After getting off to a solid start with “Cake Week,” The Great British Baking Show is back for what is often one of the more underappreciated episodes, “Biscuit Week.” Rarely as complicated as the other categories of bakes, cookies are one of the most familiar and reliable types of bakes, which means the bakers usually deliver at a high level. They’re also a great way to identify who has the creative chops to really distinguish themselves. Cookie recipes are passed down and around for generations, which means they’re often highly personalized and distinct. It also means it’s hard to find a new cookie. Everything’s been tried, so delivering something that falls within the brief but feels new or different says a lot.
“Biscuit Week” begins with some helpful cookie facts from Noel and Matt. Two episodes in, they’re still establishing their rapport but for now at least, it’s delightful. They’re goofy and irreverent with a strong dose of chaotic energy. The bakers head into the tent with clear goals. Laura wants to stay cool, while Sura just wants to not cry. Mark is excited, and Lottie is terrified, and she’s not the only one. Star Baker Peter thinks it’ll be a tricky episode, and Mak just wants to make it through. Cookies are clearly not his jam.
For the signature challenge, the bakers must make 36 Florentines that are dipped, decorated, or coated in chocolate. They need to be uniform and the judges are very clear that they must snap. Florentines are cookies made with dried fruit, nuts, and caramel, baked and then coated on one side with chocolate. They’re a good choice for a signature challenge, very doable in the signature’s two hour time frame with plenty of room for personalization.
Peter decides to celebrate sticky toffee pudding with his Florentines, using dates for an element of chew and caramelized white chocolate to give a toffee flavor. Toffee’s also on Sura’s mind, her Florentines inspired by sohan, traditional Persian saffron brittle. She’s using rosewater and saffron, and serving hers with cardamom tea. Linda is focusing on her decorations, using crystallized ginger in her Florentines and decorating them with sugar flowers. Then there’s the mango crew. Mark, Mak, Dave, and Hermine are all using mango in their bakes. Mark is pairing his with macadamia nuts, cardamom, and white chocolate, Mak is going with cumin seeds, Dave is focusing on his feathered chocolate decorations, and Hermine is using coconut and ruby chocolate.
Laura’s worried her salted caramel Florentines may be too bitter with dark chocolate, so she opts for milk chocolate. Rowan also embraces sugar, using modeling chocolate on his bakes to create individualized waistcoats or vests. Marc’s cookies stand out as the only square Florentines, and he’s also the only baker besides Hermine to select ruby chocolate. As for Lottie, this bake hits close to home for her. Florentines are her grandparents’ favorites, so she’s making Quarantine Florentines, the cookies she’s been dropping off for them over the past months while she’s been unable visit.
There’s some lag from baker to baker—Hermine is in trouble early on—but for the most part, everyone seems to move through the bake pretty well. The timing seems to be the trickiest part of the process. Some Florentines need seven minutes, others 11 or 12, with additional time allotted depending on the tray placement in the oven. The bakers are all concerned that their Florentines’ snap, and if they pull the cookies too soon, they’ll be chewy. Then there’s the chocolate to worry about. Having struggled to temper white chocolate many a time, watching Mak and Mark power through their tempering process is incredibly relatable. The bakers manage their tempers and before long, it’s time for judging.
Overall, Paul and Prue enjoy, but are not floored by the bakes. Dave’s feathered chocolate Florentines taste good and have a good snap, but lack texture. Mark’s mango and white chocolate bakes are tasty, but too sweet. Laura’s are flavorful and snap well, but again are overly sweet, due to using milk chocolate instead of dark. Sura’s look beautiful and taste delicious, but don’t snap. Paul in particular is floored by Peter’s caramelized white chocolate Florentines, which he finds truly unique and delicious, but again, they don’t snap. Similarly, Prue loves Marc’s flavors and his bake overall, but they too do not snap.
