I find, in my old age, that I am becoming rather more partial to biscuits than of yore. Cake is still a staple of my diet, it’s fair to say, but biscuits are creeping up on the outside, ready to pounce at any moment. So it was with some eagerness I approached this evening’s biscuit round of The Great British Bake Off, hoping to be wowed with some previously undreamed of biscuit nirvana, or won around to the hitherto appalling prospect of a fig roll by someone saying: ‘you’ll love them the way I make them.’ and me actually believing them.
Or just a nice variation on a Hob Nob would do at a push.
I’m not fussy really.
If you missed the episode, you can see it here.
Before we get into the actual biscuit reportage may I just say how Avengers Mary was looking this evening? Mention was made of her resemblance to Pussy Galore, but I was definitely feeling a Diana Rigg moment there. She needed a cat suit underneath the jacket, and to be accompanied by Paul sporting a bowler and a well furled umbrella and the whole event could have taken a different turn. Given that the show stopper this week was to make a 3D biscuit ensemble, it would have been nice to see Norman coming up with a classic E type Jaguar for Mary and Paul to speed off into the distance in.
Sadly it was not to be, but I will allow the BBC to keep that idea for next year. No charge.
Three dimensional biscuits in the shape of mechanical items that actually work. And which allow people to solve crimes when they’re not judging the crispiness or otherwise of a biscuit. Extra must be put aside for elocution lessons for Paul. No Steed ever came from Liverpool. I’m sorry. It’s just the way it is. It would be like discovering James Bond came from the Black Country and called everyone ‘bab’ including Blofeldt.
This week’s signature bake was a savoury biscuit which needed to go well with cheese. As far as I’m concerned, nearly everything goes well with cheese, so the scope was fairly enormous. There are very few food stuffs which cannot be improved by the addition of some kind of melted cheese product – except rice pudding. Which can only be improved by throwing it in the bin. I’m glad to say nobody came up with a rice pudding biscuit, although I suspect that eventually someone will get round to it after a few more series.
Norman made a farthing biscuit. It was not made up of recycled currency. It was essentially a very boring biscuit made with lard, which for those of you born after 1979 is an animal fat that looks like swarfega and can be put to all kinds of unsavoury uses. One single block of lard can keep a hospital cardiac ward full for a week. Norman, being old school, and trained in the navy to withstand mortar attacks, and death by lard, took it all him his stride and baked such spectacular biscuits, with a minimum of fuss and bother, and indeed, whilst demonstrating semaphore, that it was impossible not to fall immediately in love with them.
Nancy impressed with another home made device which her husband whipped up for her. It was, she said, for stabbing holes in biscuits. I think it is also available for use as a miniature pony’s curry comb, and for doing TB patch testing with.
I hope she bleaches it well.
Richard did well by not making his rosemary biscuits taste soapy. I had never noticed that rosemary tastes particularly soapy. I generally use so little of it because I find it a bit like eating Desperate Dan’s chin pie if you misjudge it. He clearly didn’t do that. Martha revealed that her secret skill was a part time job staring at cheese, which is obviously why her goats cheese biscuits worked so well. She stared them into submission. Chetna made her mother’s fenugreek and carom water biscuits, and judging by her description of her mother’s voracious appetite for said biscuits it’s a very good job indeed she wasn’t in the tent while they were being baked, as there would have been 36 crumbs for Mary and Paul to try rather than 36 biscuits.
Is it just me or has anyone noticed that the quantities of things that the bakers have to bake has gone up exponentially since last year? The quantity thing always used to come in when they had whittled down the bakers to a mere handful. Now they get them baking trayfuls of things from the get go. What’s with that? Are the cameramen running a bakery across the park to supplement their income? I know BBC wages have been slashed. Is this what it has come to? Test four, give 32 to the runner who’s going to nip them over to Mrs. Miggins’ bun shop before noon?
I think so.
Disasters in the savoury biscuit arena included Diana, whose cheese puffs were too variegated, which is only a good thing in ivy and geraniums and Iain who flavoured his biscuits with something called za’atar. As any fule no, it is always going to be a mistake to flavour your biscuits with evil super villains, even if they have been ground down and turned into powder. Rookie mistake there. Jordan also fell foul of the biscuit judging crime fighters this week, with his burned biscuits. Jordan begged to differ that they were burned. I hate to say it Jordan, but nobody believed you. Like Gertrude in Hamlet, you do protest too much.
I think Gertrude had a soggy bottom.
No wonder Hamlet was so cross with her.
