Are you slowly nursing a hate-crush on Paul Hollywood, much like the flame you once carried for that bald meanie Tom Colicchio? Do you want to watch 11 anxious people bake in a tent that probably reeks of flop sweat and sugar? That’s what I thought. Let’s get right into it.
It’s biscuit week on The Great British Baking Show — think Oreos, not Popeyes — and to make things extra fun, the signature challenge features a biscuit never before seen in the signature challenge. Yes, biscotti! Thankfully, Host Mel is the only one who pronounces biscotti like Giada De Laurentiis, all rolling vowels and hard consonants. Sue says it like a normal human, as do the rest of the contestants. It's a small mercy.
The trick with biscotti is that they’re twice-baked to be bone dry. The bakers have two hours to bake 24 perfect and evenly shaped biscotti, which doesn’t feel like quite enough time, but I suppose that’s part of the challenge! Everyone is generally sticking to your traditional biscotti fixings: hazelnuts, chocolate, some dried fruit. Alvin puts jackfruit in his, which rings Paul Hollywood's moisture alarm. “How are you going to combat the moisture?” he asks, in the same icy, dangerous tone a serial killer uses before chloroforming a victim. Dorret’s biscotti have chunks of amber sugar in them. Ian’s include rosemary, fresh-picked from his garden. Other Paul is making a chocolate biscotti, which seems worrisome, as you can’t see if the dough is actually done if the dough itself is chocolate. And Ugne, my kooky Lithuanian bodybuilder, is making a white-wine biscotti with goji berries, which makes way less sense than anything I’ve seen on this program to date. A goji berry belongs in an açaí bowl, not in a biscuit intended to be dunked in a Nespresso.
Everyone peers in the oven, takes out their biscotti, cuts them up, and bakes them again. The judges are pretty kind in the round. Alvin’s jackfruit situation didn’t result in a soggy mess. Tamal’s biscotti look great, but don’t taste as good as they look. Other Paul inexplicably staged his biscotti around a bunch of grapes — a puzzling choice, but what do I know, I just watch TV for money. Here’s a shocker: Paul loves Ian’s! His cranberry, orange, and rosemary biscotti gets the highest praise.
Onward and upward to the technical bake. If you thought last week’s walnut cake was shady, prepare yourselves for the quiet horror of the arlette, a Paul Hollywood special that’s basically a flattened palmier. Imagine the flaky, buttery beauty of a croissant smashed flat into a wafer-thin cookie. Cue a montage of everyone convincing themselves that they know what an arlette is. (They don't.) There is kneading. There is chilling. There is my weekly musing about how hot the tent must be and how the hell can someone actually bake anything in a tent with enclosed sides and why does no one look like they’re sweating? Anyway, no one has any clue what an arlette is, but the process of lamination — wrapping dough around butter, folding, rolling, and repeating — is the one clue that tips them off toward some sort of basic understanding.
At the gingham altar, Paul and Mary peck apart the arlettes like judge-y birds. Everyone managed to put something on the board, but Marie only got four down. Flora’s look beautiful. Mat and Other Paul have butter issues. Ugne’s are wonky, just like her sensibility. Dorret’s arlettes are good enough to get her first place in the technical — a nice recovery from last week’s mousse disaster, I say.
I’m sure you’re wondering what insanity could come in the showstopper with biscuits. Let me be the first to tell you that this challenge sounds like hell: Each baker must make 36 biscuits, presented in a box that is also made of biscuits. Also, the biscuit box must be a different kind of biscuit than the biscuits contained within. According to Paul, this is about both precision and architecture. That means the biscuit boxes must be hardy and should also taste, as Mary is so fond of saying, “really special.”
Almost everyone makes gingerbread for their box, because when you think of a biscuit that also doubles as drywall, you think of gingerbread. Seven bakers are doing gingerbread, but only a few kick it up a notch: Other Paul fills his box with pink macarons for his wife and decorates the outside of it with frosted images of their love. Nadiya puts ginger and cayenne in her “Chinese box” and fills it with fortune cookies. Tamale makes a star-anise-flavored box and fills it with checkered shortbread. Showing some impressive ingenuity, Mat the firefighter constructs a fire truck that looks like the centerpiece of an 8-year-old’s fire-truck-themed birthday celebration, but in a good way.
A few of the bakers have assistance, too. Sandy’s friends helped her out with a template for cutting and scoring the dough to make her weird, savory, sundried-tomato-biscuit box that's filled with “Parmesan rounds” stuffed with cream cheese. Ian brought some sort of bespoke round cylinders around which he'll make shortbread “sandwich de la confiture.” And Dorret’s brought frog-shaped cookie cutters for her matcha-and-cocoa-bean-flavored shortbread. Nothing about the shortbread particularly pleases Paul — he takes special umbrage at the cookie cutters but does not bat an eye at the aforementioned aids. He is many things, but fair doesn’t seem to be one of them.
A brief word about Ugne and her biscuit box is necessary. The cookies in questions — a Lithuanian cottage-cheese cookie inside a cookie jar made of Lithuanian honey cake — seem fine. The concept is a bit out there. She sculpts a baby’s bottom and pudgy little legs out of marshmallow fondant, attaches it to the side of the box, and covers the whole thing in what Mary rightfully calls “garish” décor. I admire her complete and total commitment to this aesthetic, but I can’t and I won’t with this weird fondant baby.
Of course, it wouldn’t be a showstopper without a few tragedies. After successfully baking all the pieces of his box, Alvin decides that it won’t stand when built, so he makes the bold choice to forgo, you know, making the actual box, which was part of their assignment in the first place. Flora cracks the lid of own box. Sue, somehow, leans on Nadiya’s box and cracks it! Sandy has unwittingly made the kind of hors d'oeuvres you'd find at a cocktail party, eat without thinking, and feel weird about when you get home. Oh, well, here are your judges!
Ian’s box is a plain circle with a few macarons plopped on top for decoration, but the judges love it for reasons beyond my ken. Flora’s tea box is filled with Earl Grey biscuits shaped like tea bags. It is deemed a “great bake.” When Alvin explains the deconstructed box that he couldn’t quite put together, he starts crying. Lucky for him, the flavor of his box and the brandy snaps that were supposed to live inside it are good. Marie’s box is nice, but the biscuits are plain and too soft for shortbread. Though I love Sandy as a person, I do not care for her box. Nadir’s fortune cookies look gorgeous and the judges don’t dock her for the undecorated lid because Sue owns up immediately to breaking the original. And in case you need reminding, Ugne made a fondant baby. For Christ's sake, Ugne.
By the end of the summer, I'm convinced I'll be able to accurately predict who wins Star Baker and who goes home every single week. Sadly, I’m not there yet. This week’s Star Baker is somehow Ian, even though he didn't do anything that spectacular. On to the chopping block. Although Nadiya, Other Paul, and Alvin are each convinced they’re going home, the judges decide to send Marie packing. She handles it like a champ.
And now there are ten. Ten bakers who will soon get elbow-deep in yeast and dough and flour … because next week is bread! Get ready for a 1,000-word treatise about proving drawers.