Saturday, 21 January 2012


So, I'm housesitting in Hoxton and I've realised that brunch is the thing here. Queues form early outside the most popular joints such as The Breakfast Club or The Diner; by 'early' read late morning. C'mon would you really expect any self-respecting hipster to emerge before midday? There's the the skinny jeans to ease on, the Hoxton Fin (yes, some still sport them) or Undercut to style, the eyeliner to apply (male and female) and the vintage cardi to shrug on. 

Hoxton Fin (noun) firmly styled longitudinal hair appendage favoured among the Shoreditch Set around 2000 - 2002.
I'm going to get an Hoxton Fin haircut down Shoreditch High Street.

Undercut (noun) a hairstyle in which the sides and back are shaved and long hair is grown at the top of the head.
Guy 1: Hey, Man, check out her undercut!
Guy 2: We should do it too!

At 12.30 -1pm  they arrive in droves to gaze mordantly into their coffee cups, tap a Doc Marten to a beat still lodged in their heads from last night and order a stack of buttermilk pancakes ... and who can blame them;  these breakfast places are almost faultless with well cooked food,  friendly service and a lively  ambiance, where you can nurse a hangover with a well-made Bloody Mary or Hard Shake. 

The Albion is a slightly up market venue for this sort of thing. A Conran cafe and shop attached to The Boundary Restaurant favoured by well-heeled young families and designer clad couples. 
It is a light inviting space and we while away a couple of hours reading the paper and eating bacon and egg rolls and drinking coffee. 
The shop also has a nice range of vegetables (organic of course), pastries, cakes and bread.

The Book Club in Leonard St, weirdly, is located on the site of the publishing company where I used to work. 
We sit at a table where my desk used to be, eat smoked haddock and poached eggs, watch  a couple of guys play table tennis and I wonder where the bloody hell does time go - it seems yesterday I was sitting in the same spot worrying about deadlines.  
Tempus Fugit or, as they say in Shoreditch, WTF.


Sunday, 8 January 2012


Buon Natale. The traditional Italian sweet bread panettone is taking over: temptingly colourful boxes and tins pile up in stores for the pre-Christmas rush, and not just in the Italian delis like Limoncello or Carluccio's; its distinctive aromas (a blend of citrus, spice, eggs, vanilla, peel) conjure up the holiday mood, especially if the bread is still warm.  
So, sliding some remaining panettone slices into the toaster early this raw mid-January day brings memories of morning lie-ins and Christmas brunches wafting back. And it will continue to do so over the coming months as we bake and eat this "festive" bread outside its proper season.

It has a reputation for being difficult to make: the dough is so rich and heavy that it sometimes fails to rise fully - and a dry, airy crumb is the essence of a successful panettone. So I cheat.  I order a couple "extras" from the Bakery Bits website. Firstly waxed paper moulds of various sizes, specially designed for panettone, solve the problem of finding the right baking container. Secondly, fiori di sicilia essence is suffused with all the spicy flavours and flowery scents of panettone - a couple of drops transforms the loaves; and it lightens the dough, so helping the rise. I also add some dried yeast to my sourdough starter to help get that lift.

Stage One (start the night before you wish to bake)
240g    dried fruit and peel
160ml  brandy 
Mix fruit, peel and brandy in a bowl and soak overnight.  Choose the mix of fruit that suits your taste (I use dried apricots, golden raisins and mixed peel for the flavour and golden colour I want). However, it is important to dice the fruit to match the size of the pieces of peel.

Stage Two
100g   plain white flour
100g   sourdough starter (I use a 50% water 50% starter)
7g       dried yeast 
a pinch of sugar
Mix the ingredients together and leave in a warm place to develop for about an hour.

Stage Three
125g    butter 
50g      sugar  
1 tsp    vanilla essence (or seeds from half a vanilla pod)
4 drops fiori di sicilia
2          large eggs
4          egg yolks
1/2 tsp salt
Blend together the butter and sugar until smooth.  Add the rest of the ingredients and continue to blend until smooth and well mixed.

Stage Four
500g   plain white flour
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, the eggy mix from stage three, the yeast mixture from stage two and the fruit (drained) from stage one. Once mixed, turn out onto a floured surface, and knead for fifteen minutes, until the dough is less sticky. Place the dough in an oiled bowl and put in a warm place for three hours to rise.

Stage Five
Divide the dough in half.  Knead briefly and place each half in a 154m / 750g panettone mould. Cover with cling film and leave in a warm place to rise.  This may take some time (approx 3 hours) but the dough should double in size. Give it more time if the rise is slow, as this is critical to the outcome. The dough will still be some way from the top of the mould, but will rise further when in the oven.  
An hour before you wish to bake the panettone, heat the oven to 200C degrees. Bake for 20 mins, then place circles of greaseproof paper on top of the loaves and bake for a further 45 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.
Remove the loaves and brush the surface with molten butter or a sugar/water glaze.Place the loaves on a rack to cool - keep in the moulds.
Once cold, wrap the loaves in plastic bags to keep fresh.

Cut into wedges and sprinkle with icing sugar before eating. The flavour is enhanced if the bread is slightly warmed. Or slice and toast.
And it's not just for Christmas! A toasted slice is so warming on a cold January morning; or February, or March....