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Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Abbotsford Convent Bakery Breadmaking Workshop, Melbourne

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:
  • scones
  • white sourdough
  • rye sourdough
  • pizza.


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.

Shaun Hudson

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

Rye sourdough

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

Coffee roasting

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

Pizza dough

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.

View Larger Map

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)
< Go back to the first Melbourne Food & Wine Festival 2010 post

Related Grab Your Fork posts:
Irish soda bread (no yeast)
Maple walnut bread
No-knead bread

Easter hot cross buns 1
Easter hot cross buns 2

21 comments - Add some comment love

posted by Helen (Grab Your Fork) on 4/13/2010 02:55:00 am


  • At 4/13/2010 11:48 am, Anonymous Laura B said…

    What a great looking workshop. I've always been a little afraid about baking my own bread but these results look so good I'm tempted to try my own. Will have to look for a breadmaking class in Sydney!

  • At 4/13/2010 12:44 pm, Anonymous Mel said…

    Such a shame you didn't get a chance to eat at Lentil as Anything. The doco on SBS was so interesting. And my favourite pizza is ham and pineapple - I know it's not traditional but it tastes so good!

  • At 4/13/2010 1:03 pm, Blogger Unknown said…

    Laura B - There is a bread making course in Sydney where you can make artisan bread at the Artisan Baking School at Brasserie Bread. I'm looking to take a class there :D


    Amazing post!! This is making me all the more eager in finding an apprenticeship as a baker. Finding it quite tough though but hopefully I'll happen.

    Favourite Pizza topping?
    Eggplant, rocket, sweet potato, feta and sun dried tomatoes.
    I love anything with ALOT of flavour!

  • At 4/13/2010 1:11 pm, Blogger Lisa (bakebikeblog) said…

    now THIS is a workshop that I would LOVE to attend!! I wonder if they have something similar in Canberra?

  • At 4/13/2010 2:08 pm, Anonymous Yas (aboutthefood) said…

    Isn't the Abbotsford Convent amazing? I love that it has so much history and beauty, yet is still being used as a place to create history and beauty. It's inspirational.

  • At 4/13/2010 2:31 pm, Blogger Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! said…

    Mmmm love good bread (I love too many things).

    The photos of the convent look magnificant =)

    Don't have any fave pizza toppings, always looking for different combos to try =D

  • At 4/13/2010 4:11 pm, Anonymous Hannah said…

    I have not had a good Devonshire Tea in years, but your scone photo has given me some strong cravings! Just as well I'm back in Aus now, where I can get them ;)

    What's that you say? You'd like to bake some for me? Why, Helen, how generous of you! :D

    And now I embarrass myself by saying I'm not much of a pizza person... can I say dessert pizza toppings with peanut butter and chocolate? :P

  • At 4/13/2010 9:27 pm, Blogger Von said…

    I don't have a favourite topping but I like my pizzas with as much filling as possible, preferrable with something unusual and exotic. tehehe....

    The bread making course sounds so fun! I love the oven that they use....

    The lentil as anything restaurant sounds really cool- I love the idea, although I would have no idea what to pay!

  • At 4/13/2010 9:28 pm, Anonymous NAZ said…

    Next time i go to melb i must must must go there for the coffee and those bloody woodfired scones!!! The amount of jam you slapped on them was award winning!!! I too wish sydney had something like this... maybe somewhere near the blue mountains. How good would that be for comfort food during the cold weather. Anyway my fav pizza topping is thick tomato paste, sprinkled with zaatar (oregano, thyme, sesame etc mix) then with some boccocini cheese, fresh spinach leaves and left over bbq chicken breast pieces that have been sliced thinly mmmmmmmmmmm

  • At 4/13/2010 10:03 pm, Blogger Agnes said…

    What a fantastic workshop - I love baking bread, but hardly ever do it due to a lack of time. So I'm still a novice breadmaker, unfortunately.

    What happened with all the bread that was made?

  • At 4/13/2010 10:03 pm, Blogger YaYa said…

    NOTHING beats the smell of freshly baking bread but...woodfired scones? Oh man, where can I find a woodfired oven???

