The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off Melts Under The Pressure Of Halloween Week
3:00 PM EDT on October 26, 2022
Welcome to a new series called The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off, where Kelsey and Chris attempt to complete the technical challenges from the newest season of The Great British Bake Off in their own home kitchens, with the same time parameters as the professional-grade bakers competing on the show.
Last week, in an attempt to bake lemon meringue pies, the dummies of The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off encountered their first staple torture of the tent: the pared-down recipe. For the lemon meringue pie, this was not much of an issue. Both dummies knew how to make pie crust; both knew how to make meringue; and both bought far more lemons than they needed. Only one dummy lost her mind and remade a crust halfway through, but in the end two pie-looking products were ready to be presented to you, the judges. But this week the barebones recipe—stripped of all good instruction, hurtful in its presentation—was not kind to the contestants.
The purpose of the recipe stripped of all instruction is two-fold. First, Paul Hollywood is a lunatic without a care in the world who lives to raise the eyebrows above his crystal blue eyes over a bake someone poured a gallon of sweat to make and laugh at it. The second reason is the purpose of the technical challenge at its core. Anyone, the technical challenge argues, can follow very detailed instructions. But inside the tent and in this column, the trial is not whether or not you can follow instructions; the challenge is whether or not you understand why you are doing those steps. Do you know why the dough needs to be laminated and why it needs to be cold? Do you know why you need to buy heavy whipping cream to make icing? Do you know when to mix things together and how?
One disadvantage that both dummies have is that we are better cooks than we are bakers. We have more experience with a frying pan and a sauce than with a stand mixer and a few sheets of gelatin. And much of cooking and baking (much of anything for that matter) is about muscle memory. To be great at something is to know the basics so deep inside your bones that those are foregone and you are left with the mental space to iterate in new and interesting ways. It’s why we learn the rules of grammar before we are allowed to break them, and why we learn to walk before we learn to run. To create something beautiful, you must know how to make something competent blindfolded.
By removing the exact steps from the recipe and writing “bake a lemon meringue pie” or “make a marshmallow,” The Great British Bake Off is testing how much we know right here, right now. Unfortunately for the Defector dummies, neither of us have the years of experience nor the understanding of chemistry necessary to thrive in these circumstances, and so the more the bakes become about innate feel in the kitchen, the harder they become.
The sixth episode of the 13th season of The Great British Bake Off premiered last week. The theme was “Halloween,” so you would think that the bakers would be asked to make cupcakes that looked like spiders, or cakes that looked like pumpkins and held cookies, or something requiring intricate sugar work to look like a web. But Paul Hollywood knows nothing. Instead, the bakers were asked to make some British bastardization of what is a simple, perfect dessert. Paul Hollywood says they are s’mores, but we certainly didn’t think so.
Chris Thompson: Well well well. If it isn’t Halloween Week.
Kelsey McKinney: BOO! Gotcha!
KM: Don’t worry it’s just me, your friend Kelsey. Chris, when you think of Halloween, is the first thing you think “s’mores?” Yes or no.
CT: That’s a big “no.” I think of peanut butter cups. An ocean of delicious peanut butter cups.
KM: Wow. I would have LOVED to fail at making peanut butter cups. I was hoping we would get to make something shaped like a pumpkin because I think the shape of pumpkins is cute.
CT: I will say, in very tepid defense of the dreaded Paul Hollywood, that I was not very disappointed to learn that the challenge would be s’mores. I was intrigued by the task of making three things—graham crackers, marshmallows, and ganache—that I have never made before, and do not know how to make.
KM: I have blocked all time before I completed this recipe from my mind. You’d have to show me some pretty damning receipts to prove that I ever wanted to make a s’more from scratch! I hate this recipe. Always have, always will.
CT: I’m checking the Slack receipts now and it appears that your initial reaction to this challenge was to describe it as “cute.”
KM: That can’t be right. SLANDER! I do think s’mores in general are cute. Do you like to have a regular (not Paul Hollywood) s’more in your regular life? How do you prefer your marshmallows?
