Long Reads

The Great British Baking Show Episode 2: Biscuits!

July 12, 2016

Allison Robicelli will be recapping each episode, week-by-week. Read her last, and tune in to the show on PBS.

It’s biscuit week on The Great British Baking Show! Biscuits are what they call cookies in Britain because they're adorable.

Photo by James Ransom

It appears to be a bit of a chilly day in England, because Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry are doing their asides in matching blue down jackets, like contestants in the Motherboy pageant. Sadly, the temperatures have dashed my hopes that Paul Hollywood will be wearing a kilt this week. Not that he ever wears a kilt normally, but I think that by putting it out into the universe week after week, just like Oprah taught me to, it will eventually happen. The fact that this show was filmed over a year ago, and is just being released in America now, will not matter. My intentions are strong enough that they can travel through time.

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Our first challenge is biscotti, a tricky wicket if there ever was one. The cookies need to be shaped, baked, sliced into perfectly uniform pieces, and baked again in only two hours. I think this is no big deal, but then the soothing voiceover lady begins saying things like “if the timing of their first bake isn’t absolutely perfect, they will be burnt on the second bake” and I start freaking out. I had no idea that could happen! Sometimes my first bake is 30 minutes, but sometimes it’s 32, and now I’m second guessing my entire career.

Apparently in Britain, biscotti are supposed to be crunchy, but not too crunchy. The classic type that needs to be dipped in a bit of coffee or vin santo is no good, as we learn when Mary is served such a type and we're all made to worry, in an intensely dramatic moment, that she will break her teeth. Maybe biscotti need to be soft across the pond because Britain's notoriously awful dental situation?

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Top Comment:
“I bought jackfruit today to try in biscotti!”
— Suzan

One contestant, Alvin, decides to put fresh jackfruit into his biscotti, and the judges have no idea what it is. As we know and they might not, it was supposed to be “The Next Big Thing in Dried Fruit” back in 2006, but never took off. This kills me, because jackfruit is likely the best dried fruit I have ever tasted and I was going through about two pounds a day before its first album flopped and we got stuck with acai bowls. Life isn’t fair sometimes. Like now, for Alvin, because the fruit adds too much moisture to a biscotti dough, and he fails miserably.

The judges worry about Ian, who is putting rosemary in his biscotti, which could make it taste like it was humping a Christmas tree. But not to worry—Ian is using his magic rosemary that he brought from home! And here I was, thinking I was the only person who has fresh herbs in her wallet. The judges love it. Bravo, Ian!

Next comes the technical challenge…..

This week’s recipe comes courtesy of Paul Hollywood: arlettes, which are described as “a high end, light, delicate, cinnamon-flavored biscuit.” I have never heard of this cookie. Not only that, but I can’t pronounce it.

What makes this challenge extra fun is that not only is it a cookie no one else has ever heard of, either, but they have next to no information on it. They are only given a list of ingredients and a few rudimentary directions. From the contestants' commentary, I gathered these are the directions:

  1. Don’t rush it.
  2. Make the dough.
  3. Piss off / bake.

We cut to Paul and Mary discussing arlettes, and I deduce it's a palmier that gets smushed wafer thin before baking it. I turns out I have made this before! By accident.

Is THIS an arlette? Nobody knows. Photo by James Ransom

Once the contestants figure out that they need to be making a laminated dough, they all look like they’re going to cry. Especially Dorret—she of the Black Forest cake fail of last episode—who has looked like this since the opening minutes of episode one. But she comes out with a big win in this challenge! Everyone knows she needed this, so well wishes and pats on the back are exchanged. I love this show so much.


Contestants are tasked with making three dozen of any sort of biscuit they choose, but, they must be presented in a box made from a different type of cookie. This means that co-host Sue Perkins—who, according to her Wikipedia page, is one of the “highest-profile lesbians in London”— is going to make tons of double entendres.

We get to learn a little bit more about contestant Paul this week, who, in addition to being a prison warden, was also one of those guys who walks around Buckingham Palace in those funny hats and is not allowed to laugh! Paul has decided to fill his gingerbread box with pink macarons; Sue Perkins walks away from his table saying, “I look forward to breaching that high security box imminently,” and it may be the greatest line that has ever been spoken on television.

