If I was ever to go on Mastermind, biscuits could well be my specialist subject.
As a builder, I’m a connoisseur of every type of biscuit; you can tell a lot about a customer from the quality of the biscuits they give their builders. We all have our favourites on site: my dad loves a peanut butter cookie, but for me, you can’t beat a custard cream.
I’ve got fond memories of my own series’ biscuit week when I got my first Star Baker prize, so I was really looking forward to this week’s episode. I’m on holiday in France at the moment, but thanks to a decent WiFi connection at the pool bar I managed to tune in.
I love biscotti. My wife has teased me for years after hearing me bellow from the top of a scaffold “Oi! Who’s nicked all my biscotti?!” Not necessarily what you’d expect to hear on a building site. It is admittedly quite a difficult biscuit to master, but it has so much versatility, as the bakers proved in this episode.
My own biscotti favourite is the recipe in my book, B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself, for chocolate, orange and pistachio biscotti. Delish! But of the flavours on show in this episode, I was really intrigued to see Alvin’s use of jackfruit. I really like jackfruit but I haven’t cooked with it before and would have been nervous about adding fresh fruit.
Yet again, Nadiya was my one to watch. Her coconut, fennel and pistachio biscotti sounded right up my street and she did a cracking, cool-headed job of styling it out when she’d forgotten to add her fennel. My heart goes out to them when you see a montage of all the bakers furiously fanning their bakes. The time pressures in the tent are really hard to explain unless you try replicating the same bakes in the same times at home. There’s never enough time!
I’ve never made an arlette. But from the comfort and relaxation of my poolside view on holiday, I admit the words, “I could make these, no problem” passed my lips!
I do think it’s good how unpredictable the technical challenges are. With arlettes, timing is the first challenge, followed by the conditions in the tent. Sunny days are murder as your butter will just melt.
Marie really seemed to drop the ball making half a batch; when you’re there, it’s like one of those awful nightmares where you turn up at an exam and haven’t done any revision. Dorret was lucky to win the technical challenge because to my knowledge I don’t think they’ve ever sent home someone who’s come top in a technical.
This showstopper was just my kind of challenge: I think I’d have made a toolbox with different compartments filled with different tools… in fact I’m tempted to make this at some point soon anyway!
But I’m not sure what went wrong for the bakers this week, it was like they’d entered the Biscuit Bermuda Triangle. Poor Flora snapped her beautiful biscuit, Alvin didn’t have time to finish his construction, Sue accidentally broke Nadiya’s lid (good on Sue for taking the rap for it though) and as for Marie… I am absolutely gutted for her.
Oven malfunctions are the worst, especially when you’ve practised so many times at home in conditions you know inside out. It was a bit like Kate in my series of Bake Off: the week she left it was partly down to her deep fat fryer having an automatic shut down function and leaving her with undercooked wares.
I don’t like to be critical when I appreciate the pressure the guys are all under, but I was a little bit disappointed with the showstoppers this week. However, in a week where quite a few made mistakes it was important to listen out for how they tasted. In both the signature and the showstopper, Ian did a cracking job and his Star Baker was well earned this week.
I’m so disappointed for Marie though. She should leave with her head held high – relatively few bakers ever get the Star Baker accolade and while her cookies crumbled, she remains the Madeira queen!
Paul Hollywood will be at the Radio Times Festival this September. Tickets are available here.