In the baking industry it can be difficult to carve out a niche and stand out from the crowd. However, one Melbourne-based, Polish and German-inspired bakery has managed to do just that.
When it comes to looking for inspiration for creating standout bakery ranges, France is one of the countries most bakers would commonly turn to.
However, one Victorian bakery is helping to turn that trend on its head. Located in Dandenong on Melbourne’s northside, Polish Rye Crust Bakery has garnered itself a firm following in Melbourne’s foodie circles in the five years since the bakery first opened its doors.
Steering away from producing the standard bakery offer of white sandwich bread loaves and traditional, baked sweet goods, owner Andrew Lipiszko and his wife Hanna have instead created an extensive range inspired by their Polish and German heritage.
An electrical systems and computer engineer by trade, Andrew says he found himself in the baking industry after hunting for a job with hours that would fit in around his university studies.
However, the lure of the industry proved to be too strong and Andrew chose to instead carve out a career as a baker after completing his university degree, and went on to work at Melbourne institution Glicks Cakes and Bagels as well as in a bakery in Poland, where he also acquired the 104-year-old sourdough starter still used at Polish Rye Crust Bakery today.
Officially opening the doors in 2009, since then Polish Rye Crust Bakery has established itself as a firm favourite with both Dandenong locals and interstate travellers alike.
Describing Polish Rye Crust Bakery as being fitted out in European style with the colours and café décor he and Hanna grew up with, Andrew says a wide variety of sourdough breads line the shelves while traditionally made Polish and German sweets fill the cabinets.
“We do have quite a large range of Polish and European sweets that range from Danishes that are filled with cottage cheese, poppy seeds, cherries or apples; to well as strudels – it doesn’t get much more European than a strudel,” Andrew says.
“We also sell traditional sponge and cream cakes and pastries that are similar to éclairs but are shaped differently – we make them into swans.”
Relying on recipes handed down by their mothers and grandmothers, Andrew says a lot of experimentation is first undertaken with each product until he is completely satisfied with the end result.
“We even make the strudels the traditional way where they are wrapped in baking paper and baked that way, rather than on a flat tray, so they’re more round than flat like they are in a lot of the shops,” he said.
“Sometimes when you use these recipes on a larger scale the products don’t come out the way they should. So we keep the volume to a minimum, even if that means we have to make them twice or three times, just so the texture and flavours are all the same as they were when the recipes were first invented.”
However, with a name like Polish Rye Crust Bakery it’s obvious that bread is the standout product for the bakery, a fact that is reiterated by Andrew who explains up to 95 per cent of the bakery’s total bread range is made up of handmade sourdoughs.
“When we were first opening up we didn’t want to give the bakery a Polish name, so we thought ‘Polish Rye Crust Bakery’ was perfect, especially because we specialise in rye breads,” Andrew says.
“Just to be different we don’t make the standard offer of white sandwich loaves. Instead we make more traditional loaves, such as village bread – which are similar to country loaves – as well as light to dark rye sourdoughs and we also have sourdoughs we have introduced handpicked farmers’ grains into.”
However, the range is a constant work in progress according to Andrew, with customer feedback regularly sought and integrated so as to keep things interesting.
“Most of the products we make and sell have been my wife’s idea – she’d say ‘I think we should have this or this’. Then I would begin to experiment with the recipes I had and the ideas she had. It would mostly be trial and error, but when it got to the stage where we were happy with it we would then give out samples to the customers to see what they thought,” Andrew says.
“There’s no point in us making something and putting it on the shelves and hoping they sell – that just doesn’t happen. But from doing this our customers will tell us what they think and give us ideas, while some people even bring in loaves of bread they’ve discovered on their travels.
“You can’t make every suggestion, but if the interest is there then I will try it and see if it works or if there’s a way to incorporate it into the production we have, because obviously the larger the variety you have, the more time you need to make everything.”
It’s a valid point, especially considering it’s just Andrew and his father making the sourdoughs each day, while a pastry chef from Poland takes care of the sweet products after the daily workload became too large.
“Out the back it’s just myself and my father who make the breads and rolls, so it’s quite a bit of a challenge, but we love challenges and we love the work,” Andrew says.
However, despite regularly reinvigorating the range to tie in with the seasons, there are nevertheless a few favourite items at Polish Rye Crust Bakery that have stood the test of time.
“As far as the sweet products are concerned, our most popular product would be our baked cheesecake that is made out of cottage cheese or quark. We use a variety of seasonal fruits in it just to mix it up,” he says, adding that the traditional Polish doughnut is his own personal favourite.
“For breads the most popular would be our Polish rye sourdough. This is the bread that can be found throughout Poland and the longer you keep it, the more the flavour it has and the more the texture continues to intensify – this is the reason why I love them.
“Obviously the bread becomes harder and a bit stale but it’s like with cheese – the older it gets the better it is.”
Currently a standalone business, Andrew says the possibility of one day including another bakery to the Polish Rye Crust Bakery is always on the cards. However, for the foreseeable future, he and Hanna will focus primarily on producing the best products they can.
“My breads aren’t perfect – they are as good as they can get, but they’re not perfect. And I always like to say there’s constantly room to improve, because once you think something is perfect you stop working at it,” Andrew says.
“I think this is why we stand out from other bakeries.”