CT: Well, Kelsey, as a mature adult, I am proud to say that I have largely moved beyond just thrusting the marshmallow into the hottest part of the fire until it ignites and turns black. I am now a careful and methodical slow-roaster. I like for the marshmallow to be mostly melted all the way to the interior before placing it on my cracker.
KM: Wow! I have to admit I am thrilled to hear this, as I have been relentlessly mocked for my s’more method my whole life. I think the marshmallow should be held about three inches above the flame and rotated like a rotisserie chicken so that it gets nice and toasty brown on every side and nice and melty through the middle. Everyone hates this because it takes me five years to make a s’more, but I enjoy it.
CT: Yes! To me this is the Sophisticate’s S’more. To rush the marshmallow is to reveal yourself to be a person of low character.
KM: No one has ever called me sophisticated, so I’m taking this as a huge compliment. One kind of funny thing in retrospect is that I had planned to do this with my marshmallows since I don’t have a blow torch thingy. I had gotten a hanger so I could put my marshmallows on there and toast them in the gas grill. What a naive hopeful child I was yesterday morning.
CT: In retrospect it is absolutely hysterical that you and I bothered to dream up alternate ways of roasting our homemade “marshmallows.” In fact, I think we can hardly describe what we produced from this challenge as “s’mores.” For that matter, they were never going to be proper s’mores! Damn British bullcrap is what they were! Also we fucked them up insanely bad.
KM: I would describe what we made as “deconstructed s’more-inspired desserts.”
CT: S’more-like abominations. Let’s get to it.
Ingredients and Shopping
CT: How’d you do on your shopping this week? Were you able to locate most of the ingredients?
KM: Listen. The thing is, I cannot be expected to go to more than one grocery store. I have clinical depression and am also SO LAZY. When it comes to chores, I get one shot, and if they don’t have it, I don’t have it. This has made me a much better cook but it is a problem for baking.
Let’s see. I did not find gelatin sheets, but I did find vegan gelatin sheets. They were the same, except they had to be boiled instead of soaked. I still don’t have caster sugar, but I did blitz it. I also did not have wheat germ or vanilla paste. None of these things sounded important. I replaced wheat germ with breadcrumbs and vanilla paste with regular vanilla. WHATEVER. Leave me alone.
CT: I was able to find everything except the gelatin sheets, so I used gelatin powder, a single packet of which, I learned, is equal to four sheets. This wound up being a huge fucking disaster for me, but we’ll get to that.
KM: Wow perfect! I did not believe the vegan sheets would work, so I used eight and guess what? They still didn’t work! I should have just bought jello packets, but that’s for later, as well.
CT: I did buy the whole-wheat flour and the wheat germ. I resent that I now have a large opened jar of wheat germ in my pantry, which will still be sitting there in 20 years.
KM: OK, so I did have a lovely whole-wheat flour that I bought in a fit of optimism at the farmer’s market just three weeks ago! I was excited to get to use it, and to be honest, it tasted great. I also don't want to lie. The store did have wheat germ. But the bottle was huge and it looked like breadcrumbs so I decided not to buy it.
CT: I had just about everything else on hand, except I had the dark corn syrup, which would’ve made my marshmallows look bloody and gross, and would’ve possibly tasted different. Again, in retrospect, it’s hilarious that I was worried about the color of my marshmallows.
KM: That would’ve been much spookier, though. For some reason I did have light corn syrup in my pantry. When did I buy this? I don’t know.
CT: It’s cool, I’m sure it lasts for 100 years.
KM: It’s made of science!!! There was also a lot of “equipment” required this week. Shall we discuss which parts we had?
CT: Sheesh. I had very little of this stuff, and after buying a tart tin for the lemon meringue pies I simply was not going to buy more kitchen crap. I did not have a sugar thermometer, I did not have a square cake tin, I did not have a round cookie cutter, I did not have a biscuit stamp, I did not have a kitchen blowtorch. I did have, uh, parchment paper.
KM: I was mad that this required me to use so many things. I also did not have any of those things. In addition, I still do not have a piping bag or piping nozzles because thus far I have only had one disaster using regular-ass Ziploc bags.
CT: Yeah, and frankly, the piping bag steps have all been fussy bullcrap to this point.
