Last week, the show that turns all of us amateur viewers into seasoned critics (well I have watched all four series!) returned and with it came a little controversy too. From the seemingly unfair professional training (which happened over thirty years old, might I add) of front runner and last week’s Star Baker Marie, to some unusual betting activity that sparked rumours of leaked results, the first week of Bake Off was truly living up that attention it garnered from ‘bin-gate’ just a year ago.
Despite all of this, the show must go on and the yummy goodies must be baked! This week it was biscuit week, but there wasn’t a single classic Rich Tea, Digestive or Custard Cream in sight during the first two rounds, with both the Signature and Technical bakes keeping it purely international.
The weekend in the tent kicked off with the Signature bake; where the contestants were tasked with making their own version of the Italian classic biscotti. The biscuit’s name translates to ‘twice baked’, which according to Mary and Paul gives the biscuits the crucial crunch (because no one likes a soggy biscuit).
Amongst all of the grimaces and struggling was Flora, who had obviously learnt all about these biscuits right from their source, Venice. Therefore, it is no surprise that she cruised through this round of tricky biccies.
Mary and Paul munched happily through the majority of the batches, umm-ing and ahh-ing at Ian’s expert crunch especially – ‘Oh did you hear that crunch?’ – however, Dorret did not fare so well. Following on from last week’s ‘mudslide’ disaster cake, Paul delivered some more pretty blunt criticism, as he said (in a way only he knows how) that her sugary spin on the biscotti was enough to send him straight to the dentist. Not exactly the most advisable way of winning over his bleach-happy Hollywood smile (see what I did there?).
Next came the dreaded Technical. The task was to make the French ‘classic’ (which none of the contestants had heard of, even Flora who apparently owns an exorbitant number of French cookbooks), Paul’s recipe of Arlettes. Some wafer thin, beautifully crisp and intricately created, swirly-wurly cinnamon-y goodness.
Ugne reigned surprise queen of the challenge, which again called for some serious crunch, whilst consistent Flora followed in a close second. But what really stood out was the fall of Marie – the inaugurate, reigning Star Baker who did pretty averagely in the Signature bake and then finished at the bottom of the pile in the Technical.
So it was all to play for in the final throngs of the weekend with an edible biscuit box and the fairly straightforward task of baking thirty-six completely uniform, delicious biscuits, all in the allotted three hours. No biggie.
There was a fire truck box from Mat, a cute memory box filled with macaroons from Paul and even a savoury cheese box from a flour-faced, biscuit munching Sandy. Her architectural originality (and enthusiastic exclamation of ‘Get in!’ when her box stood up unassisted) won me over completely.
The Showstopper round also saw some serious head-to-heads, with Flora and Mat competing for the earl-grey tea-bag biscuit blue ribbon and Paul (not Hollywood) and Ian facing off with their very dainty baby pink macaroons, which Ian won by a landslide as he bagged himself the coveted Star Baker prize.
But my favourite little rivalry is definitely Paul (Hollywood) and Paul (not Hollywood) in the art of the steely stare. New Paul seems completely un-phased by the notoriously harsh judge’s critical eye and the way that they almost stare each other down each time the judges visit his baking counter is becoming one of my favourite relationships on the show.
Back to the baking though! My personal favourite Showstopper creation was Nadiya’s Chinese themed fortune cookies in a fiery cayenne pepper flavoured biscuit dome. Her idea was standout but the outcome was perhaps a little less than she’d hoped for, as Mel’s help and an unfortunate oven mishap resulted in a pretty flat, broken “dome”. However, her equally fiery resolve of not going down ‘without a fight’ saved her and she evaded elimination. The boxes continued to cause issues, none more so than for Alvin, who didn’t get the chance to assemble his box at all, provoking the second teary moment of the series (did you cry too? No, just me then…)
Alas, their architectural flops were forgiven as this week taste prevailed and Marie’s time was cut short at the tent. Her unadventurous and lack-lustre traditional biccies left Paul and Mary with much to be desired.
Next week, kneading, proving patience and rising (or falling) awaits – it’s bread week!