  • At 4/13/2010 10:11 pm, Anonymous Mark @ Cafe Campana said…

    This looks like a fun place to visit. I like it how you can feel the heat when glass blowers make their creations. I would love to make great loaves like you have here but unfortunately ebay is not listing a 109 year old masonry oven so I don't know what to do.

  • At 4/13/2010 10:50 pm, Anonymous penny aka jeroxie said…

    Thanks for this beautiful post. I love the convent. It houses 2 farmers market every month. For anyone that is coming to Melbourne, make sure that you come here!

  • At 4/14/2010 2:29 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Laura B - Nothing to be afraid of when it comes to bread. As Jules points out below, there's a breadmaking class at Brasserie Bread, otherwise don't be afraid to start off on your own with just a recipe and a spare afternoon at home :)

    Hi Mel - I would've loved to have eaten at Lentil as Anything. It's such an intriguing concept especially as it defies every business plan you can think of. I often eat ham and pineapple pizza too :)

    Hi Jules - Thanks for the link to the Brasserie Bread class. I've heard good things about it.

    I'm excited for you about your career aspirations to be a baker. Best of luck and I'm sure your efforts will pay off.

    I like the sound of your favourite pizza topping too. Sounds tasty!

    Hi Lisa - I'm not sure about Canberra - perhaps a Google search will come to the rescue? It was a lot of fun and as I've mentioned above, breadmaking can easily be attempted at home over a lazy weekend.

    Hi Yas - We loved Abbotsford Convent - it's such a picturesque and vibrant spot. I agree - a great inspiration and a reminder of why we should preserve our buildings and green space.

    HI Angie Lives to Eat (and Cook)! - The Convent was great. Such a lovely place to explore. And exploring new combos is good - you never know what new taste sensation you might find!

  • At 4/14/2010 2:32 am, Blogger Peter G | Souvlaki For The Soul said…

    I have always wanted to do a bread baking class Helen-this looks amazing! I love everything you created too! I grew up very near that place...

  • At 4/14/2010 2:40 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Hannah - I still have to work on my scone technique but hey, I'm always up for a challenge :)

    And not a pizza person? Well dessert ones still count!

    Hi Von - Lots of fillings can be good, as long as the pizza doesn't go soggy! And I guess people pay an equivalent of what they'd pay elsewhere. The documentary was quite illuminating!

    Hi NAZ - Ha, I do love my jam and cream. I like that you called it award-winning and not just gluttony!

    I like your pizza idea - I never think to use zaatar on a pizza but it makes perfect sense. I definitely recommend you check out the Convent if you visit Melbourne although it's a little way out of town.

    Hi Agnes - We took all the bread we made home - Billy and I even carted it back to Sydney on the plane! We ended up giving away our scones and pizza though - a lot of food was made that day!

    Hi YaYa - Woodfired ovens are great. I guess you could befriend your local pizza place? lol. I hear that some people have them in their backyards - a great idea.

    Hi Mark - I think homemade bread is often cause enough for celebration :)

    Hi Penny aka Jeroxie - I wish we had had a chance to visit the farmers market. The Convent was such a great place - we were very glad we had the chance to see it. A real treasure in Melbourne :)

  • At 4/14/2010 2:42 am, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Peter G - Ahh your comment snuck in whilst I was bulk-replying. I didn't realise you grew up so close to Abbotsford - it's a beautiful site. Billy and I had lots of fun although taking photos whilst working with dough is always a bit of a challenge!

  • At 4/14/2010 9:53 am, Blogger Two fit and fun gals said…

    yum look at all that carbs hehe and your scones look awesome!

  • At 4/15/2010 5:28 pm, Anonymous cynthialisu said…

    Awesome!..the pizzas look yummy too..gonna grab one later..

  • At 4/16/2010 3:51 am, Anonymous Arwen from Hoglet K said…

    Looks like a lot of fun, and the location is interesting. I like your fork bread!

  • At 4/19/2010 12:33 pm, Blogger Helen (Grab Your Fork) said…

    Hi Betty - Ahh carbs are always my friends! My scones weren't the best in the class but there's nothing a big dollop of jam and cream can't fix!

    Hi cynthialisu - Thanks. Homemade pizza is always delicous. Hope you found a tasty one too!

    Hi Arwen - Hands-on classes are always good and lol, my fork did resemble more of an emu print but it was good all the same!


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