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French Pastry Obsession: The Great British Bake Off 🇬🇧 versus Le Meilleur Patissier 🇫🇷

Have you seen the The Great British Bake Off (GBBO)? Perhaps where you are it's called The Great British Baking Show, but it's the same! Maybe that is an odd way to start a blog post here at France Where You Are, where frankly everything is really about, well, France. Whether you're a Baking Show / Bake Off newbie or super fan or you've only seen the French Bake Off called Le Meilleur Patissier, there's something for you to enjoy today as I break down the similarities, differences, quirks and charm of both shows.


On the blog today is The Great British Bake Off versus the French Bake Off. Are you ready? Let's bake...



British Bake Off

Can you believe that The Great British Bake Off recently finished its 12th series? Its great friendly format in the big white tent for bakers to show what they love to do. It started out on the BBC with Mary Berry, Paul Hollywood and Mel & Sue and while it has changed a number of its people since, it hasn't changed in its essence or format. It went through some controversy in the UK as it moved from the national broadcaster BBC to commercial Channel 4 and only Paul Hollywood remaining as judge. At the time this seemed like the end of the GBBO but, you know, having taken some time off from watching, I have come back to Bake Off with the same enthusiasm and delight as I had the first time around. (I still miss Mel & Sue though.. do you?) For Mary Berry fans (and who isn't a fan?) she has since gone on to make many cookery series for the BBC.


Bake Off is the friendly, fun show you can enjoy no matter where you are. Back in the days before busy family life, it was a weekly dose of relaxation after work for me. I loved watching 12 bakers in the tent progress through the challenges of each themed week. Now it can be a streamed binge of baked goodness! From Cake Week to Pastry Week, there was always something to delight in or surprise including many cakes I'd never heard of or could pronounce (I'm looking at you Princesstårta. 😂) There have been experimental themes like Tudor Week, Victorian Week and even Eighties Week (not a gastronomic journey I thought was worth it) in the British Show, but the themes have largely remained the same.


Working out that I've been watching it for over a decade is a bit strange! In Canada, I managed to get some DVDs of the early series right back to 2010 and it was a little like going back in time and seeing old friends. I could remember the faces of contestants and controversies with custard and thrown away cakes. All that drama is kind of rare. GBBO is a pretty friendly show as reality television goes. There's a warmth and camaraderie between the contestants and lots of love, humour and good will from the presenters too. The judging usually seems clear, fair and professional and the show reflects that. Watching the Great Canadian Baking Show was also a little familiar but with a whole new raft of baking classics to learn about (but that would be a post for another day!) If you're in Canada, the GBBO show is also available on CBC Gem to stream online and includes a Great British Baking Show Masterclass series also.


So is the French show just the same? Where else is there a Bake Off show? Let's find out...


four people holding a range of cakes smile for the camera in a garden with white marquee behind them and a blue sky with white clouds
Copyright Love Productions (assumed; if you're the copyright holder please contact me to correct)

Bake-Off Worldwide


Over 20 countries have their own version of the Great British Bake Off show. There's the Great Canadian Baking Show (available on Netflix) and the Great American Baking Show (French cliché warning in the episode preview linked!) as well as those in Australia, Turkey and Kenya. They seem to vary enormously in terms of format and production values, so by no means the same at all!


You might even know the show as its international version - The Great British Baking Show.(Is it totally geeky that when I discovered this I looked out for the trophy at the end to see how they'd managed to CGI the different name in? Yes, geek or super fan, you decide. ☺️)



(It's an award-winning TV show as seen from the cast collecting an award in the image above)


So all this baking show goodness and international acclaim naturally led to a huge array of different countries creating a similar show.


While lots of the shows listed above vary quite a bit, one of the versions that is very similar is the French version called Le Meilleur Pâtissier (LMP) and it has really got the same cosy marquee (a.k.a. baking tent) feel. I love it. LMP as we'll call it is a fabulously French Bake-Off.


As the avid Francophile that I am, I was so delighted to discover the French Bake-Off (usually on YouTube, see for example this episode) that I've been devouring any series I can watch online. I was relieved to find that the French version, now having celebrated its tenth series in 2021, is very similar in its warmth, humour and production.


Can you re-create the cosy camaraderie of the Bake-Off tent? The Canadian, French, and British shows seem to the the most similar...and yet there are big differences! Let's find out more...


