When I was 12, I picked out our new house. Well, that’s how it felt to me anyway. Yes, I know it was really my mum who made the decision and handed over the cash. But the second I entered the place, with its rambling, north facing garden, wooden floors and loads of light, I felt at home. Looking back, I think it was that discovery of home that made my adolescence a time of relative sanity. It was also that feeling of having a home that made it so easy, 7 years later, to strike out with no real plan and very little money, enrol myself in art school, and force myself into a place where I would do something productive and wind my way to my own true home. I’m still looking for that home, both metaphorically and literally.

15 Years later and the house is to be sold, at a time when the so-south-other-Canberrans-barely-know-them-suburbs nearby are just starting to furnish themselves with the hip cafés I so cherish so in my new home, inner-city Sydney. It would be trite to say I’m sad to see my home soon go to strangers because now there’s finally somewhere to get a decent macch, but it does add insult to injury. Tuggeranong (or thereabouts), you finally have something to recommend you to those who don’t call you home. Great timing.

Bread Nerds is so new it’s on a street that doesn’t exist on google maps yet. Run by Shane and Sharon Peart of ‘That Bagel Place’ fame, the retail/cafe space is compact, with an industrial-chic aesthetic. They serve sandwiches, pastries, bagels, pizza slices, pies, sausage rolls and coffee and of course, they sell bread. Unfortunately for anyone who doesn’t live in the area, they’re only open Monday to Friday, but they also sell their bread and bagels at farmer’s markets and supply restaurants and cafes.

I can’t go past the Italian dougnut. It’s a delicious, solid morsel and I split it with my mum. Dougnuts never have enough cinnamon in my opinion but this one does. I dunk it in my (weirdly enormous) macchiatto- the smallest cup size they seem to do here is about 250ml. I should’ve taken note of the barista’s slightly puzzled expression when I ordered a macch, a picollo and a cap. Senhor R fares even worse with his picollo, which is basically a slightly strong flat white. He has better luck with his poppyseed bagel with smoked salmon though. I reeeeaaaallly want a sausage roll, but I contain myself. The pies look great too.

There’s a lot of blue-collar business for a Monday morning in an industrial wasteland, and the quality is obviously right up there. I’d love to come back and grab a loaf of bread or a sausage roll to take away, and the cafe is industrial but small enough to be considered cute and cosy – I feel right at home. The price seems right, the staff are friendly, my only criticism is the size of the coffee cups.
What kind of things make you feel at home?

Bread Nerds
4/92 Sawmill Circuit
Hume ACT 2620
02 6260 2062
7:00am – 3:00pm

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Disclaimer: I was recently a lucky participant in a free bread making class with Brasserie Bread. They were also one of the sponsors of Eat. Drink. Blog. 2011, which I attended.

Senhor R and I headed to Brasserie Bread one Saturday not so long ago after breakfast at Sonoma HQ in hopes of a quick coffee. We arrived during the breakky-to-lunch changeover. It was pretty damn busy in the light, bright café, with its communal tables, concrete floors and huge sheet glass windows. As you walk through the doors, the bakery counter is directly in front of you if you want to buy breads, pastries and cakes to go. To our left was the baking class room, which is visible from both he café and outside. To the right, beyond all the seating, was their order-and-pay-at-the-counter set –up of breakfast, pastries, sandwiches and Allpress coffee.

The two of us ordered and sat down, at the only obviously available table, an empty table of 10. Suddenly, the man in charge of the floor rushed over and said ‘How many of you are there?” and we said ‘2.’ He said ‘Can you move to another table?’ and gestured to a hemmed in table for two where a couple were just leaving. We said, ‘Sure, no worries.’ but then decided to sit at the bench which looks out onto the road as it was less cramped. He asked if we’d already ordered and we said we had, then he rushed off, leaving it to us to let the staff know our new table number. As we sat staring through the large windows onto Botany road, a group of 3 then sat down where we had just been. He seemed to have no problem with that.

