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New England road-trip (bread and ovens)

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PiPs's picture
PiPs

New England road-trip (bread and ovens)

 

I have just returned home from a weeks trip in the New England tablelands. This region is south across the border into New South Wales and roughly six hours drive from Brisbane. Even though it has some of New South Wales most renowned national parks and world heritage areas I was travelling for my usual reasons ... bread.

Dennis (the fantastic oven builder from Chester St) was driving to Sydney and had offered me a lift to Armidale which is the centre of the New England area. Roughly five years ago Dennis built a beautiful 6x8 ft Alan Scott oven for a business in Armidale called the Goldfish Bowl and I was invited down by one of its owners Nick Oxley to spend a few days baking and taking some photos.

 

 

 

The trip down to Armidale passes through my childhood town of Warwick and then further south through picturesque towns full of history and character. We stopped in the pretty town of Tenterfield and spent some time wandering around an old bakery that was sitting in disrepair behind a hairdressers. Two large masonry ovens called scotch ovens would have been part of the bakery though only the facade remained of one. Dennis estimated the remaining oven's hearth to be 3m x 5m and though the bricks showed obvious signs of wear it seemed in reasonable condition. A rusty firebox was situated to the right side of the oven mouth and was vented at the rear into the side of the oven. Rusty flue controllers were still visibile and rusted tight and the bed of sand that covered the oven roof was littered with debris and damage from the elements.

These were the standard bakery ovens in most small towns across Australia until the larger the industrial bakeries put many of them out of business.The usual practice would be for the local bakery to be bought out by a larger industrial bakery then shut down. Industrial bread would then be shipped in from larger towns nearby. We don't know the history of this particular oven but it was an eery feeling standing in the dim bakery room imagining the smells and sounds of yesteryear.

 

 

 

We arrived in Armidale later that day after driving up over the rolling hills of the Northern Tablelands through cooling temperatures. My Grandparents lived in Armidale for some time and was one of my Grandmothers favourite places. She would talk lovingly about the bracing winters, snow and her rose gardens. The temperatures had already started to fall by the time we had caught up with Nick and his family for a Sunday evening dinner and by the following morning when we arrived at the bakery at 4am it was -7°C.

 

 

 

 

Nick and his brother Josh have been running the Goldfish Bowl in its current form for about 5 years and before that as a hole in the wall coffee shop. Not only do they produce delicious woodfired sourdough but they also roast their own coffee and have a fantastic kitchen team serving breakfast and lunch. The Alan Scott oven is the centrepiece of their cafe ... bread is baked early in the morning followed by pastries before being handed over to the chefs for use until after lunch when it is fired again.

 

 

 

 

 

Throughout the day I spent time in the kitchen with the chefs assisting in various odds and ends, shaping croissants, rolling puff pastry and generally trying to be helpful until Nick and I would spend the afternoon shaping bread. A large timber table was the centre piece of the kitchen and was wiped clean in the afternoon to allow for the bread production. After only being exposed to stainless steel benchtops the timber surface was a delight to shape on.

Nick keeps two starters for his bread–a liquid white and rye–and mixes a warm well hydrated dough that has a decent bulk ferment before dividing and shaping. A usual days mixing would involve perhaps five batches–white sourdough, rustic white, soy and linseed, rye, fruit and perhaps a spelt dough or wholemeal. After shaping the bread is retarded until baking the following morning.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The large oven that dennis built for the Goldfish Bowl is a thing of beauty. Red bricks cover the dome and large sandstone pieces feature at the oven mouth. Watching Nick and Josh loading the oven briskly each morning and witnessing the amount of bread each oven load could produce I was reminded of the old adage that you build the biggest oven you can afford.

