It is also proof to me that there is a God, in this case a pastry God, in the form of Justin Piers Gellatly, Executive Baker and Head Pastry Chef of the St John empire. Starting out at 15 washing dishes, he’s worked in the business for 23 years, the last 11 of them with Fergus Henderson at St John.
First things first, Justin wanted a brioche-inspired, buttery dough. He uses Lescure, a French butter with a low water content and drier texture, to ensure perfect consistency. The finished dough combines strong white bread flour, butter, salt, sugar, eggs, yeast, water and lemon zest, which lifts and offsets the dense rich custard inside perfectly.
|Strong white bread flour. Great packaging, no?|
The custard was a different story and he nailed it first time. He mixed 50% Crème Patissiere (to chefs, what concrete is to builders - Raymond Blanc) with 50% Crème Chantilly (double cream mixed with sugar and vanilla.) The result is a luscious thick, rich yet light vanilla dream. It has a fullness to it that feels as satisfying on your tongue as a water balloon in your palm.
When Justin presented the finished prototype to his boss, there were nearly tears in Fergus’s eyes.
Justin and his team now bake 500 donuts at a time for St John Bakery in Bermondsey on a Saturday morning, and another 100 for St John Bread and Wine in Spitalfields on a Sunday morning.
|St John Bakery at the end of the Saturday shift, not a doughnut left in sight...|
|Tomorrow's bread, proving today|
|Justin, Executive Baker, with a proving tray, which holds 25 dough balls|
At close of play there are never any doughnuts left. Not one. Ever.
If I worked in this bakery I’d be fired on day one for eating the stock. How often does Justin allow himself a taste of his own confections? Turns out he hasn’t eaten a custard doughnut for a few months. That’s the thing about gods; way more will power than us mortals.
‘I crave cornichons!’ he says by way of explanation. It does make a certain sense – a salty, acidic, sour counterbalance to the richest, creamiest sweetest puff of joy imaginable.
If you are brave and want to try recreating these at home, the recipe can be found in Beyond Nose To Tail. If I were you, I’d leave it to the doughnut masters. Just get here early.
Mini Q&A with Justin, the Doughnut Master:
Perfect accompaniment to a St John Custard Doughnut: A glass of champagne
Favourite London restaurant, aside from St Johns: Anchor and Hope, Waterloo
Guests – My wonderful wife Louise Jane Gellatly
A few glasses of Krug with some crab meat toast
Wine with the meal - a chilled red (Brouilly)
Starter – Confit Rabbit Nicoise salad (Anchor and Hope)
Main – Grilled Onglet, chips, watercress salad and béarnaise sauce (very heavy on the tarragon )
Dessert- Custard tart
Cheese- Roquefort , Water Biscuits and Ruby port.
Earl Grey Tea, violet macaroons and chilled Poire William
Calvados and cigars
* Keats, who wrote Endymion (first line ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever…’) used to live a stone’s throw from St John Bakery, in Tooley Street.
**Did you know it is illegal to own a ferret as a pet in California and Hawaii?