Why French Bake-Off show takes the biscuit

In early December Le Meilleur Patissier, the French equivalent of The Great British Bake-off, drew to a close

20 December 2017
By Joy Brodier

Over the course of six two-and-a-half-hour episodes, nine contestants had been whittled down to three by Michelin-starred chef Cyril Lignac and food blogger Mercotte in the standard Bake-off manner.

And, so we came to the final, with just three rounds separating textile designer Rachel, bus driver Gabriella and musician Jonathan from the title, the slightly naff trophy, the book deal and a very different future.

The first round, in which the trio were asked to ‘revisit’ a framboisier passed without much controversy.

But over the course of the next two challenges – the technical and showstopper rounds – Jonathan (in my opinion the best contestant) was robbed of the title simply because he was too modern for the challenge.

Jonathan’s showstopping guitar cake

He had been innovative all series, and used Iranian ingredients reflecting his Iranian heritage to great effect in the final but his flower-covered guitar cake was judged inferior to eventual winner Rachel’s field of multi-coloured tulip-shaped meringues on wires.

Her cake was beautiful, technically difficult – but as food, it was nothing! Now, I  know which cake I would order for a birthday party! What substance is there in artificially coloured egg-white and sugar meringues?

Jonathan was disadvantaged in the second round too. All the contestants had to bake a butterfly cake ‘invented’ in the 18th century. They had only a picture to follow. Perhaps those with French roots knew the layer of jelly went under the layer of chocolate.

Jonathan meticulously copied the picture, not knowing that the red jelly patches were formed by holes in the white chocolate topping.

The show wants the contestants to be skillful with typical French ingredients, recipes and punishes innovation. Gabriella wanted to use maple syrup and pecans in her cake base for her framboisier. She was told they are autumn ingredients and do not go with summer fruits such as raspberries.

Yet the strawberry cake they were asked to bake next had layers of almond and hazelnut meringue. Is that not summer fruits with autumn nuts?

Earlier in the series, a contestant used beetroot in her cake. She was told it was not suitable for French tastes. Perhaps that’s why Jonathan’s rose water and pistachio nuts were tolerated but judged too exotic to win!

New ingredients are mocked. Oats, the innovative ingredient, were introduced as being good for humans as well as horses. That mentality goes back to Dr Johnson’s dictionary of oats: ‘a grain, which in England is generally given to horses, but in Scotland supports the people.’ An attitude from 1755!

It shows how outdated the French are to what other nations consider normal ingredients.

I didn’t know my flapjacks were so avant-garde...

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