The Not-So-Great Defector Bake Off Succumbs To Biscuit Week
12:04 PM EDT on September 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.
The second week of the 13th season of the beloved British television series The Great British Bake Off aired last week. The second week of this season is “Biscuit Week.” That’s what the British call cookies. They have to have a separate word for cookies because their cookies are much firmer and less chewy than really good cookies. That’s fine. The Defector idiots are not afraid of some measly little biscuits.
Last week, as you may or may not remember, two Defector idiots competed in “Cake Week.” Out of some strange masochism or self-delusion, we (Kelsey and Chris) decided to compete with the British amateur bakers from our own kitchens. It would be unfair for us to compete with them in the Signature and Showstopper portions of the program. We are both really creative, funny, and smart (good-looking and -smelling, too, while we're at it). We would win those sections (which you can prepare for by practicing ahead of time) as easily as we type our little blogs. They would be nothing to us, mere jokes. Instead, we have chosen to compete in the most equitable challenge: The Technical Challenge. There is no challenge that we at Defector will back down from, and we always reign triumphant through means that are absolutely legitimate and real.
We have chosen to do the technical challenge because it is the most easily judged, and because it has extremely clear parameters and requirements. Each week, the contestants are given a vague recipe, some instructions, and a tight time limit and told to bake some deranged creations of the show’s judges, Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. We are up to this challenge. We are the bravest bloggers that exist.
To say that we “failed” to make red velvet cake last week is a very narrow-minded way of perceiving the world. It’s actually really rude that you would say that. Sure, my cake looked like ground beef with gravy on top, and Chris’s cake was as dense as a big rock, but to assume that this one bake could thwart us and our dreams is really silly. The technical bake was simply the weakest of our three bakes. There’s no need to worry. On account of our very good (again, hypothetical) Signature and Showstopper bakes, both of us advanced to the second week of competition.
The Technical Challenge for Week 2 is Prue Leith’s Garibaldi Biscuits.
Chris: Kelsey, I would like to start by asking: What THE FUCK is a Garibaldi Biscuit?
Kelsey: OK, listen. I think that both of us should be given the Nobel Peace Prize, because you told me that this was this week’s challenge, when? On Wednesday morning? And neither of us googled it. We went in fully blind. I assumed it was some kind of castle.
CT: To me it sounds like the fifth movement of a whimsical symphony by that composer we all know and love, “Garibaldi.”
KM: I would not call my experience with the Garibaldi biscuits “whimsical,” to be honest. More like “frantic” or “yelling.”
CT: Here I think we should admit to our readers that you and I both—BOTH—somehow managed to enter this challenge feeling more confident than we did last week, despite last week’s discouraging results.
KM: What’s incredible is that we even knew that this was a ridiculous way to behave. We talked about it before we began!
CT: It’s true what they say: Ballers ball.
KM: I also think we should admit to the readers that we have begun to call our time in the tent of our own making, inside our own kitchens, “chaos mode.” I think this was my fault, but it seems fitting that they know that we both 1) fully believed we would get star baker for these biscuits we had never heard of and 2) knew that it would be a disaster. Both were equally true to me.
CT: I would say that I entered this challenge (as I did the last one) expecting TOTAL HELL, but believing that I would emerge after a couple hours with an absolutely perfect plate of Grobliatto Biscuits. The key to success, naturally, would be efficiency and precision.
KM: This week, unlike last week, I treated my approach to the bake like a war. I made sure to unload the dishwasher beforehand so I would have more room, and then I put out my little outfit. I wore my tennis shoes and a baseball hat, and a sports bra for this challenge. I needed to ready my body in order to allow my mind to enter the Gorbalato Castle and find the biscuits.
CT: I wore a purple apron. Not much of a battle kit but nevertheless I was mentally prepared for triumph. Let’s get into it.