That leaves four bakers at the bottom of the pack. Rowan once again ran out of time, half of his Florentines vest-less and all of them out of balance. Molding chocolate is incredibly sweet, so anything he gained in decoration he lost in flavor. Linda’s flower-topped bakes are commended for their flavor and texture, but they’re more brandy snap than Florentine, and both Hermine and Mak struggled with their mangos, Hermine’s winding up chewy and Mak’s gooey. Only one baker hits it out of the park. Practice clearly does make perfect, as Lottie’s Quarantine Florentines get high praise from Prue and earn her the first Paul Hollywood Handshake of the season.
With just a few moments to bask in Lottie’s handshake, it’s time for the technical. Prue has set the challenge this time, asking the bakers to make 12 hand-shaped coconut macaroons, six with a mango curd and six with a chocolate center and drizzled topping. Macaroons are sweet cookies made of coconut flakes, egg whites, rice flour, and condensed milk, baked low and slow to get a golden, crisp exterior and a soft and chewy interior. They have an hour and 45 minutes, which is plenty of time when you know what you’re doing, but not enough time to make any significant mistakes. Instructions like, “Make the mango curd” and “Bake” aren’t particularly helpful either. Most of the bakers seem confident with how to make the curd, though, and aside from Mark, who takes much more time with his curd than the rest of the bakers, everyone seems to be on the same page and timeline.
The bakers are comfortable enough with the bake that the editors actually manage to splice together a rather comprehensive and confidence-inspiring how-to montage for viewers looking to try their hand at the recipe. There are tips and tricks for getting a silky curd, clear steps for making and piping the batter, and just enough angst over shaping and baking to keep things interesting. The distinguishing element for this technical will be the bakers’ hand-shaping skills and their timing. How much nerve will they have? Will they leave their macaroons in long enough or get anxious and pull them too soon? How quickly can they spoon in their curd and drizzle their chocolate, so that the macaroons are appropriately golden, but they don’t run out of time with the finishing touches?
As the bakers set their macaroons out for judging, prospects look high. This is one of the more successful recent technicals. There are clear differences between the trays—Rowan’s in particular look a mess—but overall, they’ve done well. It’s not a surprise when Rowan comes in last. Peter is tenth, his macaroons significantly under-baked, despite looking great, and under-baking is a theme. A full half of the bakers took theirs out too early. Marc is ninth, thanks to his lack of uniformity in size and shape, while Lottie’s small macaroons put her in eighth. Laura is seventh, her cookies tasting delicious but like so many, needing more time. Sura is the first not to get dinged on under-baking, landing in sixth thanks to her varying sizes of bakes. Hermine is fifth, as hers are a bit difficult to cut and eat, while Linda is fourth, having over-blitzed her coconut. This puts Mak in third, Prue declaring his macaroons “absolutely excellent,” while Mark’s patience is rewarded with second place and Dave gets first, praised for his lovely flavor and perfect curd.
In a bit of a surprise, the episode skips over the usual pre-showstopper check-in with the judges and heads right to the final challenge. The bakers have four hours to make a three-dimensional biscuit table setting inspired by a memorable meal they’ve once had. The judges want them to sculpt and mold their dough to create realistic-looking teapots, cups, and other accoutrement, fooling the eye while still tasting delicious. This is not dissimilar to the premiere’s cake bust showstopper, but moving from replicating faces to inanimate objects makes all the difference. While the cake showstopper was designed as a bit of fun more than a serious challenge, this is a far more doable brief, and expectations will be higher.