At that point, I would have chalked this all up to one stressed-out guy on a busy Saturday, but I can’t say we felt the chilled Saturday arvo vibe they were probably aiming for. When Senhor R went to ask the same guy for the key to the bathroom, he was busy chatting and ignored him as he stood there waiting. When Senhor R returned (the bathroom was outside) he was standing in the entryway, completely blocking the way of anyone coming in or out of the cafe, for quite some time. We drank our Allpress coffee (it was fine) and our massive, too-good-too-be-true-sized bottle of sparkling mineral water. It was all ok, but something felt a little flat. At that point we decided to head off.

The next day, I received an email from Brasserie Bread, reminding me to pop in and grab my free loaf (we’d all received vouchers at Eat. Drink. Blog. as Brasserie was one of the major sponsors, providing breakfast, morning tea and a sourdough class). I replied to the email saying I’d just dropped by the other day and explaining what had happened. Sarah from Brasserie was super understanding, even going so far as to speak to the cafe manager, who told me to pop in for a free coffee any time. I declined, but appreciate the offer.

It wasn’t an awful experience by any means, but it did get me thinking. This is just one example of how one member of an organisation can tarnish their already precarious reputation. Cafes are about more than just coffee, and one stressed-out waiter can easily turn an ok experience into an uncomfortable one.

It’s also a lesson in the possible pitfalls of social media, something Brasserie Bread is heavily engaged in, and with great success. When their Melbourne store opened not long ago, they had a massive launch, which was well-attended by bloggers. They themselves have a blog, they invite bloggers to attend free baking classes (I was lucky enough to be one of these bloggers). They also have a strong twitter presence. All this builds their brand in a very grass-roots way. But by engaging in social media, you start a conversation. And unfortunately, this can leave you open to criticism. One guy has a bad day and suddenly you’re reading a moderately critical review in a minor Sydney food blog that will probably be read by…100 people? Ok, so maybe it’s not that big a deal then.

Even so, it made me reflect on my relationship with an organisation. If Sarah hadn’t emailed me, what are the chances I would have passed on my criticism? Pretty low. What are the chances I would have returned? Pretty high, but maybe only to grab my free loaf of bread. If I was a ‘normal’ customer, and this was my first visit, what then? I’d never come back again, and what’s more, I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone. I know this because I got to see first-hand Senhor R’s first experience of the organisation, and he was less than impressed.

When I sat own to write this, I knew I had four choices; One: I could tell the truth, full disclosure. Two: I could lie by omission – pretend the whole thing never happened because I can’t be impartial so just write about the food, what the café looks like, where it is, etc. Three: Play up what happened for dramatic effect and never set foot in the place again. Or Four; not write the review at all. The only choices I could see as viable were one and four. I chose option one, it felt more honest.

Brasserie Bread
1737 Botany Road
Banksmeadow NSW 2019
1300 966 845
Monday to Friday – 7:00am – 3:00pm
Saturday & Sunday – 8:00am – 2:00pm

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I’m not much for standing in queues. Then again, I’m assuming it’s something not many of us look forward to. Let me rephrase that – if I have to line up and wait for a table at a restaurant or café, I won’t. The line turns me off. The hype turns me off. The way I see it, there are plenty of other fish in the sea. And some of those fish might even be salt encrusted Portuguese sardines cooked on hot coals. But I digress.

bakery window corridor kitchen

So it will come as no surprise to anyone that I’m not the least bit interested in checking out the Bourke Street Bakery that is actually on Bourke Street- that line around the block is way too Porteño for me (Haha. Clever double entendre there). Until recently I had been to all their other branches, including their now defunct Broadway branch and their offshoot Central Baking Depot.

choc croissant

But I hadn’t been to their Marrickville store, and I vowed to before they open another branch. Oh wait, they just did. It’s in Potts Point and apparently even bigger. Anyway, I finally went to check out a couple of weeks ago, in what shall be known as ‘Lau and Senhor R’s weekend of bakery madness’, where we checked out Bourke Street Bakery Marrickville, Brasserie Bread in Banksmeadow and Sonoma Alexandria (twice). And when I say ‘checked out’ you of course understand that I mean ‘drank coffee and ate pastries at every single bakery.’