Ingredients and Shopping
KM: OK, first off, I want to note that some of you were mad at us last week, and we are listening and learning. The first kind of listening and learning we did is that some of you thought the link to the Paul Hollywood recipe was too simple of a path into this challenge. Chris, this week your wonderful wife assisted us in making a more challenging test. Would you like to tell the people how?
CT: Yes! So, this time, instead of using the recipe provided on the website, we asked my wife to pull the recipe and send us only the ingredients portion, so that we could go shopping without gaining any advanced knowledge of the method. And then, Friday morning, when the show aired on Netflix, my wife watched it for us and edited the method portion of the recipe to remove any information that seemed not to have been provided to the show's contestants. And then we did not look at the method, at all, until we began our bakes. In short, we did what we could to level the playing field. Obviously we are simply too powerful as bakers if we are given any advantages, as we learned last week.
For this challenge, in place of detailed instructions, we had confusing and frightening baking terminology, things like "temper" and "feather" and the ultra-ominous "bake." This fucked me up. I barely know what two of those words even mean, in the context of baking.
KM: Well “bake” was certainly scary, but honestly my eyes didn’t even make it that far down the recipe. I got stuck at the very top where the ingredient list started with CURRANTS. Immediately I was filled with a fizzy anxiety in my body. I don’t even know what currants are.
CT: Thankfully, currants were the only really freaky shit in the ingredients. As far as I am aware, currants are raisins, but smol. In fact, science says if you chop a raisin in half, what you have is a currant.
KM: That seems absolutely accurate to me. I went to two grocery stores this week because everyone was so mad at me last week for being so creative and smart!! Losers!! Haters!! Whatever, neither of my grocery stores had currants, so I had to google “philadelphia currants food” and then I found a nice little place called Giordano Garden Groceries. This sounded a lot like the cookies, whose names I had forgotten by this point, and so I took that as a fortuitous sign. Also the nice men at Giordano Biscuits told me that they could bring the currants to my house if I spent $10, and by this point I was very tired of going to grocery stores so I also ordered the required cranberries from them, and some chocolate-dipped pretzels. All of this is to say I had every correct ingredient this week, if not every supply.
CT: Thankfully, I had a lot of stuff left from last time: Eggs, self-rising flour, unsalted butter, the dreaded caster sugar, and so forth. I could not find 54-percent dark chocolate—is 54-percent chocolate even “dark” chocolate? I went with 60-percent dark.
KM: Oh, the nice men at the Giordano’s Biscuit Emporium told me that this was basically semi-sweet, and then I also purchased from them these little disks of chocolate that were adorable and also fun to eat.
CT: Yes, I also ate chocolate while baking. Several fistfuls of dark chocolate, in fact, while measuring ingredients. Yum!
KM: OK, so we both did a good job shopping. A fortuitous beginning. Shall we discuss how things began?
Stage One: Measuring, Mixing, and Rolling
CT: I did not lose any time cutting parchment paper this week, which was nice.
KM: Did you lose time cutting butter?
CT: [Sigh] Yes. I don't know why I am this way, but for whatever reason I cannot cut butter into cubes without cutting it into geometrically perfect cubes. And I also spent an alarming amount of time chopping currants and cranberries. What a stupid bunch of bullcrap that was. Love to chop tiny mushy blobs the size of mouse turds.
KM: Chris!!! It said “rough chop” in the recipe!! What I did was measure how many currants and cranberries I needed, dump them onto the cutting board, and run a butcher knife through them three times. The butter, I don’t even remember cutting, so I must have just sliced it up. There were quite a lot of things to do immediately: We had to put the little dried fruits in the saucepan with orange juice (?) and let them get all mushy, and we also had to make the dough.
CT: At first I felt pretty strong in terms of time management. I started with the cutting of the butter (which cost me time, yes) and then got it into the sifted flour, and then got the caster sugar in there, and then got the egg and water in, and I really felt like I was kicking ass at this point. I'd successfully mixed things, my fruit was simmering away in a pool of orange juice, and my kitchen was not yet covered in flour. But then the instructions said to knead the dough and it was just a wet blob of sticky goo. This was not something that could be kneaded. Nevertheless I plopped it onto my cutting board and plunged my hands into it, and instantly I had two disgusting dough gloves. Disaster.
