As one of Australia’s premier gourmet food and wine destinations, the Hunter Valley is burgeoning with artisan bakeries, dessert bars, quaint cafés and new ideas and flavours. The cooler months are the perfect time to venture to the Hunter to experience the comfort of the smell of freshly baked bread, delectable rich desserts and flaky pastries teamed with a hot coffee.
When we think of the Hunter Valley we think of rolling hills, the Hunter River and fine wines – it’s Australia’s oldest wine region after all. With this fertile land comes the ability to grow and produce fresh, regional foods, as locals have done for centuries. The region is home to historic towns of Pokolbin, Wollombi, Broke, Lovedale and Maitland, all accessed by pretty country roads.
It’s an all-round destination for good food, good wine, beautiful scenery, relaxation and pampering, and taking life in the slow lane. What better way to match the pace than with a stop-in at a bakery or café?
Bacco’s passion is to create gourmet products that complement wines, cheeses and good food. Founders Kristy and Luigi Papagni have been baking since 2001, starting in their home kitchen using traditional Italian family recipes. Their signature ‘Bacco’s Leaves’, are handmade, high-quality crispbread made from organic wheat flour, white wine, extra virgin olive oil and sea salt. Their Hunter Bread is made with organic spelt and organic wheat and rye. They also make sea salt ‘Twiggies’, fennel seed ‘Tatos’ (a savoury breadstick) and premium cookies in a variety of delectable flavours such as ginger and date and hazelnut dark chocolate.
Our pick: Fennel seed Tatos
Baked Uprising began in 2010 as a humble home bakery, expanding to a stall at the weekly farmers’ markets and then moving into its current location in 2013 – a warehouse in Maryville. Today, they have a shopfront where visitors can grab a coffee and watch them bake a daily selection of breads, pastries, tarts, brioche and pies. Baked Uprising offers a catering service as well, with items such as fresh bread with sides of ham, hummus, pickles, dukkah, roast tomatoes and cheddar cheese and salad platters, sandwich platters and petit fours. Their menu options include toasted muesli and yoghurt bowls, pies, sausage rolls and a selection of sweet tarts, pastries and cakes.
Our pick: Cardamom cake
Dessert bar Sabor in the Hunter is located on Lambloch Estate, Pokolbin, overlooking 20 acres of vineyards. Since opening, their menu has grown to include more than 50 desserts, including their multi-award-winning Portuguese chocolate mousse. The mousse is made from a recipe of owner Fernando Antao’s grandmother – one she started making more than 70 years ago. One of her secret ingredients was port, acting as a preservative in a time before fridges. Today, Fernando still uses port for the rich flavour, as well as adding Belgium coverture chocolate – something his grandmother didn’t have access to. Other desserts include the Sabor orange soufflé, mixed berry and almond frangipane, chocolate volcano, crème brulee flambé and caramelised nut tart. A large portion of the menu is gluten free, and guests can enjoy a barista-made Glinelli coffee or choose from a selection of teas.
Our pick: Peanut butter and chocolate mousse cake
4/ Bread Basket
This fourth generation bakery is run by baking legend and Baking Association of Australia judge Stewart Latter, who brought a wealth of experience, as well as sourdough to the bakery. Bread Basket’s sourdough product is sold under Hunter Sourdough and made from cultures from local Hunter Valley vineyards’ chardonnay grapes and Mulbring peaches. Bread Basket offer a range of specialty breads including German rye and sunflower and wattle seed, as well as the classics, specialty cakes and pastries, tarts, slices and quiches.
Our pick: Apricot, fig and fennel sourdough
Pop in for a coffee and something sweet from Exquisite Cakes by Lennert’s petit range – the perfect size for trying something new. They have an extensive range of whole cakes, and have a special penchant for novelty cakes (think Darth Vader-, guitar- and even car-shaped cakes). Their top seller is the white and dark mousse cake, made from a mud cake base with layers of chocolate and white chocolate mousse on top, finished with a marble collar.
Our pick: Chocolate and almond fudge cake
The Hunter Valley Cheese Company is a boutique cheese factory and retail cheese shop, making a huge variety of exquisite cheeses, chutneys, relishes and jams. Visitors can drop in any day of the week for cheese tasting, which includes five different cheeses, bread, grissini and fruit paste. Cheese tutorials are conducted twice daily and they even cater to weddings with their ‘cheese tier’ cake alternatives.
Our pick: Milawa blue vein
With beautiful attention to detail, The Icky Sticky Patisserie does a lovely selection of large cakes and tarts made to order, with a big focus on fruits and berries. They also have a catering menu with petit fours, petit danishes, quiches and sandwiches. Choose from beautiful cakes such as the continental sponge cake, made with vanilla sponge soaked in Cointreau, layered with crème patisserie and strawberries, finished with flaked almonds and decorated with strawberries and chocolate flowers. They also do an orange and almond cake, raspberry cold-set cheesecake, chocolate raspberry mousse cakes, and chocolate, lemon meringue, berry, apple crumble and strawberry tarts. In store, The Icky Sticky Patisserie have a range of smaller, fresh items on offer such as mini cheesecakes, croissants and muffins, perfect for a high quality, delicious treat.
Our pick: Continental sponge cake
Boasting generous country-style breakfasts, Grices Bakery Café takes you back to the days of good-old-fashioned home cooking. The place for locals to get a coffee and catch up, Grices Bakery Café have a large range of breakfast and lunch menu items from the humble toasted sandwich to pies and pastries. Sweet treats are aplenty as well, and you can grab a fresh loaf of bread on the way out.
Our pick: Vanilla slice
Based in the historic Arnott Bakehouse, Morpeth Sourdough is today run by Stephen and Allison Arnott, Stephen being the great, great, great grandson of biscuit pioneer William Arnott. Today they distribute authentic sourdough and a range of Morpeth Muesli throughout Australia. Their sourdoughs include spelt sourdough, wholewheat, five seed, spicy fruit and walnut, cadalinga and more. Their range of muesli is made from premium Australian whole rolled oats, plump dried fruits, nuts and seeds, no added oils and natural, unprocessed sugar, such as that from local honey. They also distribute a range of regional condiments that pair perfectly with their sourdough range.
Our pick: Sourdough olive ciabatta
10/ The Blind Baker
With a prime position on Regent Street, the Blind Baker is in the perfect possie for a quick lunch or breakfast pit stop when you’re in the mood for a pie, tart, croissant, danish, sourdough, quiche or brownie. Owned and run by husband-and-wife team Kate and Lincoln, who pride themselves on using only real ingredients in their bakery. By this they mean real butter, handmade pastry, real sourdough, real slow cooked beef in the pies, and no rubbish, only real, fresh ingredients. The Blind Baker is named after the process of blind baking, whereby you pre-bake a pie casing or crust. And the young couple doing this blind baking, Kate and Lincoln should be proud of the artisanal bakery they have created. It has a beautiful community feel to it and, as Kate describes: “We are all about supporting fellow local business owners in the New Lambton area, we are very loyal, just like our customers.”
Our pick: Chunky steak and Guinness pie