The reason Bourke Street Bakery Marrickville has been on my to-visit list forever is that I heard rumours there’s actually room to sit down. And guess what? The rumours are true. The interior, although hardly spacious, does have sufficient seating and there’s also a clump of tables outside. The large windows give lots of light, which bounces off the chrome industrial-looking stools. There’s a big rack of bread at one end of the shop, a mesmerising fridge of cakes and pastries in the middle and a large communal table at the end. I order two macchiatos and a chocolate croissant and we grab a seat.

Let me make this clear for those of you who don’t know: people RAVE about these guys. Their cookbook is a best seller. Their bread sells out every day. Customers wait with bated breath for the first batch of their legendary pork and fennel sausage rolls (a reliable source tells me this happens around 10:30am). Freaking hell, even David Lebovits loves the place, claiming their bread ‘rivalled anything (he) could get back home in Paris.’

So what did we think? Well, the pain au chocolat, although I’m no David Lebovits, was amazing – the pastry crisp and golden on the outside, puffed and layered in the middle and buttery all the way through. The coffee was lovely as well and I managed to (mostly) resist dunking the pastry in it. Stay tuned in the coming weeks to hear what I think of their sourdough, but I’ll give you a hint – we’ve bought three loaves in the last couple of weeks.

What about you? Do lines outside restaurants turn you on or turn you off?

Bourke Street Bakery, Marrickville
2 Mitchell Street
Marrickville NSW 2204

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Weekend breakky used to be one of my favourite rituals. I had my places, I had my fave orders. But lately, it’s kind of fallen off the radar. So a couple of weeks ago, Senhor R and I jumped in the car and went to one of our all-time best breakky haunts, only to be greeted by sad, overpriced food and lacklustre service. We vowed never again to set out on a breakfast quest without a place in mind.

Having heard good things about Sonoma Bakery Café, the relatively new Sonoma HQ, we decided to head southwards for something new. We were greeted by a huge warehouse space, Allpress-like in its interior. An order-and-pay-at-counter affair, said counter was laden with delicious looking sandwiches and pastry. As we stood surveying the offerings, a barista offered us the breakky menu. Easy to see it was out first visit.

sonoma corridor kitchen

Obviously there wouldn’t be much point in ordering a Sonoma breakky if it didn’t include toast. I went for the kind of thing I usually choose – toast and poached eggs with a side of avocado. I noticed, weirdly that the blackboard menu worked out a couple of dollars cheaper than the paper menu, who knows, may have been a glitch. Senhor R ordered the Turkish eggs, described as eggs with ricotta, olives, tomato, dukkah and toast.

sonoma corridor kitchen

We help ourselves to water from a handy tap imbedded in the bench and grab some salt and pepper shakers as well. Our coffees arrived, soon followed by our breakfasts. I could tell straight away that my eggs were near-perfect, the butter on the side, which I appreciated, especially as I ordered avo. I’m a bit surprised they’ve mashed the avo though, since its texture is kind of the point. I spread my sourdough (I think it’s rye spelt) with butter and avo, whack and egg on top and pierce the yolk. Perfect. Liquid. Centre. Senhor R’s breakky is very salty, luckily he loves salt. It’s not quite what we expected – a mash of soft boiled egg, ricotta, chopped olives, fresh tomato and dukkah spread on double thick toast. I’m not sure what we imagined, definitely whole (rather than slightly mashed) eggs, something more akin to baked eggs I guess (that’s also on their menu). Senhor R admits he didn’t really read the description properly.

Sonoma has their own blend roasted by Surry Hills hipsters Single Origin Roasters, I’m not a huge fan, nor am I a huge detractor. The coffee was smooth, chocolatey and well made. The staff were all really friendly, so much so that when the barista cleared away our coffee cups, he asked if we’d like another round ‘On the house, I’m pretty bored.’ Maybe it was me snapping away, maybe he really was bored, either way, can’t say no to a free coffee.