KM: Oh, I forgot that I still didn’t have caster sugar. I couldn’t find it. Oh well! It didn’t seem important. I used to be really into making pies, so I’ve made quite a lot of dough that is mainly butter and flour, and I did NOT like the proportions happening here. The recipe called for both an egg yolk and a tablespoon of cold water to be added to the dough. I did not do this water part because I knew I would put water on my hands to knead the dough. Still, it was WAY too wet. It was like holding a cupcake left in the rain. It was like trying to remove gum from your hair. It was also immediately clear when I wrapped my sticky-ass gum-dough in the plastic wrap that there was way too little of it. I really cannot emphasize enough how little dough there was.
CT: Kelsey, I was super defeated when I complained to you about the dough-gloves situation and you were like “yes I floured the dough” and I was like “why THE FUCK do the instructions not say to flour the dough.”
KM: Well I did that later, actually. At first I just kneaded the dough exactly according to the instructions because everyone got so mad at me last week that I was trying to be a fucking teacher’s pet this week. At this stage I just did Prue’s stupid instructions and put the dough in the fridge and moved on to my makeshift double boiler.
CT: I’m not emotionally ready to talk about the double boiler situation. I may never be emotionally ready for that.
KM: I’m so sorry, but we have to. Just think about the dark chocolate first. That went fine for both of us even though we didn’t really know what “temper” meant.
CT: I did not get into the tempering until after the bake, which in hindsight was possibly a crazy mistake.
KM: Wait, what? What were you doing while the dough was chilling? Not tempering chocolate?
CT: I was … ah … reading blogs.
CT: I'm sorry! What happened was, I eventually wrestled the dough into disc shape and got it into the fridge, and got my fruit strained and onto a paper towel and into the fridge, and I had 20 minutes to spare, so I cleaned up a little, and then I just … read blogs. This would’ve been my time to chat with Noel about his cool shirt or whatever.
KM: Hm. OK, while you were reading blogs and chatting with Noel, I was still running screaming back and forth in my kitchen while my Spotify shuffle played (for some inexplicable reason) “Gangnam Style.” I was too stressed to change it. I removed my fruits from the simmer, put them on a tray and put them in the fridge with the dough because it seemed like it would be bad if they were hot, and then I tempered both the dark and white chocolate. We will come back to that.
CT: See, I was afraid that if I tempered my chocolate too early that it would harden or something by the time I was ready to use it. I knew that rolling and shaping the dough and then baking the biscuits would take me a lot of time, and I don't know what happens to tempered chocolate if it sits at room temperature for like 45 minutes. I should reiterate here that I do not know anything about tempering chocolate or why it is different from just melting some chocolate.
KM: Tempering somehow makes it shiny. It’s science or something. I also got my little rolling area set up while my dough chilled. I marked off with my finger in the flour how big I needed to roll the dough. All of this would turn out to be for naught because the minute I removed my dough from the fridge, everything became a nightmare.
CT: I have a feeling your dough-rolling nightmare was somewhat different from my dough-rolling nightmare, at least in the sense that my dough-rolling nightmare involved a carpenter’s measuring triangle.
KM: Here is what happened for me: I actually used the scale, like you do, to divide my dough equally in two. I felt very pompous for doing this. But the dough was SO STICKY. I tried to roll it and it was basically impossible to roll. At this point I began to imagine strangling Prue by her decorative glasses chain. It was so unbelievably sticky. I knew it was not going to work for me so I just added more flour. I kept adding flour until I was able to roll it out. Still it was so thin and SO fragile.
CT: God, the dough. The dough was like this evil presence in my kitchen, attacking and befouling every surface it touched, no matter how carefully prepped. I added so much flour to my rolling pin, hands, and cutting board that the finished product easily had double the amount listed in the recipe.
