Story & photos Matthew Michaelis
I can attest to the almost inhuman hours bakers keep while toiling for this very basic human dietary need – bread.
I’ve owned and run a low-fat muffin bakery that delivered fresh daily throughout Sydney’s suburbs. During those years, I have memories of getting to bed at around midnight and then waking at 4am to drive one of my distribution runs. This went on for a long while until I found myself falling asleep at traffic lights (luckily the red ones) and talking in tongues to my steering wheel.
Adriano Zumbo, the now-famous patissier, now makes his macaroons in my old kitchen in Rozelle Sydney – a great success, while I, on the other hand, took my last skerrick of sanity and exited the baking game.
Texan muffins are not nearly as interesting as the spectacular breads and pastries coming out of the northern rivers daily. Dedicated and skilled bakers are firing up their own rural ovens, some on properties up in them thar hills, and some in century-old buildings and ovens.
The good-old no-fuss suburban bakeries are there too to warm the tums of those after a less touchy-feely experience.
From the shopfront patisserie to the town bakers and onto the local farmers or weekend market, you definitely won’t need to run short of your daily staple. Even with the gluten-free tag trending, the bakers are keeping the fires stoked and the ovens hot with the insatiable desire for a crisp, chewy and crusty slice of fresh-baked bread on our plate.
Other than a good restaurant experience, I’ve spent some time at Harvest pacing at an early hour, not because I’m anxious, no; just sizing up the length of pastries and breads all freshly made, plumped and lining up to be sampled.
This is, for those who haven’t yet experienced true decadence, a Saturday or Sunday morning bake of some of the most exquisite sourdoughs and little sweet treats that you’ll see. I’m here at 8am, the coffee (great and well-made cups) is flowing, the place is grooving with edgy, à la mode bakers, deftly cutting huge mounds of dough, while folks are milling, jostling and pointing with delight. This scene could be a very pleasant dream you thought you’d had just before waking, so pinch yourself and get thee out to see an accessible, dreamy reality at Newrybar’s Harvest Bakery.
‘The Harvest bakery is 104 years old; the original oven serviced the entire community back in the day. People would gather together to cook, share stories and then wander home with their wood-fired food,’ Tristan Grier, one of the owners of Harvest, explained.
‘This community spirit is embodied here and the shared room is the ongoing foundation for the bakery. The space tries to reunite the surrounding community through Sourdough Saturday and Sourdough Sunday when all pastries and breads are displayed and sold in a festive spirit (great for families). Otherwise our famous organic wood-fired sourdough and pastries are sold daily in the Harvest Deli, Sparrow Coffee Bangalow/Byron, and Top Shop.
Harvest also considers the oven to be our heart and soul, and to hold a special place in Australian history,’ Tristan said.
The bakery is housed in a building that is charming and rustic. Events in the bakery include Sunday roast where the space and the oven is once again given back to the community to celebrate with whole meats and lots of booze on communal tables, doing what we humans sometimes forget –getting to know thy neighbour.
Harvest – Cafe; Bakery; Deli; Organic farm.
18–22, Old Pacific Highway, Newrybar. 6687 2644
Breakfast, Lunch, Dinner.
Making a little Scratch
The first time I discovered the Scratch Patisserie, I was a couple of years late and after kicking myself for not being more informed, I thought to myself – what a wonderful and civilised extravagance here.
I ended my last story on Scratch with the old ‘bring it in’. I still want to hug them for this great evolution in Mullumbimby.
Greg Wilton is born and bred right here, schooled in Mullum and apprenticed at Bruns Bakery – and then what happened? Thankfully, after a stint in the Club Med resorts, Greg used his skills and a creative imagination to develop Scratch.
If ever you meet him, you may see, as I do, that he has a kind of sharp visionary feel that’s tempered by a generous humility. Whatever the case, Angie and Greg Wilton bring home the goodness. They own 20 acres of dirt in the back of town, where they grow things to use in the bakery. Sustainable sorts of things, such as thirty chooks laying some fine organic eggs.
Oh, while we’re on organics, the bakery only uses organic flour, dairy and dried fruits in its bakes. Hayters Hill pork and beef, Nimbin Valley fetta, Jumping Red Ant marinated veg and Cecil Farm, all supplying their wares here. So it’s as sustainable and community focused as a patisserie could offer. Now, while waiting (it’s an excuse of course) for your coffee, you can take home a choux pastry or a sourdough loaf and have a friendly sit in the courtyard sipping a good Allpress coffee.
I wish some businesses all the best and this bakery seems to its owners much more than just a little Scratch.
6/108 Stuart Street, Mullumbimby 6684 2914
Tues–Fri, 8am–2pm; Sat, 8am–12pm
Feeding the midnight hours
Byron Bay’s most famous shopfront bakery would have to be the Byron Hot Bread Shop.
I’ve driven past after late-night vigils and looked in at crowds of folk buying warming snacks at a time that’s just not dignified. I admit all those goodies – the pies, rolls, the crusty baguette and the like all to be had when all is shut – are a wonder to behold for many in town and away from home.
It’s a cunning and successful plan to open your bakery all hours – after all, bakers are in-house doing their stuff, so why not throw the doors open?
This business is very much family owned and run and has been for the past thirty-five years. The daughter of the original owners, Sandra Vickers, was living overseas with her hubby Sam when her dad fell ill. They returned to Byron originally only to help sell the bakery. Well, that didn’t go to plan; instead they ended up buying a lion’s share of it themselves and so kept it in the family – the rest is Byron history. ‘Byron Bay is always on the move, you never feel like you’re bored, it’s forever interesting. We have fun evolving our products to support new food trends.
‘Two years ago we introduced Fraternité, a variety of bread made with a rye flour blended with a French imported flour; the resultant silky centre and French-style crust has become very popular and draws a great following – the caterers we supply love this product,’ Sandra told me.
‘We wouldn’t sell stuff that we wouldn’t eat ourselves. Gluten-free products have been very challenging but we rose to the challenge and now our products are supported both locally and across Australia.
‘Our gluten-free pizza bases and breads go as far as Brisbane, Darwin and Melbourne,’ Sandra added.
Byron Hot Bread Kitchen
50 Jonson St, Byron Bay
Open 23 hours daily
SOL Breads was started in July 1998 by Kim Carrington. Kim was a professional rock climber at the time and wanted an organic healthy bread but couldn’t find one. He got together with two bakers who had worked at the original Newrybar Bakery prior to its closing down.
They then dedicated themselves to producing healthy, nutritious, naturally leavened organic sourdough bread from a garage underneath a small eatery in the Brisbane suburb of West End.
A master French baker (Eric Ramonda) joined the team and brought with him two generations of French sourdough artistry and the quality of the bread improved spectacularly. Suzanne and Mark Genney took over distributing to the northern rivers region in 2009.
‘We had been coming to Byron for more than 15 years on holidays and loved the region and the people, so much that we decided to give up the corporate rat race and we’ve never looked back,’ Suzanne said.
‘We don’t use any chemicals or other additives or agents and we certainly don’t encourage farming techniques that degrade the environment. SOL’s range has a strong emphasis on wholefood ingredients, using only certified organic stoneground flours and using only natural fermentation techniques. We’re also in the process of developing organic “treats” that are not full of sugar and preservatives.
‘At the moment our pastry chefs are developing an organic sweet range to add to our cookies, and cakes that are gluten free, dairy free and sugar free, suitable for paleo diets,’ Suzanne explained.
SOL Breads can be found in all good food retailers in the region.