KM: You should just join me in putting things into a sandwich bag and snipping the corner off with kitchen shears. It’s lazy, but whatever! I’m lazy!
CT: The issue is that I have a box of piping bags and my own set of piping nozzles, and if I don’t use them for technical challenges I will quite simply never use them in my life.
KM: That does sound cool as hell. I would want to use them too. But I shall not be buying any.
CT: Certainly not! This is your brand now. It’s all about establishing your brand in the marketplace. That’s Big Business.
KM: Yeah and I did promise to do one regression of my personality, so I can’t be out here improving other things!!!! That would let down the readers!
CT: I would say that our baking certainly did regress this week, sadly.
KM: I have no choice but to agree. Shall we move on to the first steps of our demise?
Stage One: Measuring And Mixing
CT: The two-hour time limit was very scary on this one, because I have no experience making any of these things and do not know how long they need to rest or chill or rise or whatever.
KM: This was the first challenge where I had not made any of these things successfully before in any way. But I like when the challenges are long in the technical because it usually means there is down time, and I can clean up between steps. That turned out to be true. My kitchen was not a disaster at the end, but my bake certainly was. What was your method for “make biscuit dough and chill”?
CT: I thought that perhaps I would mix dry ingredients over here and wet ingredients over there and then bring them together, but I was so freaked about time that I just threw everything but the milk into a bowl and started pinching it with my hands. It then occurred to me that I would simply never, never get the butter incorporated into the flour this way, and so I upended the bowl into my food processor and pulsed it a bunch. Then I poured the mixture back into the bowl, added a couple splashes of milk, and started smushing it together with my hands. I was already pretty frantic by this point.
KM: OK, so already our processes diverge. I am kind of like a baby who doesn’t have object permanence, so I had literally forgotten that I had a food processor during the other bakes. But because I recently made Albert’s delicious Green Action, the food processor was already drying on the counter and I was like AH-HA immediately. I usually make pie dough in a food processor, so I used the same method here: pulse dry ingredients, add butter and pulse, add splashes of milk through the little tube at the top until it is a big clunky ball and your food processor threatens to break with the terrible noises it makes. I decided that this was not cheating because often people go to get other supplies that are not on their table during the technical.
CT: Definitely not cheating. Also if people did this with their hands they simply have more hands and more fingers than I do.
KM: I also, like you, was very afraid of losing time, so I did this as fast as possible, and the food processor is famously fast.
CT: How did you feel about the dough? I was worried because it felt SO crumbly, like I had to press it together to get it to stick, and I don’t have a lot of experience with what the Brits call biscuit dough, so I had to talk myself out of adding more and more milk until it held together without pressure.
KM: How much milk did you end up adding?
CT: I think maybe like a quarter cup? The ingredients call for “about four tablespoons” but I did not measure this very carefully. I ran into problems with my cookies later on but I am proud to say that too much milk was not one of them.
KM: Chris, you will be thrilled to know that 1/4 of a cup is four tablespoons.
CT: Ha! Yes, I definitely know this and successfully applied this knowledge during my bake.
KM: I knew it! Good joke about not knowing! I used about five milk lids full of milk. I don’t really know how much liquid was in the milk lid, but it seemed easiest to do it that way. I like to bake by feel, which is why I would be immediately sent home. But my dough came together pretty easily. It reminded me of the texture of gingerbread dough.
CT: Dang, I like this milk lid method. I thought the dough had a nice warm graham cracker-y smell to it.
KM: Lots of things have lids you can use: olive oil, balsamic vinegar, milk. I think the little lips in the lids actually measure out tablespoons and teaspoons but I’m not sure if I just made that up and chose to believe it. Doesn’t matter for me, anyway, since I hate measuring!
CT: So the instructions say “chill.” I just poured the crumbles onto cling wrap, smushed them together, wrapped the ball up, and threw it into the fridge. I think this first stage took me 12 minutes.
KM: Yeah, that’s what I did, too, except I forgot I used all the cling wrap last week, so I just had to put my dough inside a parchment paper in the fridge. And I was also done quickly! I felt like I was conquering the challenge. This was the beginning of my errors.
