For this showstopper challenge during Biscuit Week, Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry asked the bakers in the Great White Tent to make 36 biscuits (i.e., cookies) and an edible biscuit box, and they each had to be made of a different type of biscuit. Paul said he was looking for “precision and architecture.” Mary said she wanted to see “ambitious techniques,” and the results had to “taste really special.” In addition, the judges wanted “uniformity and unusual flavors and styles.”
The Box: A Mad Hatter’s Hat
Seven of the bakers chose to use gingerbread for their biscuit boxes. That’s not surprising; gingerbread is sturdy and doesn’t crumble under pressure. That’s why I chose to use gingerbread, too. That, and I’ve used it before for my Gingerbread Eiffel Tower and my 3D Biscuit Scene. After seeing the various shapes created by The Great British Bake Off contestants (Mat made a fire truck, Nadiya made a bowl-shaped box, and both Ian and Ugne managed to form gingerbread cylinders), I thought I’d attempt a cylindrical design, as well.
I wanted to create a Mad Hatter’s hat, and after searching through my basement, I found a perfect mold: a metal stand for a beverage dispenser used for one of my daughters’ graduation parties. It’s about 7 inches tall and 9 inches in diameter and is wider at the bottom but has a flange at the top where the beverage dispenser sits. I turned it upside down to make it look more hat-like. I was going for something like this.
I realize most people won’t have access to the same mold I used, but if you want to make your own gingerbread hat, you might try using a small, clean metal bucket or a brand-new paint pail (often sold in paint or craft stores). Just make sure it’s clean and nontoxic (wrap it in foil to be on the safe side) and oven-safe.
To give you the basics, I used my go-to gingerbread structure recipe (although I used light brown sugar and regular molasses instead of the darker varieties of each) and the royal icing recipe found in that same post to glue everything together.
I traced the bottom of the mold (which would be the top of my hat) onto parchment paper and made a circle of gingerbread that size for the lid of my biscuit box. (NOTE: Make it slightly larger, as mine barely fit the top of my completed box.)
I had planned to bake the tapered cylindrical sides of the box in two halves, like I saw Ugne do in this episode of GBBO, but part of the pieces fell off while baking, so I salvaged what I could and made four (unequal) pieces instead. This is when I came up with the idea of adding vertical fondant stripes to my hat/box to cover up the seams. Otherwise, it would have looked pretty messy. (NOTE: If you plan to make a cylinder out of gingerbread, I suggest only baking one-third to one-fourth of the circumference at a time. This should lessen the chance that it will fall apart during baking.)
For the base of my hat, I found an ovenproof plate that was slightly larger than the bottom of the hat. The sides of the plate sloped upward like the brim of a hat. So I covered the plate in foil as well and laid a piece of gingerbread on top, cutting it to fit.
The trickiest part, once my pieces were baked, was getting them to fit together neatly. Because some pieces had broken during baking, I trimmed the edges as soon as they came out of the oven to make them as even as possible. But to get a neater seam, I had to trim them some more.
I started with the two pieces that fit together the best. I smoothed the edges a little by filing them with a fine-bladed zester/grater. Then I glued them together with royal icing, letting the icing set before working on the next piece.
I recruited my husband to help me hold all the pieces together against the sides of the mold to determine which one to work on next. I also used the mold to make sure they were forming a perfect(ish) circle. (I didn’t leave them on the mold when I glued them together, though, in case the icing stuck to the mold.) As he held the pieces in place, I used a pencil to mark how I would need to trim them to fit. (NOTE: I had already determined that we would not be eating the biscuit box. If you do plan to eat yours, I suggest using a food-safe marker instead of a pencil. Or mark it with a sharp knife.)
After marking the pieces, I cut them with a sharp serrated knife, using a gentle sawing motion. This worked pretty well, but a couple pieces started to break. (Be careful how much pressure you apply.) In one instance, I had to trim off more than I had planned in order to get a straight seam. Fortunately, I still had enough to make a full circle. Where just a little piece broke off, I tried gluing the broken pieces back together with icing, but in a couple cases I was left with gaps that I had to fill in with icing when I glued the sections together.
