Is it going to be worth it to explain to Americans sitting at home watching Netflix what the heck a digestive biscuit is just for a gag where Paul Hollywood pretends to need expensive dental work? I vote yes, personally. Now *this* is the improvement I was looking for in The Great British Baking Show's opening comedy sequences. They're never going to actually be funny, mind you, and that's fine. However, they always need to punch up, not down, and if punching up means Paul has to take it in the teeth from a really unappetizing-looking cookie, I'm all for it.
Last week's Cake Competition let Abbi and Dan rise to the top of the pile of pastries, while some of the more egotistical contenders sank quicker than an underdone loaf. This week is the second of the traditional trio of opening trials, with buttery (and non) biscuits in all shapes, sizes, and cookie constructions. This week is also one of those moments where we are reminded that the series is back to its old format of weekend filming over April and May, as the contestants arrive all bundled up in puffy jackets and mittens, happy to be by the warmth of their ovens.
So let's get the tea brewing, grab some cookies and milk because this is America, and no one dunks cookies in tea; what is wrong with you weirdos? It's time for the Signature challenge.
This week's Signature Challenge is a dozen Marshmallow Biscuits; think tea cakes or wagon wheels. They can be sandwich cookies, regular biscuits, chocolate-covered tea cakes, or whatever they like. But as host Alison Hammon notes, due to Shrinkflation and people fretting about things that are none of their business, marshmallow biscuits in the U.K. are far smaller per portion than they were 20 years ago, and "this is the chance to right that wrong." I am here for Giant Marshmallow Biscuits the size of Noel Fielding's head, personally. As always, the Signature is judged on a Pass/Fail metric.
- Dana Mallow-Dramatic Marshmallow Biscuits (Fail) There's no hiding how bad some look, and the flavor is overwhelming.
- Rowan Lemon, Rosemary & Violet Marshmallow Biscuits (Pass) They're tiny and neat, and the parma-violet flavor is thankfully subtle
- Saku Pistachio & Raspberry Marshmallow Biscuits (Pass) They're sadly a little underdone, but the flavors are good.
- Matty Half-Time Marshmallow Biscuits (Fail) His chocolate coating is way too thick, and the jam's all in the middle
- Josh Black Forest Marshmallow Biscuits (Pass) They're gorgeous, crack perfectly when cut, and delicious.
- Cristy Nanny June's Marshmallow Biscuits (Pass): The rose decor is lovely, and the rose flavor is spot on.
- Abbi Favours of Tunisia Marshmallow Biscuits (Pass) They're messy, but deliberately so; they are a bit too orange-flavored
- Dan Waterwheel Marshmallow Biscuits (Pass) They're not perfect looking, and our judges don't understand Peanut Butter and Banana, but he slides.
- Keith Letter from America Marshmallow Biscuits (Pass) They're ugly looking, but at least Prue understands Peanut Butter and Jelly
- Nicky Tasty Teatime Treat Marshmallow Biscuits (Fail) Shop window worthy on the outside, but her jam layer evaporated in most of them
- Tasha After-School Treat Marshmallow Biscuits (Hollywood Handshake) Her biscuits look thick but melt in the mouth, as does her marshmallow...
Tasha just got the first Hollywood Handshake of the season, so that's a comeback from Cakes. (Unsurprisingly, these are the first three challenges because they show strengths and weaknesses in the kitchen, and usually, contestants are far better in one or two out of three in Cakes/Biscuits/Bread.) Meanwhile, Nicky shows that she's not strong in either, which is never a good sign.
Judge Prue Leith will set this week's Technical Challenge since Paul did the first one, and her hint is "use your time wisely." How helpful. Alison dismisses them and then announces this week's Technical is one dozen custard creams. Unlike last week, this is harkening back to the show's early days with a historic bake, late Victorian/early Edwardian Era, and considered the "Iconic Biscuit" of the British Empire at its height. It's a sandwich cookie made of two shortbreads with a buttery custard filling, and it has this very old-school scrollwork design on top. (Abbi is clearly internally screaming; she whispers to the camera she literally researched this one the night before.)
Oh no! Cristy accidentally grabbed Rowan's biscuit dough instead of her own! Let's see who chilled out and got the timing right and who melted under the heat of pressure.