Also doing macarons is Ian, who is attempting to make a cylindrical box by wrapping shortbread dough around a tall pastry ring, then setting it in a slightly larger ring to support it while it bakes. This is brilliant! I wish I had thought of this. I have no idea in what context I would use this technique, though. Maybe someone will shortly find a use for it on Pinterest?

But not everything comes out successfully. The lid of Flora’s beautiful tea box shatters as she moves it. Ugne designs a cookie box that’s decorated to have a marshmallow fondant “baby” climbing in to steal cookies, but it looks like a fat, amorphous pear. Also the baby has no head, which is very concerning.

Sue screams “It’s 30 minutes 'til I try your boxes.” Then Sue touches Nadiya’s box and it shatters. They share a tense gaze with each other. I’ve got more fan fiction to write.

Maybe these panels would have been better? Photo by James Ransom

We come to judgment, and alas, Alvin’s box did not work. He presents a stack of gingerbread panels, tries to describe what he made, and begins to cry. Everyone comforts him. Paul and Mary pour the praise for his brandy snaps on thick, reminding him that he truly is a wonderful baker who had a bad day. On American cooking shows, we’re encouraged to talk trash and puff our chests; criticism is meant to embarrass, not empower. This show is full of subliminal moral lessons.

Even with his disaster, he doesn’t go home. We say goodbye instead to Marie, who has played it too safe with her recipes. That’s not a bad thing by any means—the problem was that her standards weren’t perfect.

This week’s big winner is Ian! His cylindrical box was a success, his macaron had a perfect foot, and the magical rosemary he pulled from his pocket enchanted the judges. On his post-show interview, he says he can't believe he won Star Baker, because in his “village of 400,” he’s never won the title best male baker once. I cannot comprehend any of this! I had over 400 people living on the block I grew up on. How do you make friends? What if you don't like the other 399 people? Do you just settle? And how are there enough amateur male bakers that not only are you able to compete, but you consistently lose?!?!? I think someone in that village has it out for you, Ian. I'd keep a cricket bat in bed with you at night, just to be safe.

Next week: BREAD! That's practically guaranteed to end in disaster!!!

Do you watch? What did you think of the biscuit challenges? Tell us in the comments.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

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Allison Robicelli is a cookbook author, humorist, host of the Robicelli Argument Clinic Podcast, occasional TV personality, restauranteur (Oaxaca Taqueria & Rip's Malt Shop in NYC), wife, mother, and all around good time.


Suzan July 13, 2019
A few years late but just catching the series now on Netflix. I wasn’t really impressed w Ian’s round box. I’m surprised they did not say something about it not having any designs on it! I bought jackfruit today to try in biscotti!
Alison T. July 14, 2016
Thank you for this review - I missed this show as I was away and my various tv options (Netflix, Apple, Amazon etc) refuse to conjure it for me. But this has made up for my Telly woes - how can I get this review delivered to my inbox so I get this weekly?
Amy July 13, 2016
I'm pretty sure arlettes are what I grew up calling "elephant ears".
At least that's what Martha calls them:
aacers July 13, 2016
I adore this series! And thank you for the Arrested Development "Motherboy" comment!
Paula H. July 12, 2016
Love the show, love the F52 commentary. Happiest food talk one can find!
Donna H. July 12, 2016
Love the show, love the commentary- we should only be so civilized ?
Diane D. July 13, 2016
Oh, yes. I so agree!
Lauren S. July 12, 2016
Not only am I obsessed with this show but now your weekly reviews as well! Keep them up!
chefrockyrd July 12, 2016
I am totally addicted to this show. Its so well done and the people at food tv in the US should take some lessons. Plus I want to live in that tent.
magpiebaker July 12, 2016
These write-ups are making me seriously LOL. I don't even watch this show (I first heard about it when someone gave me Ruby Tandoh's baking book) but I might have to start now!
Dona July 12, 2016
What a fun write up, I love this show. The contestants are so gracious and civilized.
AntoniaJames July 12, 2016
My money's on the working class boy from Liverpool not wearing a kilt, ever. ;o)
Shannon D. July 12, 2016
I am so glad this show is back on, even if it's a year late! I look forward to more of your weekly recaps!
Clare C. July 12, 2016
Love this review, made me giggle. From a UK fan of FOOD52 ?
caitlin July 12, 2016
I love this show. Good write-up!