Sorry about the delay, guys – I’ve been hit with a trademark Simon cold, which has left me coughing, spluttering, and generally useless for a while. But better late than never, here are my thoughts on episode 2!
Last week we lost Hat McGee. We get a haunting recap of Ugne scouting for drugs, a reminder that Marie was star baker, and a preview of the show that suggests it will be equal parts people staring, nonplussed, at each other, and Tamal monologuing in the corner. It’s biscuit week!
And the first shots are already great. The bakers wander down the paltry steps (Bring Back the Bridge) and Mat (Ian? I will disentangle them at some point) is shrouded in the world’s biggest coat. Sandy, Dorret, et al are in fairly lightweight gear, so what are we to gather from this? What secret meaning could it have? So many questions.
Outside, Mel and Sue limp laboriously towards a ‘crackers’ pun; inside, they’re mayoresses of BlazerTown, while Mary has returned to her line in trendy bombers.
And the signature challenge is… biscotti! Which Mel pronounces with evident glee and no accuracy. Mary talks about the dangers of breaking one’s teeth on them – here’s a lady who speaks from experience; you will spend the episode with emergency dentists on speed dial – while Paul advises cranberry, hazelnut, and chocolate as ideal flavours. Remember those words, dear reader. And try to forget the grin that comes with them.
First up is Alvin, who calls Paul ‘sir’, and introduces Mary to jackfruit. “How are you going to combat the moisture?” says Paul.
Mat, in a brief Home Video, seems to be baking in a fire station. Call me a traditionalist, but shouldn’t he be, y’know, fighting fire? Not using fire’s helpful properties for baking. Perhaps he is making the best of a bad situation. “Yes, I know your house is burning down, but – cranberry-flavoured treat?”
Over with Ian, Mary is dubious about the use of rosemary in biscotti. The cameraman find the most awkward, stalkery position possible to show us what rosemary looks like.
Ian apparently lives here. It looks lovely, but that miniature version of his house is at no point explained. I’m assuming a hen house, but that is only the tiniest of steps towards an explanation.
Four or five bakers tell us that their biscotti should all be the same size. For variety, Marie says they should be uniform. Sandy makes a joke about her college’s maths department that alienates at least 99% of the show’s audience. At Home We Have An Aga winces in the background, but I’m sure Mr Simpson was merrily slapping his thigh throughout this (mercifully brief) anecdote.
Paul (baker) increasingly obviously hates Paul (judge), while Ugne is sucking up to Mary by flinging white wine around.
Colouring Pencils Man (Tom Hovey! Thanks for reminding me, Yvann) must find this challenge super boring. Let’s face it, all biscotti look the same.
“The first bake,” warns Sue, “must be perfectly timed.” One brief shot of rainy leaves later, and we are back in the tent to watch a few people stare into ovens. Then, somehow, we’re over the Nadiya and a biscotti that still seems to be at the raw ingredients stage. Are they messing with the timings here? Do they think we’re stupid? Nadiya tells us that desserts don’t exist in her culture, and Mary visibly blanches.
Tamal observes that his biscotti look like beautiful ciabatta – Mel suggests they are more like slippers – and then starts a sentence with the word ‘Fruitwise’. Which reminds me of a Trivial Pursuit question that started ‘Ceramically speaking…’ Tamal is also creating ‘his own take on praline’. Which is apparently frogspawn.
Oh, and Mel makes a wonderful ‘Golden Berry’ pun re: our Mary.
The latest montage of bakers opening and shutting oven doors includes Anxious Alvin staring at this timer. It feels a bit like he’s watching the bomb in a James Bond film. The timer going off can’t possibly come as a surprise to him.
For those who’ve forgotten in the five minutes since last mentioned: these biscotti should be identical. Marie’s aren’t going brilliantly, though she has the perfect plan of just eating the imperfect ones. Mr Hollywood looms over her, mug in hand, while she flutters about her eat-the-broken-ones plan. He doesn’t pay the very slightest bit of attention to him. She just keeps talking.
Have you ever thought that this show didn’t include enough shots of bakers staring into ovens and biting their nails? Well, ma’am or sir, you’re in luck.
Nadiya forgot to put fennel seed in, which would seem to me like an enormous blessing in a paper-thin disguise, but she’s determined to fling it on afterwards. Approaches to display vary. At Home We Have An Aga seems to favour a Stonehenge replica, Marie has found some Italian-themed ribbons, and most bakers have just put them in a row or a pile. “JENGA!” cries Sandra, contravening the BBC’s impartiality laws.
Mary and Paul struggle to find anything interesting to say – case in point: “Do I like it? Yeah.” – and wander from desk to desk, commenting mindlessly on the ‘crunch’ and the size. “I expected it to have more ingredients in it,” says Paul, with the expert vocabulary of the seasoned professional. I’ll wait a moment if you need to undergo an intensive course of culinary language to understand his point.
Most people do pretty well. “That’s a nice biscotti” is about as exciting as Paul’s comments get. And then… we’re back to Biscuits: What ARE They?
It’s brief, and we barely have time to watch a blue tit wander through the river (where? why?) before the technical challenge is unveiled. It’s one of Paul’s, and it’s arlette – which may or may not be the plural; not sure. “I have over a hundred cookbooks,” says At Home We Have An Aga. “The majority of them are French, and I have never heard of this.”
They do look delish.
It’s all about the lamination, confides Paul. Have you missed GBBO lamination?
Tamal gets delightfully sassy about the lack of info in the recipe, while Marie chastisingly thinks it’s “a wee bit on the complicated side for a biscuit”.
Norm, somewhere – hopefully still writing his autobiography – nods in agreement, dunking a plain rich tea in a mug of boiled water.
