelhouse: bread!