The Great British Bake Off 2016. Episode two: biscuits

Cathryn Dresser, GBBO series three contestant and baker extraordinaire, takes us through series 7 with an expert eye. Her know-how really takes the biscuit.

Biscuit week is definitely the hardest of all the weeks – which, by the way, I am not just saying because I left on said week. My untimely exit involved a hideous gingerbread structure... I am sure you can tell already that I found this far too stressful for words...thankfully, I found it far more enjoyable to watch than execute!

Twenty-four uniform iced biscuits that should be as crisp as Paul's hair - signature challenge gauntlet laid down. This is a really, really tricky challenge, and much more difficult than it sounds. Mary’s advice was: “Don't be too ambitious” – and of course she was right (for she is, in fact, never wrong). 

There are lots of tricky parts to the recipe – you must choose one that holds its shape and stays crisp, think about the shape, decorating techniques and, of course most importantly, the bake. Time flew by in this challenge, leaving the bakers with little time for perfect piping - especially Candice, who was making double the number of biscuits in order to create her “amazing” tasting salted caramel sandwich biscuits. Louise was Like Bo-peep and lost her Bara brith sheep to the floor as they came out of the oven – despite them being utterly lovely and very Welsh indeed, they were just too soft and not all of equal thickness, and so weren’t in fact “wagging their tails behind them”. 

Other bakers used guided rolling pins and the like to remedy any irregularities in thickness. Val was having a bit of a struggle with her shortbread ice cream cones – she, too, dropped some and had little time to get them finished. This meant that, when it came to judging, Louise, Val, Andrew and Rav (with his accidental Thai green curry biscuits) were at the bottom of the biscuit tin, while all the others seemed to do well. (Michael’s and Tom’s biscuits were my favourites.)

The technical was 12 Viennese whirls in 1 1/2 hours. I actually thought this was quite an easy one (easier said than done, as I know only too well). Really soft butter is the key, and not over-beating the mixture so that they are lovely and short and crumbly. The hardest part is getting the consistency right to be pipe-able, but firm enough to hold the whirl shape. A couple of the bakers’ mixtures were too stiff to pipe and some, with soft mixtures, cleverly chilled theirs before baking (this isn’t necessary if your mixture is of exactly the right consistency). There were some sad whirls and biscuits at breaking point. Selasi - whom I like to call ‘Relaxi-Selasi’ as he is the most chilled unflappable baker ever! - was a surprisingly low 11th place, while a calm Kate was no.1. Val redeemed herself here somewhat by coming 5th.

Now here's where I crumbled… gingerbread structure/story showstopper. This genuinely makes me sweaty and nauseous to even think about, let alone watch, let alone blog on! I watched this whole bake through my fingers and actually even cried a little: I think this is a HORRIBLE challenge! 

I loved the stories of everyone’s bakes – Michael’s and Rav’s appealed to me, as gingerbread and Christmas just go together! Some bakers went for iconic places or landmarks (...like Hastings?!).  Louise and Selasi took it to church, and Candice had a blinder and went all out on the most delicious and stupendous star-baker-worthy pub with ginger cake sticky floor - genius! With these structures it was a decision as to whether royal icing or caramel should be used as glue - I can tell you from experience that caramel is the way forward (as proven by James and John in series 3), royal icing leads to misery (as proven by...me!!!). Speaking of which, then came the heartbreak and stomach-in-the-mouth moments of cracking, slipping, falling and overall destruction. All showstoppers have to be carried to the front for judging, which only adds to the risk and terror. Poor wonderful Val’s Statue of Liberty broke before it was even moved. I do think that Val’s gingerbread went under the radar a bit; with her traditional recipe and beautifully crafted and detailed figures and buildings... However, Paul did enjoy a bit of Val’s sister, Sue (who was a biscuit). But, it was Louise’s church that properly collapsed, more than once. Louise was a Welsh Wonder Woman for me this week: she kept utterly composed in a situation where a lesser baker would have wept (yes, I did that, on TV, to the nation).  She did herself proud and her biscuit tasted good.  Goodbye and good luck, lovely Louise, congrats clever Candice and keep going valiant Val!

Another cracking - if stressful - week of glorious GBBO telly. Roll on bread week (as in bread roll...do see what I did there?!). I am loving this series so much. No early predictions from me yet… maybe next week!

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