I also felt the larger oven with its lower roof height allowed for better steaming and baking of the bread, and I marvelled at the evenness and glossiness of the crust they could produce. They make beautiful looking bread at the Goldfish Bowl and every loaf tastes fantastic. (oh, and every single coffee I was offered was memorable) Thank you Nick for your families warm hospitality and my best wishes to all the team at the Goldfish Bowl. Thanks for having me around for a few days :)

 

 

 

On my way back to Brisbane I stopped by my parents for a few days in Warwick. I had heard about a few scotch ovens in the nearby area so my mum and I took a short road trip and found a beautiful example of an old Australian bakery. A plaque near the front says it was built in the late 1890's ... It is in remarkable condition and is currently used as a storage shed. I spoke briefly to owners and perhaps in the future when it is cleaned out, Dennis and I may have the opportunity to peer inside and step back in time again.

 

 

Cheers,
Phil

Comments

holds99's picture
holds99

Thank you for the great photos and a thoroughly enjoyable New England road trip, especially the lovely breads that Nick and his brother Josh bake at The Goldfish Bowl Bakery. 

Howard

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Howard,

Was a pleasure to share ... I have been looking forward to this trip for some time now.

All the best,
Phil

evonlim's picture
evonlim

it's an eye opener with all the pictures you have shown. so fortunate to have an inside view of Goldfish Bowl, beautiful breads, the oven the baker.. NIck, the building, the firewood etc

very thankful to you Phil,

inspiring..

evon

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks evon,

It was impossible for me catch all the great products made at the Goldfish Bowl so decided to focus on the bread :)

Cheer,
Phil

annie the chef's picture
annie the chef

Hi Phil

Wow! Amazing WFO and breads. This place is a must to visit in the future when we do around Australia trip.

How much would it cost for building one of this size WFO?

Your photographs are beautiful as always.

Annie

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Hi Annie,

I would say the oven is about the price of a medium sized car ... There are a lot of great bakeries down the east coast of Australia ... You won't be disappointed if you pay the Goldfish Bowl a visit.

Cheers,
Phil

annie the chef's picture
annie the chef

I also assume that it doesn't cost as much to use woods for the oven as to use it in the city.  I used to work in a pub with a WFO and it costs a lot when I ordered woods for it.  The chefs at Goldfish Bowls are lucky to have a WFO to work with.

Annie

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Inspiring trip, and photos as always, Phil!

The breads do look amazing. This is how real bread is ought to be.

My cousins live in Sydney, but i haven't paid them a visit yet. Looks like a charming town you've been to.

Wishing you all the best!

-Khalid

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Khalid,

Armidale is about six hours north of Sydney ... about half way to Brisbane on the inland route. It is winter here so the town is shrouded in thin smoke from everyones heaters. It sits in a bit of a dip so the smoke takes a while to clear.

Lots of dark brick buildings and churches ... very pretty indeed

Cheers,
Phil

varda's picture
varda

What a lovely post.   Wouldn't it be great if some of those ovens could be "resurrected" and great bread come out of them again.   When I saw New England, I thought you meant my New England.   Didn't know there was another.   Very cool.  -Varda

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Varda,

Quite a number of these ovens have been resurrected and a few that I know of have never been shutdown and continue to bake. Do a google search for 'Red Beard Bakery' ... these guys have a scotch oven and are doing sourdough in it ...

I wondered if the New England thing would throw people :)

Cheers,
Phil

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

I suppose that each of these small bakeries only had 1 or 2 people working in them - the owner and some other family member so it wasn't the cost of labor or the quality of their bread either that put them out of business.  Sad really.  Must have been the cost of wood, to fire those huge monsters that finally got them.

Happy baking

PiPs's picture
PiPs

... and probably the hard work.

After seeing the size of the dough troughs and the ovens ... the amount of sheer physical labour must have been incredible. Hard to imagine nowadays.

I am not to sure of the history ... but I would hazard a guess that wood fired ovens just couldn't match the production of large industrial bakeries.

Cheers,
phil

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

example of the business rule ....you can only have 2 of the 3 .... Low price, quality and service.  If the customer chooses low price,  then quality or service suffers.  Thankfully, there are still enough customers out there who are for quality and service and don't mind paying a higher price - but they are outnumbered  greatly  - possibly 95% are into low price - and why there are so very few bakeries using WFO.s left in the developed world.

