Maggie Beer answers Baking Business’ questions on traditional Australian baking.
What does ‘traditional’ australian baking mean to you?
Using what is at hand typifies traditional Australian baking to me; cakes, puddings, biscuits and breads that can be made from staple pantry ingredients without too many extra additions beyond fresh or dried fruit.
Your passion for food comes through in your books and public appearances. What patries, cakes or bread are you particularly passionate about?
The very first thing I ever cooked was an orange butter cake for my grandmother for her birthday. I was seven years of age and used the recipe so carefully and was very proud of it, though I can’t remember my grandmother giving me any encouragement about it! Even so, I can almost smell it as I think about it. I was so thrilled.
I would never describe myself as a sweet-tooth though, so these days the baking I tend to be most passionate about is the kind that allows me to make the most of a glut of plums, or a bounty of fresh eggs, new season’s apples or walnuts from our trees – whatever I have an abundance of that can be further preserved with baking.
What type of oven do you use for baking?
I have Miele ovens in my test kitchen and find them great for baking as you can easily adjust whether you want the fan or not.
What ingredients will you be using over winter?
Everything we have harvested from our own orchard throughout autumn – walnuts, almonds, quinces, apples, plums, pomegranates, persimons and pears to name a few.
What type of flour do you prefer to use?
It really depends what I’m baking, but I mostly rely on our local SA-based mills – Laucke’s and Four Leaf. Both mills produce excellent flours that cover all bases from strong flour for bread to beautifully soft flours for cake baking.
Have you ever made long-fermentation sourdough bread?
I have given it a try a couple of times but my patience, or lack of it, always gets the better of me, so I tend to bake a traditional milk loaf or grain bread if I can find the time to do so. Whilst I used to bake every day in my restaurant years, more often that not I’m happy to leave bread making to those dedicated to the cause and rely on the wonderful bakeries we have in the Valley.
Do you hand-make your pastry?
Not entirely, I use the processor for the first stage, particularly with sour cream pastry as I have such warm hands I just pulse to control that. Then it’s hand rolling of course. Sour cream pastry and rough puff are regulars in my cooking because they both offer such great results with minimal fuss – my kind of pastry making!
Bushmans Bakery’s Kerry Sullivan looks at the history of outback bread
The technique of making damper bread was developed by stockmen out of necessity during Australia’s colonial period. Often away from home for weeks, with just a campfire to cook on and only sacks of flour as provisions, a basic staple bread evolved.
It was originally made with flour and water and a good pinch of salt, kneaded, shaped into a round and baked in the ashes of the campfire or open fireplace. It was eaten with pieces of fried dried meat, sometimes spread with golden syrup, but always with billy tea or maybe a swig of rum.
Bushmans Bakery traditional style has been influenced by this outback baking. Original owner Dally Sullivan was born and raised on a wheat farm before starting Bushmans Bakery in 1987.
“From producer to end producer, it is a rare story where a wheat cocky (farmer) tries his hand at running a bakery,” Bushmans Bakery director and one of Dally’s son, Kerry Sullivan, explained to Baking Business.
Kerry has worked alongside his father since the business first started. Kerry’s brothers John and Matt are also bakers at Bushmans and are heavily involved in franchise training and product development.
Bushmans Bakery has developed a range of ‘modern’ style dampers which are lighter in texture and full of flavour. According to Kerry, it is a lot more palatable than traditional unleavened damper recipes.
Bushmans Bakery has 11 franchises in NSW and in April will be advancing south of the border with a new bakery in Druin, Victoria.
Beechworth Bakery entices customers with their high-quality service
Providing old-fashioned and personalised service, Beechworth Bakery has grown to six bakeries across Victoria. Owner Tom O’Toole has combined his outgoing personality with a simple product made with fresh ingredients to keep customers coming back.
According to Beechworth Bakery bakehouse manager and head baker, Bray Webster, visitors come to Beechworth expecting a high-quality experience.
“It’s the tradition of our bakery that safeguards and preserves our history and this is evident in all our bakery locations,” Mr Bray said.
