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Paul and Marie

Great British Bake Off 2015, Week 2 - Biscuit Week

by Howard Middleton Thursday, August 13, 2015

As the contestants snap into biscuit week Bake Off legend Howard 'custardgate' Middleton takes us through the episode's culinary journey, from moist jackfruit to collapsing biscuit lids.

More from this series:

Howard Middleton is an amateur baker from Sheffield, who first caught the public’s attention on series 4 of the BBC’s The Great British Bake Off. Howard’s first book, Delicious Gluten-Free Baking, was published by Little Brown in September.

In the time-honoured tradition of reality TV programmes, our eleven intrepid bakers have certainly been on a ‘journey’ this week – without stepping so much as a flour-flecked foot out of the tent.

First stop is Italy for the signature bake of two dozen biscotti. We gasp in awe, as we are told this is a first for a Bake Off signature bake. Indeed… these twice-baked rusks have only ever appeared before as a technical challenge in Junior Bake Off.

Frankly, there seem to be a lot of cranberries… and chocolate. Alvin however is introducing us to the genuinely pioneering jackfruit. The juicy jackfruit is notoriously wet. And Alvin is putting it into a biscuit that is notoriously dry. The tension is palpable. I have to pause the programme and steady myself with a glass of wine.

Marie is having trouble with her oven. In an encounter just half an inch short of flirtatious, she appeals to Paul’s better nature and explains her predicament. Paul smirks – his better nature is not coming out to play today.

Dorret has a perfectly logical explanation for her ingredients – citing the fact that these are classic coffee dunkers, she tops her biscotti with amber sugar crystals. Dorret claims she is not overly worried. Paul crushes her hopes with his molars, informing her that he’s off to the dentist.

In an unexpected intervention, Mary tells Paul, “We’ve caught you with sticky hands”. Just to clarify, she’s talking to ‘amateur’ Paul, not ‘professional’ Paul.

Let's hope Nadiya isn't basing her signature bake on the recipe behind her
Let's hope Nadiya isn't basing her signature bake on the recipe behind her
Marie's oven crisis
Marie begins to fall apart, just like her biscotti

At the judging, Alvin presents his dangerous jackfruit. The nation holds its breath. Paul says his biscotti needed five minutes more.

The technical challenge transports the bakers to southern France for arlettes – crispy spiced discs of thin puff pastry. In the judges’ very private mini-tent, Mary tastes the exemplary arlettes and says they’re “sheer perfection”. It’s a favourite Mary phrase – I still live for the day she says it about anything I bake. I pour myself another glass of wine as consolation.

Arlettes turn out to be a mystery tour for most. The technique involves a reverse lamination process (oh, get me – my mum will be so proud) – basically you wrap the butter around the dough. This instruction puts several bakers in a spin.

Over the years, every tent-dwelling baker has asked the same question during a technical challenge – now it’s Dorret who utters the immortal words, “Is this right?” Bake Off bingo!

At the finishing line, Flora clearly has the upper hand. Amid a collection of what look like hefty drinks coasters and cartoon monkey ears, Flora’s look the thinnest, crispiest, most perfectly laminated little arlettes. But just when you think things are spiralling Flora’s way, Dorret snatches victory from the biscuit crunching jaws of defeat and claims the top spot.

 
 
Paul's arlette
Paul literally rubbing his hands with glee ahead of this week's tricky technical challenge
Arlettes on the table
The judges assess the motley collection of biscuits

For the showstopper, the challenge is to produce a box of biscuits. And the box must also be made of biscuit. And the box must be a different biscuit to the biscuits in the box. Are you keeping up with this?

Mary suggests that gingerbread would make a good box. Tamal flavours his with star anise and creates tasty anisebread instead.

Nadiya is pinning her hopes on a container of fortune cookies, but she makes the mistake of trying to dry off her biscuit ‘bowl’ with another five minutes in the oven. It melts.

Tragedy also strikes for Alvin, whose box lies unconstructed like an ambrosial Airfix kit. Alvin’s lip trembles. The nation weeps.

 
 
Rebellious Sandy, this week's lone savoury wolf
Rebellious Sandy, this week's lone savoury wolf
Box disaster
It isn't and it's not

I give a little cheer as rebellious Sandy is the only one to go down the savoury route, with cheese and sundried tomatoes. Sandy is a baker after my own heart. In the absence of Sandy actually being here with me for a drink, I pour myself another glass of wine in celebration.

Mary, vibrantly attired in floral red, white and blue blouson, claims that Ugne’s bake is too garish for her taste.

Now, far be it from me to point out that since the Bake Off moved to BBC1, we appear to have had no out gay bakers on the programme. It’s probably no big deal. But it does mean that it’s left to super straights Ian and Paul to pay tribute to the programme’s diverse (some might say camp) heritage with their pink macarons. Oh, and fireman Mat turns up with a butch biscuit fire engine for good measure.

At the final destination, it’s Ian who is duly upgraded to first class. And in a Bake Off first, poor Marie plummets from last week’s peak of acclaim to the depths of despair and is sent packing – back home to put her feet up with nice cup of tea and a bisc… well, on second thoughts, maybe not.

 
 

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