KM: The instructions were essentially: Roll out your divided dough to 3mm (that’s not a real measurement. It’s too small) and two big rectangles, add the fruit mix to one and then lift the other rectangle, put it on top, roll again, and then divide into 12 cookies. Which parts of this were you able to do?
CT: At first, none of it. I fucked up the initial roll-out so badly that I had to start completely over. The dough was so sticky and I was somewhat restrained, I guess, in my initial flouring of my surfaces, so my first [perfect] rectangle was completely fused with my cutting board. Then I forgot that I have a dough scraper and tried to use a chef’s knife to unstick the rectangle, and wound up just slashing it to ribbons. Here is where I yelled "FUCK" so loudly that I woke my child from her nap.
KM: Wait, Chris. Tell them about the flashlight lol.
CT: Yes, so, in all my preparations (which were extensive) I somehow never considered that I might need a rolling pin to roll out the dough. And so when I took my dough out of the refrigerator and got it onto my cutting board, I suddenly had the dizzying realization that I had forgotten a very important tool. For about 10 minutes I could not find a rolling pin anywhere in the kitchen, so in a moment of desperation I ran into the basement and grabbed a heavy-duty 19-inch metal flashlight and began flouring it up.
I was comforting myself that the checker-plate grip on the handle would make a lovely pattern on my biscuits when my wife calmly walked into the kitchen and told me in a soothing voice where to find the rolling pin.
KM: You entered Chaos Mode before I did again this week, and this series of messages was extremely scary as I had not even read the recipe yet.
Luckily, you did not die.
CT: There were moments in there where I would’ve been glad to die. Like when I finally got fruit onto one egg-brushed rectangle and got the second rectangle on top of it and looked at the instructions and it said to now do more rolling. I very nearly broke down at this moment.
KM: I had to use a dough scraper to get my second rectangle off the counter and then a fish spatula to lift it up and move it over. It was still so thin that it cracked a lot. When I read the second instruction to roll, my brain said, “No.” I went rogue. Instead of rolling again I went ahead and cut it into 12 pieces, moved those pieces to the tray, rolled them there, and then trimmed them with a kitchen knife. I’m not sure this actually saved me time. But I knew if I rolled it on the counter it would never ever come off. I wish in retrospect, I had rolled the dough out on parchment paper.
CT: Whoa!! Honestly, Kelsey, that is super clutch.
KM: It worked pretty well, to be honest! I got all my little biscuits onto the tray and into the oven. They were in there for a minute before I remember I was supposed to poke them with a fork and add egg white, so I pulled them back out, did those steps, and set my timer for six minutes because I had no fucking idea how long they would take.
CT: The instruction for this part was “bake.” This was fucking unbelievably intimidating for me.
Stage Two: The Bake
KM: What was your strategy for how long to leave the biscuits in the oven?
CT: Heh, "strategy." My strategy was: I have 31 minutes left to bake these damn Grumbliotto Biscuits, cool, temper, decorate, cool, and serve, and I will need approximately half that time to figure out this tempering bullshit. So I set my timer for 15 minutes, simply so that I would have the awful biscuits, which I hate, out of my face for 15 minutes.
KM: Wow! That’s how long I ended up baking mine. But I checked them at six minutes, turned them. Checked them at 12 minutes, turned them again, and then eventually took them out around 15 minutes or 18 minutes. I can’t really remember. While my cookies were in the oven I had NOTHING to do. My chocolate was ready and even in its piping bag. I did some dishes, and cleaned up the five pounds of flour everywhere. I assume this is when you were tempering?
CT: Yes. I can’t even describe how disheartening it was to finally get the biscuits into the oven and look at the clock and realize that I didn’t even have time to catch my breath or clean, I had to IMMEDIATELY start simmering water and tempering chocolate.
KM: The reading of the blogs betrayed you.
CT: Note to readers: It’s always good to read blogs. Read blogs whenever you can, you will never go wrong.
