If, like me, you’ve watched every episode of the Great British Bake Off (twice), all the professional series, Junior Bake Off, and the celebrity charity episodes, you might need to look further afield for your next fix of television baking competitions.
Fear not, because the GBBO franchise is wide-reaching: the format has been sold in 20 territories, and I have found myself hooked on the French offering: Le Meilleur Pâtissier (‘The Best Baker’).
At first glance, it appears identical to the British version. In a tent, bedecked with bunting, a bunch of amateur bakers are collected together at pastel-hued baking benches. Each week they must endure three challenges – a signature bake, a technical bake, and a creative bake – before being judged by a professional baker and a food writer. The weakest baker on the day is sent home. Even the opening titles and theme music is the same. Cyril Lignac is the French Paul Hollywood, if Paul Hollywood were both charming and handsome (and Michelin-starred), and Jacqueline Mercorelli (known by her stage name, Mercotte) is in the Mary Berry or Prue Leith mould.
But there are a few differences that have garnered Le Meilleur Pâtissier a special place in my heart.
Unlike the hour-long British show, the French version stretches to a whopping 2 hours (longer, of course, if you watch it with adverts). The longer show containing the same format means simply that there is more time, more space to see the nuts and bolts of the baking, and to get to know the contestants in and out of the tent. Plus, there’s scope for more complicated challenges. It’s not that the bakers on the French show are more talented than their British counterparts, but the challenges themselves are harder, and therefore lend themselves to being more creative, more unusual, more fun.