Yeah, sure, some baking happens, but we all know what you’re really here for: the triumphant return of The History Bit! *dance party*
1. Truly the scheduling gods of this show can be cruel sometimes. After they forced Chris to recap an entire week of cakes last week, knowing full well that he does not like cake (unless it’s preceded by “cheese-“), this week they’ve given me full run at the world of biscuits, which I’m sure Chris would have very much preferred to have for himself, especially since next week is bread week and he’s not really that fussed about bread either. Still, never mind, THAT’S THE WAY THE COOKIE CRUMBLES! Certainly the way things have been going you could say I’ve been a right JAMMIE DODGER! I hope he doesn’t think I’m TAKING THE BISCUIT!
…I’m so sorry. I don’t know what came over me. Let’s move on quickly and never speak of this again. (Speaking of awful jokes, which we definitely just weren’t, this episode featured Paul attempting a time/thyme pun that was so awful even Mel chastised him for it. MEL. Imagine how that must feel.)
2. This week’s signature challenge will presumably have induced howls of disappointment from sweet-toothed viewers who are really just here for the sugar fix, as Paul and Mary asked the bakers to produce 36 savoury biscuits, to be eaten with cheese. I wasn’t put off in the slightest, because I am all for savoury biscuits, and could quite happily devour a packet in the same way that other people might plough through a bag of chocolate hobnobs, cheese or no cheese. The challenge taught us that Jordan, who is admirably committed to being the very Jordaniest Jordan that he can be, has a sourdough yeast called Yorick. Up until recently I had a basil plant called Olivia, so it’s not like I can particularly get myself up on any sort of high horse relating to the cutesy nicknaming of inanimate objects, but all the same, I didn’t go on peaktime BBC1 and announce my deep affection for and mutually beneficial friendship with Olivia. (Perhaps I should have done. Perhaps she and Yorick would have got along famously.) Meanwhile the enduringly excellent Nancy continued to demonstrate the sort of steely single-mindedness that will surely serve her well in this competition, revealing how her practising at home meant that she’d teased her husband with the prospect of steak and ale pie for dinner only to end up serving him rye and fennel biscuits instead. Made using out-of-date fennel, it turns out. I don’t know about you, but I’d always imagined Nancy’s home kitchen running with the unblinking efficiency of the Bundesbank, but now that I know she serves expired ingredients to her unsuspecting family, the bottom has fallen right out of my world. Elsewhere, Mary and I fell out, possibly for good, when she told Luis that his idea of putting olives in his biscuits was a good one (NO). Overall it was a good start for Luis, Chetna, Nancy, Richard, Martha and Norman, and not so much for everyone else.
3. On the subject of Norman, we really must pay tribute to his determination this week to stamp out and eliminate our common enemy of flavour. When making his savoury biscuits for the first round, he only used three ingredients (flour, butter and lard) – admittedly, Paul and Mary liked the end result, but in the age of the Sweet Onion Ryvita, I’m just not sure that back-to-basics approach is going to cut it in the real world. He didn’t stop there, however: in the technical bake he referred to Florentines as the sort of “fancy stuff” he wouldn’t waste his time on at home (suggested other fancy stuff that Norman wants nothing to do with: salt and pepper, yoghurt, avocados, the metric system), and went on in the showstopper challenge to create a potentially thrilling 3D biscuit sculpture of the Zulu boats at dawn…out of shortcake, using only plain flour, caster sugar, butter and the tiniest hint of vanilla. And Mary pointed out that it was basically the exact same biscuit he’d already made in the first round. Sometimes I wonder if my continuing devotion to series three superstar Brendan has given me an unrealistic expectation of the level of flamboyance I can expect from this show’s older gentleman contestants. Still, even if he insists on serving the most boring bakes imaginable, I have a lot of time for Norman since he also spent this week expressing his happiness that his counter was at the back of the room and not at the front like last time (so this time he can see what everyone else is up to rather than having his back to them) and teaching Sue how to do semaphore, only to admit halfway through that he couldn’t really do it properly because he broke his right arm when he was younger and it doesn’t extend in a straight line any more.
4. Anyway anyway anyway, enough of that: THE HISTORY BIT IS BACK! After a brief absence in last week’s episode that made certain sections of the audience (i.e. me) worry that all of their BBC1-related lowbrow fears had come true, this week Sue ventured back in time to tell us all about the invention of the ice cream cone. Thanks to her dedicated army of food historians, she revealed that it all came stemmed from the ‘penny lick’, where gelato vendors would serve you ice cream in a little glass cup for a penny, and a whole bunch of their previous customer’s saliva was included for free. Since this led to the spread of all sorts of unpleasant diseases, it was eventually banned and vendors were forced to find a disposable – preferably edible – vessel for their wares, and came up with the cone. Early cones were made using a variety of treacle batter, and an expert conologist (this may not be his official job title) explained to Sue that it achieved its iconic shape by wrapping it around a chair leg, or any vaguely cylindrical wood the men could get their hands on. I’m surprised that didn’t lead to an outbreak of a whole new batch of diseases, considering what they could have used.