11. Keith: Dough's rubbery, no definition (aka can't read the words)
10. Saku: The biscuits are misshapen and crumbling
9. Cristy: No definition, and the dough is too thick
8. Tasha: Not defined enough, and the filling is sparse
7. Dana: Unevenly filled; not all of them have proper definition
6. Josh: Decent color, but not defined enough
5. Matty: Pale but defined and not overfilled
4. Nicky: Well filled, but some are better defined (and have better color) than others
3. Rowan: They look professional, but they're too thick and underbaked as a result
2. Dan: Ever so slightly underbaked but otherwise spot on
1. Abbi: Practically perfect in every way, even better than the real thing.
And THAT is why you do your homework. (It's also why Rowan took back his biscuit dough directly upon discovering Cristy's accidental thievery.) As for Dan, this is a sign he's a double threat, good at Cake and Cookies. If he doesn't bumble bread, he'll definitely be Top Five.
The Showstopper Challenge this week is an Illusion Biscuit display depicting their favorite meal. (And no, that meal cannot be a plate of biscuits, sorry.) There are no rules about what type of biscuits to use, no minimums (like you have to make at least two or three different kinds/flavors), only that the biscuits have to be delicious and have to fool the eye. Illusion Showstoppers have been a staple of the last few years since they became a big fad in baking. However, the series being lenient over the number of biscuits the bakers have to make is another sign of how the production is backing off engineering these challenges for failure.
Let’s see who brought super suppers and who wound up with a dog’s dinner.
Tasha’s Japanese Katsu & Matcha It is gorgeous, and almost none of it looks like a biscuit. It looks like a bowl of rice and chicken. Only the sauce looks like chocolate. That’s really quite impressive, considering. Prue says she set the bar high.
Cristy’s Family Charcuterie Board Christy’s cheeses and meats are a little more “cakes masquerading as” than the real thing, but they don’t look like biscuits. All in all, that’s more than acceptable in this instance. And they’re tasty.
Rowan’s Charcuterie Board If this is a Cheese-Off, I'd give it to Cristy over Rowan, which is only fair since he beat her in the Technical after he got his dough back. Prue says the illusion does not work, and she's not wrong.
Matty’s Cheeseboard I take it back; Matty totally wins this Cheese-Off, hands down. The judges agree, with Paul actually eager to try some of the shortbread biscuits he saw Matty making. Neither of them was as excited over the other two, and deservedly so.
Keith’s Seaside Meal Deal Poor Keith, It's cartoony as hell, which doesn't work for this challenge at all. Also, and probably more damning, is that the biscuits are way too soft and underbaked.
Dana’s Friday Night Takeaway Dana's Chicago deep dish is also a cartoon pizza, and that's me being nice because she wasn't making a deep dish pizza. However, her pasta waterfall over the pizza is the carb-on-carb love I am looking for in life.
Abbi’s Dim Sum Brunch Abbi's platter is akin to Cristy's. Some of it is truly stellar, and the stuff that isn't would pass for cake, not biscuit, and that's plenty good enough. Also, the flavors are on point.
Saku’s Sri Lankan Breakfast Feast Saku is the third to land genuinely believable illusion foods and second only to Tasha in how much looks real; there are parts of that breakfast that look completely real, especially her breads, which genuinely startle the judges. If only her eggs were as on point.
Dan’s Cheese & Onion Pie This man will go far. Yes, his utensils aren’t the most believable, but those fries are the type that will throw you when you put them in your mouth, and they’re not potatoes.
Nicky’s A Home from Home Steak Pie It’s unfortunate Nicky goes right after Dan because her fries look like biscuit sticks, her bun looks like a cookie, the beef looks like chocolate, and her peas are painfully fake.
Josh’s JJ’s Burger & Fries Nicky’s terrible platter lets Josh get away with burger patties that, from some angles, resemble chocolate discs. But everything else on his plate looks fantastic, and his burger toppings are quite something. Paul is so pleased he comes out from behind the altar and gives Josh the rare Showstopper Handshake.
Tasha is named Star Baker, which is the fair and right thing to do. (It also explains why Josh got a Showstopper Handshake since Paul had probably already made up his mind and then felt terrible.) As for who’s out somehow, it’s not Nicky but Keith. However, either of them could have gone at this point, and it would have been fine, so no significant loss.