“The strength of our brand is consistent and is why our customers keep coming back – it doesn’t matter which town you’re in, you will still get the authentic Beechworth Bakery experience we’re famous for.”
Outback Bakehouse owner, Rob Pirina engages with his local community.
For Outback Bakehouse and Glenorie Bakery owner, Rob Pirina, traditional food is all he’s ever known.
“Traditional bakery food is my family heritage, it’s my life. It’s something I’ve been brought up with. I don’t think I could ever go down the line of pre-fab. It’s a point of difference,” Mr Pirina said.
Mr Pirina said that quality traditional baking separates bakeries from the large supermarkets.
“We’re all about tradition and we try and make everything as traditionally as possible in our bakeries. Meaning, we don’t use preservatives, chemicals and pre-packaged stuff like, ‘Add water and mix’. We make everything from scratch and that’s the way they’ve been doing it for hundreds of years,” he said.
“What does traditional mean to me? It means healthy. Bread should only last a day. Bread’s not something that should be sitting around for a week. It should start to mould up after a week.”
The Outback Bakehouse is located in Windsor, within the Hawkesbury region, an area one hour out of Sydney with plenty of colonial history.
“They are like a country town. And I think with the country town style, people really appreciate traditional style cooking. Obviously they have been brought up on the same sort of stuff as kids and bakeries like mine are becoming few and far between. It’s appreciated more these days because it’s healthy, better for you, no preservatives. Sometimes it can cost a little bit more but people are happy to pay the price if they know it is good quality stuff that’s healthy.”
One unique product popular with tourists is Outback Bakehouse’s Flabbit Pie.
“The Flabbit Pie is just a bit of fun, but it actually links in with the community and the history of the Hawkesbury, which is something that I’ve tried to capture,” he said.
According to Mr Pirina, in the mid-80s a councilor started the story about a Flabbit – a flying rabbit – to try and bring tourism into the Hawkesbury region.
“He said he saw these Flabbit’s flying around his backyard. He was a taxidermist at the time and he cut some wings off a bird and he sewed them to a rabbit and took some photos and sent them to all the universities and newspapers. It then somehow made it’s way to America and in the mid to late-80s all these scientists came to Australia looking for this new species,” he said.
“What we’re trying to do is create some fun with food. We all have to eat, why can’t we enjoy what we eat? And by linking in history with the products, which is what I’m starting to slowly get myself into, it makes it fun, it makes it exciting, people continue coming back and they talk about it. It’s a point of difference. We’re the only Flabbit Pie in the world. For me that’s great. No one else has a Flabbit Pie.”
PRESERVING THE ART
Phillippa Grogen discovered her family recipes and keeps the tradition alive.
Using the best-quality natural ingredients and family recipes, Melbourne-based Phillippa’s specialises in producing products that are no longer regularly made in the home, keeping alive the art of bread, pastry, and preserve making.
Owner Phillippa Grogen is driven primarily by clean flavours and uses fresh, seasonal ingredients, as well as traditional methods of production. She makes her pastries and cakes with unsalted butter, real eggs, pure cream and zest from unwaxed lemons fortarts, and her own peel-and-use Belgian chocolate.
Re-discovered family recipes from her childhood have become part of Phillippa’s traditional menu. Pouring through her library of recipe books, Phillippa will search for clues to Australia’s culinary history to integrate into her business.
“I just love the simplicity and authenticity of these recipes,” Mrs Grogen said.
“Those kinds of products are just not being made any more, unless your grandmother is making them. Parents don’t seem to have time to make them anymore. A lot of bakeries will make them, but with short cuts. Those are the recipes which are worth their weight in gold as they are truly tried and tested.”
HISTORY IN THE BAKING
The Plarre family has enjoyed 100 years of baking tradition.
Tradition and history are important cornerstones of Melbourne’s family owned Ferguson Plarre Bakehouse. Their hot cross bun recipe is based on an age-old recipe dating back nearly 100 years, almost as old as the business itself.
“All of our buns are hand-rolled. We couldn’t use a machine even if we wanted – the dough is too rich due to high quantities of egg, margarine, fruit and sugar we use in our recipe,” Ferguson Plarre operating manager, Mike Plarre said.
