Melbourne's backyard bakers rise to the challenge

Katey Taylor-Scott and her vegan cupcakes.
Katey Taylor-Scott and her vegan cupcakes. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Like most bakers, Ed Parker is up before the crack of dawn every day, mixing, kneading, shaping and delivering bread. And he's back in the bakery in the evenings, baking loaves of spiced rye and potato sourdough that need to sit overnight before they're sliced and toasted in some of Melbourne's hipper cafes.

Unlike most bakers, Ed Parker spends the time in between working in his real job, as an IT consultant.

Bakewell and Co. bakes 10 or 15 eight-slice pies a week.
Bakewell and Co. bakes 10 or 15 eight-slice pies a week. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Parker's "bakery" is the former dining room of his Balwyn home, now filled with sacks of baker's flour, a small commercial baker's oven and a large commercial fridge where the loaves prove; his baking offsider is his wife, Cheryl McDowell, who tends to things during the day.

Ed Parker might seem eccentric, but he's part of a global movement: from Brooklyn to North Balwyn, microbakers are turning back-yard kitchens into mini enterprises and supplying cafes, restaurants, pop-up markets and website customers with their tasty goods.

As London sourdough guru Justin Gellatly told Good Food earlier this year, in England "people are baking at home, a lot of people have wood-burning ovens in their gardens and they're baking small amounts of bread and selling them in local shops or stalls." The Wall Street Journal reported similarly self-taught bakers firing up all over the US, from Portland to Austin to cities in the midwest. Microbaking is a thing.

Camilla Clark of Bakewell and Co.
Camilla Clark of Bakewell and Co. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Ed's bread, the hobby, grew out of a backyard pizza oven. Ed's Bread, the business, was born when he suggested to restaurateur friend John Lawson (of Crown's No. 8) that he really should serve better bread. "Go ahead. Bake me some," Lawson said. Parker did, and Lawson decided it really was better. Lawson is still a customer.

Now Parker bakes up to 500 loaves a week, including as many as 200 over Friday night and Saturday morning. Five nights, six mornings a week: "We try to keep Sunday free for the family."

"I see it as a passionate outlet. Baking really allows me to be creative," he says. "I see baking as a future business opportunity to grow for my family."

Advertisement

Kneading was the biggest hassle when he started. "They tell you to knead for 10 minutes. Have you tried that? After about five you're sweating and saying, I'll just go to six."

His no-knead ciabatta relies on autolysis: the dough responds to fairly easy stretching and folding by sort of forming itself. Like sourdough generally, it's a kind of magic.

The ciabatta dough – made early that morning – is loose and elastic and schloops around the oiled worktop, but as Parker stretches and folds it, it forms into a workable dough. After three rounds of this it goes into the oven, roughly formed into those long, lumpy, familiar ciabatta shapes.

Ed Parker, IT guy by day, baker by night.
Ed Parker, IT guy by day, baker by night. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Half an hour later the ciabattas emerge, golden on the outside and dense and spongy inside: unlike any ciabatta you have probably ever eaten, unless your nonna uses this method.

Key lime pie (left) and pecan pie from Bakewell and Co.

Across town in the kitchen of her Collingwood cottage, Camilla Clark – hair tied up and wearing a bespoke apron made by one of her sisters – looks fit to grace the cover of a hip recipe book, or at least the pages of Frankie magazine (she has: in a story about a pickle-making group).

She's known to her customers as Bakewell and Co, and her wares include a smashing cherry pie in a proper lattice-topped butter pastry case. There's also an apple and salted caramel pie – equally delicious-sounding – a very tasty pumpkin number spiced with cinnamon, allspice and ginger, and a key lime pie, which she discovered on a trip to the US with her partner, Hugo.

The journalism graduate (who has never seriously practised her word craft) grew up in Evandale, outside Launceston, in a rambling 1830s country house with four sisters: Georgia (the bespoke apron maker), Charlotte, Felicity (a chef) and Emily. Their father is a hairdresser turned glass artist, and she says she has always baked: "There were no shops to buy treats near home, so we had to make our own."

Besides the pies, she bakes chewy choc-chip and sea-salt cookies, and some takes on classic brand-name biscuits, among them oreos and coconut-and-chocolate Kingstons.

But her favourite is pecan pie: "My pecan pie is really good. I like my pecan pie a lot. And the apple and salted caramel is a winner," she says.

Clark came to Melbourne in 2009 and worked at cafes including Birdman Eating, the Newtown Social Club, and bike shop/coffee brewer Little Mule in the city, where she still works a couple of days a week. In 2013, friends Mark Free and Joe Miranda were opening Everyday Coffee in Collingwood and were looking for something good to serve with their specialty brews. Camilla baked them some samples of her cakes and cookies, and also suggested pies – the key lime was the first, followed by pecan. Her microbaking business was born, almost by accident.