Overall, we were very impressed with Sonoma, so much so that we returned the following day for coffee and to share a sandwich (Moroccan Chicken – amazing). I loved the space – high ceilings, plenty of tables, polished concrete floors, bare light bulbs. It’s kind of hard to find, but definitely worth the trek.

Sonoma Bakery Café
32-44 Birmingham Street
Alexandria NSW 2015
02 8338 1051
7:00 am – 4:00 pm

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A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a bread making workshop as Brasserie Bread in Banksmeadow. Silly me, I got Banksmeadow mixed up with Beaconsfield and so I found myself on a bus down Botany road at 10:35am, starting to panic. It’s a long way to Banksmeadow and I’ve learnt my lesson for next time.

Of course I needn’t have worried, as I entered the post-industrial café and through to the baking classroom I was greeted by a bunch of young ladies wielding state-of-the-art SLR’s – food bloggers. Brasserie Bread Training Manager Matthew Brock welcomes me offered me a drink and a disposable apron (damn, I knew I forgot something!). I chose a macchiato and then realised I was the only coffee drinker. Good mach though.

Matthew introduced the class by talking a bit about artisan baking and what it means. He explained that there is an emphasis on good quality ingredients, but the process is just as important as the materials. Artisan baking is all about doing things by hand rather than by machine. Matthew points out that the senses are crucial to the artisan baker, as he or she will rely on sight, smell, taste, touch and sound to determine whether the bread is ready to move on to the next stage.

He tells us he’s going to start by stimulating our sense of taste and pulls a tray of warm pastries out of the oven, which he cuts into generous chucks for us all to enjoy. At first we nibble, bird-like but then our senses get the better of us (we are food bloggers after all) and we chow down. They are heavenly. Although I have a sneaking suspicion that description would apply to many foods reheated in a bread oven…

After some munching and some more explanation, we move on to our first recipe, a multi grain ‘Struan’, a word which means ‘the convergence of streams’. It’s bread with a bunch of components coming together to make one tasty, low GI bread. We are given 5 bowls – a ‘bega’ (a starter), a ‘soaker’ (a mix of soaked seeds, flour, water and salt), fresh yeast (7g), a mix of flours and an olive oil/ agave nectar combo ‘for something a little bit different’. All these ingredients come together to form the Struan, and you can find the recipe here and here, but what’s more important is HOW they come together.

Matthew explains that the seeds have to be soaked overnight because otherwise they’ll leech the moisture from the bread and you’ll end up with a very dry loaf. I don’t have much experience making bread, it always seemed like a huge pain in the arse to me, but what surprises me more than anything as we knead and fold it is just how wet and sticky the dough is. I always thought bread dough had to be dry enough to just fall off your fingers and kneaded to within an inch of its life, but this dough reminds me of pão de queijo in terms of texture. We use very little flour, kneading it for about five minutes and then folding it up, placing a bowl over it and leaving it to sit for a minute. We knead it again for a couple of minutes, fold it up, place a bowl over it and leave it to rise for around an hour.

After this, we slap and roll the bread around a bit (literally, pick it up, slap it against the bench and roll it over). I’m more bread than blogger as I try and scrape every skerrick from my hands. ‘Every loaf of bread that you bake at home is a lesson,’ says Matthew, and I think, fair enough, but in my miniscule kitchen it’d be a pretty messy lesson.

We move on to shaping and this is the fun bit because it’s now that we really come to understand what he meant about the senses. We tuck all the sides of the dough up and under and then turn the dough over, so that the top is rounded. We then push down with cupped hands on this dough ball, rolling in a circular motion so that it becomes tighter and tighter. It’s hard to explain, but we can feel when it’s done. Then it’s dusted in rolled oats and left to prove, upside-down in a hairnet-lined bowl for about an hour.

We spent a bit of time in between rising and proving the Struan shaping some other loaves from some ready-to-prove dough they had prepared for us. We shaped multigrain dinner rolls (a similar process to shaping the Struan), a white baguette and a seed-encrusted pain d’epi or wheat-stalk bread. The pain d’epi was by far the coolest looking thing we shaped, and deceptively simple. Once we’d rolled a baguette, it was dampened in a tray with some wet paper towels and rolled in a tray of seeds. Then, with scissors held low and almost flat, we cut almost all the way through the dough, peeled a ‘petal’ to one side, made another cut and immediately peeled one to the other side. Matthew told us to act fast, as the ‘peeling’ must be done as soon as the dough is cut or it will spring back into shape. You can see detailed instructions on how to shape pai d’epi here.

