Baking Business gets a taste of the sweet life at La Torre Cake Shop in Fairfield, west of Sydney.
Few bakeries have stood the test of time as dutifully as La Torre Cake Shop. It first opened in 1974 as a bread shop that mostly sold dried and frozen pasta, until the owners moved their operation to larger premises in 1982. They sold La Torre to Robert and Grace Lagrange, who had settled in Australia after leaving their native Argentina.
Robert was an electrical engineer by trade but, at the time, his English wasn’t good enough for him to continue his vocation in Australia.
Robert’s grandfather had owned a bakery in Argentina, so when he and Grace took over La Torre, they began making cakes and pastries from scratch. Soon, specialty cakes became their core business, and Robert began adding traditional South American favourites to the store’s display cases.
“In those years, the quality of the product available in the industry was nowhere near what it was today,” Robert says.
“We learned a lot along the way and over the years I have done patisserie and chocolate course with Kirsten Tibballs from Savour Chocolate & Patisserie School.”
Dulce de leche-filled pastries are key to La Torre’s offering, with Robert hand-making the traditional filling from scratch—not with condensed milk, but by laboriously hand-whisking milk and sugar until it becomes a thick, rich caramel. It’s a process that takes many hours, but the results absolutely are well worth the effort.
“Dulce de leche is the same to us in Argentina as Vegemite is in Australia,” Robert explains. “It’s tradition; we’ve grown up with it. People love it, and we sell it by the kilo, all handmade here in the shop.”
This sweet caramel is found in many of the pastries in La Torre, including the very popular alfajores (buttery shortbread sandwiches) and mil hojas (a type of Argentinian mille-feuille). As the community of Fairfield grew to include Greeks, Italians and Lebanese, Robert and Grace expanded their product range to include European-style pastries as well, making cannolis and croissants with divine dulce de leche filling.
In fact, Robert is in the middle of making the next day’s croissants when I call, telling me apologetically, “Give me half an hour. If I walk away now they won’t be perfect.”
This dedication to perfection is at the core of La Torre’s success. Robert and Grace have spent the better part of 36 years working six out of seven days a week, delivering locals with consistently beautiful cakes and melt-in-your-mouth pastries.
The couple is ingrained in the fabric of the Fairfield community, having made baptism celebration cakes, 18th and 21st birthday cakes and wedding cakes for generations of Sydneysiders who fondly refer to Grace as ‘Aunty’, and enjoy popping in for a chat.
Now, the time has come for the couple to rest, relax and enjoy. Robert and Grace recently sold the bakery to Naeem Haq, offering to continue making cakes and pastries until they’re ready to retire.
Naeem is a former 7-Eleven owner who admits he’d never tried an Argentinian pastry before buying the store, however, he’s adamant the shop’s legacy will continue. He’s even learning Spanish online so he can better converse with La Torre’s South American clientele.
While Robert says he and Grace will miss the shop, the allure of retirement is growing stronger by the year. Indeed, many of their friends are now retired, and working six days a week doesn’t leave a lot of time for R&R.
“After 36 years I think we deserve a break,” Robert says.
“I will miss the challenge of making cakes. We are constantly testing ourselves with customer requests for unique cakes, and we work hard to bring their creations to life.
“That’s what it’s all about for us. When the customer rings you to tell you how happy they are with their cake, and to offer their personal thanks, that’s everything to us.”