Ferguson Plarre’s hot cross buns contain 58 per cent fruit – “more than double the fruit of many better-known hot cross bun brands”.
“You can taste the love in a traditionally made hot cross bun that’s loaded with quality fruit,” Mr Plarre said.
According to A Recipe for Success: The Hot Cross Buns Episode (1912), the baking family has had a rich involvement with hot cross buns. Otto Plarre and Percy Ferguson excelled at making hot cross buns, but Otto’s first attempt at supplying the Easter proved “disastrous”.
“Otto had prepared a large batch of buns on Easter Thursday and they had sold exceedingly well. Expecting most sales the following day – Easter Friday – as was the case in Europe, Otto prepared an even bigger batch, only to learn that his new Australian customers did not shop on that day. He was left literally holding the bag,” the publication states.
The pavlova is an Australian favourite at The Cheesecake Shop.
While the pavlova’s true origins continue to be hotly debated, sales of the Australian classic have been “phenomenal” during holiday periods at north Brisbane-based The Cheesecake Shop Wavell Heights.
“I feel it is (Australian). Traditionally, at Christmas time, they are a very big seller,” store owner Gary Kehl said.
The Cheesecake Shop Wavell Heights can make anywhere up to 300 pavlovas during the Christmas week, keeping Mr Kehl on his toes.
“Christmas eve, it’s just phenomenal and that’s just the large size. We can do anywhere up to 50 of the little size and anywhere up to 30 of the super size, so that’s a lot of ‘pav’,” he said.
The Cheesecake Shop franchise makes its pav using a traditional recipe.
“The egg white mix – it’s not straight albumin (protein), it’s got a gel through it. A fruit pie thickener and sugar, basically. And a bit of vinegar. Across the board, that’s a pavlova recipe,” Mr Kehl said.
“Usually around Christmas time I start to keep them. Because they do keep, I keep them in ambient temperatures; they don’t need refrigeration unless they are decorated. So that’s a good thing about a pavlova too, keeping them at a nice ambient temperature, not too hot cause they do sweat. You can’t really box them up to early, you’ve go to let them cool cause they do sweat again. That egg will tend to seep out of it.”
Mr Kehl said he has made “many, many” pavlovas during his apprenticeship.
“There was a few different ways of doing them, there’s a few recipes out there,” he said.
Mr Kehl believes Australians like pavlovas because they are easy to make.
“It’s a dessert, it’s soft, it’s full of egg and full of sugar. It’s sweet, disgustingly sweet. And I think that’s why, it’s just because it is. It’s a meringue. There is a difference between the meringue and pavlova. The meringue is a bit more fluffier, while the pavlova is a bit more dense.”
Mr Kehl has owned his northern Brisbane store for almost three years and said he enjoys running his business.
Maggie Beer Sour Cream Pastry
200g chilled unsalted butter
250g plain flour
125ml sour cream
To make the pastry, dice the butter, then pulse with the flour in a food processor until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Add the sour cream and continue to pulse until the dough starts to incorporate into a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic film and refrigerate for 20 minutes.
Roll the chilled pastry out until three millimetres thick and cut to suit your chosen recipe.
Beechworth Bakery Savoury Scones recipe
3 cups plain flour
¼ cup margarine¼ cup castor sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 ¼ tablespoons baking powder
1 ¼ cups milk
2 cups firmly packed cheese, grated, tasty
1 cup firmly packed diced bacon
1 cup onion chopped
2 eggs (55g)
2 teaspoons parsley flakes
1. Pre-heat oven to 180°C-190°C.
2. Mix together flour, margarine, sugar, salt and baking powder (rub margarine through dry ingredients).
3. Mix in milk to form a soft dough.
4. Allow 10 minutes for dough to rest.
5. Roll out to 30cm by 24cm, approximately 3/4cm thick.
6. In a bowl, mix cheese, onion, bacon, eggs and parsley.
7. Spread evenly over dough.
8. Roll up like a log, then using a bread knife, cut slices approximately 3cm thick.
9. Place on greased baking tray, allowing room for each to spread, and bake for approximately 15-18 minutes at 180°C-190°C.