1. If you’re going to survive this episode, I need you to forget everything you thought you knew and learn it all afresh. Up is now down. West is now east. Channel 5 is now BBC4. Tess Daly is now a competent, empathetic and attentive interviewer. And, most importantly of all, nearly everyone who was doing quite well on the Bake Off last week is now straggling somewhere in the lower half of the table and scrambling not to be eliminated, while those who looked like toast last week are slowly coming into their own. All except Dorret, of course, who remains a rule unto herself, god love her. Such is the way of Biscuit Week.
2. This week’s signature bake challenge goes out to everyone who’s ever found themselves at the counter in Costa and realising that drinking coffee on an empty stomach will literally turn them inside out, and so makes a frantic grab for the nearest vaguely-edible looking thing sticking out of those bloody jars without really knowing what it is: yep, the bakers were asked to make 24 biscotti. As usual, the parameters were fairly loose: you can make them any size, shape etc that you like as long as they all end up identical, and also don’t you dare roll your eyes at Mel’s cod-Italian accent every time she says “biscotti”. It’s a sickness, she can’t help it. Mary informed us that the tricky thing about biscotti is that they’re twice-baked for that crispness and crunch, so it needs to be dry all the way through but not so much so that you’ll crack a tooth on it, Mary’s an octogenarian you know. Even Saga have tripled her dental insurance premiums at this point. Paul, meanwhile, channeled a Monkseal Favourite Of Yesteryear when he said that, filling-wise, he wanted a cranberry, a hazelnut, and a chocolate.
Do you think he’d settle for A SAUSAGE, A CURRY AND A PAPRIKA? Personally after watching that, I was hoping for someone with a suitably dry sense of humour (I’m thinking Sandy) to serve Paul 24 biscotti containing literally one cranberry, one hazelnut, and one Cadbury’s Dairy Milk miniature. In total. NOT SO KEEN ON PEOPLE HANGING ON YOUR EVERY WORD NOW ARE YOU HOLLYWOOD, EH? Regrettably, the bakers are not so literal-minded as I and instead set to work on impressing Paul and Mary with their imaginative approaches, particularly Alvin, who was the only baker to flavour his with fresh fruit rather than dried, opting for jackfruit and macadamia nuts (nb. Jaq Fruit could be a good drag name if anyone is in the market for one). Ian, meanwhile, went for broke in a different way by using orange, almonds and homegrown rosemary in his, prompting the first “ho ho ho, I don’t think so matey” smugface of the episode from Paul. Other dashes of flair included Ugne using goji berries, Tamal cooking with three different types of berries (one of which, physalis, Paul insisted on correcting his pronunciation of because: Paul) and Dorret putting amber sugar crystals on the top of hers, which I think she intended to allow you to sugar your coffee using your biscotti topping? And then presumably to stir the coffee with the biscotti also? I’m not entirely sure I can parse the workings of Dorret’s mind with only one hour per week of BBC airtime to go on. In the end, Mat, Nadiya, Ian and Ugne seemed to be taking the top honours for their efforts, while Alvin, Tamal and Flora got dinged on small matters of flavour or consistency, and Dorret and Marie seemed very much at the back of the pack thanks to poor flavouring choices and soggy biscotti respectively. (Soggy Biscotti were my favourite 80s nu-wave band.)
3. I know I knock Paul Hollywood a lot, but all credit to the man for his comic timing: during this round Marie was busy telling the cameras about her biscotti disaster (she put too much fruit in, it was all crumbly) and that she’d just have to pretend that she’d eaten the ones that had fallen apart beyond repair. While she was leaning over to put her biscotti back in the oven Paul sidled up to her workspace, quiet as a mouse, and scared the living shit out of her where she stood up again and saw that she’d basically just been narrating her own failure to one of the judges. Marie then tried to explain herself and Paul, of course, ambled off again without saying a word. How this show doesn’t win more comedy awards is beyond me.
