London's best bakeries
We round up the cake shops, patisseries and bakeries where you'll find London's best bread, pies, biscuits, cakes and other baked wonders
Mini pies, £2.20 each
It’s fair to say Sebastian Vince has played a major role in transforming Battersea’s Northcote Road from depressed, fading market street to one of London’s favourite food destinations. The simple bread stall he started ten years ago with a £200 bank overdraft facility and a secondhand stall from France is now a hi-tech outdoor kitchen complete with ovens, fridges, mixers and 8,000 customers who come weekly for everything from pumpernickel and pizzas to pies and (so good) Portuguese custard tarts. His jewel-coloured individual raised pies come in turkey, ham and cranberry, or game and blackcurrant varieties, this last one made from rabbit, pheasant and anything else the hunters get from the forest. Enjoy them cold with a glass of good beer.
Breadstall, Northcote Rd, SW11 (07966 916 760). Clapham Junction rail.
Christmas pudding, £10
There aren’t many people who are good at bread and pâtisserie but Czech master baker Jan Hanzl is one. Euphorium’s baked bitter chocolate tarts have been unscientifically proven to make dinner party guests instantly forget how horrendous your main course was, and if there’s a better almond croissant in London we’ve yet to find it. Practically everything the company sells is still made in its bakery on Upper Street, though Euphorium has been spreading its good cheer to other parts of London, notably Belsize Park, where it has a smart new café. This year’s Christmas pud is a classic moist English model, made with apple, ginger, dark sugar and mixed spices, and sports a colourful designer jacket that brings the history of this Yuletide centrepiece (banned by the Puritans in 1664 as a ‘lewd custom’) bang up to date.
Euphorium, 202 Upper St, N1 1RQ (020 7704 6905/www.euphoriumbakery.com). Highbury & Islington tube/rail.
Flour Power City
Organic stollen, £5.95
Stollen doesn’t look sexy and with good reason: traditionally the shape of this German speciality was meant to represent the beswaddled baby Jesus. Nevertheless, for many it’s as essential to Christmas as mince pies and mulled wine. Matt Jones of Flour Power City has been making stollen for seven years or so and has devised this particular recipe through research, trial and error. He aimed for a mix that was cakey and crumbly rather than breadlike, which distinguishes it from many of the authentic imported stollen you’ll find on sale in food halls. Lots of dried fruit (cherries, mixed peel, sultanas, raisins, currants) and big chunks of unpeeled almonds give the earthy dough a nourishing spin that’s balanced by decadent hunks of tender marzipan. The result is a stollen that’s as British as the royal family.
Flour Power City, Stoney St, Borough Market (020 8691 2244/www.flourpowercity.com). London Bridge tube/rail. See website for other markets.
The Flour Station
Mince pies, £1.20
Jamie Oliver is a shareholder in this bakery, which began in the kitchen of his restaurant Fifteen. Today The Flour Station is based in glamorous Hendon and supplies an impressive list of top restaurants and gastropubs (Maze, Petersham Nurseries, the Bull & Last). But it also wants to make its high-end restaurant-quality breads available to us ordinary folk. You’ll find them on sale at various London markets as well as in delis (Primrose Hill’s Melrose and Morgan, for example) and at Selfridges and John Lewis food halls. The filling in these scrumptious mince pies is a spicy riff on the fruit mix used for The Flour Station’s popular Eccles cakes with a healthy dose of brandy providing the jingle bells. Lescure butter and free-range eggs go into the pitch-perfect pastry.
The Flour Station (www.theflourstation.com) available at markets including Brunswick, Borough, Cabbages and Frocks (Marylebone), Parliament Hill, Queen’s Park and Wimbledon.
German ginger biscuits, £6.95
Gail’s breads are fantastic, but it’s the array of sweet and savoury goodies that really gets you into those embarrassing tongue-on-shop-window situations. The team is obsessed with top-quality ingredients – among them organic Shipton Mill flours and Lescure butter (one of the French varieties to hold an Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée protecting its origin and manufacture). This makes even Gail’s stickiest and sweetest treats feel satisfyingly nourishing. These lebküchen (to use their German name) are a wunderblend of nuts, citrus and spices (including white pepper) baked on rice paper, giving a richly moist, cake-like cookie. Some are decorated with almonds, others with chocolate or icing sugar. All are good with a cup of tea.
Gail’s, 5 Circus Rd, NW8 6NX (020 7722 0983/www.gailsbread.co.uk). St John’s Wood tube. See website for branches.
Konditor & Cook
Curly Whirly cake, £28.40
Gerhard Jenne is London’s king of cakes. Back in 1993, the opening of Konditor & Cook was like a blast of sweet fresh air through the stale ovens of old-fashioned British bakeries. Jenne had an international perspective, insisted on tip-top ingredients (rare then) and astutely realised that even grandparents of the day had grown up with the Rolling Stones and wanted something more rock ’n’ roll on their birthday cake than flowers made of royal icing. His Magic Cakes (individually decorated squares that together spell out the recipient’s name or make some other design) are legend, and not just because Madonna chose them for one of her birthdays. Jenne also gave gingerbread men a makeover of which Gok Wan would be proud.
But Konditor & Cook’s top seller is the Curly Whirly – full-flavoured chocolate sponge covered with headily rich vanilla frosting. Here it is in its Christmas outfit, topped with a sculptural dark chocolate star – gorgeous to behold, even better to eat.
Konditor & Cook, 22 Cornwall Rd, SE1 8TW (020 7261 0456/www.konditorandcook.com). Waterloo tube/rail.
Peyton & Byrne
Christmas biscuit tin, £15
The name of this company is a tribute to Oliver Peyton’s mum, though it’s Freddy Denis who oversees the baking these days. Peyton & Byrne majors in British classics such as Victoria sponge, treacle tart, jammy dodgers and the most sophisticated jaffa cakes you’ll ever taste (back on the menu in the New Year – they’ve promised). These festive biscuits aren’t complicated to make, as Denis admits, but their success relies on careful attention – no deviation from the recipe, just the right amount of time in the oven, and so on. The quality of the decorations ensures they’ll appeal to adults as much as children. You can really taste the 53 per cent Belgian couverture used on the chocolate star, and the quality of the finely ground Iranian pistachios he demands shows in the bright green colour of the ‘tinsel’ on the Christmas tree.
Peyton & Byrne, Unit 11, The Undercroft, St Pancras International, NW1 2QP (020 7278 6707/www.peytonandbyrne.com).
St Pancras rail or King’s Cross tube/rail.
Organic Christmas cake, £15
Popina’s grown healthily since its birth eight years ago on Isidora Popovic’s kitchen table in Shoreditch. Thanks are due to the Prince’s Trust grant that helped get her started, and to business partner Matt Gruninger, who funded Popina’s professional kitchen in Battersea, but most important are Popovic’s inspired flavour combinations and deep appreciation of quality natural and seasonal ingredients. The constantly morphing range of sweet and savoury tarts provides total mouth bliss to market visitors throughout London; cookies such as fig, white chocolate and sultana scream ‘try me’ from top delicatessen shelves. This superb cake (tested on several occasions last year, we have to confess) is made with port-soaked dried fruits and a layer of Lubecker marzipan, which is the best money can buy. Moist, rich and prettily decorated, it makes the perfect gift. For yourself.
Buy online from Popina (www.popina.co.uk) and at markets including Broadway, Clapham, Islington, Marylebone, Pimlico Rd, Portobello Rd, Queen’s Park and Richmond.