The Great British Bake Off 2014 – week two review

This had better not be shop-bought fondant. Is this shop-bought fondant? Did you buy this fondant from... a shop?

Companions aren’t normally allowed in the Bake Off tent. Baking is a lonely solo endeavour. Yet in biscuit week, Jordan had brought along his close pal Yorick, who was sitting on the worktop, bold as brass, assisting with the opening signature bake of 36 savoury biscuits. “He’s potent,” Jordan said, bigging his mate up. “He’s a friend who provides me with far more than pretty much everyone else.”


Yorick was a jar of sourdough yeast. Jordan encouraged Paul Hollywood to sniff Yorick, but you could see a note of jealous panic as Paul dipped his nose in.

Jordan, with his nervous guffaw and his yeast friends, continues to be one of those people who, if we invoke Eddie Izzard’s famous Circle of Cool, is so uncool he is threatening to emerge round the other side into extremely cool. He is, however, playing with fire. Briefly glimpsed in his home kitchen this week was a “KEEP CALM WITH SWEET TREATS” biscuit barrel. Ohhhhhh no. That’s the only thing in the universe worse than a “KEEP CALM” novelty item: a “KEEP CALM” novelty item that doesn’t even bother sticking to the essential “KEEP CALM AND…” format. Infuriating. Anyway, Jordan is still among my favourite GBBO contestants ever, so let’s try to move on.

Enwezor looked to position himself as a technical master, unleashing three different types of flour and, astonishingly, cutting out his poppyseed and sunflower crackers after baking them, without cracking them up.

In a round where frills were frowned upon, Norman was in his element. He resolved to bake farthings. Just farthings. Plain, beige, round farthings. Not triangular farthing puffs with pomegranate essence and a hint of fennel. Not Iberian farthingos with chorizo and a blush tomato halo. Simply straightforward, circular farthings with little holes in, like in the 1940s. “These might be at the bottom of the list as far as taste is concerned,” he said, and this was very much a proud goal.

Most of the bakers managed a savoury biscuit easily but Norman’s were, enchantingly, the best. He’d not done much but he’d done it to perfection, earning him a gruffly admiring handshake from Paul and, Norman hoped, an apology from his wife, who had told him nobody would like his disgusting tasteless farthings.

“She’ll have to eat her words now,” said Norman cheerily. “And her biscuits.”

After the break for a wee and a fresh pot of tea – sorry, I mean the eternally fascinating historical interlude, which this week was about, er… biscuits of yesteryear, I expect – it was time for the technical bake. Florentines. 18 of them. Eighteen Florentines. An “anyone sane just gets them from Waitrose” classic.

Norman grumbled at the prospect of having to use pretentious ingredients like chocolate and cranberries instead of salt, gravel and butter. “I’ve not made much fancy stuff really – more bread and pies.”

Nobody had Florentine expertise. Enwezor tried to repeat his trick of baking them, then circle-cutting them, but this time that meant his finished product wasn’t “lacy” enough. Lacy Florentines were apparently essential, since the concept was mentioned several times by Mary Berry without her explaining in what way fruit, nut, caramel and chocolate can ever achieve laciness. But perfect circles evidently weren’t the things lacy dreams are made of. Outside after the judging, Enwezor had changed into some rueful knitwear to lament cutting all his best bits off. He was in danger. Florentine quarantine.

How long to bake for? How fine to chop the nuts? Forked chocolate zig-zags, or piped? Everything was a mystery, including how much mixture to use per biscuit. Even the usually rock ‘n roll Nancy was measuring out tiny dollops on scales, as was Diana. “I thought, add up the ingredients, divide by 18. Does that make sense?” Um, no. No it doesn’t.

Iain, who in round one had overwhelmed his figgy biscuits with invasive spices, finished last due to overbaking his Florentines, while Diana’s had a layer of chocolate heavier than Mary Berry’s alarming new “Gothic abyss” eye make-up. But nearly everyone struggled, so not much was learned.

Sometimes it’s all been decided before the showstopper, and the grand finale of the episode is actually a bit of a flat flan. Not so here, as the bakers were asked to do something in week two that felt more like a semi-final: constructing a three-dimensional, fully erect biscuit tableau. Kate, for example, set about making a teatime scene, complete with table and chairs made of biscuit, people made of biscuit, and very small biscuits made of biscuit on the table made of biscuit for the people made of biscuit to eat. And she did it.

“We don’t want to see anything bought in,” warned Mary as the judges approached the future launch site of Enwezor’s biscuit and fondant rocket. “We want it all homemade.” So was Enwezor making his own fondant?

Enwezor needed to be making his own fondant.

Enwezor was not making his own fondant.

Enwezor had bought fondant from… a shop.

“I’m not, no,” Enwezor said.

Mary didn’t like that.

All round the tent, biscuit architecture was revealing bakers’ inner selves. Martha, short of life experience at 17, reached for a classic image we all remember from childhood, when everything was simple and kicks were free: an alpine ski lodge, complete with suspended chair lift and biscuits flavoured with coffee, hot chocolate and mulled wine.

Norman, in contrast, was back to austere basics. His promised “Zulu boats at dawn” sounded worrying, but the careworn people at the BBC Editorial Policy Unit were soon able to put the Clarkson Protocol back on the shelf when it became clear that Norman was merely going to make his biscuits – which, he warned Paul and Mary, would be low on flavour – vaguely boat-shaped, with no adornment other than the reluctant use of food colouring in two slightly different shades.

Yet Norman wasn’t eliminated, meaning he’d survived an entire weekend baking nothing but unremittingly plain biscuits, apart from some compulsory nuts.

A gulf opened up between fine craftsmen and jolly hoofers. In the latter category were Jordan and his raggle-taggle Manga monster (it suddenly leapt onto the countertop as he tried to ice it), and Diana, whose steam engine had no straight edges and was oozing something brown and delicious-looking from every join.

Fortunately the two of them had both, as it turned out, baked beautiful-tasting biscuits, which meant they could more or less compete with Iain’s Wild West scene (Paul: “I love the way you’ve done the horse”), Richard’s absurdly cute pirates, and Luis’ geometrically constructed George versus the Dragon (Paul: “A very clever horse”).

Not competing was Enwezor, whose rocket was a childlike pile of biscuit and fondant instead of what it should have been: a perfectly parabolic construction complete with operational tuille blasters. The biscuit was underbaked, and that wasn’t the worst of it. Paul rather unkindly repeated the killer question, knowing that a negative answer would mean death by Berry: did Enwezor make the fondant?

“No, I didn’t.”

Mary didn’t like that at all.

>> Week one: burnt almonds, magnificent beards, volcanic chocolate eruptions