4. Fortunately for all of the doubters (of which I was never one), this week saw the triumphant return of The History Bit, where Mel and Sue and Kate Williams (Royal Holloway alumni represent!) walked us through the early days of the biscuit. We were told that biscuits didn’t start off as sweet treats but as essential food staples which were “hard, bland and indigestible”, the Charlie Stayt of foodstuffs if you like. However, this was all revolutionised in the 1850s by the pearl, the first biscuit which didn’t feature “docker holes” to let the steam out and therefore led to them becoming soft and crumbly and delicious rather than stiff and horrible. Then the inventors started just going mad and adding currants (to make garibaldis) and cocoa (to make bourbon creams), which gradually superceded the pearl in the public consciousness, but we mustn’t forget this noble pioneer that paved the way for making all of our workday mornings slightly more bearable.
5. Mel had another opportunity to deploy her seemingly endless range of European accents when the time came to announce this week’s technical challenge: making eight arlettes, which are light and wafer-like cinnamon biscuits. Nobody seemed terribly familiar with the concept, and the part where they had to encase the dough in butter had them all particularly alarmed, since the reverse approach is more standard (apparently, I don’t bake enough to know these things, but I suppose it makes sense). The main issues that presented themselves here for most people (aside from Marie, but we’ll get to her in a minute) were knowing what sort of dough you were making in the first place, knowing which layer to add the cinnamon to, and knowing how you were supposed to roll the dough up once you’d done both of those things. Marie, meanwhile, apparently completely forgot how to operate her oven and so, while everyone else was popping eight reasonably proportioned arlettes out of their oven with three minutes to go, given them just enough time to flip them back over and pop them back in, Marie was making this face a lot.
Sue tried to console her that she had “a few seconds left” in much the same way that you might try to console Nick Clegg that he still has a few MPs, but the damage was done: Marie’s arlettes were not cooked, and short of discovering that one of those giant fridges was in fact a portal capable of transporting her back in time by at least an hour, there was no way of glazing this shitbiscuit. I considered screencapping the utterly crestfallen look on Marie’s face as she shambled up to the judging table with four thin dough crisps, but at this point I honestly felt like she’d been through enough without me archiving her misery for the ages. Mary and Paul liked what she made, but there were only four of them, so Marie finished in last place while Ian, Flora and – miraculously – Dorret picked up the top three places. I think this is the Bake Off equivalent of that one random week in series six of The X Factor when Rachel Adedeji topped the public vote.
6. There’s always a little bit more room to move in the second episode of the series once the heavy lifting of the actual introductions is out of the way, so we got some interesting insights into the lives and personalities of the contestants this week. For example, Mat is a bit of a banterlope (“I made my biscotti for someone at work and he said it was the best he’d ever had. I don’t think he’s eaten biscotti before!”) and has the potential to maybe get a bit annoying, Sandy is not famous for her numeracy skills at work (“You ask our maths department whether I’m good at maths! You ask Mr Simpson!”), and Tamal and Nadiya are early front-runners in the contestant innuendo championships, after Tamal remarked of his biscotti dough “it is very wet – is everyone else’s not?” and Nadiya informed us all that she was “just waiting for my box to cool”. Mercy.