CT: I was very freaked here because I knew that with the dough chilling the only way to spend the available time was to make marshmallows, and this was the stage that I was most dreading. This is a science thing that I do not understand at all.
KM: I am not a Woman in STEM! I am a Woman in Blog! I can’t be expected to understand science like “making marshmallows.” That’s ridiculous! I did step two of this recipe, which was about just making a little home for the marshmallows in a square tin, then I read “Make the marshmallow and set in the tin” and almost hurled. I don’t know how!
CT: One solid clue I could take from the ingredients was the presence of egg whites and cream of tartar. This told me that somewhere in the marshmallow-making process there is a meringue, which we just made successfully one week ago. I also knew that there was cornstarch in there, and that the equipment called for a sugar thermometer. All I could think was that I was heating sugar to one of its many, many hyper-specific melting points, and then adding it to meringue. But I don’t know any of the temperatures, and I was using an oven thermometer, and also there were all these non-sugar ingredients. Like, for example, gelatin. I was SO FREAKED.
KM: This is so funny, because our brains did almost the same thing. I also saw the egg whites and cream of tartar and thought “meringue.” But I was confused because at this point I had two bowls of sugar: one of powdered with the cornstarch mixed in it, and one of caster sugar. Because of this, and because my vegan thingies needed to be boiled, I decided to go to the stove also. I had completely forgotten about the sugar thermometer by this point. The recipe was an idea I once had. Immediately, I began making meringue the exact way I made it last week because I know how to do that, and I also put the corn syrup and the stupid vegan gelatins into a pan and made them really hot. How hot? We’ll never know. It was bubbling, which felt Halloweeny.
CT: Yes, so. I did a bad thing. I put corn syrup, caster sugar, icing sugar, cornstarch, and gelatin into a sauce pan and put it over a medium flame on the stove.
KM: So you were going for Italian meringue vibes?
CT: Uhh, well. Possibly? The only meringue I have ever made is French meringue, which is made from room-temperature ingredients and then cooked. I had the sense that Italian meringue involves adding melted sugar to egg whites whipped possibly to soft peaks? But mostly I knew that there needed to be some cooking (because of the thermometer) and that if I was going to cook sugar and activate gelatin, I might as well do it in one pot. This was a crucial, terrible mistake.
KM: OK, I also don’t know what Italian meringue is really, besides you put it on the stove and make it hot, and then pour it into the egg whites. This was my strategy: I would make regular meringue, which looks kind of like marshmallows, then I would pour the hot stuff (which now also included the sugar and the cornstarch because I just threw it in there at some point) into the meringue and blend it more. Wait, why was that a mistake? I still don’t understand what I did wrong really because I have no idea what the right way is.
CT: I don’t know precisely what made it a mistake, only that some combination of cornstarch and gelatin caused my heated sugars to congeal into a very thick slime, which when I tried to add it to my lovely meringue just grabbed onto the whisk and fused to the side of the mixing bowl and did not seem to mix at all into the egg whites. I had gross hardening blobs of melted sugar floating in my egg whites, and just a huge sticky mess everywhere. Everywhere.
KM: Oh my god it was so sticky. At some point in here, I very stupidly thought the sticky stuff had cooled and put my finger on it. It had not! It was very hot. Then I double stupidly put my hot finger in my mouth and then just had a weird piece of cornstarch with sugar in my mouth. It sucked. But I also didn’t have a better idea, so I just got that hot enough that it was pourable, and poured it into my meringue. This, surprisingly, did work. It looked like marshmallow! It tasted like marshmallow! I was ready to be crowned king.
CT: Kelsey, when did your gelatin go in?
KM: I threw it in with the corn syrup. I’m not really sure, to be honest. It needed to boil or something, so I just tossed my eight vegan sheets in there. It was so sticky when I poured the whole mixture that I believed there was gelatin in there, rightly or wrongly.
CT: The failure of my sugar mess to incorporate neatly into my meringue caused me quite a lot of distress, and I was frantic about the clock. I did not feel that I had enough time for a second pass, and anyway I did not have any good ideas about how to improve on try number two. I reasoned that some of the sugar blob must have mixed into the egg whites, and poured the “marshmallow” into the lined cake pan, and put it directly into the refrigerator. I was feeling very panicky and disoriented.