First, let's remind ourselves of the Bake-off format...


The Great British Bake-off - what's the show like?


Amateur bakers who have gone through a fairly gruelling selection process including baking tastings, interviews and screen tests compete individually to become the overall winner and Britain's best baker. As the production company for GBBO says:


'The Great British Bake Off is the ultimate baking battle where passionate amateur baking fans compete to be crowned the UK’s Best Amateur Baker. Over the course of 10 hour-long episodes, the series follows the trials and tribulations of the competitors, young and old, from every background and every corner of Britain, as they attempt to prove their baking prowess. Each week the bakers tackle a different baking skill, which become progressively more difficult as the competition unfolds.'




Episode Format


In each episode there are three challenges. The show is usually one hour long and features a baking credits / title sequence which is unchanged over the years and ends with a delicious looking chocolate cake with fresh raspberries on it. The music is also show-specific and is often classical in feel.


Each episode starts with a challenge the bakers can rehearse at home (or, during the pandemic, in the practice tent while living in a Covid-19 bubble), the Signature Challenge.


This is an opportunity to show their baking personality and homemade classics they enjoy. From doughnuts to madeleines to pastry tartlets, the Signature Challenge introduces the theme of the week.


Previous Signature challenges have included: sandwich cakes, layered trifle, traybake, tea loaf and suet puddings.


This is followed by the Technical Challenge which is unknown until the beginning like a pastry exam where you turn over the recipe and hope for the best! It's also judged blindly so all the creations are placed on the 'gingham altar' or long table behind the contestant's name and picture which the judges cannot see.

'This challenge separates the wheat from the chaff. Take one basic recipe, with the same ingredients and instructions, and ask our bakers to produce the finished product… sound easy? Well, any variation on the finished product will be a result of their own technical knowledge and experience – or lack of. Bakers are laid bare in this task and this is where the pressure’s really on in the Bake Off.' (GBOO website)

Previous Technical Challenges have included: Crème Caramel, Treacle Tart, Fraisier cake, Hand-raised Pie and even Kouign Amann (the famous Breton butter cake.)


After that ordeal, the bakers get to come back into the tent (usually the following day) for something they will hopefully have practiced - the Showstopper Challenge. Here the bakers usually have a little more free rein within the theme and they can create something magnificent and impressive. Here the bakers can showcase their talent and skill within the constraints of the challenge.


Previous Showstopper Challenges have included: making a biscuit tower, filled bread loaf and a choux pastry gâteau showpiece. In the final, the Showstopper Challenge is usually even more challenging such as making 49 different, individual baked good in five hours.


The Final follows the same format and usually ends with a huge Showstopper Challenge after which the winner is named in a ceremony held with friends and family in a large British garden party (not quite the same, of course, during the pandemic).


Locations


The show has been in several locations but is associated with being in a stately home's parkland grounds and is very picturesque including shots of the wildlife and weather onsite interspersed with the drama unfolding in the tent.


Recipes


If you'd like to explore ALL the recipes on the Great British Bake Off, then you can filter results by style and type of challenge on the GBBO website. If you want to try out the recipes at home, you can even buy a Bake Off Box for make what the contestants did. Check out the baking equipment, recipe boxes and more at Bake Off Box (UK only.) For more Bake Off inspiration, why not have a look at Marilyn's blog where she has challenged herself to make everything from the GBBO? I am impressed by how many different items she's made, and of course being France Where You Are - I really want to make her fabulons gingerbread Eiffel tower! Check out her fabulons bakes here. Have you had a go at making any of the challenges?


Illustrations on the show


For each challenge, each contestant's ideas are beautifully illustrated on screen so we can get an idea of what their delectable creation will look like. The wonderful illustrator Tom Hovey has been doing the designs for the show since 2010 and you can watch a video on the show illustrations here and more about Tom at his website.






What's different about the French Bake-off?

With the same title sequence, a lot of the same music and similar illustrations of the bakes (was that even a noun before the Bake Off?) the French Bake Off, Le Meilleur Patissier (LMP for short) goes all out for the attractive countryside location and baking tent. Plenty of similarities so far! But there are some significant differences, let's explore...