Once the remaining pieces were cut to fit, I glued them together with royal icing, doing my best to keep my hat/box as close to a circle as possible. I left the whole thing to dry overnight. The next day, I used the leftover icing to glue the “brim” to the bottom of the hat. I then rolled out some white fondant and cut strips to cover the seams, adding a few more strips in between so they would be approximately evenly spaced. Then I put a red fondant hat band around the base, just above the brim. To make the lid coordinate with the rest of the hat, I added matching strips that came to a point in the middle and topped it with a big red fondant button in the center. For the finishing touches, I stuck a fondant “card” that reads “10/6” in the brim, just like the Mat Hatter’s, and a tag made out of fondant on top that says, “Eat me,” like the cake that Alice finds (and eats) in Wonderland.
The Biscuits: Queen of Hearts Linzer Tarts
To fill my biscuit box, I made 36 Queen of Hearts Linzer Tarts, or Linzer cookies in the shape of hearts. Linzer cookies, sometimes called Linzer Augen (eyes) or Spitzbuben (“little rascals”), are descendents of one of the oldest known pastries, the Linzertorte. Dating from the mid-17th century, Linzertorte is closely tied to the Austrian city of Linz.
The cookies, like the torte, are made with a nutty shortbread dough and filled with jam or curd — traditionally red or black currant preserves, but more recently raspberry, apricot or even lemon curd are used. The nuts can be almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts or pecans. While the torte is topped with a lattice crust, the “tarts” are made with jam sandwiched between two cookies, with a hole cut in the top cookie so the jam can peak through.
I used ground pecans in my cookies and filled them with raspberry jam. This recipe is pretty straightforward. The only caveat I’d give is that the high butter content means the dough gets soft very quickly when it’s out of the fridge. So chill the dough thoroughly before rolling it out, and work quickly. If at any time it gets too warm to cut and transfer the cookies to baking sheets, simply pop it back in the fridge for 15 minutes or so.
I was pleased with both my Mad Hatter biscuit box and the Queen of Hearts Linzer Tarts. The cookies, when freshly made, are crisp and nutty with a tart jam filling. If they last more than a day, they will soften up but are no less moreish. They would do nicely served at an afternoon tea with a couple of friends — perhaps a certain rabbit and a little man in a silly hat?
Ratings for the Linzer tarts:
Queen of Hearts Linzer Tarts
For the jam:
- 3 c. frozen raspberries
- 1 c. sugar
- 1 t. pectin (like Sure-Jell)
For the cookies:
- 3 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 c. ground pecans
- 2 t. cinnamon
- 1 t. baking powder
- 1 t. salt
- 1½ c. butter, softened
- 1¼ c. sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 1 t. almond extract
- Powdered sugar for dusting
- To make the jam, place berries in a large saucepan and crush with a potato masher. Stir the pectin into the sugar and add to the saucepan. Heat gently, stirring continuously, until the sugar dissolves.
- Place a fine-mesh sieve over a heatproof bowl. Remove pan from heat and pour the jam mixture through the sieve. Press the pulp through the sieve with the back of a spoon, making sure to scrape the pulp clinging to the underside of the sieve into the bowl with the juice. Pour the sieved mixture back into the pan.
- Return pan to stove and bring mixture to a boil, stirring occasionally, until it comes to a full rolling boil — one that bubbles vigorously, rises in the pan and cannot be stirred down. Bring to 220°F. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
- To make the dough: In a bowl, combine flour, ground pecans, cinnamon, baking powder and salt, and set aside. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugar together until pale and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, and the almond extract to the butter mixture; beat until well mixed. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture all at once, and mix until just combined.
- Divide dough into two equal pieces and wrap with plastic wrap. Refrigerate until very firm, at least two hours and up to three days.
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. On a floured surface, roll out half the dough until it is about 1/8 inch thick. Working quickly while the dough is still cold and firm, use a 2½-inch heart-shaped cookie cutter to cut out as many cookies as you can, placing them an inch apart on the prepared baking sheets. Gather any scraps, rewrap, and chill until dough is firm enough to reroll.
- Once the cookies are on the baking sheets, use a small canapé cutter (or the center of a donut cutter) to cut 1-inch holes in the centers of half the cookies. Place cookie sheets in refrigerator for 30 minutes and preheat oven to 350°F.
- Bake the cookies for about 10-12 minutes or until the edges are golden brown. Keep them on the baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool completely.
- Place about ½ teaspoon raspberry jam onto each of the solid cookies and spread the jam out a bit but not quite to the edges. Dust the top cookies (with the cut-out circles) generously with powdered sugar, then carefully place the tops on the jam-covered bottoms. Press very gently so as not to break the top cookie.
- Store tarts in an airtight container at room temperature. They will keep for several days (if they last that long!).