KM: Oh I still had complete unearned confidence at this point. Because it tasted like marshmallow, I believed that it would become marshmallow in its texture. I poured it into the pan and then I made what I think now is a mistake. I looked at the marshmallow in its stupid tin. It seemed warm. I considered putting it in the freezer, but then (stupidly) thought that regular marshmallows are room temperature when they get toasty and so decided to leave it on the counter instead. I don’t really understand this reasoning now, but it made sense at the time. It also was not a liquid. Like it was tacky! I thought it would get harder.
CT: My thinking about this is that the mixture should have been hot from the cooked sugars, and also that melted sugar does things when you cool it—caramel hardens, clear sugar forms threads, etc.—and I wanted to give my marshmallow the longest possible time and best possible conditions to, uhh, do science. The only step of the marshmallow process that I was confident about was chilling in the refrigerator. At worst it would do nothing, but it might possibly do something?
KM: Oh, that’s interesting. I really think I should have put mine in the freezer even. But I had a lot of time left, so it seemed okay to put it on the counter. I don’t know. I honestly just zoomed right away from the marshmallows and onto the ganache and assumed they would be fine. Had I been in a tent where other people were putting theirs in the fridge, I absolutely would have because I had zero percent faith that I was doing the right thing.
CT: I moaned audibly when I went back to the instructions after putting my marshmallow in the fridge and it didn’t say “bake the cookies,” it said “make the ganache.” I did not want to go straight to another bit of confusing science.
KM: OK, so I have a theory on what we were supposed to do here. I think we were supposed to make the marshmallow and put it into the fridge. Then I think we were supposed to remove the dough, cut it out, and put it into the freezer to be cold while we made the ganache so that the biscuits wouldn’t spread in the oven. This is however, not what I did. I moved immediately onto ganache.
CT: Same. I found time later to chill my cut cookies but I would’ve felt so much more confident doing that here. On the other hand, my ganache was its own small disaster, and if I’d put it off I’m sure it would’ve been even worse. How did you go about making ganache?
KM: Well, Chris. I still don’t really understand what ganache is or how to make it. I made my janky double boiler by putting a silver bowl on top of a saucepan full of water. When it got hot, I dropped a handful of chopped chocolate in. When it melted, I added a little more. Then things seemed thick, so I added some milk. A tiny amount. Then I took it off the heat. It seemed like the right thing to do. I added the rest of my chocolate and the milk in increments and at the end it was not as shiny as I wanted but it was pretty shiny. So I was like, “SURE!”
CT: Oh wow, we did this in completely opposite ways. I did not use a double boiler. I just poured my cream into a saucepan and brought it to a simmer, then I dumped the chocolate in there, pulled it off the heat, and stirred. I wasn’t sure if this was right but I did not feel that I had the bandwidth for a more complicated process. I’m still not sure it’s right, as my ganache never really performed as a ganache.
KM: Oh wow! That makes way more sense. I’m still not really sure what ganache is. In my head I think of it as like a shiny icing. That’s what I made. I don't know if that’s ganache or not.
CT: I think of ganache as like the filling inside a Russell Stover chocolate bon-bon thing. Is that correct? Who can say?
KM: Not I! I also just left my ganache on the counter. I had a lot of time left still, so that seemed fine.
CT: I put my ganache into the fridge, but then I freaked out because I knew I was supposed to pipe it later on and I thought cooling it might harden it. So then I took it out of the fridge and poured it straight into a piping bag, whereupon it immediately poured out the other side and onto the floor. I was able to save enough to use on the finished s'mores, thank God.
KM: No!!!! I do wish I had made more ganache. I felt like I could have used more. But that’s probably a failure on my part that I will learn soon. The ganache also tasted great. I liked it!
CT: Yeah there’s nothing wrong with melted chocolate and cream. Yummo!
Stage Two: The Bake
CT: Long, long wait before we were allowed to bake. Or, anyway, I certainly waited a stupid amount of time before baking. I had 70 minutes left when I finished my ganache, and it would be another 25 minutes before I put anything into the oven.
