Thursday, October 04, 2012

GBBO and the ship's biscuit

With work loads at press gang level highs I've been escaping into the gem that is the Great British Bake Off, or GBBO as it is known to fans and twitter.

For those that haven't seen the GBBO it's a BBC TV show that involves amateur bakers being whittled down by a series of challenges until one is crowned the winner. It is one of those rare programs that attracts a wide audience while being both super nice and hyper competitive - to say nothing of being packed with as many double entendres as the creations have calories.

One of the contestants has even created a drinking game on the lines that you must drink a finger every time someone uses phrase like "soggy bottom": you won't be surprised to find out he is a medical student (go James!)

Tuesday saw the departure of the lovely Cathryn with her dictionary of facial expressions, defeated by the humble biscuit. Ok, there might also have been an epic gingerbread self-build task, but the result was the same, namely tears and group hugs

So in her honour I had to get baking, and what better than the classic ship's biscuit.


Traditionally ship's biscuits was made from the minimal ingredients of flour, water and salt and the result tough enough to challenge both teeth and jaw to destruction. Having heard a colleague describe the dentistry required to fix a tooth that suffered a hairline fracture I was rather keen to avoid this.

So I allowed this variation that included a very little butter and milk instead of water - both of which would have been available in the classic days of sail. Cooking time was given as 30 - 40 minutes on a moderate heat though this one said 30 minutes at 210C, while this one said 30 minutes per side.

In the end it was a case of seeing when they were going brown with one turn during the middle, which was just over 30 minutes. I did as instructed prick them with a fork but it turned out not enough as there were bubbles all over the place.


Pretty indestructible and nearly inedible, even with this "improved" recipe. Basically think of all the good things about a biscuit involving taste and texture, then take that away and replace with something with the texture of teak decking tasting burnt.

Dunking in tea made no difference - solid as a rock before and after. An experiment with dipping in rum (in the name of science you understand) was slightly more successful.

Lets just say its a good thing I halved the quantities and it could be argued that was still twice the amounts needed.

Verdict on the Biscuits

Bricks: I'd be reluctant to present these to either Mary Berry or Paul Hollywood in person though it would be quite entertaining to watch someone else volunteer them up.

Verdict on the Sailors that ate them

They must have been as tough as ship's biscuits.

Top tip for those thinking of baking them



Noodle said...

Interesting. Never ate one of those. Ship's bisquits. I thought the English had specific words for everything. Of course any true sailing nation would have a single specific word identifying such an important thing. We call them "Beskøjter".

JP said...

I think they are also called "hardtack" which is a good sailing sounding word

jim garner said...

hardtack was also used by the people crossing the Great Plains in wagon trains during the 1800s.

Anonymous said...

I wonder if sugar would improve things at all?

JP said...

I suspect that at the time sugar was a luxury not to be "wasted" on humble sailors.