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Cem K Altinsoy is not your typical baker. About 15 years ago, just as he was graduating with a degree in mathematics from Imperial College, Altinsoy had the London 2012 Olympics in his sights. “I was very much all about Olympic weightlifting,” he says. “Then I got badly injured.” After the global recession in the wake of the 2008 financial crash, he couldn’t get a job and was at a bit of a loss. “I just thought, okay, what do I do now?” remembering that his grandma would make Turkish pastries on Sundays as a child. He loved bread, anything pastry. “I also used to like going in the kitchen and baking a cake, so I signed up to the basic patisserie course at Le Cordon Bleu in 2008-9.”

In 2011, Altinsoy would leave London for northern Cyprus (his parents are Turkish-Cypriot) where he opened a patisserie. But a trip to Milan six years ago stopped him in his tracks and would bring him home. He had discovered panettone, the peerless festive Italian sweet bread. In the COVID Christmas of 2020, trading under the name Kouttone (a portmanteau of kouglof-panettone), he retailed his creations for the first time. Thanks to approval from some of London’s most discerning tasters, his panettone blew up in gourmet circles. He sold 100. Three years later, he’s still doing it and only it, still searching for perfection, still, as he says, “learning.” All of this is taking place in the garage he converted at his parents’s home in Deptford, south London: A room decked out with professional ovens, proofers, industrial mixers, and premium ingredients. All overseen by a man on a mission.

Altinsoy has already created the best panettone in Britain, a fruitcake that an Italian maestro would surely be proud of, but he thinks it can be better. It is all at once light, complex, floral, sweet, a cause for celebration. He calls his vocation, this process of making panettone, “the pinnacle of baking” and is showing no signs of stopping. In time, he says, he wants to open a pizzeria with his brother, but that’s for another day. For now, it’s panettone, panettone, and more panettone.

This is a behind-the-scenes look at how these creations come to being, with notes from the baker himself.

Photography by Michaël Protin.

“I’m just a student. I still have a lot to learn.”
“When I first tried it in Italy, I was like, ‘oh my god!’, I fell in love.”
“It’s the pinnacle of baking, because you’re dealing with the lievito, the pasta madre (also known as the ‘mother’), it’s all about her management; at least 90 percent of the success of the panettone is the yeast. So it’s all about the management of the yeast: She’s very temperamental. It’s got a mind of its own. It can wrong very quick, and very bad.”
In 2022, Altinsoy sold 350 panettone. He was forecasting selling a similar number this Christmas.
Specialist panettone flour from Denti, which Altinsoy had an importer bring to the U.K. for him. “I just want to use the best. And that’s what keeps me motivated. Using the best ingredients, always looking to source better ingredients.”
“I’ve never looked back: I’ve probably eaten panettone every day since 2017. I’ve tried every single maestro in Italy, Spain. I’ve probably spent about five or six grand on panettone.”
“I take it seriously. Because no two panettone are the same – I don’t have a favourite; there are different textures, flavours. So I just want to see what the benchmark is.”
“The baking is a two- three-day process. But you can say it’s a year-long process, because like my mother, she never goes in the fridge, she’s always outside – fed every day. It’s a chore; it’s like having a pet!”
“Every year I change the recipe. I’m always experimenting. There’s so many variables: hydration levels, butter yolk levels, sugar levels, they all make a difference.” That’s before you get into the different flavours. Pictured here is Altinsoy glazing the candied peel and fruit ‘classic.’
A sugar dusting and some almonds. The rich yellow colour comes from the egg yolk content in the dough. Altinsoy’s 2023 recipe is, in baker’s terms: 100 percent flour, 75 percent butter, 33 percent egg, 36 percent sugar. But, he says, “I adjust the recipe according to the mother.”
The final, dressed and baked panettone. The 1kg classic retails for £50.
“When I came back to London from Cyprus, London was full of overhyped food – style over substance. I wanted to make something that people could taste the difference. I wanted to be the best.”
While Altinsoy admits that his parents’s fortunes means he has not had to worry about Kouttone as a business, he also says, “I love feeding people.”

Altinsoy’s four favourite panettone (excluding his own.)

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