KM: Truly. You made it to this point faster than me. I had an hour left. Did you cut your cookies out after the ganache?
CT: Yes, so, I used the lid of a mason jar to cut my cookies. This went surprisingly well, and I regained a lot of lost confidence. I knew that I would not need to bake for a while. I put the cookies into the fridge to cool down before baking, so they wouldn’t spread too much in the oven.
KM: I converted centimeters to inches and learned that these were supposed to be pretty small. I did not have any good cookie cutter so I used the little glass that I use to drink a digestif out of. This worked, but my oven was so warm that the dough got too warm. I cut out twelve, balled up the dough and shoved it back into the fridge. I then put the biscuits in the oven immediately. Then, I realized this was wrong! Jerked them out and threw them into the freezer. I love chaos!
CT: Oh boy, getting a little loose here. I felt I had things under control but I was so worried about the marshmallow. I kept checking it in the fridge and it continued to look very wet and glossy, in a way that worried me very much.
KM: I was not looking at my marshmallows. I was leaving them alone because I was VERY tempted to poke them, and that seemed like the wrong thing to do. I managed to freeze all of my cookies for 15 minutes before I began baking. We needed 16, but I had 20. This seemed fine. I didn’t question it.
CT: I had exactly 16 cookies, and I had given over the remainder of my dough ball to my wife and child, who were nibbling at it in the dining room. This turned out to be a rather significant failure of caution and reasoning. I put the 16 in the fridge to chill.
KM: The dough ball did taste good. I also ate this. I do think my biscuits should have been thicker because even with making 20 I had a good amount left. I probably could have made 24. Did you attempt to do a design on yours?
CT: No, and in fact I was annoyed that Paul would even suggest such a thing. Is this a damn technical challenge or is it art class?
KM: I have a little cowboy stamp that I considered using, but I was so mad at Paul that I instead just poked the top of mine with a fork like six times because that’s how graham crackers look and I was mad that this wasn’t a graham cracker. It didn’t matter. Those did not stay.
CT: In a moment of pure doomed arrogance, I messaged you at this point to say that I had “passed the point of spectacular failure.” My God, what a fool.
KM: You made your biscuits on Sunday, while I was busy preparing (drinking beer) for the Phillies game, so I missed all of these messages until later. But reading them in order was a REAL trip. To go from that to 30 minutes later you panicking was not a great omen for my future. Still, when I reached this point, I felt good. After 15 minutes of freezing, I put my cookies in the oven for 20 minutes. I had to use two baking trays because there were so many, so I had to switch them at the 10-minute mark, at which point they had clearly spread.
CT: With 45 minutes left on the clock, I put my cookies into the oven. I set the timer for 15 minutes, but here I made an unthinkable, unsurvivable mistake. I absentmindedly left the oven on the High Bake setting, which utilizes both the bottom and top heating elements, and which in my household is notorious for cruelly broiling foods that should be baked. I figured I would not need to check on my cookies for 10 minutes. This was super wrong. Six minutes later, I picked up the unmistakable scent of char in the air, and knew that something had gone terribly awry. At the seven-minute mark, I messaged you to announce that my cookies were ruined.
KM: What!!!!! Wait. By the six-minute mark they were ruined? How!? What happened!
CT: With the benefit of hindsight, it’s clear I rolled them out too thin. But the main problem was that the oven rack was too high and the High Bake mode is like having your food farted on by Satan himself.
KM: While I am sad this happened to you, this is perfect in that you have been foreshadowing the evils of your High Bake mode for six weeks. Finally, we see it in action! The little devil! Did your cookies spread?
CT: Not really? But they for sure blackened. I stared at them in horror, then I solemnly moved them to the cooling rack, resigned that I had completely blown this challenge.
KM: It is kind of amazing how quickly you become resigned to your own failures in this game. It’s so easy to just look at something awful and be like, “Well, this is my life now,” and move on.
CT: Except that after a couple extremely dismal minutes of pure self-loathing washing over me like the waters of hell, I made the absolutely deranged decision to redo the cookies from scratch.
KM: Oh no … NO! CHRIS! OH MY GOD! How much time did you have left? What the fuck?
