Many, many good things about tonight’s episode of Great British Bake Off.
Firstly I was awake enough to watch it. Secondly I was at home to watch it. Thirdly I got to watch it in tandem with my Bake Off twin, Nicki. It is a tradition that we watch together, even though we are miles apart. Last week neither of us were able to watch it at the right time and it just felt all WRONG. This week we were all synchronised and everything.
I had best mention fourthly. Fourthly, it was biscuit week. Hoorah! Hoorah! and Huzzah!
Even better, Tilly had been on a baking spree all afternoon, so I was able to watch Bake Off whilst eating a cinnamon bun with cream cheese frosting. It was as close as we’re going to get to Scratch ‘n’ Sniff television in my lifetime. That definitely constitutes a fifthly.
So, biscuits, eh? Love ’em or hate ’em, just don’t eat ’em in bed, and be really carefully when you dunk. If you dunk.
After years of experimenting I’ve decided that dunking is not my bag, although I have tested it extensively, and am still willing to be won round by the pro dunking faction.
The first challenge was to make signature biscotti. Apparently, biscotti in Italian means twice baked. Now I’m no mistress of the romance languages, but I do wonder if that’s complete and utter bollocks, and what it actually means is ‘biscuit’. Call me crazy, but I’d wager I’m right, and they just want it to mean twice baked because it sounds better.
I mean, if you twice bake a lasagne, for example, would it be biscotti lasagne? I don’t think so. It would be burned lasagne, which is a completely different kettle of pasta.
Anyway, biscotti, for those of you who have been living under a rock for the last hundred years or so, is an incredibly hard biscuit with things in, usually fruit and/or nuts. Think posh Farley’s rusk mixed with Fruit ‘n’ Fibre that’s been in the back of the cupboard for about ten years. It is traditionally served with a beverage, presumably for the purpose of dunking, so that you can actually get your teeth into one without requiring orthodontic treatment shortly after attempting to eat it.
I quite like biscotti, but as I eat them I am very aware that I have middle aged teeth and a profound loathing of dentistry, so I approach with caution.
This week the signature round should have been renamed: ‘Odd things to do with herbs’. I found the whole idea of putting rosemary and fennel into biscuits a bit troubling if I’m honest, even though it was all the rage in the tent, and Paul went mental for Ian’s rosemary biscuits. I can’t like rosemary. I quite like the smell, on a bush, in the garden, but to me it has a tang of soap, coal tar and something my granny would want to rub on my chest before wrapping me in brown paper and making me wear an itchy vest. It’s not my best thing.
Nor is fennel, which was also immensely popular this week. I have come to accept fennel over the years. I quite like it raw in salads. I once had it spectacularly roasted with some red mullet, but I’ve never sat chewing contemplatively on a Hob Nob and thought: ‘the only thing that would make this biscuit better is a nice sprinkle of fennel seeds.’
I’m sorry. I know I’m not down with the kids as far as bewildering things to do with herbs goes. It’s a good job I’m not judging biscotti really, because the only thing that would have bettered the herb mixtures as far as Mary and Paul were concerned was probably a bit of cajun rub and cat nip biscotti.
Marie, who did so well last week, and who everyone was roundly criticising in the week that followed when it transpired that she had been trained in her youth as a baker, made a right royal mess of her biscotti. It just goes to show that you can train as much as you like, but once Paul’s eyes have bored into your soul, and the smell of canvas is in your nostrils, you’re as much at the mercy of the baking gods as everyone else. I bet even Marcus Wareing would quail under Mary’s gaze.
The technical round involved making a thing called an Arlette. Were it not for the fact that I have eaten one of these, not knowing that it was called an arlette, I would be roundly castigating Paul for inventing fictional biscuits again. However, I have nibbled upon one, nay fished arlette crumbs from my cleavage no less, so I am forced to concur that they do in fact exist, and you should definitely never eat them in bed.
They are the size of small dinner plates and look like cinnamon Danish buns that have been squashed by a steam roller. You make them with a version of puff pastry. All Bake Off pros will know that as soon as the words ‘puff pastry’ are bandied about, we also have to say the word ‘lamination’, and look frowningly important, and not think about the theme tune from Record Breakers, as Nicki and I did:
‘Lamination, Lamination, It’s what you neeeeeeed.
If you wanna be the best, and you wanna beat the re-eeeest, Lamination’s what you neeeeeeed’.
Nor must you think of terrible hoof based horse diseases.
Instead you must think of the glossy shine of four hundred tonnes of animal fat compressed into a wafer thin biscuit of joy.
Arlettes not only have to be large, they must also be laminated (of course), and have snap. God forbid they should be soggy. Not even their bottoms. Nothing at all about them should be soggy. Pert. Pertness. Yes. Pertness of lovely laminated snapping biscuits of joy is what is required (I have translated this from the French. This is what arlette actually means. ahem).
It turns out that Dorret, who had a terrible time last week when her chocolate mousse ran forth and multiplied like something very troubling from a biblical plague, is a wow at laminated pertness, and she romped home with first for the technical, while poor Marie failed to get her oven to work properly, only made four of eight biscuits, and came at the very bottom of her bottom.
It was all to play for in the Show Stopper with the incredibly complicated challenge of having to build a box out of biscuits, and then build biscuits to go inside the box.
Normally they don’t get the bakers building structures until at least half way through the competition. This year it seems that building things is merely a starting point. God knows what they will be doing by week five. Probably having to recreate the Shard in sugar work and make it sturdy enough so that they can invite Alan Sugar round for croquembouche for him and two hundred of his closest friends. I am so glad I’m merely an average baker and am never tempted to apply. Although I wouldn’t feel too bad about the prospect of Alan Sugar choking on one of my profiteroles if I’m honest.
Everyone had a tough time in the show stopper round. Ugne had clearly taken acid just before filming, and produced a biscuit box of psychedelically troubling weirdness with a melted baby on the front. Poor Nadiya had terrible trouble sculpting a bowl, particularly when Sue accidentally broke it. Dorret got into trouble for using a frog shaped biscuit cutter, and having horrible flavoured biscuits. I just thank the lord she didn’t use ready roll icing or heads would readily have rolled too. Flora broke her biscuit box lid, while Alvin went so to pieces that he just presented Mary and Paul with an Ikea flat pack without an allan key.
Sadly Marie also had a dismal round, and added to the dismal rounds she had already had, she went home this week, which was a real shame, because I thought she was lovely, and I’d have her round to bake shortbread for me any day (as long as she doesn’t put fennel in it).
Star baker this week was Ian, who triumphed with his rosemary and his stonking macarons. My star baker this week though, was Sandy, who I loved because she had special biscuit pattern cutty outy things with her name on them. She reminded me so much of Norman from last year, and his magic spoon, I could have just hugged her, except she probably would have given me a clout round the ear for it, because they don’t mess about like that in Barnsley, thank you very much.
Next week is bread.
You can catch up on this week’s episode here if you missed it.