The technical challenge this week was to make eighteen Florentines. A Florentine, for those of you not up to speed on the subject of internationally exciting biscuits, is a mixture of chopped nuts and fruit, held together with caramel glue and with one side dipped in dark chocolate. I have grown to like these over the years. I wouldn’t say they were a beginner’s biscuit. They’re definitely an advanced biscuit appreciation course, but well worth putting in the man hours to achieve.
A lot of the contestants looked stricken. Indeed, it is one thing to purchase and devour a Florentine, but to actually make one? It’s a bit like sitting your HGV test when all you want to do is ride a bike. You’ve got to be hard core to make your own Florentines. Certainly that kind of thought was running through Iain’s mind, judging by the anguished look on his face, as he peered into the depths of the fridge to find some inspiration. Maybe he was hoping to have a David Icke moment and see Socrates rising up from the butter, clutching a perfectly formed Florentine and a sack full of inspiration.
It was not to be. His Florentines were more like Swindontines and earned him last place in the technical challenge. Richard triumphed in this round, with Nancy snapping at his heels, and making a mental note to get her husband to invent a Florentine crisping device as soon as she gets home. I’m imagining him a bit like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit, tinkering away in his shed to come up with the Biscuitomatic 3000. Particularly handy for making savoury biscuits for cheese. Wensleydale to be precise.
Enwezor lost the plot a bit in this round. He is a bit hospital corners, it transpires, when it comes to biscuits. Everything had to be perfectly round, and he spent a great deal of both challenges spooning things into and out of biscuit cutters to ensure uniformity. Sadly, this is exactly what a Florentine doesn’t need, as he found to his cost when he threw all the best bits in the bin.
Despite this premonition of disaster, it was an obsession he persisted in carrying through to great cost in the show stopper challenge, where the contestants had to build three dimensional biscuit scenes that stood up unaided. You can tell how well versed my children are in the ways of Bake Off history and lore when at this point Tilly turned to Tallulah and said: ‘That’ll be like the time the series before last when James baked that barn conversion out of gingerbread.’
It will be our specialist subject on Mastermind.
Enwezor set out to make a super duper space ship, in which he promised to take Sue to the stars and back. Sadly it took him out of the tent, never to return (possibly to Uranus – school girl joke I know, but I couldn’t resist). Too obsessed by cutting everything he had made into perfect circles, he totally failed to notice that his biscuits were not properly cooked, and were therefore soggy, but that he had also earned the evil death stare from La Berry when he announced that he was using shop bought fondant. To be fair, he totally deserved that death stare. Everyone, including my seven year old son, knows that you do not do shop bought on The Great British Bake Off. Even if you did get it from Marks and Spencer.
Enwezor’s cardinal sin was a get out of jail free card for Norman, who didn’t exactly shine at Florentines, largely I suspect because they were rather too foreign and he was unable to incorporate lard into their make up. He also went slightly awry in the show stopper round, creating a rather funereal looking ship wreck scene made entirely of soot coloured short bread. It looked rather like something you might see in a shop window in Eastern Europe in 1968 while you’re queueing for five hours to take home half a red cabbage and a chair leg to see you through the week. At the end, Norman acknowledged Paul had told him he had to up his game, and he vowed to return next week with something up his sleeve. I hope it is his magical spoon. I think the lack of the magical spoon is the only reason he went wrong this week. I am wondering if Nancy has stolen it so that she can get her husband to make her one of her own.
Kate redeemed herself this week by baking biscuits in the shape of boys that could actually sit up. I like the fact that she baked an emergency boy in case one of the other boy’s legs fell off in the oven. This is the sort of thing that happens to me all the time.
I now have legs made out of two giant bits of soot coloured short bread. Until Nancy’s husband can get round to making me some new ones.
Iain redeemed himself by creating a show stopper in the shape of a cowboys and indians scene with spectacularly angular horses, which apparently tasted delicious, as did the cactus which looked horrible but you can’t have everything, and I’ve never thought of a cactus as a thing of beauty anyway. Luis made such a tremendous George and the Dragon that Paul was lost for words. He said he was lost for words. What actually happened was he had his mouth so full of bits of dragon he couldn’t get any of the best words out without spitting all over Mary’s white jacket, and he knew she would karate chop him in the wind pipe if he damaged her threads so he had to gesticulate wildly instead.
Richard though, Richard was the star baker this week, excelling at absolutely everything. Pencil firmly tucked behind his ear, he baked up a storm. His biscuits were not soapy. His Florentines had the perfect amount of crispiness and his pirate scene was to quote a Quentin Blake story only I have read, a great piratical rumbustification. Which can’t be bad.
Next week it’s all to play for in the bread round, where Hollywood is king.