By the end of the day we had so much bread to take home and then of course it was time to try pretty much every kind of bread Brasserie Bread makes, dipped in a whole raft of scrummy things – goat’s cheese, artisanal butter, soft cheese baked in the oven with wine and garlic…you know, your usual Tuesday lunch. My favourite by far was the olive and rosemary bread, salty deliciousness but I also loved the garlic bread and the sour cherry.

Anywhere there’s a ton of food bloggers, you never feel self-conscious about taking photos. I sure hope poor Matthew wasn’t camera shy. We all had a lot of fun. The class went for three hours and it would have been well worth the money if I’d had to pay for it but disclaimer, I didn’t and that could only add to my enjoyment.

Brasserie Bread have a range of courses, including kid’s classes (which are booked out until 2012!). They also do gift certificates, just pop into their café to purchase one. Courses cost about $150 and include everything you’ll need. Oh, and you get to take home all the bread you make and then some…

Brasserie Bread
1300 966 845
1737 Botany Road
Banksmeadow NSW 2019

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Yesterday Lorraine over at Not Quite Nigella described the special treat of being given 20 cents to buy something at the school fete and tossing up between honey joys, pikelets, toffees and other assorted goodies, eventually choosing whichever was the biggest. This reminded me of another nostalgic gastronomic occasion – kids’ parties, where the unfettered appetites of small children are allowed to run wild.

When I was a child, my parents would let me and my brothers have a party with our friends every second year, and we’d always get to choose a cake out of the Australian Women’s Weekly Kids’ Birthday Cake Cookbook, which, incidentally is one of The Age’s most influential Australian Cookbooks. The cake, be it a train, a Disney character, a doll or a swimming pool filled with green jelly (this was way back in the olden days before blue jelly was invented) would take centre stage amongst the mini frankfurts, party pies, sausage rolls, butterfly cakes and fairy bread on the table. This was one of my favourites, I think I had it for my 5th birthday.

Kids’ parties were never the place to worry about nutrition. Many a picture of me graces the family albums wearing a crooked party hat and an insane sugar-fuelled grin, my mouth smeared with tomato sauce and a trail of hundreds and thousands down the front of my party dress. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Fairy bread is another of the few Australian/New Zealand recipes, along with Pavlova and Lamingtons that are entirely unique to their region. It’s something you just take for granted and never give a second thought until someone presents a plate of it to you, and then it takes you back to that place of sugar-fuelled madness not exclusively reserved for children. I have wanted to post a recipe for fairy bread for a while but it’s so easy to make it hardly seemed worth recording. Then I realised that there are probably thousands of recipes that have been forever lost because people thought they were ‘too obvious’ or ‘just common sense.’ To be fair, fairy bread has appeared all over the web, even on U.S. superblog The Kitchn, an arm of Apartment therapy so it’s in no danger of being lost any time soon. But I still want to post it myself, because I love it.

The key to fairy bread is soft, mass produced bread- no other kind will do. Also, make sure you use hundreds and thousands, the round, crunchy rainbow sprinkles rather than the flat ones. Always be sure to spread the butter all the way to the crust. And finally, rather than sprinkling the hundreds and thousands over the thinly-buttered bread, pour them onto a plate and dip the bread in, allowing the sprinkles to stick.

Fairy bread
1 loaf of fresh, soft, white bread
Softened butter (or margarine if you must)
1 large packet of hundreds and thousands

Pour the hundreds and thousands into a plate or flat bowl. Spread as many slices of bread as you like with a layer of butter.

Dunk the bread into the hundreds and thousands, butter side down. Shake off any excess. Cut the bread into four triangles.

Serve to whoever is closest. It’ll be demolished in 5 minutes flat.

What’s your favourite childhood party food?

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