31 May 2015

shrewsbury biscuits

Hello S,
Thank you for your email. I am very flattered, as I am a fan of the British Bake-Off series.
However, I know from watching those shows that I certainly do not have the broad range of baking skills, nor am I consistent enough, to put myself forward for this opportunity. Unless you want the comedy aspect of someone burning the cake or adding too much flour or ... gasp, having the dreaded soggy bottoms!
You have certainly allowed me to dream a little but I know the reality would not be pretty.
Thank you again for contacting me — I shall eagerly watch out for the Australian series.
This, dear reader, was (I hoped) my gracious response to an email from one of the producers of a new season of baking competition show. Can you believe it? Me, a bake-off baker? At first I thought it was spam! Had the producer not read about my burnt cake or botched rhubarb cobbler?

As I said, I would surely provide those awful moments when the poor contestant walks away from the oven without turning it on, or opens the oven door to have smoke billowing out or the supposedly puffy dutch baby pancake be as flat as … a normal pancake (I didn’t share that one with you). I’d be that scene they play before and after the ad break (or even on the commercials) where the baker walks towards the judges and drops the tray of biscuits all over the floor. The tragic, comic moments to make everyone else look wonderful (or just plain competent). And cooking under pressure, with judges and other safe contestants watching your every move, undermining your confidence with sly suggestions?

So I politely declined. And then told lots of people about it.

My mother shared my fears. As fans of the British Bake Off shows, we were always astounded by what those bakers could do – the scope of their skills and techniques. It seriously is not amateur home baking to make those fanciful and difficult breads, cakes, pastries and desserts. Yes I can bake — but not like that.

The two Vs (yes, I have two friends called V) said I should email that producer right back and say I’d changed my mind (I hadn’t) and do it, as did the lovely T. Who revealed — does anyone else know this? — some very intriguing background information.

Now I knew contestants have downtime to practice theirs skills, but T said they are also taught and instructed by proper chefs! Her sister, a pastry chef, has provided crash-course training to a few people who have appeared on various cooking shows to bring their pastry skills up to speed.

Really? I could learn from experts and professionals? Those contestants aren’t as naturally gifted as they appear — they’ve had expert guidance? Maybe I would email that producer back…

No. You may think, after my last post, that I am turning down all of life's wonderful invitations. But I am a realist by nature. As flattering as the invitation was, no (but if there’s a magazine publisher out there who wants a new columnist, now that’s a gig I wouldn’t pass up!).

So it is only fitting that I make some Bake Off biscuits. Some lovely old-fashioned, easy biscuits, studded with currants and zingy with lemon zest. These I could make with cameras rolling. But so could anyone. Bake Offs require much more skill than these little treats do.

Shrewsbury biscuits
Adapted from Paul Hollywood's recipe in 'British Baking' - a wonderful book to read, even if you are not British. I did not sprinkle extra sugar on top before baking. A very economical recipe, it makes a modest batch, depending on your cutters; I used small and medium sized and got around 20.
  • Cream 100 gms softened butter, 100 gms sugar and the fine zest of 1 lemon.
  • Beat in 1 large egg.
  • Stir thru 200 gms plain flour and then 50 gms currants. You'll then need to get in and squeeze the dough together with your hands, or you can knead it on a lightly floured surface.
  • Place the dough on a stretch of greaseproof paper (about a foot long), and roll out til 5 mm thick. Then wrap another layer of paper over the top and some clingfilm or foil, and fridge for an hour or so.
  • After an hour, remove dough from fridge, prep some baking trays and preheat your oven to 180.
  • Cut out your biscuits using your desired cutters; squish and roll the scraps back together to use up all the dough (or nibble on it...).
  • Place on baking trays and bake for about 15 minutes or until golden.
  • Remove from oven, cool on trays for a few minutes to help harden them, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
  • These are wonderfully hard biscuits and so very good at afternoon tea with a cup of tea.


  1. The thought of going on there sends a shiver down my spine as well. Although there's an allotment one in this country now, "The Great British Allotment Challenge". The first series was done in pairs, so you could do it all with a friend. But the second series was for solo competitors. Maybe that would be the one for you, when it gets to your corner of the world..? CJ xx

    1. an allotment challenge! that would be so fun to watch! what would the challenges be - weeding and sowing in perfectly straight lines? that would be fun - I shall look out for that one CJ!

  2. I always figured those kind of shows took applications. I'm kind of surprised they ask people to do it. I wouldn't do anything like that myself, but the opportunity for training would be fun.

    1. daphne, I did too - I thought you had to apply or line up like a mass cattle call and apply in person (like the singing shows). it's been very interesting to learn what goes on behind the scenes of these shows, even in this very small way.

  3. Fair enough that you politely decline this one... and not because I think you cannot bake, for that is not the case... but why would you want to put yourself through that! Love the biscuit recipe! xox

    1. oh lizzy, exactly (and thanks for the nice words). I watched five minutes of masterchef last night and I thought "I couldn't handle all the group hugs and the mass cheering" !!
      this is my new favourite biscuit recipe. i'm going to try it next with spice instead of the lemon zest.

  4. Very exciting to be given the opportunity, even if you decided it wasn't for you. I think its nice to see people who do occasionally stuff things up (they are human after all), but I don't like the general feel of a lot of these competitive shows. Its interesting to hear the inside goss on the pre-show lessons. I had no idea.

    1. it's fascinating, isn't it? but i think one's level of expertise needs to be amazing before the experts pass on extra knowledge. let's me out!
      the British Bake Off is one of the nicer competition shows - it never seemed as ego-driven or as melodramatic - and the two hosts sue and mel were just fabulous.

  5. I love watching Bake Off but can't imagine why the contestants put themselves through it. Apart from the prospect of a book deal. Or TV show. I didn't realise they touted for contestants - congratulations on being thought of!

    1. or to open a restaurant/café? you're right, anne - you surely don't go on those shows just for the fun of it!
      thank you :-) was flattering for a moment!


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