The arrival in the tent by the bakers together is a little different as they are often seen looking at the ingredients on the benches and trying to guess what they'll be making in Mercotte's challenge whereas the bakers are usually already in place at their workbench with everything hidden under gingham fabric in the GBBO. LMP also seems to go in for far more themed decoration in the tent, from hearts to Belgian flags they go all out for the week's theme (whereas the Bake Off sticks to the same tent backdrop regardless.) Contestants still get to talk directly to camera in the outdoors interviews, which are usually fun and have a break out area outdoors where they can relax at break times.



Episode Length


If a two-hour lunch break in France has caught you out going to the shops at the wrong time, or the multi-course family meals have you indulging in hours of great food, wine and conversation then it will come as no surprise that LMP runs a much longer episode length programme. None of your Anglo-Saxon "get it done now" mentality. No, this is patisserie. It takes time to make, talk about, judge and talk about some more! Personally I love that Le Meilleur Patissier is a whole two hours of baking.


Length of show - British 1 hour. French 2 hours


Title sequence


If you followed the link above to the GBBO title sequence, you'll notice that there isn't very much different about the French one...just a few minor tweaks to the recipes... ☺️ You can watch the titles to LMP here.


Episode Format & Themes


Number of challenges - three in both the Great British Bakeoff (GBBO) and in Le Meilleur Patissier (LMP)


The classic Bake-Off format is to have a themed week of baking, for example cake week, pastry week, bread week, and so on. Things have gone a little off piste now and again with GBBO doing Tudor Week, Victorian Week but not necessarily in every series. So plenty of historic references and themes, but not nearly as much variety as the French format.


After all, I'm not sure the British public could stand a kind of Fifty Shades of Cream episode but, in France, no problem! To challenge your resistance to what could be called 'over-sharing' (or just plain cringeworthy) LMP has a Fifty Shades of Cream kind of week full of hearts, "seductive" bakes and much mirth at the puns, comments and bakers airing their fantasies (or am I being too Anglo-Saxon here?) Seriously, no Bake-Off contestant or viewer needs to know this stuff, right? 😬


Themes in LMP have included Belgian Week, Canada Week, North versus South Week where contestants worked in teams and a Time Travel Week where contestants were given a recipe from a previous series of the show. I have to say that LMP is very innovative with its themes and challenges, changing things around much more than the GBBO used to. Perhaps in the new series in 2022 we will see more changes to the themes.


Like in GBBO the competition starts with the challenge everyone gets to practice beforehand.


LMP Challenges


1. Cyril's challenge which involves reinventing a classic, a dish or even a bouquet of roses into cake or pastry form.


2. Mercotte's Technical Challenge (where she often omits key parts of the recipe including how much gelatine to add or how long to cook something for), is renowned as difficult. Like GBBO its judged blindly.


3. The Creative challenge is very similar to the British Bake Off and contestants have a lot of free rein to invent a recipe on a specific theme. This is where the guest VIP judges come in and visit each contestant to talk about their ideas, sometimes neutrally but usually with an opinion on a texture or flavour combination. This part of the competition is often when starstruck bakers find it hard to concentrate when they're cooking for an esteemed extra judge. So much pressure!


Winners


Contestants win Star Baker (Britain) or the Blue Apron (France) each week and one contestant is sent home. The Final features three bakers in the tent going through three challenges including the Creative or Showstopper Challenge of immense proportions!


If you've got a burning question on LMP then you might like this article (in French only) from a few years ago which reveals the production secrets and how the show was before the pandemic.


Hosts / Presenters


While the GBBO has been hosted by two comedians from the beginning, LMP is hosted by one woman, usually a journalist/actor/presenter. At first it was Faustine Bollaert (2012-2017), then Julia Vignani (2017-2020) and now Marie Portolano. The voiceover is provided by voice artist, actor and dubbing professional Nathalie Homs. The GBBO presenters do the voiceover themselves.


Here's a handy comparaison I created:





The GBBO 🇬🇧 Judges and the LMP 🇫🇷 Judges


In the British Bake-off the judges remained the same for several years - Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry. After the channel change, the new (and current) judges are Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith (chef, caterer, cookery school teacher and all-round foodie aficionado.) The judges in LMP have not changed but they do have VIP guests. Let's find out more about the judges and guest judges on both shows.


Paul Hollywood


Paul Hollywood is a celebrity chef in Britain, known mostly for his long experience baking bread (from his father's bakery to professional settings including prestigious hotels). You can follow recipes and baking news/tips with Paul Hollywood on Instagram here.


