Israeli-born baker Michael Cthurmer was once labeled grumpy by his wife Deborah – and the name stuck. Nonetheless with a bakery, a childrens party-business and a licensed restaurant, the pair behind The Grumpy Baker actually have a lot to smile about.
Visually, The Grumpy Baker is a delight. Its sleek fit-out – with polished concrete floors, exposed brick and recycled wooden slats – has a distinctly French flair. However it’s the aroma of fresh bread wafting out of the oven and on to the street that is the bakery’s most alluring attribute.
Born in Israel, owner and baker Michael Cthurmer knows the appeal of freshly baked bread and pastry. As a child, his farther would take him to the neighbourhood markets where locals would sell masses of warm pocket pita bread.
Located in the affluent eastern Sydney suburb of Vaucluse, Michael is far from the markets of the Middle East. Nonetheless, he’s taken painstaking efforts to recreate the gastronomic aesthetics of his childhood by placing the oven at the heart of the bakery; literally and metaphorically.
“Our oven is in the middle of the bakery; it’s right in front of the customer and with an open kitchen it’s impossible to miss,” Michael says.
“The Moffat oven may only have two decks, but our customers see everything that goes in and out of it, and they smell it as they walk past in the street.”
The process of involving customers in the baking process is so central to The Grumpy Baker that every effort is made to have the oven on as much as possible. Michael and his wife even keep a small display to ensure the products are always fresh and warm.
“Whether it’s the Saturday morning bread or the mid-week chocolate croissants, we start baking at 6am, with doors opening soon after. And then we just keep baking,” Michael says.
“There is no baking at night, so all the pastries, muffins, cheese sticks, pies and breads are brought out right in front of the customer. It’s important to have this freshness; the taste and the smell brings people together.”
The business has had a few different faces throughout its life. Back in 2002 when Michael was owner-operator of a Darlinghurst café-bakery, the offering was centred around wood-fired pita bread. When that didn’t catch on, Michael and Deborah introduced Middle Eastern cakes and pastries. However, it wasn’t until muffins and artisan sourdough came on to the scene that The Grumpy Baker truly came into its own.
“Slowly, over the last seven to eight years, we have developed a strong wholesale aspect to the business. It really all started with people coming in and asking for our muffins,” Michael says.
“I know muffins don’t sound like they are that special, but our muffins weigh about 250g. Handfuls of fresh blueberries and fruits are baked in the muffins, so when you take a bite, they are exceptionally moist.”
Today, The Grumpy Baker’s wholesale arm sells a range of pastries and bread products to a range of local clients, from café owners to five-star hotel managers. In fact, Michael has contracts with about 90 per cent of hotels in the area, including the Hilton, the Four Seasons and the Shangri-La. With a commercial factory in Leichardt to supply the demand, the business is also regularly called upon to cater for functions at the Sydney Cricket Ground and the Tarronga Zoo.
With such a varied product range, Michael’s notoriety is no surprise. The bread repertoire includes nine sourdough varieties including the Kibble Rye Sourdough – A German-style loaf with 60 per cent kibble rye sourdough culture, fruity and cheesy flavours, and an impressive shelf-life. There is also a Potato Sourdough Loaf with hints of butter, rosemary and olive oil.
While there may be a heavily saturated artisan sourdough market in and around Sydney, Michael’s version has a uniquely nutty and cheesy profile.
“We use two types of rye culture; kibbal and plain rye. It’s not as strong as the white variety and it’s harder to work with. However it’s more in-line with the European and German style and sets us apart from a lot of other bakeries,” Michael says.
“Rather than having the tell-tale big holes in it, the rye culture is more dense and isn’t as chewy. It’s more moist than most sourdough loaves and has a longer shelf-life.”
And away fromthe sourdough front, the bread gets even more exciting. The Traditional Black Russian Rye contains a delectable mix of molasses, chocolate and coffee – and as Michael describes, “smells just like a treat”.
There is also an oily Turkish Bread and a traditional Pumpernickel loaf – made in the shape of a brick and with the heaviness to match. Not something you eat every day, Michael says his Pumpernickel is particularly popular with home-entertainers and caterers serving canapés, who top the bread with salmon, capers and soft cheese.