The bakers wrap dough around butter, and Dorret asks the cameraman whether or not she’s doing it right. His/her reply is not vouchsafed to us. Sandy jumps the shark by pretending to swim on her stool.
Cinnamon has to be added at one of the turns. BUT WHICH? The dough must rolled. BUT WHICH WAY? It needs to be rolled thin. BUT HOW THIN? It’s all very tense. Paul (baker), demonstrating an admirable if unfounded optimism, thinks the snail-like appearance of his arlette might be sufficient to tick the ‘authentically French’ box of the challenge.
Somebody decided that this was a good shot to linger on.
Oh no! Marie’s oven was on the wrong setting or temperature or something (“Wasn’t on properly.” What does that mean?). Rather than adjust this, she stares helplessly at the cameraman, and practises a wide range of facial expressions.
The arlette are lined up. Marie has made the curious decision to present only four. I’d have thought that undercooked is better than… quite literally nothing.
Dorret’s look SO good. I want some arlette. Or arlettes.
If ‘crunch’ was the keyword for the first challenge, ‘crispy’ is this challenge’s mantra. The success with which they break is also apparently vital. “It’s sad that we don’t have even distribution of the cinnamon,” says Mary of Ugne’s arlette, in a curiously specific support of socialism.
Poor Marie comes last, followed by Paul and Nadiya. Marie is heartbreakingly apologetic.
At Home We Have An Aga is second, while Dorret – bless her – is first. Told you hers looked delish.
The string section of the Bake Off Orchestra get into action, which must mean that the bakers are wandering into the tent and putting on aprons. Paul reminds us of the standing of the bakers, repeating the positions they were given about two minutes of TV screentime ago.
The bakers need to make 36 biscuits in a biscuit box – such fun!
Also an opportunity for Colouring Pencils Man to get something more exciting to do. Paul (baker), for instance, is making a memory box filled with pink macarons – which apparently count as biscuits now. They’re pink because Paul’s wife loves pink. What a vivid portrait of her he paints.
I would love to put every single Colouring Pencils image in now, but let’s wait til some of them appear in the flesh (as it were). I will just say that his depiction of Alvin’s proposed box doesn’t match the eventful outcome…
Nadiya is (a) putting spice in her biscuit box – who on earth wants a ‘kick’ from a biscuit? – and (b) making fortune cookies. Does anyone like fortune cookies? I mean, really?
Tamal is making ‘a gingerbread without ginger in it’. So… bread?
At Home We Have An Aga AND Mat are making teabag-shaped biscuits. There is an amicable rivalry between them over this idea, but… didn’t they both steal it from Frances of a couple series ago?
Ian has constructed some sort of torture device.
While Sandy’s colleagues have helped her ‘perfect’ cutting a small slot in her biscuit dough. “Gonna put Bradford on the map, is this box.” An excellent line, I can’t lie.
Marie seems to be making shortbread biscuits inside a shortbread box. Could I be right in thinking that Mary puts on a Scottish accent in their conversation? Ugne, on the other hand, is making “something with wine in it”. She’s got a one-track mind, and that track is ALCOHOL. And contract killing, of course. For some reason, she thinks a headless baby on the side of her biscuit box will be a pleasing touch and, ugly as this Coloured Pencils depiction looks, it’s actually extremely flattering. Just wait til you see what she eventually produces.
Dorret is compiling a box of frogs (lulz) and using a cut out for the frogs. Apparently this is deeply concerning: Paul considers it too much a short-cut. Yes, Paul, but it’s a short-cut to green, frog-shaped biscuits.
There’s a mini crisis when Nadiya puts her beautifully-shaped biscuit bowl in the oven, and flattens it, but other than that all is fairly unremarkable. “It’s like going into battle,” comes Sandy’s voice – without the lady in question being on the screen or, apparently, referring to anything that is happening – but there’s no obvious conflict. Unless it’s with this man, wandering across the back of shot. Who IS he?
We cut from Paul (baker) telling us that accuracy is everything to Tamal’s surprisingly shoddy biscuit cutting. Then we see huge amounts of neon icing going onto biscuit boxes. Only those using white icing (or trying to make their boxes look like a fire engine) escape looking garish. “Perfect,” says Ugne, though the camera wisely doesn’t pan down at this point. Our retinas can only take so much. “I am making fondant baby legs,” she adds, apparently not hearing herself.
Alvin makes the bold decision not to bother making a box after all.
Sue – sadly not on camera – breaks Nadiya’s second biscuit bowl attempt. Nadiya, so far as I can tell, issues a death threat in response.
Accidents aside, there are some seriously brilliant looking biscuits and boxes in this challenge. I love it when they do these sorts of challenges, because their creativity is pretty special. Here is a run-down of some of my favourites, appearance-wise…
Alvin’s – not so great; sorry sir. I know deconstructed food is all the rage (is it still?) but a box this is not.
He is quite emotional about it, bless him, but (oddly enough) needn’t have worried. He’s not even mentioned in the trio of potential losers in the debrief later. This is the second week in a row where not presenting a proper final product apparently doesn’t much matter. (Nadiya makes delightfully pointed remarks about giving a lid to her box, while the camera dwells on Alvin.)
And… I warned you about Ugne’s biscuit box. Here it is.
Despite these mishaps, it is our Marie who ends up going home. From Star Baker to leaving in one week! You were a sweetie, Marie, I’ll miss you.
In the backstage debrief, Paul says that choosing Star Baker will be straightforward – but the producer obviously makes panicked guillotine-to-nick gestures, as he then rattles off half a dozen potential winners. But Star Baker this week, somewhat out of nowhere, is…
Apparently (wonderfully) he’s yet to win best male baker in this 400-strong village. Surely there’s somebody else living there who should be in the tent?
Hope you enjoyed biscuit week! See you next week…