Is baking bread one of life's greatest pleasures?
I used to have a fear of bread - dealing with yeast seems fraught with failure - but like most things, the only thing holding you back from success is simply your own hesitancy.
Making bread in your own home is a rewarding experience, and I love that the simple combination of flour, water and yeast can turn into a beautifully baked loaf of bread, warm and crusty, and best eaten fresh from the oven.
On our recent trip to Melbourne (yes, I know, how many things did we pack into one weekend!), Billy and I were lucky enough to attend the bread-making workshop at the Abbotsford Convent Bakery - learning how to bakebread on your own is fun, but learning from a qualified baker was an opportunity too good to resist.
My flat white using Fairtrade Organic Coffee
The workshop commenced at 8am, an early start after our long dinner at Movida Aqui followed by late snackage at Lord of the Fries. We were greeted with cups of coffee, my flat white was satisfyingly strong and robust - exactly what I needed.
Convent Bakery breads
The Convent Bakery sits within the grounds of the Abbotsford Convent, a formerly closed site that housed the nuns and community of the Sisters of the Good Shepherd in Australia and New Zealand. Now in the hands of public ownership, the Abbotsford Convent is the only remaining intact 19th century rural landscape in inner Melbourne. Today it hosts a thriving arts community and is particularly busy on weekends, especially when the local Farmers Market is on.
Class equipment set-up
The baking workshop was held in the Convent Bakery kitchen, just behind the cafe service area. Over the course of seven hours we'd be making:
- white sourdough
- rye sourdough
Scones require great skill, their light fluffy texture a result of only the bare minimum of handling. We follow a simple recipe that uses self-raising flour, guided by qualified baker Shaun Hudson. A dabble in homemade pizzas as a teenager made Shaun realise his calling in baking. He worked at the Convent Bakery before heading abroad to Italy, France and Belgium, only recently returning to the Convent Bakery to take on duties as their head baker.
Our scones are meant to have a rustic look. Instead of using a cookie cutter or shaping them into squares, we're instructed to squeeze the dough through our thumb and index finger, much like mozzarella-making, to create rough balls that will form our scones.
Scones ready for the oven
The scones are baked in the impressive 109-year-old woodfired masonry oven. We all take turns to maneouvre our scone trays into the depths of the glowing oven, using a wooden paddle that is two-metres long.
Billy transferring his scones into the woodfired oven
It doesn't take long for the scones to bake, and whilst our sourdoughs are resting (the class is an efficient multi-tasking session of overlapping recipes) we enjoy a morning tea of scones and tea or coffee together outside.
My scones slathered with jam and cream
The scones are warm and soft inside, made better by a generous spread of strawberry jam and a thick dollop of freshly whipped cream.
White sourdough (Vienna loaf)
We move onto making a white sourdough next, a mixture of bakers white flour flour, salt, olive oil, yeast, sour dough culture, ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) and water. Vitamin C is said to help with bread leavening.
Adding the sourdough culture
Kneading the dough
Our dough was given two hours to prove, then moulded into a Vienna loaf shape. After a second 45-minute prove, we used a razor blade to slash our own personalised pattern that would allow the air to escape during the baking process.
Slashed loaves - the bottom loaf is my interpretation of a fork!
Removing the baked Vienna loaves from the woodfired oven
My Vienna loaves
The rye sourdough recipe was much the same as the vienna loaf, although we used rye meal and rye sourdough starter.
Flour, salt, olive oil, yeast and water
Shaun explaining the bread-making process to students
(surprisingly our class of 10 had 7 males)
Moulding the rye dough after the first prove
Spinning the rye dough to form a smooth surface on top
(the folds are always kept on the bottom)
Freestyle cutting of patterns into our rye loaves
My rye breads dusted with extra flour
Class doughs ready for the oven
Class breads fresh from the oven
Happy smiling rye bread
The great coffee from this morning? It all makes sense when we realise that their coffees are all roasted in-house using Fairtrade single origin organic coffee beans, from countries including Peru, Ethiopia, Colombia, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.
Green coffee beans
Freshly roasted coffee beans
The last thing we make is pizza dough using plain flour, salt, sugar, olive oil, yeast and milk. Using milk rather than water enriches the dough and is said to make it springier.
After proving, we use our fingers to simply push out the dough into a circular shape. We prod gently with our fingertips, then flip the dough, rotate it 90 degrees, and continue pushing the dough out until it fits our pizza trays.
Dressing the pizza bases is when everyone starts to go a little crazy. Some go light and easy, but I give in to reckless abandon and pile on the fillings generously.
Spreading the base with tomato puree
Dressing our pizzas
My chicken and vegetable pizza
My salami, pumpkin and olive pizza
Removing the cooked pizzas from the oven
Salami, pumpkin and olive pizza
Olives and capscium
Pizza for lunch
We eat our pizzas together as a group outside although most of us have eaten far too many scones at morning tea to have worked up any kind of an appetite.
The Abbotsford Convent Grounds
Whilst our sourdough loaves are left to cool on the benchtop, we're taken on an exploratory tour around the grounds of the Abbotsford Convent. It's a pretty spot, the extensive grounds are a haven of shady trees and heritage-listed buildings, with joggers, walkers and casual weekenders meandering around the site.
The Abbotsford Convent plays host to a hot glass workshop, art galleries and performance spaces as well as organisations like the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden Foundation, the Sophia Mundi Steiner School and Lentil as Anything.
Master glass blower Phillip Stokes at Phillip Stokes Studio Glass
A beautifully patterned glass bowl which reflects flowers
Community radio station
An English Oak tree thought to be have planted in 1850
The gardens (we spotted a wedding party nearby)
Stained glass windows in the old convent
Original linoleum flooring
Impressive Gothic architecture
An art gallery on the site of the nuns' former dining room
The marked floorboards are worn down from the chairs and passageway. The pristine floorboards in the middle indicate where the table would have been.
Lentil as Anything
After watching the SBS documentary series, Naked Lentil, I was quite excited to explore the Lentil As Anything restaurant itself. The not-for-profit organisation was set-up by Shanaka Fernando, a vegetarian restaurant where customers "pay what they like". There are no set prices and no cash registers - the concept being that noone should have to go without food, and that the generosity of some would balance the shortchange of others.
Unfortunately we didn't have time to stay and eat but I was inspired by the sight of a women making fresh chapatis out the front as well as the community-style buffet set-up inside. There was a sprinkling of uni students inside when I visited.
About Lentil as Anything
The help-yourself lunch buffet
In a recent development, it has also been revealed that the Abbotsford Convent is considering discontinuing the lease for Lentil As Anything [The Age article]. A Save Lentil petition has already been set up online.
Patrons outside the Convent Bakery
We had bread to take home and pizza galore. Ideally I would have loved to have made pizzas with my favourite toppings: eggplant and rocket, or pear, blue cheese and walnut.
What are your favourite pizza toppings?
The Convent Bakery Breadmaking Workshop costs $120 and runs from 8am - 3pm on weekends. For bookings and further information, please visit the Convent Bakery website.
Grab Your Fork attended the Breadmaking Workshop as a guest of Convent Bakery and Tourism Victoria as part of the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival.
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Abbotsford Convent Bakery
1 St Heliers Street, Abbotsford, Victoria
Tel: +61 (03) 9419 9426
Open 7 days 7am - 5pm
> Read the next Melbourne post (Sensory Lab by St Ali)
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4/13/2010 02:55:00 a.m.