For Nadine Ingram there is much joy in a lemon drizzle cake and the simplicity of an old-fashioned fine apple tart. We catch up with the pastry chef behind Sydney’s Flour and Stone to discuss the things that make life a little sweeter.
Flour and Stone is a nostalgic nod to the golden era of home baking; scones topped with dollops of jam and cream, delicate madeleines, leek and gruyère tarts and hand-iced biscuits. And, with the worn wooden counter, vase of flowers in the window and a single table on the pavement, it’s easy to feel at home.
The intimate space gives off a distinctly rustic vibe; reminiscent of a rural French or Italian patisserie. It’s warm and homey, and the portions are generous.
“We are not overly polished, we don’t use glazes and we don’t spend a lot of time moulding products. A lot of our stuff is whole – big cakes and tarts – which we put in the counter and cut up for our customers,” the bakery’s founder Nadine Ingram says.
“There is a culture of generosity and sharing here, because at the end of the day, we are a very community-focused bakery with a strong ethos: we bake for love, life and happiness.”
It’s a humble attitude for a pastry chef with such an impressive background. Trained by Michel Roux at Le Gavroche – the first UK restaurant to be awarded one, two and three Michelin stars – Nadine returned to Australia after the birth of her first daughter, joining Sydney bakery staples MG Garage, Bel Mondo, Level 41 and Bourke Street Bakery.
Having mainly worked in restaurants, Bourke Street Bakery was the turning point for Nadine, who renounced cooking in restaurants to instead concentrate on bakery and patisserie.
“I really prefer the bakery side of things because there is much more immediate satisfaction. You spend six to eight hours in the morning baking everything for the counter and then you get to interact with the customers as they engage with the products,” she says.
“You can’t do this in a restaurant, as you are only placing six or so desserts at a time and, of course, not everyone orders dessert. The pastry section is not prioritised or often taken as seriously in restaurants. Bakery and patisserie products shouldn’t be an afterthought, they should have the spotlight.”
Cue Flour and Stone, a kitchen and retail space in Sydney’s harbourside suburb of Woolloomooloo. With a staff of 10, Nadine is hands-on in the kitchen. Her chef husband, Jonathon, works elsewhere. Nonetheless, as Nadine lovingly puts it, he is “the backbone of the business”. The pair’s two daughters are also an integral part to the bakery, with Nadine saying they constantly encourage her to create and innovate.
“From an inspirational point of view, they have been an incredibly important part of the business. They are, perhaps my greatest critics. Despite the panna cotta lamingtons being our best seller, my eldest daughter says she’s not a fan. Instead, she says she prefers French canelé,” Nadine says, laughing, impressed with her daughter’s sophisticated palate.
In fact, the bakery is named after the two Ingram girls; flour for Poppy, 12, and stone for Ruby, 8.
Flour and Stone hand-makes about any good bakery item you could imagine. On any given day, its sweet cabinet is laden with lovely little lemon curd tarts, brownies and Italian doughnuts filled with raspberry custard and lemon ricotta.
With Cookie Couture Nadine’s side business, it’s no surprise Flour and Stone also offers an exquisite selection of hand-iced gingerbread, as well as Anzac biscuits, peanut butter cookies and sour cherry-chocolate-hazelnut cookies.
Alongside the slabs – a strawberry, pistachio and Manuka honey nougat, and a date and oat slab – the cakes steal the show. Sweet staples, such as family chocolate cakes and old-fashioned vanilla cakes, sit alongside lemon capri tortes and lemon drizzle cakes. More wholesome options, including carrot cake with spelt, and beetroot seed cake are also on offer.
“There are special dietary options as well, including apple and cinnamon gluten-free cookies and chocolate chip cookies for vegans. It’s about meeting the “life” part of our philosophy; bake for love, life and happiness. In life, there are a lot of people who just can’t eat flour or dairy, or who make certain life choices, vegan being one,” Nadine says.
Flour and Stone doesn’t sell its own bread, however, it does offer fresh loaves from Brickfields, which Nadine says frees up her time to focus on what she does best.
After opening in November 2012, Flour and Stone is still very much in its infancy. Nonetheless, its customer base is broadening every day and, in many instances, outstripping supply. No doubt, word of mouth spread news of the bakery’s sandwiches and coffee throughout the area’s office workers. But it is social media that Nadine attributes to Flour and Stone’s growing reputation as a destination bakery, particularly on weekends.
“Because we have such visual products, we mainly use Instagram, and it’s not uncommon for us to get people through the door half an hour from posting an image of a tart coming out of the oven or a cake being iced,” she says.
“Lately, we may even sell out of a product before some customers get into the bakery to buy it! It’s a real-time platform that works so well for the food industry, and it has a much more dramatic impact than a website, for us as least.”
It’s a lot of attention for an inconspicuous 70sq m space, particularly considering the inside dining area only squeezes in four tables, with one more on the footpath.
“It is very tight and with the boom in customers I do wonder if we are turning our local community away. While the locals do still seem to be coming in, it’s important for me to always think about that balance between generating business and making sure regulars can still get a seat,” Nadine says.
One way Nadine could satisfying the burgeoning demand for her products would be to expand the Flour and Stone brand, opening another commercial premises. Alas, she’s resolute in her desire to stay small and hands-on.
“I really don’t have the ambition to build an empire. I just want to concentrate on the one space because I know that will deliver a much richer experience and better quality,” she says, acknowledging Flour and Stone will, most likely, expand in other ways, such as markets and masterclasses.
“I’m not someone that belongs in an office. I just want to keep baking, it’s where I’m happiest.”