PiPs's picture
PiPs

In my design days we had a similar rule - price, quality and speed - choose two.

ananda's picture
ananda

You are right Phil,

Wood is cheaper as a fuel source than electricity...but of course it is far more labour-intensive...and dirty, intense physical work at that.   And running wood-fired ovens on an industrial scale is a difficult concept to imagine isn't it?

By the way, you asked about Scotch ovens.   The original Village Bakery, Melmerby oven was a side firing Scotch oven and it had a really beautiful arched roof to it.   My colleague Nigel fired that oven every day during the Summer he worked there, long before I joined the organisation. Oven was at the rear of the restaurant premises, and used by the early bakers at night once the restaurant had closed.   Nigel fired during the day as he worked there as the "Gardener"...the firing task was assigned to the gardener!!!   Inevitably he was also given chance to learn to bake and use the oven too.

When I moved to VB in the mid 1990s the production levels were soring, but based in a new bakery up the back of the original premises.   We couldn't cope with demand levels, so the old oven was resurected and a night baker assigned to work down in the restaurant producing using that oven.   But it proved such a good oven that we ended up moving racks of produce between bakeries, shunting them down a ramp from the big bakery to bake off in the old oven!!!   So I got to use the Scotch oven quite a bit.   A dream to work on, and to me, the high crown of the oven produced far nicer bread than the low-level top of the French Guelard oven ion the main bakery.   Personal opinion, but the steam retained within the high crown produced a moister loaf; the criticism oft thrown at many VB breads were that the crumb was a bit dry.   Not the case if we used the Scotch oven!

Take good care

Andy 

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

Thanks so much for sharing your Road Trip story.  I doubt many readers knew there was a New England down under.  I sure didn't.  A joy to read and view, despite the sadness of a landscape dotted with derelict bread ovens.  Ghosts of loaves and a lives long past.

Fitting haromony with Franko's parallel post, describing oven-loading teams in action.  And mid-winter looks surprisingly mild for inland NSW.

Best,

Tom

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Tom,

There were definitely some bracing moments in the NSW winter ... -7C was a bit of a shock to the system after winter in Brisbane ...

The amount of ovens sitting hidden behind other properties is quite amazing ... I am constantly looking for the tell-tale signs of brick chimneys.

Cheers,
Phil

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Fascinating, Phil.  Thank you for sharing.

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Your welcome Floyd,

Cheers,
Phil

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Oops, no, there's a New England in Australia, too.  Thanks for giving us a look at your New England, Phil.

That Tenterfield oven: 3x5m hearth?!  Not 3x5ft? That's amazing!  Someone had a full-time job keeping the fire going in that one.  At first glance, it appeared that this was a white oven (not because of the paint) but you mention that the external firebox vents into the oven chamber.  Would it still be considered a white oven with this configuration?  Just out of curiosity, where was the flue located? 

Thanks for the pictures and the write-up.  I'm glad that you had a chance to bake with the the brothers Oxley.  They appear to have built a flourishing business based on a high-quality product.  Their prices don't reflect any cut-rate thinking.

Paul

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Paul,

Dennis has helped resurrect one of these ovens and said that it took about 5-6 days of solid firing to bring it up to temp ... once it was there the sheer mass of masonry kept it ticking along nicely.

Yep, it's a white oven ... the fire box to the side vented hot air into the oven ... the fire was brought down ... and the oven scuffed/cleaned before loading. The flue control was on the other side of the oven. Sorry, I think I cut it out of the photo ... it was jammed in tight (rusted in) From my limited understanding hot air would circulate in from the right, round the oven then up and out on the left hand side.

Cheers,
Phil

 

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi Phil,

BOOK screams in my mind as I read through your post. (Did you see that 'Plotzbog' has published his own book???? Not sure if you follow him or not but his breads etc remind me of yours so I 'just ' [nudge] thought I would mention it :) Reminiscent of The Bread Bakers and the pleasure that book brings when reading.  An intimate tale indeed as is yours.

