Welcome to week two of The Great British Baking Show, everybody! Before we get started I’d like to clarify something that’s befuddled some of our international readers who know this show as The Great British Bake Off: In America the Pillsbury Corporation legally owns the right to the term “bake off” and are standing by ready to sue the sweater off Noel and friends the second anyone slips up. You don’t mess with the Doughboy.
Now let’s get on with it then: IT’S COOKIE BISCUIT WEEK! Who doesn’t love a good biscuit? Possibly Sk8er Boi Jamie, who claims he doesn’t make a whole lot of biscuits, because why would he. After all, what are the odds he’d need to make biscuits on a baking show?
Even though cookies are one of the most perfect things to have ever existed on god’s green earth, they’re not nearly dramatic enough to look at on the screen at length. This is why the contestants are being asked to make “12 decorated chocolate biscuit bars”, but make no mistake about it: These are candy bars. They’re Twix on steroids and amphetamines, and they’re a gigantic pain in the ass to make, especially in a limited time frame. I salute everyone in the tent for signing up for this at all, because I sure as hell don’t ever need this sort of stress in my life. Can we take a beat to remind ourselves this is what these people do as a hobby? Base jumping looks more relaxing than this nutty, nougat-filled nightmare.
Week one is always a little rough to watch, because the greatest thing about the GBBS is the fact that, in time, these contestants will start to feel like my second family. They help each other out, cry when people are eliminated, and generally act like the types of civilized human beings you rarely see on television. In week two they start to feel a bit less like strangers, especially as the focus of this round really is less about what is being baked, and more about the personal vignettes showing what these people’s lives are like outside the confines of the tent.
We learn that Halloween-obsessed Helena used to be a professional poker player, which I still can’t believe is an actual job. Veterinarian (and 3:1 odds of winning it all) Rosie very clearly has spent all week training for the biscuit challenge, but still found some time to surgically remove a worm from a horse’s eye socket. Lorry truck driver Paul loves sharing his baked goods with the members of his motorcycle gang, and has leapfrogged over the competition to become my favorite person on this show.
Cementing his status as my least favorite person is, no surprise, Sk8er Boi Jamie, whose hobbies include drinking at the pub and playing guitar. Sure, this is the exact thing I was doing when I was 20, but I at least had the sense not to sign up for a baking show and then forget to learn how to make cookies. His staggering incompetence in this round does give us a very sweet moment where Welshwoman Michelle (4:1 odds of winning) rushes in to try and save him. I hope he sent her a nice fruit basket to thank her for transforming this:
Just for reference, let’s take a quick second to see what Michelle’s looked like:
Know what? Maybe I’ll bump her odds up to 73. She’s a good egg, this Michelle.
Despite Michelle saving Jamie’s ass the best she could, Paul says they “look bad and taste bad”. Your boyish charms can’t save you, Sk8er Boi, especially with young Henry standing only feet away in his preppy tie like a big ol’ piece of irresistible cougar-bait.
The contestants may never have heard of fig rolls, but we here in America know them quite well as the improbably popular supermarket cookie Fig Newtons. As an overall challenge, this round is extremely important: A good baker should have the ability to see little more than a list of ingredients and make the magic happen based on an existing knowledge of technique. It’s the round that tells you who has been doing their homework, because if you’re going to be on what is quite possibly the most important show on television, you need to respect the whole institution and study everything. Alas, while the importance of this round cannot be overstated, it’s also tremendously boring to write about so let’s just move onto the best part of every episode….
3D biscuit sculpture is one of my favorite challenges every season, because it pits big, big dreams against the brutal and uncompromising laws of gravity. The sculptures some of these contestants have sketched out are almost unreasonable. Rosie makes an edible version of her pet chicken, Legs, who I assume is watching at home, filled with birdy terror. Helena makes a coconut-flecked homage to tarantula birth, and I am always a big fan of foods that celebrate the miracle of life. Alice makes an adorable sheep out of macarons, and her odds of winning have just up to 2:1. Priya makes an unbelievably intricate and impressive dragon covered in individual cookie scales. Michelle also makes a dragon, but hers is Welsh so it’s crankier. Henry is making an edible version of the church organ he plays to help pay his college tuition. Paul asks him how big his organ is and I reflexively take my top off. My husband and children, who watch this show with me, are horrified.
Jamie is making a guitar, because he plays the guitar. It’s ugly and gross and seriously who let him on this damn show? I have cooked on live television before and fully appreciate that it’s an utterly terrifying experience that in no way reflects real life, but sweet baby Jebus this man is making a mockery of a show that is as sacred as church. As the judges pick apart his guitar looking for silver linings, my husband turns to me and says that Jamie will spend the rest of his twenties flitting between every brain-cell-destroying show produced by MTV, and will probably get a cookbook deal to boot. I cry silently, as I know he is right.
Thankfully, after avoiding elimination last week, Jamie is sent back to the pub to rock out with his twin brother and possibly learn how to bake a proper biscuit. I am grateful that I no longer have a contestant I’m actively rooting against, because that goes against the very spirit of what this show is about. Next week the remaining (and very enamoring) contestants will be tackling bread, another perennial favorite where there are so many chances for irreparable disaster. I can’t wait!