As a judge on GBBO he's known for being inscrutable, a bread maker with a keen eye for errors and for giving out handshakes when he feels a contestant has done something remarkable. A 'Hollywood handshake' has become a part of the show, which some people like and other viewers find a little annoying. I'm not sure it really adds anything as I think you can express your admiration in words, but watch and decide for yourself. Bread Week is the week where every baker trembles to impress this experienced professional baker.



Dame Prue Leith


She is probably chiefly know for her long experience in a varied career across teaching, journalism, writing and all things culinary. In 1969, she opened Leiths, her famous Michelin-starred restaurant in Notting Hill which she ran for 25 years. In 1975 she founded Leiths School of Food and Wine which trains professional chefs and amateur cooks. She writes fro many publications and is involved in a variety of food-related charities and non-profit organisations. She has been a regular judge on other culinary programmes on British television. Her Instagram account is here.


Known for being exacting and fair, I'd say Prue is an encouraging judge towards the contestants and a bright presence in the tent! She sets tricky challenges of different styles.



In LMP, chef patissier Cyril Lignac and home baking blogger Mercotte are the judges and they are joined for the final challenge of each episode by an esteemed guest judge. With so many patisserie chefs in France, it seems they have many experts to call on!


Guest judges have included Nina Métayer (pictured below) François Perret, Pierre Hermé and the two Michelin star chef Stéphanie Le Quellec among many others. Wow!




Cyril Lignac


When Paul Hollywood will ask questions about what the contestants are making and how they are making it, he gives nothing away in return. Cyril Lignac (and Mercotte to a lesser degree) however seems not to shy away from giving a little help or advice on flavour balance or technique. He even lends a hand with advice or demonstrating if a contestant is really struggling.


Known for being interested, friendly, professional and wanting the contestants to give their all. He sets tough challenges on classic patisserie and has even taken part in the competition to see which amateur baker could beat him in a challenge!



Mercotte


Mercotte, who has a website full of recipes and previous challenges on the show, is, it seems, a national treasure. She's like Mary Berry and Prue Leith rolled into one. 😀 Setting the dreaded Technical Challenge, she is pretty ingenious at setting devilishly difficult baking challenges. The challenges have even developed innovative or difficult ways of presenting the recipe. She often omits a crucial detail or element to test the bakers. No simple typed up sheet here, oh no! Sometimes contestants have had to fill in the blanks for the ingredient quantities (under time pressure too, remember - I honestly don't know they did it!), reveal the recipe with a candle or read the recipe going round in a circle like a vinyl record. Her challenges are seriously tough on contestants! Known for saying 'Read the recipe well!', Mercotte often publishes tips and comments on how to recreate the Technical Challenge at home on her website.



Which is better British or French Bake Off?

Well, I have thoroughly enjoyed both! Does one stand out for you?


I love how familiar LMP is in overall format, but I relish the differences very much too. While I may have been watching the GBBO for over ten years, I think my love for France and learning more about French pâtisserie and gastronomy in that time has made me a viewer who can see the traditions of British baking and those of France in parallel. Bake Off is just wonderful every time. Don't the loveliest people seem to apply? Every contestant is so lovable and every year the bakers seem to get more and more talented (or maybe by now we all think we're armchair experts at home!)


I love seeing the ideas the bakers come up with and want them to do well. There is a lot of classic British baking with an increasing flair for international flavours. The part I find difficult if I switch from LMP to GBBO is the treatment of proper classic patisserie on the British show. It's not the baking, the contestants or the show, but I really adore the French classics so much I kind of miss them. Perhaps I just wish I could be baking the delicious patisserie at home. In the older episodes, the British show has some quirks in the use of French names, and don't even get me started on the macaroons versus macarons debate. 😂 I would just love a show dedicated to making French classics!


Overall, there just aren't enough challenging entremets for my liking any more! That's when I knew I'd been watching the French show for a while as every baker on there seems to know how to make delicate entremets (if you're looking puzzled at this point: entremets are those delicious layered cakes enrobed in mousse, cream and often shiny glazes and served cold.) Sounds quite achievable, right? until you see the flavour profiles, equipment and time it takes to make them! That's a huge difference between the British and French shows actually - there are silicone moulds galore on LMP. I guess, at heart, I just want to be a pastry chef and I didn't know it. So I am obviously biased!