KM: Chris is right. I regret the error. It was the white chocolate that betrayed you. Blogs could never hurt you that way.
CT: Kelsey, when you say that you did not have trouble with the dark chocolate, do you mean that you felt like you had a pretty good idea what you were attempting to accomplish?
KM: Yes! I watched a lot of Claire Saffitz when she was doing videos for Bon Appetit. She was very bad at tempering chocolate. The only person in that whole kitchen that could do it was Sohla El-Waylly. But I knew that I was putting the chocolate in top of a bowl on top of the simmering water, and that I wanted it to be shiny by adding it slowly. This worked perfectly for me, somehow, with the dark chocolate. Did you know what it meant?
CT: All I knew was that I needed to be melting chocolate in a bowl held over a pot of simmering water. The contestants are given double boilers, but I had to make do with a couple small mixing bowls and a trusty saucepan. This is absolute hell on the wrists, I've found.
I had a vague memory that with tempering you heat to a very specific temperature and then add the remainder of the chocolate later, or something. Obviously I am unaware of the target temperature, but by freaking out and yanking my chocolate away from the heat whenever it seemed to be actively melting, I at least avoided burning it. This method did work reasonably well with the dark chocolate, in that it did not seize or scald, and smelled very good. But the tempering of the white chocolate was a full-blown disaster. During the too-many minutes I lost at this, I was as boiling angry with Prue Leith as I have ever been with any human in my entire life. I will simply never attempt to temper white chocolate again for as long as I live.
KM: The first time I tried to do the white chocolate, I ended up with something that looked like very yellow mascarpone. The second time, it was worse. The ball looked like a big old piece of dough. The third time, it was pipeable (still too thick) but I only had enough white chocolate for one more attempt so I declared it good enough. I hated it. White chocolate is now my enemy. I will never choose to see it again.
CT: I also needed three attempts. The first time I was so frantic that I splashed simmering water into the bowl, which immediately caused the chocolate to clump into a boulder and fuse to the side of the vessel. So I needed a new vessel and a new quantity of white chocolate, but also my biscuits were in the oven with just minutes to go, so I hastily dumped a huge handful of white chocolate into a mixing bowl and all but threw it at the water. But it overheated almost immediately and seized and became boulder number two. As I was now out of clean mixing bowls, I had to pry the lump out of there and rinse out the bowl before making a third attempt. Here I had to pause to pull the biscuits out of the oven. The third attempt “worked” in the sense that it melted without seizing, but it was very, very thick, far too thick for any delicate or careful piping, as you will soon see.
KM: Unlike last week, I was still feeling cocky when my biscuits came out of the oven. They weren’t exactly square but they definitely looked like cookies, and they were kind of gold, and they had the fruit inside. After the rolling catastrophe this felt like a miracle. Plus, I still had 22 minutes left. Plenty of time, I naively thought. I put my biscuits in the freezer for a little bit while I changed the music and messaged you, and read a blog.
I had 16 minutes when my Grodisattva Biscuits came out of the oven. They were way too hot for decorating, and anyway I was still having my ass kicked completely off by the white chocolate, so I moved the biscuits to a cooling rack and jammed them in the fridge. By this point I knew I was cooked: There would simply not be enough time left for me to make presentable biscuits.
KM: That makes sense as the six minute difference can be accounted for in your precise chopping.
Stage Three: Decorating And Finishing
CT: We interpreted the decorating instructions differently, it turns out.
KM: I decided to dunk my biscuits horizontally solely because the instructions had said earlier to put the tempered chocolate into a shallow bowl. I had done this, so I didn’t see how I could get them dunked halfway vertically.
CT: In the end I think you got it right, not just as Prue intended but also so that you can have a taste of chocolate in every bite. Meanwhile, I was in such a ridiculous frenzy while tempering chocolate that I simply dumped my dark chocolate into a coffee mug. This meant that dunking the biscuits lengthwise was not an option.
