Biscuit Week on The Great Kiwi Bake Off

Annnnnd just to thoroughly confuse you…. now it’s Biscuit Week on the Great Kiwi Bake Off!!

buttermilk biscuits
Buttermilk Biscuits

And no, I don’t mean those flaky, moist, round quickbreads from the American South – whatever gave you that idea?

I swear I didn’t plan things this way – I mean, I didn’t think Bread Week would mean scones, but I knew that when scones came up, I wanted to cover the difference between scones and biscuits, since it has come up so often since moving to New Zealand. But I didn’t know ahead of last week’s teaser for this week that Biscuit Week was next. It just kind of worked out that way.

So yeah, this week we’re talking biscuits in the Kiwi sense: Anzacs and Afghans and Shortbread and YoYos and the biscuit that kicks it all off today:

The Technical: 10 Belgium Biscuits

So in setting this Technical, Dean draws even with Sue – they’ve each set two apiece now. And the little tête-a-tête at the judges table seems to be getting better and less… stilted?… with each technical. Dean made particular mention of making sure the biscuit dough is baked enough, and not rolled out too thick, because a Belgian biscuit is a sandwich biscuit, so you’re getting double the biscuit with each bite. He also emphasizes the importance of not putting in too much jam filling, which might seem a bit obvious but, actually, a lot of people heap it in there, and then you’re just ending up with a mouthful of jam, so what’s the point of the biscuit? There does need to be balance. But… I think Sue was pushing it a bit when she said that it “looks quite simple but [is] technically quite challenging” because I don’t think any of those things are technicallychallenging. This technical is testing them on the basics – which are important – but it doesn’t seem as challenging as some of the technicals being set over on the GBBO.

I was overall surprised to see that a majority of the bakers had never made Belgium Biscuits – and two had never even seen them. They are, as Dean points out, very iconically Kiwi. I had never heard of them before living here, and the name doesn’t give a whole lot away. For those that don’t know: it’s basically a spiced shortbread sandwich biscuit with a raspberry jam filling and a hot water icing on top – usually coloured pink these days – followed by a sprinkle of sugar dyed red, or raspberry jelly (Jell-O) crystals,.

I will admit I’ve never tried one, but I do know what they are, thanks to the games of “Stump the Yank” we play at work, which basically consists of people asking me if I’ve heard of xor yand telling me about it if I haven’t. It might sound a little patronizing but honestly, I’ve learned a LOT that way.

Anyway, other thoughts: Jeff was cracking me up with this dad-jokes and Homer Simpson tribute and I was surprised that Annabel didn’t cotton on to the fact that the reason she was four biscuits short was because she didn’t roll her dough out thin enough. Stacey, who came first, had enough for 11 biscuits because the thinner you roll your dough, the larger the surface area you have and if you’re all using the same size biscuit cutter…  and sure enough, Annabel got dinged for biscuits that were too thick.

Oh and what the hell was with the breadcrumbs? I mean, yes, breadcrumbs were absolutely used to bulk out flour during World War I, I’ve read about that happening in the UK and the U.S. as well but …why in this recipe in particular and not the chocolate roulade or pineapple upside down cake? These aren’t ANZAC biscuits! Belgian biscuits heritage predates World War I…but I’m getting ahead of myself. Anyway, I thought it was totally random to include that in this recipe.

On the other hand, you will not see me balking at the addition of the ground almonds for once, because most recipes I’ve seen for Belgium biscuits call for alternative flours (usually rice or corn) that lower the overall gluten in the dough, giving it a shorter texture.

In terms of results, I was a little surprised to see Joel come last – the finish on his biscuits may have been sloppy, but the bake on them was deemed “good”, while Sonali, who was second from last, had either overbaked or underbaked biscuits, her icing colour was way too bright, there was too much filling…it just seemed like they didn’t have anything nice to say about hers, whereas at least Joel baked them well. At the top end, I would hope that someone who makes them all the time would come top, so I would have been disappointed if Stacey hadn’t won that one.

The Showstopper: A Biscuit Landmark (w/ a personal connection).

This is a popular showstopper brief on the GBBO, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned it’s that gingerbread and royal icing is usually the way to go – in fact, I think Paul Hollywood has said it’s the only way to go to lay a solid foundation. So I was surprised to see two of the eight bakers deviate and go with a cookie dough.

I was somewhat underwhelmed by the designs in general, despite some ambitious building plans:

I think Larissa summed it up best when she said that, ultimately, she felt like it was more important her structure be impressive – and standing – than taste particularly yummy and it certainly seemed like most of the bakers followed that order of priority as well because most of the finished products just looked like…well, cardboard with a bit of glue on them.

Paul Hollywood is always also quick to point out that it’s got to taste good as well as look appetizing, so on that count, I will say that Jeff’s Eiffel Tower looked the best of the bunch, with Hannah’s a close second. I also appreciated Clayton trying to carry the “beehive” theme all the way through with the honey in his dough and Annabel trying to be a bit different by replacing the ginger in her dough with other spices, but, it would have been nice to get some different textures and flavours in there as well.

And throughout this challenge, I really enjoyed seeing the hosts jumping in and helping out and being generally encouraging and entertaining and a little less scripted…it felt more genuine.

The Result

At the judges’ table after the presentation of the showstoppers, I found it odd that the judges and hosts singled out Jeff, Hannah, and Annabel being the standouts for the Showstopper, but then point out that Annabel didn’t do so well in the Technical and say nothing about Jeff’s performance in the Technical, which was worse than Annabel’s!  And then when they announced Jeff as Star Baker, Mads proclaimed that his “Belgium biscuit had a Flemish flourish”…except, it didn’t. While the judges had praised his biscuit for a nice flavour, they’d also said his icing was too light, the biscuit had been rolled out “quite roughly”, and there was too much jam in it. I think Hannah probably should have won Star Baker this week, as she finished ahead of both Jeff and Annabel in the Technical.

Down the other end of the scale, I was not surprised to see Joel and Sonali at the bottom – I feel like it’s worth noting that they were the two who used cookie dough instead of a biscuit dough, although Joel didn’t struggle from the structural problems that Sonali did. He went with the stacking method to get height, and I feel like I’ve seen a similar strategy – but with biscuits, not cookie-bricks – at some point on the GBBO and I feel like it didn’t go over so well then either. At any rate, with both of them at the bottom in both challenges, I wasn’t terribly surprised to see Sonali go home.

Leftovers

I feel like the show is finally starting to hit it’s stride a little bit, the judges are starting to act more like people and the hosts are seeming less stiff. I’ve also finally fully digested one of the reasons the overall creativity and skill level feels so much lower than the GBBO: these bakers don’t get nearly as much time to practice their signatures and Showstoppers. In an interview, Larissa said filming took two weeks for 10 episodes, so that’s a pretty relentless schedule and not at all like the GBBO where the bakers get to go home during the week and practice for the next weekend’s challenges. And I get it: the GBBO model is expensive… but I think it also makes for better viewing, as well as better judging in terms of looking at each “week” as a clean slate. That’s a helluva lot easier to do when there’s an actual week in between.

So mad respect to those bakers for doing that day after day after day. I can’t say I’d want to do it that way.

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