On Monday and Thursday afternoons she bakes; on Tuesdays and Friday mornings she delivers, by bicycle or on foot; a trusty Melbourne Bicycle Co ladies' bike is tethered to the telephone pole out the front of her house.

Her customers are all nearby: Everyday Coffee in Johnston Street; Rupert, also in Collingwood; Mayfield in Abbotsford; and All Good Coffee and Little Mule in the city. Hugo (the "Co" in Bakewell and Co) delivers to Two Birds One Stone in South Yarra by car.

Bakewell is the archetypal microbaker: tiny, handmade and local. Clark bakes about 20 dozen cookies and 10 or 15 eight-slice pies a week. She'd like to scale up, but that would require a faster oven, and, eventually, training someone to help.

Melbourne's specialty coffee culture has provided a fertile ecology for microbakers to flourish in, as the young baristas and roasters who came through original third-wave coffeehouses such as Seven Seeds and Auction Rooms moved into their own businesses – tiny places focusing on coffee more than food. Bespoke cakes and biscuits are a natural fit.

A couple of times a year Melbourne's microbakers converge at the Flour Market, a Sunday morning pie, cake, cookie and specialty coffee fest. The most recent was the Spring Bake at Collingwood Town Hall last Sunday.

One of the founders of the Flour Market, Sarah Booth, says the market started as a platform for the microbakers who were supplying Everyday Coffee in Collingwood – some of whom have developed into bigger and more well-known operations, including Matt Forbes (Cobb Lane Bakery), Lune Croissanterie, 5 & Dime Bagels and Raph "Taco Truck" Rashid's All Day Donuts.

"The idea was to give a shout-out to the people we loved who hadn't found a big audience yet," Booth says.

The first Flour Market was at Magic Johnston in Collingwood in 2013. It has been a bit sporadic, she says, but they now plan to hold a seasonal market four times a year. The summer market will be on November 22.

"Melburnians are in love with our city, and we support things that happen here," says Simone Clark of Butterbing. A couple of years ago, Simone (no relation to Camilla Clark) was baking traditional Australian sweets such as lemon slice, caramel slice and Anzac cookies, and selling them to neighbours with an honesty box on her North Fitzroy verandah.

"We started with an Esky, then graduated to a bar fridge," she says.

She also made cookie sandwiches – two brownie-dough cookies with a flavoured cream filling. Soon, she was supplying a couple of local cafes: "North Carlton Canteen was the first, I think, and North Fitzroy Social Club."

Simone Clark, a graphic designer, soon got busy. "I used to bake into the stupid hours of the morning, then jump on my bike to do the deliveries," she says. "I was baking in an unreliable '80s oven that only did 12 cookies at a time."

Before long, she was at it 18 hours a day; when the bike courier came to pick up the cookies each morning, she'd answer the door in her pyjamas on an hour's sleep. "You have to be half insane to start a bakery business in your house," she says.

Early this year she moved the operation to a commercial kitchen in Eumemmering, where Butterbing now bakes 5000 cookie sandwiches a week in flavours such as salted caramel, peanut butter, Nutella (threatened by the current shortage in Melbourne) and cookies 'n' cream. Simone Clark drives them to the city, then bike couriers from Cargone pedal them to about 50 inner-suburbs cafes.

"I love small business," she says. "I love working for myself and seeing it evolve."

Butterbing uses natural, home-style ingredients – free-range eggs, butter, sugar and gluten-free flour: "Though we don't advertise as gluten-free because we aren't certified for that," Simone Clark says.

One microbaker who does advertise her product as gluten-free – and vegan – is Katey Taylor-Scott of Sweetie Pie and Cuddle Cakes. She's a vegan, and she says she couldn't find good vegan cakes to eat – so she decided to bake her own.

She started Sweetie Pie with business partner Mai Gryffydd four years ago. Because conventional gluten-free flour is not so good for baking, they came up with their own mix of rice flour, potato starch, tapioca starch and xanthan gum (which provides some of the qualities of wheat flour gluten).

Taylor-Scott says the aim is to get the mouthfeel of a traditional cake: "You want that fluffiness from sugar and fat. Fat and sugar give you an amazing mouthfeel."

"When we started we said, Let's make everything gluten-free, because it gives us that competitive edge. And it's morphed a little because so many people have eating issues."

Many of her cakes go to parties where people need to cater to a range of food sensitivities.

"If you think about little kids going to a birthday party and not being able to eat any cake – that would suck," she says.

Taylor-Scott and Gryffydd are also putting together a book of their recipes.

Taylor-Scott, a food science and nutrition student at Deakin University, bakes in the kitchen of an Art Deco flat in Parkville that Adam Bandt once lived in (his name is pencilled onto the kitchen blinds); an old Chef oven and a hand mixer are her equipment. "When I buy my own house I'm going to have a better oven than this. But you make do with what you've got," she says.

