The final 11 O’Clock Club of the year arrived on a bright autumn day. By late morning the clouds had rolled in and the wind had picked up, but the 11 O’Clock Club provided a safe harbour from the weather beginning to rage outside its doors. The scent of croissants curled through the kitchen door and down the hallway to greet guests, who gladly shed coats and cosied up on comfortable chairs with mimosas and cups of tea.
As usual, proceedings began with warm croissants and homemade jams. These are always among the favourite items served, with one friend even texting me days later to tell me about her croissant dreams, but never before had a group demolished their batch so swiftly. Perhaps having worked up an appetite battling the blustery weather, one guest managed to devour an impressive four – yes, four – as the opener to their meal! Granola proved popular too, with it’s nutty, maple-glazed crunch offset by soft swirls of yogurt and the squidge of Dorset apple and blackberry compote.
For a truly restorative main course on a cold day, there was my breakfast take on ribollita – a Tuscan vegetable and bean ‘soup’. This is much heartier than your average soup, because it is made with lashings of olive oil, hunks of parmesan and so much bread that you can eat it with a fork. Garnished with bacon, yet more parmesan and a poached egg, and served with a side of focaccia, it is a truly decadent breakfast.
Yet, for me, few foods are more comforting than a wholesome bowl of porridge. This week’s cardamom porridge was flecked with rye flakes to add a slight chew, deep nuttiness and a faint acidity that works well to offset richer toppings: a pool of Greek yogurt, a stream of spiced plum compote and just a splash of maple syrup. I couldn’t resist adding studs of almond brittle, which I tell myself draw out the flavour of the almond milk, but are really just an extra treat to satisfy a sweet tooth. Perhaps not quite so wholesome after all, then!
Later a hazelnut and chocolate babka was sliced and stowed safely in little boxes, so that guests could savour it at home. Luckily they left me a slice to savour too, which I enjoyed during a quiet moment to reflect on the first season of 11 O’Clock Clubs and start scheming for 2016…
Just three weeks ago, The 11 O’Clock Club fell on an autumn day so unseasonably warm that it felt like a last hurrah to summer; by contrast, this weekend’s weather heralded the arrival of the first winter frost. Propelled by a bitter, blustery wind, pink-cheeked guests stepped into the sanctuary of The 11 O’Clock Club.
Warmth radiated from an oven that had, until very recently, housed a cake, pastries and two loaves of bread. After restorative cups of tea and coffee, as well as mimosas for those who fancied fizz, the group’s appetites were awakened by the arrival of freshly baked croissants. A nut allergy in the group ruled out the usual granola. Instead, croissants were accompanied by bircher muesli rippled with cinnamon- and star anise-spiced plum compote.
For the breakfast bowls, the Mexican-style stew made a reappearance: sweet potato and black beans with roasted tomatoes, avocado, poached egg and crispy tortilla. Others chose an aromatic red pepper and tomato stew reminiscent of Shakshuka, which was topped with feta, parsley and egg and served alongside a citrusy sumac yogurt to cut through the richness. Accompanying slices of milk bread, a cross between brioche and chollah, served both to bring out the sweetness of the stew and to soak up any leftovers.
Appetites now sated, guests reclined in chairs or on the sofa, pulling blankets over their knees and warily eyeing the inclement weather outside the window. Final cups of tea were passed around with slices of blackberry and brown butter ‘buckle’ – that is, cake with a crumble topping. Promising to return with more friends, they built up the courage to venture into the cold. But not, of course, without second slices of buckle to be gently re-heated and served with yogurt or cream for a perfect weekend pudding.
The second 11 O’Clock Club fell on the last, yet the sunniest, day of October. The sun streamed through the windows as the smell of baking poured out. It was a birthday brunch for one guest, so the opening course of croissants and cereals was accompanied by balloons, gifts and extra bubbles. With a few glasses of fizz, four old friends and two new soon became one companionable group.
The first ‘breakfast bowl’ was designed in honour of the birthday girl’s Italian roots, which proved difficult for a nation that only takes coffee in the morning. So instead I created a brunch version of Tuscan ribollita: a hearty stew of vegetables, beans and bread, cooked with copious quantities of olive oil and parmesan. It was topped with bacon, more parmesan and a poached egg, and served alongside a slice of homemade thyme focaccia to swirl in leftover sauce. An act of pure indulgence.
For a sweeter, slightly lighter choice, there was spiced spelt and oat porridge characterised by thoughtful pairings. Creamy oats partnered with nutty, chewy spelt flakes; aromatic cardamom mellowed by a whorl of thick Greek yogurt; and a tart apple and blackberry compote brightened by vanilla sugar. There can be few breakfasts more comforting.
Guests proclaimed they were full, but their self-restraint was soon scuppered by the arrival of blackberry, almond and brown butter cakes inspired by a brilliant Honey & Co recipe. With boxes (and stomachs) full of blackberry cake and second helpings of croissants, guests stepped out into the autumn sunshine.
Saturday mornings are meant to be taken slowly. Greeting the day with a mimosa in hand, in a house bursting with the scent of baking. Relaxing on a sofa or around a table spread with homemade pastries. Enjoying the company of fellow breakfast lovers. And so began the first 11 O’Clock Club.
Soon, the eating began. Croissants were torn open, scattering crisp flakes, to reveal warm, buttery layers within. Granola was scooped out of jam jars with layers of silky Greek yogurt and spiced plum compote. A freshly baked spelt and rye loaf was sliced and spread with homemade jams.
Next came a Mexican breakfast bowl inspired by Anna Jones: a smokey sweet potato and black bean stew, a scattering of roasted tomatoes and avocado, a runny poached egg and crispy tortilla strips. For a lighter option, there was bircher muesli piled with yogurt, toasted seeds and a compote of apples and blackberries picked from my Dorset garden.
Quite satisfied, guests lingered over tea, coffee and second helpings until mid-afternoon. When fond farewells came, they came with more food. Guests ventured out into the autumn chill with little brown boxes of plum and pistachio cake to accompany their afternoon teas or Sunday morning coffees. A memento of the first of many 11 O’Clock Clubs.
Updates and photographs from each event will be published here