I can understand how this article suggests that the French Bake Off, Le Meilleur Patissier, is better than the Great British Bake Off as I too love the longer format, the focus on cakes and patisserie, the exquisite entremets and the unbelievably hard challenges!


For language learners, LMP wins for French vocabulary learning! If you're learning English, perhaps its the same watching GBBO. So if you're familiar with Bake Off you to might love watching LMP to practice your French comprehension. You might learn some excellent terms of frustration as well as technical vocabulary too. 😃



But I know I can't bake bread yet like the GBBO contestants and I have certainly not made any amazing entremets either like the LMP show. I suspect I have a lot of practicing to do! Everything is easier at home under little or no time pressure, right? Both shows are incredibly inspiring and full of memorable and likeable people. I wish I could bake like them and I love seeing the different approches to challenges, flavours and the inventive nature of the competition. So, you see, I can't choose between them.


How about you - do you prefer the British or French Bake Off?


Inspired to Bake more?

Whether you'd like to apply or not, you might be wondering if you can bake like the contestants! Applications for the GBBO closed at the end of 2021 and you can find out more here. For LMP, I have not yet found a link for applications so if you know of one, please do contact me.

For Canada, you can apply here. It is not clear if the show has been renewed or cancelled in the US. For any of the shows, there are residency and other requirements, so be sure to check the small print before you apply.


Looking for baking books? If you'd rather just try out your patisserie and baking at home, you can access so many of the recipes and extra tips from the GBBO site and the LMP recipe site. Even though GBBO winners don't get an official book deal, the respect for winning the show (or being in the final) has meant that many talented bakers have launched their own books such as Ruby, Nadiya and James. The show in its BBC and C4 days has released some very good books including these nifty small format books by the incomparable Linda Collister who gives clear instructions and good tips.


Every LMP winner has a book of their recipes (such as Elodie, Ludovic or Camille) and there are collection books too from the show as well as plenty to enjoy in Cyril Lignac's books too such as La Patisserie. For specific recipes featured on the show you can access from CuisineAZ.


If you want to explore more cookery books and French gastronomy, check out my blog post on the 10 Best French Cookbooks. I will be trying out new pastry / patisserie books this year and those will feature on a baking-specific blog post later in the year.


Which recipe has become your favourite? What's your greatest challenge in pastry?


Inspired by researching this blog post (that's what I'm calling watching LMP and GBBO on repeat ☺️) I made my first brioche for Christmas alongside my first ever Bûche de Noël with a French buttercream and a simple rough puff pastry that you can make in under an hour. It's ideal for simple savoury recipes you might make for apéro or maybe a Pithiviers. Here's the helpful video I found on the process including the recipe:


For more adventures in pastry my go-to book is Pastry by Richard Bertinet. It's a very helpful format, with excellent photographs (including step-by-step for the basic pastries) and a helpful tone. I love it! My devious French buttercream was found in Molly J Wilkinson's French Pastry Made Simple. She inspired me to try choux pastry after many years and I made a Paris Brest for the first time with delicious raspberries. Her online courses are so full of humour and positive thinking - you can do it!


I think my greatest achievement was the brioche as bread-like yeasted sweet dough has not featured much in my baking repertoire. I have spent my life baking British classics, like a lot of the bakers on GBBO with the odd French classic here and there. Now I am venturing into more and more pastry, chocolate and cake practice. What I really want to do is perfect one of those gorgeous LMP entremets with a fabulous Silikomart mould. 🌟 I hope it will be fun trying...


In fact I have three fabulous books which are going to continue to inspire me this year:





















































I used Felder's book and this fantastic post on brioche to help me make my loaf and a dozen brioche Suisse. Miam ! Yummy! I used the post's recommended overnight stay in the fridge and a further prove the next day and everything worked out nicely. The brioche Suisse, or just, 'Suisse' are one of my favourite pastry purchases when in France. Have you tried it? It's either puff pastry or brioche, in a rectangle shape with a creme pâtissière (custard) and chocolate chips filling. I used delicious Cacao Barry chocolate for mine, but I have my eye on some Valrhona for next time.


Now there's plenty of time before the two shows return to their respective channels, what are you doing to explore British baking or French patisserie and bread? Buying or baking? ☺️


I think I might go off and study that gingerbread Eiffel tower template now courtesy of Here's the Dish and plan my next baking projects.


Thanks for reaching the end of this exploration of the British and French Bake Off shows. Which do you prefer? Do you have a version in your home country?

 

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