The kitchen is certified by the council, but the only indication that anyone is carrying on a food business here is the cupboard in the hallway where she keeps her baking supplies isolated from the other food in her pantry to avoid contamination.

"My mum hated cooking," she says. "But my nan was an amazing baker and I used to make up cake recipes based on what she'd made. I made up my own Victoria sponge cake, with custard powder in it to make it fluffier and have a more vanilla flavour."

She describes her cakes as "nostalgia stuff for people who can't have chocolate": there's a cherry ripe cake, a mint slice cake and even a Turkish delight cake flavoured with rosewater, as well as flourless chocolate and orange cakes made with almond meal. "Everyone wants old-school, back-to-basics, home-cooked," Taylor-Scott says.

"I like having it as my creative outlet."

Camilla Clark's sea salt chocolate chip cookies

430g plain flour

1½ tsp bicarb soda

pinch of salt

240g unsalted butter, room temperature

230g light brown sugar

200g caster sugar

2 eggs

1 tsp vanilla

150g dark chocolate, roughly chopped

1-2 tsp of Maldon sea salt

1. Preheat oven to 180C (fan forced) or 190C conventional

2. Sift together flour, bicarb and salt

3. Cream the butter and sugars until creamy, add eggs one at a time, beating after each addition, then add vanilla.

4. Mix in the flour followed by chopped chocolate

5. Roll dough into balls and place on trays lined with greaseproof paper leaving room to spread, press down lightly and sprinkle each cookie with sea salt

6. Bake for 10-15 minutes until lightly golden

Makes 30

Adapted from Lilyi Vanilli's Sweet Tooth cookbook.

Katey Taylor-Scott's easy gluten-free chocolate cupcakes

Katey Taylor-Scott's vegan cupcakes.

1 cup gluten-free self-raising flour (instructions below)

½ cup cocoa powder

1 tsp baking powder

¾ teaspoon bicarb soda

½ tsp xanthan gum

pinch of salt

⅓ cup canola oil

¾ cup caster sugar

1½ cup rice milk (or milk alternative)

1 tbsp vinegar

1 tsp vanilla essence

Chocolate frosting

½ cup Nuttelex margarine

½ cup cocoa powder

2 cups icing sugar (you may need more icing sugar)

1 tbsp rice milk

1. Preheat oven to 180C; if you have a hot oven preheat to 170C

2. Line pan with cupcake liners.

3. Place oil, rice milk, vanilla essence and vinegar into a jug and whisk until frothy.

4. Sift flour, bicarb soda, xanthan gum, baking powder, cocoa powder and salt into a large bowl, add sugar, and pour in milk and oil mixture.

5. Use an electric mixer to mix for 2 minutes or until cake batter is a smooth consistency.

6. Fill cupcake liners ⅔ full. Bake for 15–20mins or until a toothpick comes out clean. Let them cool.

7. To make chocolate frosting. Place Nuttelex in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and creamy.

8. Add ½ cup cocoa powder and beat until evenly mixed. Add the icing sugar and rice milk and beat until a fluffy chocolate buttercream consistency. If you want a firmer buttercream add more icing sugar.

9. Pipe onto your cupcake using a size 10 star piping nozzle.

Gluten-free flour mix

2 cups of rice flour

⅓ cup potato starch

⅔ cup tapioca starch

3 tsp gluten-free baking powder.

Sift all ingredients in a large bowl, set aside in a container for use later.

Ed Parker's no-knead ciabatta

440g baker's starter, 100 per cent hydration (to create a starter, Parker says to see this link)

580g lukewarm water

700g flour, made up of 130g fine semolina and 570g baker's flour

14g salt

1. Whisk starter into water

2. Add flour and combine to form a sticky ball. Cover and leave for half to 1 hour to autolyse.

3. After autolysing, add salt and mix using a dough scraper to combine.

4. Tip dough onto oiled surface. Stretch and fold by pulling one edge of the dough away from you and folding it back on itself; rotate ¼ turn and repeat through several full turns. Return dough to bowl, cover and leave for 10 minutes

5. Repeat stretch and fold three more times. This creates structure in the dough without kneading

6. Place dough in a container with room for it to double, cover and leave to rise for 1½ to 2½ hours depending on ambient temperature. The dough can be left overnight in the fridge like this.

7. On a heavily floured surface, cut dough into ciabatta-sized pieces and shape quickly with a dough scraper. Don't use any pressure to avoid losing the rise

8. Stretch onto a tray covered with baking paper to form ciabatta shapes

9. Bake at 220C for 10 minutes, then turn down to 190C for 20 minutes

10. Use a steam oven if you have one, or place a flat tin of water in the oven to create steam

11. Ciabatta is baked when you hear a hollow sound when knocking on the bottom, or when middle of loaf reaches 190F/87C on a meat thermometer.