Love the description of the area and am also a northerner that didn't know there was a New England down under….Boy those English sure did cover a lot of ground *- )

Loves look wonderful.  Color so beautiful.  Interesting to read about the difference in the oven and the effect you noted. Makes sense but not something I would have put together on my own which is utterly stupid since I do know that different home electric ovens product a wide variety of results.  That I know due to personal experience though.

Anyway, thanks so much for the lovely write up and road trip.  Fit into my day perfectly. Dark thunder clouds making it grey and dreary out at the moment so a good read really brightened things up :- )

Take Care,

Janet

PiPs's picture
PiPs

We are in and out of sunshine and rain at the moment ... a bit of sun for the time being is nice.

No didn't know that plotzblog had released a book. Perhaps ... I have some ideas ... I think there are enough great baking books already ... it would have to be a little different :)

I think Nick has setup a great balance with the oven at the Goldfish Bowl. He isn't trying to push it too hard and risking the quality of the bread. It's all about the quality of the finished product ... and his chefs get to utilise it as well. It's a win, win situation.

Cheers,
Phil

SylviaH's picture
SylviaH

What a beautiful blog.  

I throughly enjoyed the whole trip : )    The  amazing photos.  

I especially enjoyed seeing the baker's use of the narrow peel, loading his loaves into the smallish wood fired oven door and the care taken once inside.

Sylvia

 

 

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Sylvia,

Nicks peel took a little getting used to ... I am used to peeling in two loaves at a time ... his peel could hold seven loaves.  The hardest part for me was judging when they were off the end of the peel ... naturally Nick and his brother were pros at it :)

They also were fastidious about the crust colour ... resetting timers for 1 or 2 minutes before checking again ... perfectionists!

Cheers,
Phil

ananda's picture
ananda

So here's me thinking you had lined up a visit to Jeffrey and Gerard, Phil!

Your reference to Scotch ovens brought back many pleasant memories.   Meanwhile my very small oven is up for renovation tomorrow..much needed.

Lovely post; continues to reveal the great bread to be found on that massive stretch of the east coast of Australia.

Great post, as ever

All good wishes

Andy

PiPs's picture
PiPs

I wish! ... I can't even fathom the amount of bakeries I would like to visit in the states!

Have you had the opportunity to bake in scotch ovens?

yes ... we are getting some very good bakeries here ... seems to be a tendency for them to grow rather large though ... I like the fact that the Nick and his brother really just want to feed their local customers ... their regulars ... they are not upscaling and compromising there product ... the have diversified there business in other ways. clever.

Cheers,
Phil

Franko's picture
Franko

Hi Phil,

Well it seems we've both been on the road of late, travelling different roads in different places but each leading us to our mutual interest in bread and baking. Thanks for sharing your latest bread travels,such an interesting and well written addition to what is already a very impressive collection of your thoughts and photos regarding bread. Speaking of bread, the loaves you and Nick turned out look amazing. Well done to the both of you!

Best Wishes,

Franko 

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Franko,

...and I can think of so many other bread trips I could do right now ... but ... need to buckle down and start earning a living soon :)

Cheers,
Phil

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Wow Phil.  Thanks for this adventure.  Here's an idea for you...a tour book of bakeries.  Local, abroad...even if you don't go with this idea, you should do it anyway and sell me a copy.  You really know how to narrate and reproduce the experience.  The amazing photography helps too of course.

John

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Phil to do the layout, graphic art and photos for Bread 2 just so it wouldn't have an ulgy cover - at the very least.  Then Phil could have gotten a free trip or two to the states to do his North American tour of old WFO bakeries.  Now he has to pay for it himself and the  cover is still ugly :-) 

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

I thought you said you were retired...you're still acting business manager for Phil ;)

Great idea though, I agree with you.

John

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks John,

Funny you know .. it's an idea that has been bubbling in the back of my mind ... hard to finance such a venture though in my current state :)

Cheers,
Phil

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Lovely write-up and stellar photography! Thank you for sharing your travels.

David

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks David,

Cheers,
Phil

breadsong's picture
breadsong

Hi Phil,
Like Andy said, the title of your post made me think you’d been to Vermont :^)  It looks like it was an incredible trip!

