Spoiler alert! Read at your own risk.
We’re recapping Season 3 episodes of “The Great British Baking Show” on PBS, with the benefit of a professional point of view from some of the Washington area’s finest pastry chefs. We’re baking along, too, testing a recipe from each show. Catch up on the action and meet the contestants here; the program airs in our area Fridays at 9:30 or 10:30 p.m. on MPT and WHUT and Sundays at 8 p.m. on WETA. The program also streams via the PBS app and on the PBS website. For tweets, use #PBSBakingShow.
Pastry chef Tiffany MacIsaac steps away from the sheeter to join us this week. She’s an eager fan of the show by proxy, because with the opening of her dream shop in the District’s Shaw neighborhood, she hasn’t had much TV down time. At the outset, Tiffany immediately questions whether the judges are using stage names (They’re not!) so we know we’re in for a closely watched session.
We’ll leave it to linguists to parse why Americans go with the term “cookie” for the treat the Brits categorize as a “biscuit”; Oxford Dictionaries suggests the latter term might be more apt. In this episode, the remaining 11 bakers must produce signature, technical and showstopper challenge specimens that all have crunch in common. And we’re all for that.
The competitors are first given two hours to make the biscotti they’ve presumably been practicing and perfecting at home. Early caveat from Tiffany: Can’t put too much junk in them, or they’ll be difficult to slice and impossible to make evenly crisp.
Straight away, we need fingers and toes to count the mix-ins in Tamal’s cinnamon, maple and cranberry biscotti. They include dried barberries (tart) and what he calls “physalis”; the latter makes us want to request the word origin, which turns up Cape gooseberries (tarter). The bodybuilder baker may have one-upped him in pucker power with dried goji berries, which afford her the opportunity to tout “fruits and nuts as part of a healthy diet.” Save it for Speakers’ Corner, Ugne.
Nadiya chooses coconut, pistachio and fennel seed. Ian’s rosemary sprigs draw the first stink eye from judge Paul Hollywood, who says the flavor could be fantastic or disastrous. (In Yorkshire, they call this doubt-inducing tactic an “upskittle,” says previous #GBBO winner Nancy Birtwhistle, and you are hereby invited to deploy it or use the word in a sentence forthwith.) Tiffany’s intrigued, herb-wise. Paul is folding hazelnuts and dried figs into a dark-chocolate dough, which makes it tougher to gauge doneness. Alvin introduces judge Mary Berry to the ripe, sweet jackfruit he is using in his macadamia and pistachio biscotti, proving you can teach an 81-year-old master baker new licks. Thing is, he’s the only one to deploy fresh fruit, albeit drained, instead of dried. Tiffany predicts moisture issues.
Young Flora and grandma Marie pay homage to Italy with their creations. Sandy keeps things simple with chocolate chunks and hazelnut, and Dorret tops her almond and apricot biscotti logs with rock-hard sugar crystals that send up a red flag for judge Mary and Tiffany: tooth-crackers. Cheerful Mat goes classic, with dried cranberries, pistachios and white chocolate.
Hosts Mel and Sue remind us that the judges are looking for 24 well-shaped, uniform biscotti with a good snap and full flavor. Tiffany says identical is hard to do. Ian’s simultaneous stirring and baking-sheet fanning of his biscotti log cracks her up, but she sobers as she sees baker after baker forming only two logs apiece.
“Why aren’t they making extra?” she asks aloud, recalling instances when such defensive baking saved her assets.
At judging time, last week’s Star Baker falls from grace. Marie’s biscotti are neither the same size nor are they holding together all that well. Last week’s swaggerly delight has disappeared like so much glaze on a hot Madeira cake. Paul’s fruit and nuts don’t quite belong in chocolate, says judge Mary; hello, Cadbury bar? Alvin’s biscotti are bending like Beckham — “No, no!” cries Tiffany — but the jackfruit flavor’s a hit. Pleasing, too, is the rosemary affinity with orange in Ian’s biscotti. Fantastic, in fact.
Next, the technical challenge recipe comes from judge Paul, and it effectively upskittles all the bakers and your humble recappers.
Who knows from arlettes? With the visual, things become clearer. French in origin, round and flat, with a cinnamon swirl in laminated layers, “wafer-thin” (“Monty Python reference via judge Mary; everybody drink . . . tea!) and shatteringly sugary-crisp. In “Traité de Patisserie Moderne,” they are not referred to as a kind of palmier as described on the BBC show website, but as an old-fashioned, oval-shaped puff pastry called shoe soles or ox tongues. We knew them way back when as “flying saucers,” on bakery trays set between the elephant ears and bear claws. “Arlette” is a feminine French name, and we learn from Nick Malgieri, master baker-instructor and friend of #WaPoFood, that pastry chef Pierre Hermé of macaron fame may have been the first to introduce the cinnamon bit. Sandy provides a dry sound bite: “It’s a bit on the complicated side for a biscuit.”
