Wednesday, February 23, 2011
... and a sourdough flop.
I will get to the flop bit later. Let's start with some good news first, because God knows we have enough bad news in the world to lament on this week. Bourke Street Bakery came into my radar just in time before we left for our Down Under vacation last year, thanks to the wonderful Shirley, who baked so consistently from this book despite her busy travelling schedules. Then I also read great reviews from Lorraine Elliott to convince me that we need to drop by this place when we arrive in Sydney.
So on the morning of one of the final days of our Australia trip, we walked to Surry Hills from our hotel at Hyde Park. Surry Hills provided me a different feel from the city center and Sydney harbor - which really felt a little bit like Singapore to me - and this tucked-in-the-corner bakery seemed to belong where it was just nicely. I don't think it's possible for anyone to walk pass the huge window display and the intoxicating aroma of freshly baked bread without stopping dead in their tracks. Even the dogs and small children looked curious.
The bakery's small internal space had the queue quickly spilling out into the streets as patrons waited patiently for the very efficient staffs behind the counter to get to them. Just before I was done with my order, we were lucky enough to find ourselves a nice and cozy spot inside just behind the doors, as nearing noon, the sun was picking up on its wrath upon the tables outside which were not shaded.
I remember vividly that just shortly after sitting down, Vijay proclaimed that if he ever opens a bakery with me one day, he would want it to be something like this. We haven't even tasted the food yet and the place had already won his heart. The rustic ambience, self-made tables, metal plates and almost quaint atmosphere impressed him to no end. Of course the ensuing pork and fennel sausage roll brought him to a whole new happy zone. I was contented to have found us the perfect spot to spend the rest of our afternoon slowly and steadily.
And boy did we do it slowly. I started with the passion fruit meringue tart. The sourness of the filling and sweetness of the well-charred meringue was well balanced and I absolutely loved the crispy and firm version of Bourke Street Bakery's tart shell. It almost trumped my current favorite non-chocolate dessert, the lemon meringue tart. By the time we finished our food, we ran out of coffee so I went to join the queue again for round two. (Haven't you heard? We Malaysians can really eat.)
I decided to try the equally famous ginger brûlée tart and for something with cocoa (but of course!) the chocolate mousse raspberry tart. Both did not disappoint and I thought that the ginger brûlée tart was genius. The only enhancement I could think of for it is perhaps turning it into a ginger chai brûlée tart just so that the addictive but soothing teh halia can be mixed with some eggs, burnt with some sugar on top and encased in a tasty short crust pastry tart shell.
Meanwhile, our camera bags, huge tripod and continuous shooting attracted some attention - you can only be so discrete when your cameras were bigger than their plates and Vijay's loaned zoom lens was taller than their water glasses. It didn't help that he was training his shots at the lady behind the coffee machine till the girl at the till, after observing us for some time couldn't contain herself and had to ask us why we were photographing their place with such interest. We proceeded to play the tourist card quite convincingly - really, that was easier to do than explaining a food blog - and she was pleased with our honest affection for their bustling business.
When our cameras were finally stashed away, we sat back and relaxed, enjoying our second coffees idly while watching what others ordered to eat and take away. The salads and pies at the table next to us looked equally tempting as I was taking stock of what we would be getting to go. In the end I decided to not be greedy and packed just another sausage roll for Vijay and a piece of orange almond cake for myself. The cake followed me back to Singapore and was moist even after eight hours of flight and a few more in my fridge. Now thinking back, I'm kicking myself for not trying any of their breads. Despite our love for artisan sourdoughs, we now don't know how theirs taste like.
Which brings us back to the sourdough episode. The first recipe I attempted from Paul Allam and David Mcguinness's book was the basic sourdough. It's our favorite bread and the bakery in Singapore we found making good bread is out of the way from our home. For three weeks before the Lunar New Year I lovingly nurtured a starter with organic flour and bottled water. The nightly feedings produced what looked like a healthy colony of little buggers (as we liked to call the yeasts and bacteria), barfing away their gases almost as soon as I finished mixing in their meals.
However just before making the dough, I couldn't time my final three feeds according to the suggested schedule - these were more closely timed together to strengthen the starter. The kneaded dough didn't rise much and the bread was (not surprisingly) dense to the point of unpleasantness. I almost didn't bake the dough but Vijay convinced me to do it. I'm now wondering about the recipe, whether or not it can be done by home bakers and if anyone out there has successfully baked this from scratch (not using store-bought starters and not adding any commercial yeast). It didn't help when Ellie informed that the book's brioche recipe is problematic as well for both her and another blogger.
I still have a portion of the starter freezing (and hopefully alive but just sleeping) in the fridge but I really don't know when I'll attempt the elusive sourdough again. The possible prospect of another round of costly organic flour going down the drain is not very encouraging. Maybe I should steer away from the bread department into the dessert section and bake the ginger brûlée tart first to relive the fond memories of our visit to this bakery. We'll see how my baking heart feels in a couple of weeks.
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