CT: Twenty-eight minutes left on the clock when I decided to redo the cookies.
KM: NO! ABSOLUTELY NOT!
CT: In retrospect, this was my finest ever moment as a baker.
KM: After I redid my tart crust last week, I truly felt how I imagine Olympians must feel on the podium. Is this how you felt?
CT: My feeling in this moment was a strange mixture of self-hatred and, like, I AM A LEGEND. I knew only that I would need at least 15 minutes to bake my cookies, which gave me a maximum of 10 minutes to make dough, roll it out, cut it, and get the cookies into the oven, with no time for chilling at all.
KM: Wow! I’m so proud of you, but also I’m scared. But this is also the lesson of the technical challenge in general: Everything is easier to bake the second time, because you know what you’re doing.
CT: I had one thing going for me, as I saw it: I had three cookies from my first bake that were what I considered usable, so I only needed to cut 13 cookies, which meant I could roll them a little thicker.
KM: Did you toss the burnt ones? Or did you leave them on the counter in case?
CT: I left them on the counter. This turned out to be appropriate and smart but also you will not believe what happened.
KM: A man smarter than me. WHAT HAPPENED?
CT: I remembered to lower the oven rack, but unfortunately I forgot to turn off High Bake.
KM: CHRIS!!! NO! So they burnt too?
CT: Yes. All but six of them were burned.
KM: Well, it’s still very impressive that you made a second dough, and I’m still proud of you. You would be a fan favorite for sure. Meanwhile, my cookies ended up staggered, so I was flailing around trying to get them in and out of the oven. They spread and ended up lacy around the edges, but there was nothing to be done. I had 15 minutes left when they came out. I put them immediately into the freezer.
CT: That was a good decision, I think. I had approximately three minutes left when my second batch of ruined cookies came out of the oven. All I had time to do was move them to a serving plate and start assembling.
Stage Three: Assembly
CT: Shall we discuss the marshmallow?
KM: If we must.
CT: I’m afraid it cannot be avoided.
KM: I want to admit that I had 100-percent belief that I would turn out my marshmallows and be able to cut them (if not stamp them into circles), and also that I would turn out my marshmallows and they would run off the counter. So I took a picture before I flipped them out. I still had hope then.
CT: What do you think happened to your poor, poor marshmallow?
KM: I wish I knew. I think perhaps the gelatin didn’t work. It is also possible that had I put it into the freezer, it would have worked perfectly. My knowledge of marshmallows is so weak that I have no clue. What happened in reality is I turned them out and it kind of plopped out and I was so sad. What do you think happened with yours?
CT: Nothing good!
This is really interesting to me. I’m looking for the first time at the full method for Paul Hollywood’s s’mores and I’m seeing that I was actually not supposed to refrigerate them, but I am also seeing that these marshmallows require at least 90 minutes of setting at room temperature in order to firm up enough for cutting. That means we had to make dough and make our marshmallow mixture and have it in the tin, in an absolute maximum of 30 minutes. No way.
KM: WHAT! OK, but this is still a problem because I think my marshmallows were on the counter for at least 70 minutes. Shouldn’t they have been firmer? Essentially what I made was marshmallow fluff.
CT: Yes, and you’d think using double the amount of gelatin would make up for those measly 20 minutes.
KM: Well, it was vegan gelatin.
CT: Stupid vegans! What a betrayal.
KM: I feel betrayed! I did not even try to cut or stamp mine with the little glass, because I knew it was a lost cause. Also I did not have a lot of time. I decided my only chance was to assemble the sandwiches as fast as possible and transfer them to the freezer in the hopes that maybe the marshmallow would stay tall. When I scooped the marshmallow fluff onto the sandwich, it sat up for maybe five seconds, teasing me, before it began to melt. Were your cookies still hot?
CT: So I pulled my marshmallow from the fridge after putting my second batch of cookies into the oven, reasoning that I would not have time to cut individual marshmallows in the final stage. I plopped my marshmallow blob onto the cutting board, feeling very frantic and insane. I did not have a circular cutter but I did have one shaped like Santa’s head. I genuinely believed that I was about to cut perfect Santa head-shaped marshmallows.
