Yallingup is a tiny coastal hamlet in the South West region of Western Australia. A popular tourist destination for its postcard-perfect beaches and limestone caves, this is a town for taking it slow. Local well-rested baker Gotthard Bauer agrees, turning baking on its head by skipping the traditional night shifts and kneading throughout the morning, with fresh loaves of sourdough ready to pick up in the afternoon—perhaps after a surf.
Gotthard and his wife Marion exchanged south-west Germany for south-west Australia over 20 years ago, and have firmly established themselves as masters of bread in the region. Gotthard says is was a “series of accidents—positive accidents” that led them to this little tourist town they now call home.
“I was travelling and wanted to spend some time in WA, and then I bumped into a few people who had just started an eco-village,” Gotthard says.
“It was a really good concept, so I started building a bakery there. Then—as happens with eco-villages—they ended up in a fight about all sorts of things. Now there’s no eco-village, but there is a bakery.”
Turning the original concept around from baking for a village to a more retail and wholesale-focussed business, it was a good time locally to start a bakery, with the weekend visitors from Perth just the market for Gotthard’s authentic organic sourdough loaves.
“Yallingup and Dunsborough are sort of noble suburbs of Perth you could say, even they’re 300 km south of it,” he says.
“Every weekend, everyone who has a house in Yallingup or Dunsborough comes—these are the kinds of people who love this kind of bread.”
Gotthard grew up surrounded by bread, with the family owning a woodfired bakery near Stuttgart. Like Yallingup Woodfired Bread, it was a purely bread-centric bakery—no black forest cakes to be found. And while the recipes and methods aren’t really different, he says the bread produced in Australia becomes very different to that in Germany, owing to environmental factors.
“The temperature, the water, the flour… everything is really different,” he says.
“In Germany you’d get a new [sourdough] starter every month or every two months from a business that specialised in starters, because with the air pollution, the sourdough just turns around so quick and gets red and green and black, which you don’t want.”
After initially getting permission to import a sourdough starter from Germany, the supplier was unable to complete the order. So, Gotthard and Marion made their own using yoghurt, and have had it ever since.
“That’s the beauty about most places in Australia,” he says.
“The air and the water and everything is so clean that you don’t get the pollution in the sourdough starter, it’s just the same all the time. That was a real surprise—a very positive surprise!”
For Gotthard, running a bakery successfully means sticking with a few rules, mostly boiling down to simplicity. Firstly, not having too many different products, and also matching output to the size of the bakery.
“In Germany, every bakery has—it’s the same here probably—10, 20, 50 different kinds of bread, but in fact it’s almost impossible to look after them properly,” he says.
“So, we said we’d do only three kinds of bread: wheat, wheat and rye, and rye—that’s it. That works out very well.
“My philosophy is that a bakery should have a certain size, so in our case it is 1000 to 1200 leaves a day, and that is the max. If you need more, then you should make another bakery, not try to squeeze everything through that one premise.”
And that’s exactly what they did, opening bakeries in Perth, Margaret River, Bunbury and even Singapore.
“I think bread shouldn’t travel too much; it should be made where the people are,” Gotthard says.
“That’s the problem with the bread industry everywhere; they tend to build baking factories with a huge distribution system. It should be the other way around—the bread should be with the people.”
Yallingup Woodfired Bread now has five varieties—the most popular loaf is the Wave, which is pure white fermented wheat bread; Field, a wholemeal sourdough; a rye bread called Big Rock; Ridge, a seeded loaf; and a very popular fruit loaf, Valley.
In addition to this bread-based bush bakery, the Bauers also have the Yallingup Gugelhupf, a pastry arm of the business in the centre of town.
“The Gugelhupf, that was a different concept and a different place,” Gotthard explains.
“In our bakery, there is the rule that we have no oil, no butter, no eggs, no milk. It’s just pure bread—water, flour, salt and leaven.
“Gugelhupf is a traditional yeast-risen cake in our area in Europe and all the way through France and Austria. Because over there it’s very popular in the wine regions, I thought this is a product for here, but no one took it up.
“So, we changed and now we make our own pastry from scratch, and sandwiches and cakes and stuff—but that’s a different branch.”
Western Australians have had a vastly different experience of the pandemic over the past two years to many other states, with strict border control keeping the state isolated and mostly virus-free. And while many other tourist regions have suffered, the same can’t be said for Yallingup.
“Business-wise it was even better,” Gotthard says of the time since the pandemic began.
“We’d never had such a busy winter like this year.”
Between the businesses, Gotthard says there are around 20 people on the payroll, including himself, Marion, their son, and daughter and son-in-law, who will most likely take over when Gotthard and Marion retire.
“My wife and myself, we are trying to step back,” he says.
But when they do manage to retire, it won’t be the end of bread for them as they plan to help out at another bakery nearby—which they’ve already started.
Despite the ocean around Yallingup being a hit with the surfers, Gotthard won’t be spending his newfound free time waxing a board.
“I was too old when I came here to go into surfing,” he laughs.
“But I love the ocean—I’m there every day. Yallingup Beach is really phenomenal. It’s very good if you love the ocean, and I do.”
Additionally, Gotthard hopes to get some travelling in, with getting back to Europe a priority.
“If you are out of Europe, you see things you didn’t see before that you want to do over there,” he says.
“So, a bit of travelling… but there’s always something to do!”