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The Great British Baking Show’s “Biscuit Week” brings chocolate and newtons and dragons, oh my!

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After returning with the solid “Cake Week,” season 10 of The Great British Baking Show moves on to biscuits for episode two. As a massive fan of cookies, “Biscuit Week” is always a favorite, but the show has struggled over the seasons to come up with memorable, striking challenges in this subgenre. While many of the disciplines featured on Baking Show are highly specialized and precise, cookies are accessible and for that reason, easily overlooked or underestimated. It’s encouraging, then, that the episode kicks off with Michael, Alice, and Jamie lamenting the challenges that come with biscuits, setting the table for an exciting installment.

First up is the signature challenge, and this season, the bakers will be making chocolate bars. They need to bake a cookie and include it, along with some form of filling, in a chocolate shell. Some bakers focus on their biscuits, like Steph, who doubles up on her coffee shortbread with only a layer of caramel between, while others dress up their bars with layers of different textures and flavors. Henry has six layers planned, for example, all of which sound delicious, but at what point does the result become more candy than cookie? After a calm start, and somewhat of a mad scramble toward the end, it’s time for judging. Michelle, Alice, and Rosie absolutely crush the challenge, getting high marks from the judges and presenting beautiful, bakery window-ready bars. A few of the bakers struggle, notably Jamie, but most get mixed reviews, with the judges finding one or two flaws, but a lot to praise.

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For the technical challenge, Paul goes with a childhood favorite of his, fig rolls. The bakers must make 12 identical cookies from a recipe with details like the measure for the spices and baking time withheld. Fig rolls are commonly known in the United States as Fig Newtons, a Nabisco cookie first produced in 1891. Sandi and Noel refer to controversy over whether they’re more cookies or cakes, but this side of the pond, they’re squarely in the cookie camp. The rolls don’t make for a particularly visually exciting challenge, and the segment passes quickly and without much drama, however the results are surprisingly varied. Helena struggles mightily and winds up last, Jamie’s odd choice to egg wash his rolls—despite no mention of this in the recipe—puts him second to last, and the next several lowest-ranked bakers all get points off for having uneven pastry or unevenly shaped and sized rolls, or for over-spicing their fig paste. Alice takes the top spot, closely followed by David and Phil. All three do well, producing tasty and nearly identical rolls.

Going into the showstopper challenge, Jamie is going to need a miracle to stay in, after his challenging and stressful first day, and both Helena and Amelia are in danger as well. Alice is out ahead of the pack in the race for star baker, but both Rosie and Michelle did well in the signature and only middling in the technical, and could overtake Alice with their showstoppers should she falter. For their final challenge of the episode, the bakers must create three-dimensional biscuit sculptures, the more extravagant and visually stunning the better. There are no requirements around the type of cookie they should use, or how many, and fortunately, while many bakers use the expected gingerbread, there’s plenty of variety in their designs and flavors.

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The bakers’ showstoppers highlight their creativity, and viewers are treated to a wide range of recipes and designs. There is a theme, however: Animals. Helena is staying on brand with a chocolate and orange tarantula, hatching from a giant lemon and Earl Grey shortbread egg. Steph is going more traditionally cute with a “bis-cat” made out of brandy snap, spiced shortbread, and gingerbread. Rosie is immortalizing her family’s chicken, Legs, out of gingerbread and tuile while Phil is crafting his childhood tortoise out of sugar cookie, Florentines, and brandy snaps. Michael is making a Highland cow out of tuile and chocolate and orange gingerbread, while Alice is building a New Zealand lamb out of gingerbread and macarons, and both Priya and Michelle are making dragons, though they’re using a range of different cookies to execute their designs.

On the non-animal side of things, Henry and Jamie were inspired by the instruments they play, Henry making a church organ out of gingerbread and brandy snaps and Jamie a guitar out of chocolate gingerbread and lemon shortbread. David is making citrus and herb shortbread flowers, with almond tuile leaves, while Amelia is recreating a childhood memory in the form of a seascape with Viennese whirl ocean and lemon shortbread waves. Though several of the bakers hit snags over the course of the four-hour bake, the showstoppers by and large live up to the name. These are some of the most creative and beautiful cookie creations the show has seen.

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The producers and hosts make hay out of both Priya and Michelle making dragon sculptures, pitting the two against each other and hoping for drama. Thankfully, both bakers sidestep that and focus on what they’re doing. During the judging for the showstoppers, however, the episode returns to this. The editors cut very intentionally to Michelle during Priya’s critique, and vice versa, hoping to catch a reaction when Priya gets negative feedback for her langues de chat, and when Michelle gets rave reviews for her flavor (though of course, those reactions may have been spliced in from entirely different parts of filming). They’re hoping to build narratives based on interpersonal drama instead of trusting the inherent suspense that comes with baking and the format of the show. It feels artificial and forced, and it’s very disappointing. This is not what viewers tune into this show for. We watch for moments like the end of the signature round, when Michelle jumped in to help Jamie, Michelle and Helena pitched in with Priya, and David helped Henry. Part of what sets Baking Show apart from other competitive baking shows is its sense of camaraderie and community, and Noel going over to ask Michelle if she’s annoyed that Priya’s also making a dragon completely undermines that.

In the end, the showstopper round gives Helena some much-needed affirmation, but otherwise does little to shake up the standings. Alice walks away as Star Baker and Jamie is sent home. Jamie seems like a good baker, just one who, like so many of the contestants eliminated early, does not thrive under the stress of the tent. It was definitely his time to go, but at least he went out after getting some positive feedback on his delicious, though visually underwhelming, showstopper. As for the rest of the bakers, a handful—Alice, Michelle, David, Rosie, and a few others—are starting to pull away from the rest as potential finalists. We’ll see next episode whether these front-runners have what it takes to thrive in what has become a reliable early indicator of who can go the distance on Baking Show: Bread week.

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Stray observations

  • Another episode, another example of how presenting Prue as Paul’s equal, and not subordinate, helps the show: She knows what matcha tastes like, and saves Paul when he starts rambling about Helena’s freshly-baked cookie tasting stale. Now how about letting her stand in front once in a while?
  • The fig roll technical is a great example of the discovery that the technical challenge can bring. It somehow never occurred to me that Fig Newtons, which were a staple of my childhood family road trips, were based on an actual cookie you could bake at home.
  • I was not prepared for the British pronunciation of nougat, “new-gah,” as compared to the American pronunciation, “new-git.”
  • This episode, in Baking Show loves double entendres: David’s “It’s just nice to have some toasted nuts” and Paul’s “How big’s your organ gonna be, Henry?,” as well as Sandi’s much more playful return to the organ jokes later with Henry.
  • Despite still missing Mel and Sue, I’ve come to enjoy Noel and Sandi quite a bit. FYI, they were kidding around during the signature challenge, but rolling pins are actually great for working out knots in your forearms, if you’ve done something foolish like spent all day rolling out cookies without stretching.
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