5. For the technical challenge, the bakers were instructed to make 18 Florentines from Mary’s recipe. This seemed to be a concept that pretty much nobody was familiar with, making for a pleasingly even playing field. Kate fretted to Mel that the instructions said to cook until golden-brown, but her mixture was already golden-brown before she’d even put it in the oven. Enwezor narrated everything he was doing straight down the camera lens in his very best Blue Peter-here’s-one-I-made-earlier-with-sticky-back-plastic routine (is sticky-back plastic still even a thing on Blue Peter? The last time I watched it regularly they weren’t so much concerned with the “make and do” side of things as much as they were with getting Gethin Jones to strip down to his underwear as often as possible. ALTHOUGH I CAN THINK OF A FEW THINGS I’D MAKE AND DO IN THAT SCENARIO, ETC.) Enwezor also courted disaster by cutting the rough edges off his biscuits once he’d removed them from the oven, losing all the lacy goodness in the process. (Lacey Goodness is my new drag name, by the way.) Meanwhile, while everyone debated how best to add the chocolate zigzags on the top, Martha demonstrated how to “make a wiggly with a fork”, because that’s how she’d seen it done. I’m sure I remember reading about other teenage girls doing that in Just Seventeen when I was a kid. Earning a considerable WOMP WOMP for their Florentine efforts were Iain, Norman and Enwezor, while on the top of the pile were Luis, Nancy and Richard.
6. A quick cards-on-the-table moment: I love Martha. I am in awe of Martha. Martha has the sort of poise and skill at the age of 17 that I haven’t yet managed to muster at the age of 33. But can we take a moment to talk about how amusingly middle-class she is, even by Bake Off standards? During the savoury biscuit challenge she explained that she has a part-time job on the cheese counter in a supermarket, and let’s be honest: we all know it’s Waitrose. And then for the Showstopper, her 3D biscuit sculpture was a ski scene in a variety of flavours, all of which were things you might drink on your ski holiday, such as coffee, hot chocolate, mulled wine, the instructor’s ejacul–hang on, maybe not that last one. Considering that this is merely week two of her amazing middle-class journey, I feel confident that by the semi-finals she’ll make Will Young look like someone who lurches into Greggs in his tracksuit bottoms clutching a can of Diamond White.
7. Biscuits are great and everything, but you know what they frequently lack? HEIGHT. And DEPTH. Fortunately the show corrected this obvious oversight in this week’s showstopper challenge where the contestants had to bake a 3D biscuit sculpture. Given the opportunity to embrace their inner Frances, the bakers came up with some pretty fantastic ideas, offering up everything from a charming domestic family scene (Kate) to George versus the Dragon, complete with fiery flavours (Luis). But what was most interesting about this round was the way in which several contestants who’d been circling the drain (nominally Iain and Diana, although I’d probably chuck Jordan in there as well) basically saved themselves from elimination with their strong performances, turning out a wild west scene, a steam train, and a monster attack respectively. I can think of isolated cases in years gone by where one person baked themselves back to safety after a rough week with a strong showstopper, but I can’t remember a moment in Bake Off history when pretty much everyone who was in the running for elimination bar one managed to turn things around at the last minute, thereby leaving this week’s boot pretty easy to predict.
8. This week’s Innuendo Count was obviously sent into a frenzy by Sue’s ruminations on the penny lick and frankly everything else can only be an also-ran at best, but honorary mentions should go to Enwezor’s “normally I do this on the floor because it gets so stiff, but I’m not sure I’m allowed”, Richard’s “when it swells, you need to open up your interlocking”, Mel and Sue referring to Mary as “Pussy Galore” because of her jacket (at least, I hope it was because of her jacket) and the moment where Paul informed Martha that she’d “managed to retain a good snap”. Chris Hansen has been notified.
9. There was fierce competition for (why do you have to be a) Star Baker (is it a lesson that I never knew?) this week, as Nancy was clearly gunning for back-to-back wins with strong performances in every round, and it was only really a moderately disappointing performance in the technical challenge that took Martha out of the running. But after basically dominating every single aspect of this week’s episode and finishing off with a flourish by producing a Pirates! scene that Mel and Sue couldn’t wait to plunder (although I was slightly disturbed by the alleged mermaid that looked more like Jynx from Pokémon), this week’s golden oven gloves went to Richard, who accepted the honour in his customary fashion – with mildly surprised glee, and a pencil tucked behind his ear.
10. Sadly, despite his ability to construct a scale replica of the Bake Off tent using just three toilet roll holders, an empty washing-up liquid bottle and a bit of an old tarpaulin, not to mention his knack for discussing the finer points of patisserie with Paul and Mary while bouncing on a trampoline, Enwezor was the unfortunate victim of Diana, Jordan and Iain’s unexpected recovery this week, and when his space adventure moon scene failed to impress, he was sent on his merry way. I was quite surprised to see him go this early – I thought he’d outlast Iain and Jordan at the very least – but to be honest he probably signed his own death warrant when he used shop-bought fondant in his showstopper challenge. I haven’t seen Mary Berry stare at someone with such murderous disdain since, well, Christine last year. He seemed like a nice enough chap, so I’m sad to see him go, but at least this way he’ll have more time to spend on his true calling: informing us that there’s a brand new episode of iCarly coming up right after House of Anubis.
EXTRA SLICE: Monica Galetti is a really unconvincing liar.
Next week: Chris will be bringing you all the highlights of bread week, sure as yeast is yeast.