But the instant I pressed the Santa head into the marshmallow, it just popped and oozed all over the place, and I knew that I was In Hell.
KM: Now Santa has betrayed us too!! I also cannot explain how sticky the marshmallow fluff was. It was so sticky. It was a nightmare. I honestly don’t even know how you would have cut it with a Santa cutter if you had made the marshmallow perfectly. Though maybe a perfect marshmallow would not have been so sticky.
CT: I mean, realistically this was never going to work. But discovering that I had made marshmallow ooze instead of marshmallows was just a crushing disappointment.
I arranged the blobs of fluff on parchment paper and had just enough time after removing my second batch of cookies to thrust them under the broiler for a few seconds, giving them a deeply silly caramelization.
KM: Do you want to hear about something really sad that happened to me?
CT: Oh no. Yes, please.
KM: So, as I mentioned, I was shepherding my little sandwiches from the counter into the freezer. This was not working, but I was doing it anyway. While I was doing this, my stupid feet caught on literally nothing and I tripped a little bit and the bottom of one of my cookies careened onto the floor where it smashed into 500 pieces, and I was left holding the marshmallow fluff and the other cookie all over my hands!!!!!! I would have cried, but I did not have time.
CT: No! No!! The final indignity.
I spent the final 90 seconds or so laying slimy blobs of broiled fluff onto super-hot cookies and then piping runny chocolate over them and watching it instantly melt. This sucked so bad. I have not felt so defeated in the kitchen since The Red Velvet Disaster.
KM: I mostly felt a deep rage. I could not believe that not only did I have to make this disappointing bake, but they weren’t even s’mores!!!! Luckily, as you may remember, I had approximately 20 cookies, which meant I had four extra cookies. I only needed two of them to get to eight, so I still ended up with eight cookies but one of them was on a different plate.
The Finished Product
CT: Kelsey, it feels almost cruel to ask this, but: How were your s’mores?
KM: Chris, PLEASE! They were so, so ugly. Here is what they looked like:
As you can see, my biscuits were lacy, my ganache held up perfectly, and my marshmallow fluff had absolutely no structural integrity. How were your s’mores?
CT: It does kind of look like you melted some fresh mozzarella over your cookies, there.
My s’mores were terrible.
The cookies were badly burned. The ganache was melted. The marshmallows look like the Stay-Puft Man had a sinus infection and blew his nose all over a cardboard beverage coaster.
KM: Your marshmallows were so much fluffier than mine!
CT: Yeah, they were somewhat fluffier, that’s true. But they tasted really bad because the sugar never really incorporated into the meringue, and their texture was deeply off-putting. And the burned cookies did not help. You cannot even imagine the feeling of failure that comes from a s'more that smells bad.
KM: I wonder if my vegan sheets really are what fucked me up. Because my marshmallow fluff tasted really good. Like these don’t taste like s’mores exactly because of this deranged recipe, but they do taste good! They are a nice little treat! I have eaten two since yesterday.
CT: I could not bring myself to eat a full s’more. I took one bite of one, felt just an overwhelming surge of shame and anger, and threw it away.
KM: Did your child eat them? That seems like a true test.
CT: My child did not eat them. But! In a happy ending to this miserable story, I went to the grocery store, bought marshmallows, chocolate bars, and graham crackers, and made real s’mores over a by-God campfire, in my own backyard. Here is a real s’more:
KM: Wow, I should do that. I think the most annoying thing about this is how this recipe does not satisfy a s’more craving even a little bit. I’m so glad that you had a real s’more, and I wish I had crashed the party. It looks fun!
CT: Yes. Even if we’d made these s’mores perfectly, they would not have tasted like real s’mores. To me this is yet another indicator that Paul Hollywood is an asshole from hell.
KM: I agree. This is Paul Hollywood’s fault!
CT: I think I am seeing that next week is Custard Week?
KM: Oh no. This will not go well. If we have to make a flan, I’m gonna cry.
CT: Nonsense! In fact, we will make perfect custards and once again achieve our famously high baking standards.
KM: You’re right. I don’t know what I was thinking. We’ve already made a créme pat! We will conquer custards no problem!
Thanks for reading!
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