Restaurants and bread are in my blood - Part one

If we do not honour our past we loose our future. If we kill our roots we cannot grow.
— Frederick Hundertwasser

So many stories underpin Cafe Derailleur. Some can be shared but others, well, what happens in the cafe, stays in the cafe! Like us all, I'm a product of my upbringing and life experiences. Thus far my life's plot is chock-full of stories. 

Let me take you on a sentimental journey. I thought this was going to start by delving into details about my restaurant and bakery heritage from my parents, but Mum just reminded me that my connections with bread and flour go a little further back to my great grandmother, the granddaughter of Thomas Brunton

Thomas Brunton grew up in Roxburgh, Scotland and was apprenticed to a baker at aged twelve in 1843; in 1853 the gold rush bought him to Melbourne.  He was unsuccessful on the gold fields (dammit!) and returned to Melbourne where he and a friend bought a bakery. 

Ten years of success enabled him to build a flour-milling plant at the corner of Spencer Street and Flinders Lane in 1868.  His impact on commercial and political life in early Melbourne is interesting and if you've driven down Brunton Avenue, you'll get an idea of how much influence he probably had in those early days.

To add to my baking heritage, I've also got bread and Viennese butter coming from my paternal side!  My dad, Alfred, was born in Austria in 1939. At that time Germany was occupying Austria and World War II was just beginning.  Dad had an early passion for food and at age fourteen attended a specialist cooking school, set up by hoteliers and restaurateurs from which he graduated in 1956. During his apprenticeship Dad worked at the Drie Husaren (Three Hussars) which was a Viennese culinary institution.  After graduating Dad worked at a few other places prior to moving to Norway, then Switzerland where in the early sixties he worked at the Hotel Zuerserhof.

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Dad planned to migrate to South Africa and just when he'd organised his papers, he was offered the job as chef at the Thredbo Alpine Hotel by a former colleague from the Zuerserhof, Eric Goetz. The next chapter goes along the lines of "Austrian chef meets British backpacker in Australian Alps".  Followed by three children and stints as head chef at the Fijian Resort in Fiji, the Top of the Town Restaurant and Bostock's Wellington Boot in South Yarra.

After a few years in Melbourne the Bittner family moved up to Yea where Dad & Mum had bought Beaufort Manor, a hundred year-old two storey house.  We all lived upstairs and the grownups ran the restaurant below. We kids used to sit on the stairs leading to the first floor and wave the customers goodbye - I'm not sure if there were any strict bedtime routines going on then!

Dad had a passion for bread and cakes and being the entrepreneur he was, he immediately recognised the opportunity for a bakery in Yea. At that time bread was being brought in from Seymour and Alexandra. This led to Mum and Dad selling the restaurant and opening a bakery in an old butcher's shop.  Tragically, Dad died three months later in a car accident on his way to work.  For the next four years Mum stoically ran the bakery while raising us three children.  The Yea bakery Dad and Mum started is still going today, but like many businesses it's evolved and taken on a very different atmosphere.

After a further few years in Yea, we all moved down to Melbourne where we kids finished our schooling and went to university.  I worked as a commis waiter for Bill Marchetti (who was one of my dad's former apprentices) at The Latin for a while.  I can then thank bread for another major input into my life given working Bakers Delight was my bread and butter while I was at uni... but I'll hold off filling you in on the alcohol issues bakers have!

After I graduated, the following few years were spent on the customer side of bakeries and restaurants until Lauren and I came across a vacant and incredibly rundown little corner milk bar/store that screamed potential.  And it's here that bread entered my life once again. As I'm sure you're all aware, we make the bread we use in our dishes on site at Cafe Derailleur, including the fruit sourdough, our burger buns, the gluten free bread and the regular sourdough.  

My best basic bread recipe:

Growing up in a bakery means bread must be running through my veins.  I'd love to share with you my basic white bread recipe, which is pretty quick to get happening and made into fresh crusty bread.  You can make your own at home too - try this easy but flavoursome loaf. 

You'll need:

  • 4gm dried yeast
  • 20ml olive oil
  • Olive oil to oil a container or tray
  • 1000gm Bakers Flour - this is a high protein (gluten) flour
  • 600ml warm water
  • 20 gms salt
  1. Whisk water and yeast in a bowl and leave to activate for about 10 minutes.
  2. Put flour in a large bowl, add yeast and water mixture and then the olive oil Don't add salt yet.
  3. Mix until just combined then turn out onto the bench. Leave some flour in the bowl and use this to rub the bowl clean of any wet dough and to clean it off your hands.
  4. Knead for between 5 to 10 minutes.  You're not selling it so don't worry too much about how the dough looks. Trust me, your loaves will turn out pretty good.
  5. Leave it to rest for 20 minutes covered by your mixing bowl.  This resting is called autolyse and happens best without the presence of salt. 
  6. Now you can sprinkle the salt over the dough and gently kneed it in. This will draw out a little moisture - that's ok, just keep kneeding it and you'll find your dough will absorb this.
  7. Oil a lidded container or bowl and place the dough in it and seal.  Put this in the fridge overnight.  It's not catastrophic if you don't do this, but doing so helps to develop flavour, fully hydrate the flour and allow a slower and fuller fermentation of the yeast.
  8. First thing in the morning turn out the dough from the container, cut it in half and mould it
  9. Sprinkle some semolina on a tray that's large enough to comfortably hold both loaves and leave it to rest in a warm draft-free place.  (Cover it with a tea towel if a draft-free space isn't available).  Turn your oven to about 220 deg. and whack in your masterpiece. After around 40 minutes your loaves should have started to rise by about 50%.  Using a serrated knife cut the loaves down the centre to a depth of about 2 cm to allow for expansion of the bread during baking (it sounds like a deep cut but any shallower and your loaf will split).
  10. Spray or brush your loaves with water and bake for a further 20 minutes.  Turn them after 10 minutes so you get an even colour.  You'll know your bread's ready when you smell that fresh-baked bread aroma - that's from what's known as the Maillard Reaction.  Your bread's baked when you see an even golden brown crust or when there's a hollow sound if you tap the bottom of the loaf.
  11. Once they come out of the oven it's important to place you loaves on a cooling rack, this stops their bottoms sweating and going soggy.  Try and wait for the loaves to cool completely before cutting them as bread continues to bake after it's taken out of the oven.  Cutting your loaves when they're too hot speeds the cooling process and renders the insides doughy and under-baked.
  12. Pop into Derailleur and show me how your loaf turned out, otherwise I'd love it if you'd post a picture of your magnificent bread on our Facebook Page.