This week’s The Great British Baking Show is all about biscuits — not the kind you slather with gravy, but the kind you enjoy with afternoon tea. If this episode doesn’t make you want to grab a cup of milk or coffee or Earl Grey, then you’re watching it wrong.
Signature Challenge: Biscotti
The bakers’ first challenge is to make two dozen identical biscotti. Biscotti hail from Italy and the name translates to “twice cooked,” resulting in a dry, crunchy-but-not-too-crunchy biscuit. Since the bakers have two hours to bake 24 cookies twice, timing is essential.
Alvin takes a risk and is the only one to use a fresh fruit, the Southeast Asian tropical jackfruit. Mat tested his cranberry, pistachio, and white chocolate version on fellow London firefighters and received a raving review from a coworker who may have never eaten biscotti before. Ian uses homegrown rosemary and Paul says that could be fantastic…or disastrous. Ugne uses white wine and goji berries because, why not. Nadiya transforms one of her mother’s Bangladeshi recipes into a coconut-y biscotti.
Paul makes a chocolate biscotti, and the color can make it difficult to tell if the dough is actually baked. Flora picked up her recipe in Italy, which seems to give her a bit of a hometown advantage. Tamal uses three types of dried berries — cranberry, barberry, and goldenberry — and refers to the goldenberry by its plant genus, Physalis (you know science, we get it). Some of Marie’s biscotti are fragile and break apart, but she just eats the evidence.
The judges enjoy their tasting and most of the biscotti have good texture and flavors. Ian’s rosemary addition lands firmly in the fantastic camp. Paul says Dorret’s amber sugar crystal topped biscotti is going to send someone to the dentist. Ouch.
Technical Challenge: Arlette
Next, the bakers are given a basic version of Paul’s recipe for an arlette. Paul looks like the Cheshire cat talking about the arlette because it’s a tricky biscuit and no one has ever heard of it, not even Flora, who’s read almost 100 French cookbooks. It’s a delicate, cinnamon biscuit that looks like a croissant and cinnamon roll got together and were flattened into a thin crispy wafer. Everyone has to make eight of them.
The recipe requires lamination: folding dough around butter, chilling, and repeating. Then cinnamon sugar filling is added to a non-specified layer, and the dough is rolled, sliced, and baked. No one knows which layer to add the cinnamon sugar, how thin the slices should be, or still what even is an arlette.
During the blind tasting, Paul and Mary break the biscuits and comment that most of them aren’t thin enough, some have too much cinnamon, and some have too much dough. Marie had an oven mishap and only has four plated. Dorret’s are melt in your mouth delicious, and she wins the challenge, redeeming herself from her Black Forest Gateau debacle of last week. Everyone congratulates her as she tries to stay cool while doing a little dance inside, and Marie calls herself “silly, silly” for not checking her oven.
Let’s revisit: Are these the faces of bakers that look like they know what they’re doing in the arlette challenge?
Showstopper Challenge: The Biscuit Box
Here in America, we consider a Double Stuff Oreo a fancy cookie. But on the GBBS, they take it to another level. The bakers must now make 36 biscuits presented in a box that is, wait for it, a whole different type of biscuit. This is some biscuit in biscuit inception craziness going on here.
The biscuits can be any shape, flavor, or size. Other requirements include impressive architecture (Paul) and they must “taste really special” (Mary).
The bakers bring their A game. Seven of the bakers choose a gingerbread base, because if it’s strong enough to be a house, it’s probably strong enough to be a box. Paul’s Memory Box is decorated with iced images of himself as a Coldstream guard and filled with pink macarons because his wife loves pink. Tamal makes a decorative anise-bread box with chessboard shortbread inside. Flora makes a honey and lemon shortbread tea chest with Earl Grey infused biscuits. Ian brings a cylindrical contraption made of aluminium (yes, al-loo-min-ee-um; those Brits are always adding extra vowels to words of otherwise acceptable lengths). He makes a Sandwich de la Confiture, which is a giant shortbread biscuit jar with macarons in and outside.
Sandy chooses to go the road less sugared with the only savory entry — a sundried tomato box with parmesan rounds filled with cream cheese. Mat builds a gingerbread fire engine with melted sweets for windows and Earl Grey tea biscuits inside, and he almost immediately regrets choosing such a ridiculously shaped box. Dorret’s Box of Frogs has green tea and cocoa frog-shaped biscuits inside a gingerbread box with a lily pad top. The name is a nod to the expression “mad as a box of frogs,” basically a fancy way of saying “crazy.” Because you probably have to be a little crazy to be here.
Then there’s Ugne. Our favorite bodybuilder baker makes Lithuanian cottage cheese cookies with cinnamon and sugar inside a Lithuanian honey cake box. That’s all well and fine, but the outside is decorated with marshmallow fondant. Still fine, right? Well, the fondant is sculpted in the shape of chubby baby legs. Baby. Legs. This is Ugne’s Baby Climbing into the Cookie Box, and we hope the name is somewhat more elegant in Lithuanian.
It’s on to the judging. Mary thinks Ian’s box looks like great fun and the macarons are fantastic. Even though Flora’s box top is cracked, the piping is good, and she has a good bake. Mat’s fire engine turns out well. Nadiya’s fortune cookies pack a punch and she’s not docked for her undecorated box due to the fact Sue accidentally broke the first one. Mary calls Ugne’s cake decor garish, and as for the biscuits, Paul says he doesn’t like them…he loves them. Paul, you sneaky fox, you.
Unfortunately, Marie’s shortbread biscuits are a little soft and plain. Dorret’s frogs are a bit bitter. Alvin runs out of time and wistfully presents his deconstructed box in a pile of gingerbread pieces, though his brandy snaps end up being excellent.
In the end, Ian is announced Star Baker, and he’s amazed because he’s never even won best male baker in his village of 400 houses. Sadly, last week’s Star Baker, sweet Scottish Marie is sent home with her head held high. Everyone else is relieved, especially Nadiya, who was convinced she was leaving and is now so scared because she has to come back and bake some more. Gracious winners and losers all around — is there anything not charming about this show?
Flora: “It’s really stressful. It’s biscotti; why is biscotti stressful?”
Mel: “You’ve got 10 minutes until you snap and break.”
Sue: “Ok, bakers, that’s 30 minutes ’til I try your boxes.”
Sue (to Paul II): “I look forward to breaching that high-security box imminently.”
Ugne’s weird baby biscuit box. We’re still not sure why an innocent baby was dragged into this, but points for originality.
Next week, it’s every celiac’s nightmare: Bread week.