Who snapped first during biscuit week on The Great British Bake Off? Rhodri Marsden talks us through iced biscuits, Viennese whirls and towering gingerbread structures in week two...
On the face of it, biscuit week seems to be about precision engineering. Think maths, intricacy, precision, tessellation. Yes, flour, and of course sugar, but in biscuit week you forget your protractor at your peril. Andrew’s day job as an aerospace engineer for Rolls Royce seemed to put him at an automatic advantage, and his revelation that his dad won “a women’s shortbread competition” in the 1970s gave the sense that he might be genetically predisposed to producing the perfect biscuit.
The Signature Challenge
In biscuitland, what counts is the snap, the crunch. The signature challenge required the bakers to produce 24 iced biscuits, and when it came to judging, Paul bounced them repeatedly off china plates, hoping for a resounding clang. Tom’s “Frappelattecino” biscuits, despite sounding like a fanciful item on a blackboard outside an East London coffee shop, gave by far the best clang – but others could barely elicit a dull thud or, worse, a kind of “fuh” sound. A biscuit that goes “fuh” is, let’s face it, a stale biscuit (bad luck, Andrew) or, in Louise’s case, a “scone”. Special commendations go to Kate, for daring to give biscuits flavoured with lavender and bergamot to Paul (who dislikes lavender and bergamot); to Candice, who brazenly went for “teacher's pet” award by zinging out 48 biscuits instead of 24, and Selasi, the almost-star-baker of last week, who, while the rest of the bakers whizzed about frenetically, stood back and munched casually on a leftover biscuit. “Take each day as it comes,” he said.
The Technical Challenge
The fun of the technical challenge, from this side of the screen, is working out who’s doing inspired guesswork and who has the natural baking flair. This week the Gingham Altar showcased some pretty indifferent Viennese whirls, with Selasi’s “oily” effort at the bottom of the heap – but Kate’s approached some kind of Austrian perfection. You could almost imagine them sitting neatly in a plastic tray having just slid out of a cardboard box (if emulating a mass produced product is a measure of success, and in the technical challenge it probably is.) By now it was clear who was struggling; Louise had to be reminded to “breathe” twice by Candice (not a good sign – breathing is a standard requirement for progression through Bake Off) and one couldn’t help noticing that some of Val’s biscuits were on the floor. Val won a lot of fans last week when she listened to her cakes to assess their quality; this week her biscuits needed more than a friendly ear. Maybe half an hour of therapy.
The Showstopper Challenge
The showstopper was all about structural integrity. The bakers were tasked with building an autobiographical 3Dgingerbread story, 30cm high and with eight characters or objects. Now, it’s hard enough to come up with a story in four hours with pen and paper, let alone with gingerbread, but we saw their imaginations run wild: from New York skylines to a Ghanaian church, from a Brownie camp to a near-death experience. While Andrew cross-referenced his work with sketches that looked like blueprints for a modern office development, others just hoped for the best. “Fear is the mindkiller,” said Tom, “you just have to go for it.” But as we know from our experiences with cowboy builders, crossing ones fingers isn’t really the best approach to construction. Walls collapsed in on themselves, spires tumbled, strategically placed bicycles succumbed to inevitable gravitational forces. “God, I hate gingerbread,” said Jane, with feeling.
You sensed that she wasn’t the only one. Louise’s depiction of her future wedding seemed to be taking place in a church that never got planning permission, while Val’s Statue of Liberty, in her words, “gave up, bless her.” The high flyers this week were Andrew’s punting scene in Cambridge, and Candice’s pub, a gloriously ambitious project, which included a sticky carpet of ginger cake and a pool table made from lime jelly. Candice was deservedly named Star Baker, while Louise’s church sadly put her at the bottom of the heap. But there was a bunch of good-tastin’ gingerbread going on. Michael’s 3D gingerbread Santa’s Workshop may have ended up as “Santa’s Workshop from Hell,” but hey. It was a very NICELY FLAVOURED Santa’s Workshop from Hell.
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