The challenge’s standard incomplete instructions cause a great cry of lamination. Some of these folks have made puff pastry before, so the directive to roll out the butter and wrap it around a pad of dough seems so very wrong. Tiffany’s up in arms! Typically it’s the other way ’round, with dough wrapped around butter, then rolled, chilled and turned again and again. A post-episode perusal of the recipe reveals a bit of flour mixed into the butter, which would make it at least somewhat easier to roll out. As it happens, feuilletage inversé, or “inverse puff pastry,” not only is a proper technique, but one that yields especially light and airy results. A cool kitchen temperature is essential for making it, so we think judge Paul is especially evil for recommending arlettes. If the butter’s not correctly handled, the dough will bake up with smooth swaths where distinct layers should be. The contestants have to gauge on their own how thin to roll out each slice, cut from a rolled log, to form the arlettes, and this is where some wind up looking like rough-hewn coasters and some like flattened Frisbees.
Time’s up, and the bakers look forlorn. Upskittled. The judges assess swirls, swaths, size. Marie experiences an oven snafu and can yield only four subparlettes instead of the required eight. What a comeback for Dorret, whose arlettes rank No. 1.
Tiffany wonders whether she should make arlettes at her shop: “It’d be a good thing to do with leftover puff pastry.” If that happens, we are so there.
Finally, for the showstopper, bakers must build a box out of one kind of biscuit dough and make 36 identical biscuits out of a different kind of dough, all in four hours. The boxes are theme-decorated. Gingerbread is the go-to for ease and sturdiness of construction, but not everyone heads in that direction. Paul plans to decorate his biscuit box with a little Coldstream Guard; we see flashback photos of him in his 20s, in the very uniform, and we are chuffed. His box will hold macarons colored pink, a nod to his wife. Quite the dear. Sue delivers the best line of the day upon “reading” a bit of prose that will go into Nadiya’s fortune cookies: “It says here the male judge will be superfluous.”
Sandy stands out from the pack with her savory sun-dried tomato-cheese biscuit box. Mat represents with a fire-engine box, hook and ladder on top with lots of flooded royal icing, which prompts Tiffany’s second ultra-keen question of the day: How did everyone get their icing to set so fast? This calls for follow-up, MI5-level investigation.
Judge Paul disses Dorret’s green matcha frog biscuits, merely stamped out with a cutter and bitter to boot. Ugne’s tickled with her cottage cheese biscuits, as is judge Paul. But they are housed in an abomination of runny colors and something bulbous and spotted that’s identified as a baby trying to climb in. We just don’t get that imagery. At all.
We hoot at the juxtaposition of Ian gently folding his macaron batter vs. Paul attacking his bowlful with military rigor, i.e., stirring so hard and fast that egg-white deflation is apparent. At the judges’ table, his are sad macs indeed. Tiffany dubs it “Battle of the Pink Macs,” with Ian victorious. Even his round biscuit box-top is sandwiched, and all his efforts rate a “beautiful,” a “well done” and the title of this week’s Star Baker.
And grandma Marie? The biscuit forming her box is deemed chewy and her Scottish shortbread — what else? — bland. The latter gets a pass from judge Mary but a sourpuss from judge Paul. She’s 0 for 3, by our reckoning, and it’s no surprise that she’s Politely Asked to Leave. Or … is it? Alvin hands in a pile of outlined gingerbread slabs where his box should be; a victim of time management? His brandy snaps are softened by their filling, too, but this does not get him sent home. The judges are kind: “Shame about the box.” Tiffany, less so: “Just build the box, dude.” In the end, we remind her, the score is based on how well the bakers did over all three challenges. Jackfruit saves the day.
Tiffany’s lessons learned for bakers at home:
* If uniformity among multiple pieces is the goal, make more than you need.
* Biscotti logs should be shaped into a rectangle; avoid tapered ends. Think power bar, not ciabatta.
* Don’t trust your oven; rather, check for doneness.
* Treat macaron batter gently, so as not to deflate the egg whites. Think Ian, not Paul.
* If you are building something, bake the parts for it five minutes longer than you think.
* When you’re reading recipe directions and something seems wrong, don’t do it — at least not without further assessment.
Next week: Bread, with guest commentator Alex Levin, executive pastry chef at Osteria Morini.
COCONUT, FENNEL AND CHOCOLATE BISCOTTI
Makes 28 biscotti
The best biscotti are crunchy and not too packed with mix-ins; these chocolate-dipped ones were among the judges’ favorites in the “Biscuits” episode of “The Great British Baking Show” Season 3 on PBS.