The brick walls of the old Warwick bakery are absolutely gorgeous, and sorry to read of the Tenterfield bakery falling into disrepair. I don’t know if you saw this post of MC’s; she wrote of a baker in Paris who rescued a building containing a vintage oven, and restored it to a working bakery, Le Moulin de la Vierge:
http://www.farine-mc.com/2012/03/two-more-parisian-bakeries.html   (it made me happy to read that story)

The Goldfish Bowl bakery – can you imagine a more perfect place to stop for coffee and a bite, a place that not only produces such beautiful bread, but roasts the coffee as well?  Glad you could spend time with such a talented baker, and from their perspective, I’m sure the feeling was mutual :^)

I really love the pictures of the weathered boards, the bricks and the breads. All of the bread photos are wonderful but my favorite is the photo of the sesame-crusted, cross-hatch-scored batard, with complementary cross-hatch shadows falling from the cooling rack above. Brilliant.

And the piece of floral glass you photographed – stunning! (What was that glass part of? It has the iridescent hue of Depression glass).

Thank you so much for taking us along on your travels!
:^) breadsong

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks breadsong,

I know Dennis and I would love to see some of these old bakeries up and running again ... the time is right and people would appreciate it I am sure.

The Goldfish Bowl is a bit of a treasure and something that you wouldn't expect in a small town like Armidale. The piece of glass is a small window that they had installed in the side of the cafe ... it caught my eye straight away!

All the best,
Phil

Syd's picture
Syd

Phil,

You have a great eye a good photograph.   It's a stunning blog post all round.  

All the best,

Syd

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thank you Syd,

Cheers,
Phil

Jeremy's picture
Jeremy

For a secon Phil, I thought you were up in Maine or Massachusetts! Lovely breads and I have this strange feeling the last old bakery would fit like a glove...

 

Happy baking...and dreaming bread!

 

Jeremy

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Jeremy,

It will be quite a while before I am over in your part of the world ...

I had the same feeling about that old bakery ... 

Cheers,
Phil

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Hi Phil thanks for taking the time to take us all along on your trip, i find old bakeries fascinating if only the walls could talk.

There was a good article on Landline last week end on a place called "Farina" . i have put a link for those that would like to see it too,it is in outback South Australia on the old Ghan railroad and came to prominence as the rail-head 

http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2013/s3802729.htm

There is also some nice pics on farinarestoration.com/gallery-05html

I think i can see a future for you as a young fella doing a book or documentary visiting  and baking at these places Phil, Then there is the old New Norcia Bakery here in the West too. Perhaps we should open a new topic Old Bakeries Worth a Vist.

Thanks again Phil for sharing

kindest regards Yozza

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Thanks Yozza,

The Farina restoration looks amazing ...

Dennis seems to have a lot of contacts and is thus discovering ovens dotted all over the country ... quite amazing.

I would love to start documenting as many as I can ...

I have heard of the New Norcia Bakery ...

Cheers,
Phil

Shiao-Ping's picture
Shiao-Ping

What a great write-up.  Thanks.  Phil.  Always love the look of a rustic loaf, like something so enriching for the soul.   Shiao-Ping

 

PiPs's picture
PiPs

So nice to hear from you Shiao-Ping,

If you are ever down that way ... drop in to the Goldfish Bowl .... well worth it.

There rustic loaf uses a rye starter and some rye flour ... quite aromatic.

All the best,
Phil

yozzause's picture
yozzause

Hi Pip 

There is another interesting story on a bakery that has been renovated, its the Maylands bakery or 8th ave bakery, if you google it there are some good stories about the old Bakery and how its been resurrected, i think that there are some pics of the guys inside the oven relaying the floor on their face book page.

i did get an invite when they were first opening but have yet to get along there.

kind regards Derek  

jarkkolaine's picture
jarkkolaine

Hi Phil,

Once again, this is another stunning blog post! Nothing much I can add to other commenters, except that I, too, would love to read that book of bakery visits. :)

Cheers,

Jarkko