Waking up early on Saturday isn’t really my forte but when asked if I would wake up early to go sample the best doughnuts in London, I became slightly more interested (or resigned) to cutting short my weekend slumber.
I had heard murmurings of various food outlets opening up in the railway arches, underneath the railway line into London Bridge at Maltby Street Market but had never really ventured to check it out.
Down to Druid Street – past the outskirts of Maltby Street Markets and through the graffiti covered railway arches – is where this unpretentious piece of doughnut heaven resides. Don’t expect anything glam or you will be sorely disappointed. The bakery effectively takes over the area of a rather spacious industrial warehouse, but this all adds to the charm of the ‘open door’ warehouse feel of Maltby Street Market. The downside to this is there is nowhere to sit and eat your little treats. You can steal one of the benches at neighboring Bea’s of Bloomsbury’s but be warned the waitresses will try and nudge you out several times.
The interesting thing about this ‘warehouse-esque’ market and its vast layout is how different it is to the more mainstream, frequented markets such as Borough, Portobello, Spitalfields, etc. Even though Maltby and Druid Street are far from undiscovered territory, there is the feeling this is very much an area that’s starting its ascent in the London food market scene. It’s not quite so popular yet that you can’t move about and you don’t have to arrive when all the vendors start selling in fear they’ll be sold out by the time you arrive. It’s this feeling you get that you’re part of something that’s about to become the next big ‘it’ for London foodies as more vendors pack up and head this way.
Back to the doughnuts. All goods are laid out on silver baking trays for you to peruse and sample – the classic vanilla custard cream doughnut is always on sale and there are seasonal changes to the menu such as rhubarb doughnuts and the occasional random bayleaf doughnut which I had the misfortune of trying.
In true beastly fashion, all 4 types of doughnuts on offer that day had to be sampled: vanilla custard cream, chocolate cream, raspberry, and bayleaf.
The doughnut itself is light and airy with a brioche inspired consistency and golden glaze, but not greasy. It’s covered with a generous powdering of sugar and a rather unhealthy injection of creamy filling which is a bite away from total eruption. Just look at the photos and you will know what I mean.
It’s the filling that really makes the doughnut. No stodgy, jelly like artificial substance in these bad boys. For someone like the beast who adores frosted doughnuts or your equivalent of Boston crèmes from Dunkin Donuts (don’t judge), it’s hard to try and compare these to St John’s doughnuts which are so decadent, they are like a meal in itself.
The definite favorite of the day was the classic vanilla custard cream. This deep-fried treat was pumped up with glossy, fluffy, vanilla-speckled whipped custard. The filling is dense and creamy, and the vanilla custard cream is infused with vanilla pods. The filling is not thick, but rather more light and melty like a rich vanilla gelato that has started to melt.
The chocolate cream doughnut was really good too, don’t get me wrong – the cream is the kind of rich mousse like chocolate that lets you know it’s the ‘good kind,’ something Belgian or possibly Green & Blacks. Once again, it’s not the kind of filling you can have lots of – after a few bites of this one, I was struggling.
The raspberry jam filled doughnut was extremely sweet and tart – it would be ranked third on my list.
The bayleaf doughnut was too weird for words. It’s hard to know what the true flavor of bayleaf is as it’s usually hidden in soups, stocks and stews amongst the other flavors. In this particular doughnut, the bayleaf flavor (whatever it may be) is mixed into the classic vanilla cream that comprises the filling. I can only describe this filling as somewhat herbal tasting and more savoury than sweet. I know lots of people love bayleaf ice cream and it would seem only natural to fuse the bayleaf with vanilla cream as well, but the flavor didn’t work for me. It wasn’t what I would want in a doughnut.
Perhaps this relates to an old wives tale my mother used to tell me that if you eat a bay leaf whole, you will choke and die. Maybe that had something to do with my disliking this doughnut. It’s all unclear.
It’s almost (definitely) impossible to eat these elegantly not to mention cutting them in half with knife as the cream will just burst like a broken water main. But who’s complaining – they are certainly worth getting your hands dirty for and an extremely sticky face.
There is more to St. John’s Bakery than the doughnuts (I know it’s hard to believe). They also sell freshly baked rye and sourdough bread, chocolate brownies, eccles cakes (which, I don’t even like eccles cakes, but these are amazing) cookbooks, etc.
If you’re feeling confident in your baking skills, give their doughnut recipe a go:
strong white flour 500g
caster sugar 65g, plus extra for coating
fresh yeast 15g
large eggs 4
lemon grated zest of 1
softened unsalted butter 125g
sunflower oil for deep frying
Place all the ingredients except the butter and oil in the bowl of a mixer fitted with a beater. Mix on medium speed for 6 minutes, then scrape down the sides of the bowl. Mix on medium speed again, adding the butter, 20g at a time, until all is incorporated. Keep mixing for 6-8 minutes, until the dough has come away from the bowl and looks smooth, glossy and elastic.
Place the dough in a large bowl, sprinkle the surface with flour and cover bowl with a tea towel. Leave to rise for 2-3 hours in a warm place, until doubled in size, then knock back. Cover the bowl with clingfilm and place in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
Cut the dough into 25 pieces and roll into smooth balls. Place on floured baking sheets, leaving 5cm between each one. Cover with clingfilm and leave to prove for 2-3 hours to double in size.
Half-fill a deep fat fryer or a deep, heavy-based saucepan with sunflower oil and heat it to exactly 190C. Fry the doughnuts, in batches of 3 or 4, until golden brown, about 2 minutes on each side. Check the temperature of the oil between each batch. As the doughnuts are done, place on kitchen paper to soak up excess oil, then toss in caster sugar.
From The Complete Nose to Tail, Bloomsbury
Opening Hours: Every Saturday 9.00 am – 2.00pm.
Address: 72 Druid St. London SE1 2HQ