All fired up and kneading dough

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THE man bun of dreadlocks is wildly different — but everything Andrew Ritchie does to follow in the footsteps of Perth’s original 1920s wood-fired baker is the same.

Almost 100 years after German immigrant Georg Rossbach began churning out warm loaves from a woodfired oven he had built at the family business in Maylands, Ritchie is re-creating the lost tradition.

He chops wood, kneads and moulds dough by hand and bakes chemical-free sourdough in the same sturdy old oven that has laid dormant for 45 years.

The baker and father-of-four was determined to fire up the old-fashioned method after returning to Perth from Broome where he ran a supermarket. After a stint at Mt Hawthorn’s New Norcia bakery, he set off in search of an old woodfired oven of his own.

“I wanted to find one that was in good nick and I knew that if there was going to be an oven around, it would be somewhere along the railway line, where bakeries were popular in the 1930s and 40s,” Ritchie, 40, says.

“I drove around Midland, Bassendean and Guildford looking in back lanes for signs of a woodfired oven — railings on the side of buildings give it away.

“After about a month of driving everywhere I came across this oven in Maylands. It hadn’t been used in decades and the building was being used as an art gallery at the time.”

After negotiating with the owners, he took on a lease and restored the 3sq m oven.

This week he opened the doors to The Woodfired Baker on the Maylands cafe strip, adding pork pies, tarts and German sweetbread to his repertoire of sourdough that takes about 12 hours to create.

Mr Ritchie says that with 3am starts, the burning of a wheelie bin full of jarrah and stifling conditions, it’s hard yakka, but he wouldn’t treat flour, water, salt and wild yeast any other way.

“I love the old skills that are involved and I love the fact that it is a challenge,” he says.

“This is probably the hardest form of baking that you will do. It’s not a matter of a two-hour bread, press the button and away you go. It’s sometimes 10, 12 or even 24 hours of procedure.

“But the bread’s incredible.’’



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