“The Walnut and Fig Loaf is also garnering a name for itself. Made with lashings of butter and honey mixed with figs and raisins this breakfast loaf creates an unusual aroma and flavour,” Michael says.
“It’s lovely toasted, where the ingredients almost caramalise.”
The Grumpy Baker is not all about bread however. Chocolate croissants, cheese sticks and pies are also on the menu.
“I’ve definitely injected my love for Middle Eastern flavours in the pies,” Michael says.
“We have a Moroccan Lamb Pie and a Chicken Harissa Pie. The heavy, big chunks of meat are slow-cooked and flavoured with all the Moroccan spices, including anything from tumeric to paprika, cumin and cinnamon. They are a meal in themselves.”
If keeping on top of this expanding product offer isn’t enough, Michael and Deborah have also recently opened two further businesses on either side of the bakery.
Little Grumpies is an interactive baking centre for children that is utilised by the community for birthday parties and school holiday workshops. The adorably bright and colourful fit-out includes miniature aprons and rolling pins and is a hit with parents and children alike.
“Deborah and I have young children of our own, so we know first-hand how much fun they have getting their hands into the dough. For parties, we will set everything up and work with groups of children to make pizzas, chocolate crackers or a brioche-like Jewish dough,” Michael says.
“We even do a Belgium chocolate ganache pizza as a dessert. The kids have a great time and get to take home a cake box filled with their creations.”
For the parents, Michel also has a laid-back 15sqm restaurant and wine bar, aptly named Pigeonhole. This rustic space serves Modern Australian fare with a strong Middle Eastern undertone.
The highly-successful hospitality portfolio, in which all three businesses share a kitchen, has created a real food hub for the Vaucluse community. And best of all, The Grumpy Baker brand has managed to cement its name in high-end food circles while remaining family-orientated; an almost impossible feat.
“I guess we’ve created the suburban equivalent of the marketplaces of my childhood. People gravitate to our corner to buy bread, to be fed and to be entertained,” Michael says.
“It’s a wonderful feeling.”
Roast Garlic & Olive Sourdough
WHAT YOU NEED
Sourdough Culture: 400g
Strong Bakers Flour: 800g
Fresh whole garlic cloves: 15
Pitted kalamata olives: 120g
Drop of oil
Pinch of salt
This must be prepared five to seven days in advance. The longer it sits the better it tastes.
Strong bakers flour
Lukewarm water (25-27°C)
WHAT TO DO
Day 1: Catch the wild yeast: Mix 40g flour and 50ml water in a mixer until smooth and consistent and cover with a cloth. Place in a warm place with plenty of fresh air (not in direct sunlight);
Day 2: Refresh the culture: Beat the mix slightly with a clean spoon, cover back with the cloth;
Day 3 and 4: Feed the culture: Mix 50ml water into the culture until runny then add 45g flour and mix until smooth and consistent again, cover and leave for a day then repeat;
Day 5: Strengthen the culture: Spill out half of the culture then mix again like before but with 115ml water and 100g flour, repeat every 12 hours for a day or two; andend of first week: Use the culture as needed and mix again with 115ml water and 100g flour. To keep alive from this point on mix again at least once a day if not used.
For the roasting
Add all ingredients with the exception of olives, to a tray and to the oven on 180°C until caramelised to golden brown colour. Take out then add the olives and let it get to room temperature.
For the dough
Put flour, salt and culture together on a clean surface. Make a well in the middle and pour the water in the middle, mix slowly until combined then knead until smooth and firm;
Drain the garlic and olive lightly from the excess liquids and once reach room temp add to the dough, mix gently without smashing the cloves until evenly spread through the dough;
Cover with a damp cloth and rest for four hours;Cut into two even pieces and rest for another 30 minutes;
Dust a tray with a thin layer of flour;
Shape gently without beating too hard into a rustic rectangle (about 8cm X 24cm);
Pre-heat oven to 230°C;
Rest for another hour in a warm temp (33-39°C) or until ready, to check when ready press gently on the loaf and if a gentle print is left without coming back up it’s time;
Turn over the loaves gently without collapsing the bread;
Bake for 35-45 minutes on 205°C until crust becomes dark gold; and
To final check tap on the bottom of the loaf to get a hollow sound.