Rowan, in trouble after day one, is again over-promising with a lemon biscuit and brandy snap tea set inspired by a lighthouse. Peter is going Scottish with his, making a gingerbread and Cranachan haggis to go with his table setting. Mark, inspired by his love of Ethiopian coffee, is making a set complete with traditional Jebena coffee pot from a charcoal, cinnamon, and coffee biscuit. Then there’s Lottie, who’s making a gingerbread and charcoal longboat for her Viking display. Mak, feeling better after his strong technical, has opted for an Art Deco tea set for his Indian Chai service, while Dave heads to Mexico for his taco-inspired spread. Sura uses speculaas for her elaborately decorated Ramadan tea set, and Mark goes the other way, with a simple breakfast of coffee and toast, out of gingerbread. The last three bakers each bring their own spins to tea: Linda is hoping for points for her delicate and highly decorated shortbread High Tea in Amsterdam, Laura calls to mind her grandmother’s 80th birthday with her gingerbread celebration tea, and Hermine is looking to set her gingerbread Sakura tea set apart with stencils and hand-painting.
Prue notes the range of inspirations among the bakers. Their showstoppers run the gamut and for the most part, they seem to do well with their chosen flavors. As she says, this is a talented cast. There’s a strong base of technical know-how among the group and they have enough confidence in their baking that they feel comfortable making specific and memorable choices. If they can maintain their current level, viewers are in for a treat this season, and the judges will have their work cut out for them.
A few of the bakers are in the weeds as the clock ticks down, particularly Rowan, Lottie, and Mak. Rowan is up first for judging, and while he does finally manage to finish the essentials of his planned bake within the allotted time, his biscuits are overworked and rubbery. He’s not the only baker to struggle. Hermine’s Sakura tea set looks beautiful, but has flavor issues and is a bit clumsy. Mak is dinged for clumsy execution as well, building rather than sculpting with his admittedly tasty dough. Then there’s Laura, who has over-relied on her cake stand, laying her delicious cookies on top of it instead of truly building her display out of them. As for Lottie, her longboat may have some issues, but Prue in particular is impressed with her display, appreciating its creativity.
Specificity and theme remains a strong indicator for the remainder of the bakes. The judges love Marc’s morning coffee and toast, which benefited from Marc’s background as a sculptor. Linda’s detailed decorations make up for her slightly over-worked dough, giving her tea set its needed delicacy. Mark’s Ethiopian coffee set may look scruffy, but it has a kick and personality to spare, while Sura’s strong biscuit work makes up for her somewhat rushed decorations. Then there’s Dave and Peter, who deliver two of the judges’ favorites with their tacos and haggis, thanks to their neat presentations, tasty flavors, and spot-on colors.
There are a few contenders for Star Baker, but Dave’s remarkable showstopper puts him over the top. The elimination is a bit trickier. Rowan and Mak are lagging behind the others, with Mak having a much stronger technical showing than Rowan, but Rowan benefiting from much more interesting signature and showstopper concepts, even if he struggled in execution. Ultimately, Paul and Prue send Mak home, and no one is more surprised than Rowan. Mak knew from the start of the episode that he was in danger, and while he’s saddened to leave, he’s grateful for his time in the tent. Rowan will need to up his technique and quickly if he wants to stay for much longer. He may have squeaked through on biscuits, but next is “Bread Week,” and Paul will not be so forgiving again.
- I know a thing or two about baking cookies, but I’ve never felt compelled to create cookie scenes or constructions, even gingerbread houses. It never seems worth the effort plus, as the bakers demonstrated, doing so often results in overworked dough. Give me a plate of carefully crafted or decorated cookies over a biscuit tea set any day.
- The judges and bakers talk about practicing their bakes. How are they doing so, now that they’re in their production bubble? Or do they mean back before they went into production?
- Noel’s low-key chaotic energy is infectious and endearing, as are his giggle-fests with Sura and Laura.
- Laura is all of us when faced with challenging decorations, “It needs to look realistic, and not like a five-year-old’s done it which, I’m not gonna lie, is kind of a challenge.”
- I would not have anticipated after the premiere that Mak would be out second. Rowan is charming and self-aware, but based on what we see here, I’d have sent him home instead.
- Having recently binged The Great Pottery Throw Down—all three seasons currently available on HBO Max—I enjoyed the potter shout-outs. If you need another heartwarming reality fix while waiting for the next episode, check out Throw Down.