7. For the showstopper challenge, the bakers had to make 36 biscuits, as well as an edible biscuit box made out of an entirely different type of biscuit. Paul (the prison governor) decided to make a gingerbread memory box filled with pink macarons and dedicate it to his wife, who loves pink. Or possibly P!nk, who knows? Maybe each macaron will represent a different still frame from the ‘Just Like A Pill’ video. Paul wasn’t alone, because seven bakers in total chose to make boxes out of gingerbread (it being one of the Mary Berry-endorsed biscuits for its inherent sturdiness), and Nadiya decided to make an oval gingerbread box using cayenne pepper, which was certainly…interesting. Better still, she planned to fill it with fortune cookies, and Sue read out one of the fortunes, which was “the male judge will soon be superfluous”, so I can only assume she got Nancy to print them out for her in between filing columns for the Telegraph and sorting out the repeat prescriptions pile. Nadiya faced several problems with her domes (OOH PARDON), the first being that they collapsed when she put them in the oven for too long, and the second being that when she made another batch to replace the doomed domes she made in the first place, Sue leant on one and squished it. Tamal, meanwhile made “a sort of gingerbread without any ginger in it” (and was no doubt instantly swamped with offers from redheaded gays on Twitters asking him if he’d ever fancied having a bit of ginger in it), and then giggled that he didn’t know what else to call it, because he’d flavoured it with star anise but “anisebread” sounded too pretentious. I wouldn’t worry too much, Tamal, Kimberley from Series 4 made bread for world peace and a cake with “love” written on it in 86 different languages, I think we might just about cope with anisebread. Speaking of pretentious, Ian’s plan was for a “sandwich de la confiture” made out of shortbread, and somehow that combined with the homegrown rosemary from earlier to convince me that I’m just not feeing Ian at all. I can’t explain it, it’s just something in my water. Sandy, meanwhile, made her case for permanent excommunication from this blog by making savoury biscuits, offering up parmesan rounds filled with cream cheese. Don’t get me wrong, I like a savoury biscuit, but there’s a time and a place and if I was expecting an elaborate biscuit box filled with biscuits and you gave me cream cheese there is every chance you would go home wearing it. Mat made a fire engine (he’s a fireman, you might have noticed this, they’ve mentioned it once or twice), while Alvin bottled it entirely and didn’t even bother putting his box together because he wanted to focus on getting his brandy snaps finished to present. If he’d had anything about him, he could’ve just said it was one of those flatpack boxes you buy in bulk from removal firms.
8. I don’t normally do this, but I’m going to need a whole separate point to discuss Ugne’s showstopper which was almost certainly the most terrifying thing ever witnessed on this show since The Thing That Sarah Jane Did all the way back in series three. It started out as the already-quite-alarming theme of a baby climbing into the cookie jar (and that’s before we even consider the cookies being made from cottage cheese), with the accompanying concept art
which looks to me like the point in the Pokémon anime where Team Rocket finally wins by getting Victreebell to eat Pikachu. We later checked back in with Ugne, who cheerily informed us that she was busy making “fondant baby legs – it will be climbing into the box, hopefully”, and then the next thing we knew she was presenting the finished box and
HOLY SHITTING JESUS KILL IT WITH FLAMETHROWERS. Mary declared it “a bit garish”, and that’s truly saying something when you consider that Mary turned up for this judging session wearing a blue and orange bomber jacket. As for Ugne’s traditional Lithuanian cinnamon cottage cheese cakes (wtf Lithuania?), Paul bit into them and declared “I don’t like them…I LOVE ‘EM”, so now he’s gone full Cowell and can probably never be rescued.
9. To heck with anyone who says that Nadiya was just picked as part of some box-ticking diversity exercise, we all know why she’s really here: FOR THE REACTION FACES.
Nadiya is basically a human gif, and I cherish her immensely.
10. In the end, Mat and Sandy were both in contention for Star Baker (A Star, Ah-ah-ah-ah A Star Baker) after solid performances across the weekend, but it was Ian who came out top overall, even though I personally thought his showstopper shortbread box looked like something you’d cut your twine off in Wickes (look, if I can’t taste things, I’m allowed to be shallow and judge on appearances, and everyone else’s looked better, okay?). Despite her triumph in the technical challenge Dorret was flirting with elimination after poor showings in both the signature and showstopper rounds, as was governor Paul for being so boring and irrelevant that I keep forgetting to even mention him, but after Paul and Mary decided that Marie was the second coming of Norman and her bakes were unambitious and lacking in flavour, she was the one to get her marching orders this week, and went home with nothing but a Michelin-starred restaurant, a cupcake business and a Parisian bakery to call her own. (Or something, I don’t read the Daily Mail.) This makes her only the second person in Bake Off history to be sent home the week after winning Star Baker (Jason in series two was the other one, having shared the award with Holly the week before he went), and making her the only contestant to be eliminated in week two after winning Star Baker in week one.
EXTRA SLICE: There seemed to be a degree of hostility from the studio audience to Ian receiving the Star Baker award.
Next week: Chris says to hell with the Paleo diet and throws himself headfirst into bread week. Or “doughverload”, as Mat calls it. This is your last warning, Mat.