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Five reasons the Bake Off is better in France than in Britain

So yes, Great Britain invented the Great British Bake Off. And so successful has the show been that the format has been sold to 196 different territories - including France.

Five reasons the Bake Off is better in France than in Britain
Do you want your croquembouche challenges supersized? Photo: AFP

In France it is called Le Meilleur Pâtissier (the best baker) and it’s, well, just better than the British original. So as the 11th series gets underway in France, here’s why you should switch to French bakers.

1. It’s longer

If some cake is good, more cake is better, right? While the British show coasts in at around an hour, the French version is two hours long if you watch it straight through online, or two-and-a-half if you watch it on TV with ad breaks.

The format is basically the same – each week the bakers create a signature challenge, a technical challenge from a recipe they have never seen before and a showstopper or creative challenge.

But the distinctly leisurely pace of the French show allows for more chatting, plus loads of clips of the contestants going about their everyday lives, jobs and explaining what baking means to them (it’s their life, usually).

 
Mercotte aka the French Mary Berry. Photo: M6

2. It’s harder

The challenges on the British show have definitely got more difficult since the relatively benign early days when they simply had to bake a cake, but the French show is at a whole new level. By week two the (amateur) bakers are creating a life sized replica of Versailles out of choux buns.

OK that’s a slight exaggeration, but some of the challenges are frankly insane (such as creating a Breton tower out of 60 crêpes and some caramel). 

3. It’s ruder

The French version is very much post-watershed. Broadcast by commercial channel M6 there’s no fannying about bleeping out swear words here.

In fact if you really want to learn how to swear properly in French simply tune in and wait for the baker whose cake fails to rise, who drops their pastry cases or who spills molten sugar on themselves.

There’s also a distinct acknowledgement that the audience are adults – every series includes a 50 nuances de crème (50 shades of cream) week. The results are usually hilariously horrifying, proving that erotica and baking really should never mix.

 
 
Cyril Lignac. Less annoying than Paul Hollywood. Photo: AFP

4. It’s got Cyril Lignac’s face

The judges on the French version are Mercotte (one name only, like Madonna) a food critic and author who has been writing cookbooks since 1987 and Michelin-starred chef Cyril Lignac.

While Mercotte is essentially Mary Berry with added Frenchness, Cyril brings a whole new dimension to judging. Rather than being known for his annoying ‘Hollywood handshakes’ Cyril’s USP is the bizarre faces he pulls while tasting. Many, varied and strange, they also offer no clue at all as to whether the cake is delicious or terrible.

All adds to the drama.

5. It has better animals

Creating a giant and slightly impractical tent in the middle of a country estate has been faithfully copied from the British show, as have the cut-away shots to cute animals to indicate the passing of time.

But while the surroundings of the UK tent are populated with nothing more exotic than a few birds and lambs (and on one memorable occasion in 2011 a squirrel with an enormous pair of knackers) the French show ups the ante quite dramatically. It appears to have shipped the entire contents of a petting zoo to the grounds of the various châteaux where it has been located. On breaks from baking, the contestants are frequently seen sitting alongside peacocks, ponies and penguins. 

The 2022 season had a pre-competition heat on September 7th to whittle the contestants down to 14 and the series proper begins on Wednesday, September 14th at 9.10pm on terrestrial channel M6. You can also watch online, episodes are available for catch up (in all countries) on www.6play.fr

French vocab

À vos marques… prêts . . . pâtissez – On your marks . . . ready . . . bake.
Un biscuit – slightly confusingly, can be a biscuit or a sponge cake, as in biscuit Génoise or a Genoese sponge
Epreuve – challenge (as in épreuve technique or technical challenge)
Tablier bleu – blue apron (given to the best baker each week)
Vainquer – winner
Putain – what you say when you drop your gingerbread model of the Eiffel Tower with three minutes to go until judging time.

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FOOD & DRINK

Paris bakers bounce back with sharp rise in number of city boulangeries

If you’ve convinced yourself that the delicious and tempting aroma of baking bread seems a little more pronounced in Paris then your scent suspicions are accurate, according to new figures showing a strong growth in the number of boulangeries in the capital.

Paris bakers bounce back with sharp rise in number of city boulangeries

You might think that the busy pace of big city life would put paid to the tradition of going to a traditional boulangerie to buy your daily bread.

But after several years in which number of boulangeries in and around the capital did indeed decline, 110 new bakeries were listed by the Chambre des métiers et de l’artisanat (CMA) d’Île-de-France in 2022.

In the 20 arrondissements of Paris, there are now 1,360 bakeries – a jump of nine percent in the past five years. Twenty years ago, there were only 1,000 boulangeries in the capital.

Moving out into the greater Paris Île de France region, the number of boulangeries has jumped an average of 20 percent – and as much as 35 percent in the département of Seine-Saint-Denis. 

READ ALSO MAPS: How many Parisians live more than 5 minutes from a boulangerie?

They’re busy, too. According to CMA figures, Parisian boulangeries bake between 500 and 800 baguettes a day, compared to an average of 300 across France, and sell a variety of artisan-made breads and pastries.

That’s in spite of repeated crises – from the yellow vest protests and pandemic confinement, to the rising cost-of-living and soaring energy bills.

The CMA has said it has contacted every one of the bakers in Paris to find out how they are coping with rising bills, while an estimated 50 advisers are conducting energy audits to find ways for individual bakers to save money.

The secret of modern boulangers’ survival is not much of a secret – diversification.

“The profile of the artisan is not the same as it was fifty years ago, when making good bread was enough,” Jean-Yves Bourgois, secretary general of the CMA of Île-de-France, told Le Parisien. “They are much more dynamic: the offer is much wider, and they have been able to keep up with customers’ demand.”

READ ALSO

Bakeries have increasingly established themselves as an alternative to the fast-food kebab houses and burger bars by developing their product lines to include salads, sandwiches and warm meals for takeaway. Many also have an attached café or terrace for customers to while away their time.

As well as diversifying, bakers are consolidating. “Networks of artisanal bakeries (Kayser, Landemaine, Sevin, etc.) are expanding, and more and more Parisian artisans are managing several stores,” the Professional Association of Bakers in Greater Paris said.

“There have been other crises and we have held on. The bakery industry still has a lot of good years ahead of it,” Franck Thomasse, president of the professional association, said.

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