The recipe includes fennel seed. Its licorice-like potency is balanced by the flavors of coconut and dark chocolate. (Eagle-eyed viewers will remember that baker Nadiya forgot to add her fennel seed to the dough and instead incorporated it into the coconut brittle topping; we added all of it to the dough because the recipe directions posted on the BBC website did not mention in a timely fashion that some of it should be reserved for the brittle.)
The biscotti are wonderful with their bottoms covered in chocolate and coconut brittle, but they’d be just as good with only the chocolate dip, or even plain.
If you make the optional coconut brittle, you’ll need an instant-read or candy thermometer.
MAKE AHEAD: You’ll make more of the optional coconut-brittle topping than you’ll need for this recipe. Sprinkle the extra over ice cream, oatmeal and frosted cupcakes. The biscotti can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 1 week, but they may soften somewhat after a day or two.
WHERE TO BUY: French-made coconut essence, which gives a truer flavor than imitation-coconut extract, is available at La Cuisine in Alexandria.
Adapted from a recipe by “The Great British Bake Off” contestant Nadiya Jamir Hussain.
For the biscotti
Scant 1 cup (1 1/4 ounces) unsweetened flaked coconut (not shredded)
1 cup (4 1/2 ounces) shelled unsalted pistachios
1/4 cup (7/8 ounce) fennel seed
8 tablespoons (4 ounces; 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Scant 1 cup (7 ounces) sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon coconut essence (may substitute coconut extract; see headnote)
About 3 cups (15 1/2 ounces) flour
1 teaspoon (1/4 ounce; 6 grams) baking powder
1/2 teaspoon (1/8 ounce; 3 grams) salt
7 ounces dark chocolate (minimum 70 percent cacao)
For the coconut brittle (optional)
1 1/3 cups plus 2 tablespoons (11 1/2 ounces) sugar
Scant 4 tablespoons (1 3/4 ounces; about 1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon (4 1/2 ounces) water
2 1/2 cups (7 ounces) desiccated coconut, toasted (see note)
1/2 teaspoon (1/8 ounce; 3 grams) baking soda
For the biscotti: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Toast the flaked coconut in a dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant and golden-brown, shaking the pan often to avoid scorching. Transfer to a plate to cool. Repeat with the pistachios, then the fennel seed. (If the nuts you’re using are roasted, you do not need to toast them further.) Pulse the cooled, toasted pistachios and fennel seed in a food processor until they are reduced to a coarse, sandy consistency. (Some larger pieces of nuts are fine, if not desirable.)
Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer; beat on medium-high speed for several minutes, until pale and fluffy. Stop to scrape down the bowl. On low speed, add the eggs one at a time, incorporating them well after each addition. Add the coconut essence, and beat to blend in. Stop to scrape down the bowl.
Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, toasted coconut flakes and the pistachio-fennel seed mix in a bowl; add all at once to the butter mixture, and beat on low speed to form a stiff dough.
Transfer the dough to a cutting board; divide equally in half, shaping each half into a non-tapering rectangular log that measures about 10 by 3 1/4 inches. Place the logs lengthwise on one of the baking sheets, with a few inches between them. Bake (middle rack) for 35 minutes. The logs will look dry and light brown; they should be somewhat firm when gently pressed with a finger. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 15 minutes. Keep the oven on.
Transfer the partially baked logs to a cutting board. Use a serrated knife to cut each log into 14 equal slices. Arrange the slices with cut sides facing down on the two baking sheets. Bake one sheet at a time for 10 minutes, then turn the slices over and bake for 10 minutes on the other side, until golden-brown and crisped. Transfer the biscotti to a wire rack to cool.
For the optional coconut brittle: Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Combine the sugar, butter and water in a deep saucepan over medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, increase the heat to medium-high. Cook until the mixture registers 320 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, then immediately remove from the heat and stir in the dessicated coconut, then the baking soda, to form a thick paste. Spread this on the baking sheet. Let cool until firm.
Break the cooled coconut brittle into large pieces, transferring them to a food processor as you go. Working in batches, pulse to a nubbly consistency. The yield is about 3 cups.
Melt the dark chocolate in a heatproof bowl over a pan of barely bubbling water. Dip the thin bottom of each cooled biscotto into the melted chocolate and then into the coconut brittle, if using. Let cool on a rack until set (about 30 minutes) before serving or storing.
NOTE: Toast the dessicated coconut in a small, dry skillet over medium-low heat until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan often to avoid scorching. Cool completely before using.
NUTRITIONAL ANALYSIS (without the coconut brittle) Per piece 200 calories, 4 g protein, 25 g carbohydtates, 10 g fat, 5 g saturated fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 50 mg sodium, 2 g fiber, 9 g sugar
Recipe tested by Becky Krystal; email questions to email@example.com.