“I don’t know jackfruit,” said Mary Berry. Come on, you’re one of the nation’s favourite cooks, you must have picked up a thing or two. No but seriously Alvin, while all around him were playing safe with dried cranberries in their biscotti, was introducing an Asian fruit that can be disastrously wet. “Hopefully I’ll get away with it,” he said, mumbling something about blotting the stuff with kitchen roll.
Could he? On the voiceover, Mel Giedroyc informed us that “biscotti” means “twice-baked” in Italian – and not, as we all thought, “biscuits”. The remaining 11 bakers had to do 24 of them, identical and snappable. Dryness was paramount.
Ian had seemed like a bit of a bumbling Wodehousian booby in week one. “My wife gave me two bits of advice: make sure you don’t go out in the first week, and don’t make any jokes.” Was he vulnerable in Biscuit Week? “It’s interesting that you’re using rosemary,” said Paul Hollywood, which as we all know by now is code for “Rosemary? You are a fool and I am already bilious at the thought of your disgusting biscuits. Get out. Get out of my massive tent, you herbed buffoon.” Ian clouded over a tad.
“It’s going to be fascinating to see how they come out.” Paul was at it again, forecasting disaster re Dorret’s decision to put amber sugar crystals on top of her almond and apricot biscotti. They’re prone to becoming tooth-breakingly hard in the oven. This was positively reckless: Mary Berry’s teeth are a World Heritage site.
Bake, waft desperately with an oven tray, bake again: somewhere during that process, Marie’s biscotti started to crumble and just then, Paul Hollywood appeared at her shoulder. Cornered, Marie drew on an unexpected resource: power-flirting. “You’ve got to be nice to me,” she said in her buttery Perthshire purr, biting her lip and lightly grasping the platinum overlord’s forearm. “They’re a wee bit soft in the middle… oh, I like that face.” Paul moved off again, unwavering. It was like trying to chat up the sky to stop it raining.
In the judging, Dorret’s biscotti did indeed prove unbreakable, while Marie was coldly marked down for runny chocolate topping and irregular sizing. Alvin’s jackfruit made his biscotti bendy. But Ian had trounced Paul Hollywood by discovering a new orange + rosemary formula for gingery deliciousness. “My rosemary has been vindicated!” he grinned, before cabbing it to the Drones Club to get into scrapes with Gussy Finknottle.
“I’ve got over 100 cookbooks and the majority of them are French,” said Flora, who increasingly resembles a female version of James from series three, ie the most desirable woman imaginable. Yet even she had never heard of this week’s pedantic mystery bake: arlettes.
A sort of posh puff-pastry cinnamon whirl, arlettes demand a lot of kneading, rolling, refrigerating and layering to achieve the necessary form: laminated and waffa-theen.
“Shape into a rectangle and chill.” Apart from the instructions apparently having been written by Top Cat, they weren’t clear on how to roll the resulting rectangle. Lengthways or widthways? While Flora wrestled with that logic puzzle, Marie had more basic problems: half her arlettes had to be binned because her oven wasn’t hot enough. Surely the week one star baker wasn’t going to melt down completely and leave the contest in week two? With Dorret recovering from her biscotti-drill fiasco to bake the best arlettes, the upset was on.
36 biscuits in a biscuit box. A box made of biscuit. The box the biscuits were presented in had to contain biscuits but also itself be biscuit. Biscuits, in a biscuit box.
This was a chance for the bakers to let their creativity run amok, which in practice means a chance to horribly overthink it, and/or reveal a disturbingly weird imagination. “The cookies will be housed in a jar made from Lithuanian honey cake,” deadpanned Mel’s narration, “and from marshmallow fondant, Ugne will attempt to sculpt a baby trying to steal them.”
Bespoke gadgets and miniature construction equipment were one way to get ahead. Sandy had called in a favour with the lads from the D&T department at school, and arrived armed with two plastic moulds. Ian had made concentric aluminium biscuit guards. Nadiya, on the other hand, tried to make a domed top by part-baking a sheet of biscuit, then wrapping it round a bowl.
“Get in!” grunted Sandy as her moulds came out of the oven looking like you could build a windproof beach hut out of them. Yes, she couldn’t initially remember how they fitted together, but she was still well ahead of a tearful Alvin, who was about to drop a gingerbread bombshell: he wasn’t even going to attempt construction, and would instead offer the judges some biscuits and the sides of his box in a sad stack. The sides of the box carefully numbered, with boiled-sugar screws and a shortbread allen key, could have been Star Baker stuff, but Alvin sadly didn’t have time for that.
“Precision is everything,” said Paul – the contestant, not the judge, although Paul Hollywood surely wouldn’t disagree – as he piped “ER” above an icing representation of his past self as a Coldstream Guard, commemorating the time when he honed his wacky sense of humour. But Marie’s hands were trembling as she piped her decoration, Flora snapped her perfect box front in two at the last minute, and Nadiya had had to start her lid again after losing her nerve and giving it a fatal two minutes extra in the oven.
Paul surveyed Marie’s Russian box, the one that would have to be great to save her. “I think the biscuits look quite… plain.” Mary bundled in, criticising Marie for having a soft box. What hope was there? Ugne had endured a middling technical bake and now presented her terrifying “Baby Climbing into the Cookie Box”, a sort of irradiated Willy Wonka nightmare in which the titular baby had tragically been decapitated during the blast. Or as Mary said: “It’s a bit garish for me.” But the traditional Lithuanian biscuits inside were a triumph – and Alvin’s deconstructed biscuit box tasted great.
In the end, Ian’s rosemary won him Star Baker, while Marie was sent packing.
>> Week one: up for the crack, and fighting back against caramel
Paul Hollywood will be talking all things baking at Radio Times festival in September. You can buy tickets here.