KM: My dunking also went great. I had plenty of time, the chocolate tasted good, and my biscuits were wonky but I felt proud of them. This was the beginning of the end for me. My white chocolate was too thick for piping, which was okay. I managed to pipe the first four biscuits. I decided that feather meant going up and down with the “cocktail stick” required in the instructions, so I did that, and they kind of looked like feathers. I was so proud.
But then, because my icing was too thick, and because I had not bought a piping bag, the plastic snack Ziploc I had shoved my icing into exploded. The white chocolate went onto the fifth biscuit in a blob, it splattered. It landed on the floor. It landed in my HAIR. It was a disaster. At this point I had four minutes left.
CT: My dark chocolate was too thick for a delicate layer, and the awful white chocolate was like toothpaste. I had a piping bag, but I did not have a writing nozzle. I had like seven minutes to dunk and pipe and feather, and I was also having a total emotional meltdown.
KM: I just poked a hole in the baggie with the cocktail stick, to be honest. I don’t own any nozzles. I also was having an emotional breakdown. I started tempering chocolate again with three minutes left. It was not working. While this was happening I managed to break one of my biscuits in half dunking it, and the yelp I let out was so sad and so concerning that my dog came running down the stairs.
CT: My biscuits were sort of floppy, which made the dunking part bad, especially because I was dunking the wrong way, which added a bunch of weight to one half of the biscuit. Several of them came apart in the dark chocolate. Then when it came time to pipe I was just like pooping these thick blobs of white chocolate all over the place. It was so stupid and discouraging, like I could’ve achieved the same effect by just putting the white chocolate on a spoon, taking three steps backward, and flinging it in the direction of the biscuits. This is when the shame and regret really kicked in.
KM: My fourth, rushed, attempt to temper the white chocolate resulted in me adding water because I had no time and it was a big ol' mass. This made the white chocolate very runny. I piped it anyway. This did not work, so instead the final eight biscuits I made looked very ugly and kind of dull, ruining the shiny tempered dark chocolate I worked so hard to make.
CT: Did you bother to feather the final eight? I ran a toothpick through my chocolate but at this point all I wanted to do was throw the biscuits away before anyone could look at them.
KM: I tried. It was like trying to feather the water of the ocean, an embarrassing, meaningless gesture that made me feel bad.
CT: Unbelievably, I finished this hellish challenge with 55 seconds left on the timer. I spent this time hating every single decision that I’d made over the course of my life.
KM: When my timer went off, I had just finished transferring my biscuits to a plate. I don’t really know why I did this as the chocolate hadn’t hardened yet and also there were no judges to present them to. But I did move them to a plate, which made them look worse. I really regret that choice.
The Finished Product
CT: So, Kelsey, how were your Gertrudian Biscuits?
KM: My Goblinbody Biscuits were so ugly they made me want to cry. The exceptional difference between my first four biscuits and the last eight was just emotionally annihilating. It would have been better if none of them had looked good. They did, however, taste great, and I have eaten almost all of them. How were your biscuits?
CT: Not only were my biscuits underbaked, misshapen, sloppy, and horribly decorated, they also taste bad. Even my small child cannot be bothered to eat them. I sincerely hate them so much.
KM: I will never ever be making these biscuits again in my entire life even though I have approximately 400 currants left, because I had no idea how much they weighed. I am grateful to be moving away from biscuits, and I hope decorating in general.
CT: I make some pretty good roasted Brussels sprouts with a tasty vinaigrette featuring currants and capers. That is the only positive thing I will take from this experience: Now I have some currants for a side dish.
KM: When Trey tried the biscuits he said, “Wow, these actually taste good,” which is maybe the best neg I’ve ever received, but I will take it!!! To me, that was the best I can hope for. However, if I remember correctly, next week is Bread Week. So that should be easy.
CT: I will ace Bread Week. I am 100 percent confident that my bread will be perfect.
KM: Yeah, me too. I will also ace it. No problem.
Luckily, Kelsey and Chris performed very well in the signature and showstopper bakes. They advanced to Week 3.