Chalala's Felton Miche - Wood-fired baking for a food festival - Part 1
It is a stunning Autumn morning – crisp and clear. Outside a container of dough gently rises and for the first time all week I have a chance to sit and write a post for the blog.
I spent last weekend with friends near the small township of Pittsworth helping in their micro-bakery as they prepared for a food festival in a nearby community. Laurie and Rhonda started Chalala Micro-Bakery  a few years ago with the vision of producing quality breads in a masonry oven. This has been expanded to include a range of stunning wood-fired mueslis, nuts and gluten free cookies.
I contacted Laurie a year ago with hope of gaining some experience in the operation of a small bakery and the use of a wood-fired oven. From that moment on they opened their home and hearts to me and have given this raggedy home-baker (I love that term Pat) some incredible hands-on experience.
Their bakery is based around an Alan Scott built oven and a recently purchased diving arm mixer affectionately dubbed baby Huey. Previously Laurie was mixing all the dough by hand in plastic tubs and I can tell you this is hard work – needless to say everybody was very grateful for baby Huey’s arrival.
Finishing work early on a Friday afternoon I drove west from Brisbane for two hours. After leaving the close confines of the city you start to notice the horizon and feel distance in all directions. The roads widen and lengthen before you.
I was heading out to assist Laurie with the bake and market stall for the Felton Food Festival . Felton is a farming district on the inner Darling Downs about 30 km south west of Toowoomba and in recent years has seen plenty of conflict between the mining industry and the local community over the development of an open cut coal mine. A month ago it was announced that the newly elected state government would rule out the proposed coal mine. The community had won and now the food festival was a chance to showcase the beauty and productivity of the Felton region.
Preparation for a bake is always a busy time. Flours are scaled and placed in boxes, ingredients are prepped and finally the leavens expanded. Along with this busy activity I milled flour in preparation for a batch of Country breads and Miche. My little mill had its work cut out for it and so did I as I sifted through a few kilograms of flour. This was to be a specialty one off bread for the food festival and Laurie was kind enough to allow me to develop a formula and mill the required flour. By the time I had prepared the flours I looked white as a ghost :) – covered in flour.
The plan was to bake an oven-load of country breads (Campagne) that included 3 x 2kg miche scored with the Felton Food Festival logo. The formula used Laurie’s organic white 100% hydration starter, a mixture of organic plain white flour, milled and sifted wheat flour, whole-grain spelt and whole-grain rye flour. Some final wood was placed in the oven and a draft door set in place until bake time. It was time to try and sleep.
Chalala’s Felton Miche 3 x 2kg Miche (Original formula was for 20kg)
Makes 3 x 2kg Miche
Total dough weight
Leaven build – 10 hrs 23°C
Organic Plain flour approx 13% protein
Organic Plain flour approx 13% protein
Freshly milled and sifted wheat flour
Freshly milled whole-grain spelt flour
Freshly milled whole-grain rye flour
- Mix starter and leave to ferment for 10–12 hours at 23°C
- Combine Leaven, water, flours and salt and mix on slow for 15-20 minutes
- Bulk ferment 2.5–3 hours with two stretch-and-folds 30 mins apart in the first hour.
- Divide. Preshape. Bench rest 20 mins. Shape.
- Proofing took two and half hours
- Bake in woodfired oven for 30 minutes at 250°C
On bake day we were a little surprised by cool bakery temperatures but by midway through the bake we had caught up and were back on schedule with the oven performing better than expected. By the end of the bake we had produced 300 loaves made up of 13 varieties of breads – 11 of them sourdoughs.
Ciabatta, miche/country bread, struan multi-grain, sprouted wheat bread, Irish brown/beer bread, olive bread, onion and rosemary bread, flaxseed rye tin loaf, spelt and teff tin loaf, fig and roasted walnut boule, banana sourdough tin loaf, fruit sourdough tin loaf and cinnamon scrolls.
Market day had arrived. We watched the weather with some nervousness and crossed our fingers hoping for a good attendance being it was the inaugural food festival for Felton. The organisers had been hoping for an attendance of 500 people, in fact there were many thousands – possibly 5000 or more.
We were fortunate to have a stall right by the front entrance and thus we didn’t have a moments rest until the last loaf of bread was sold only two hours after the gates had officially opened. Laurie and Rhonda then continued to sell muesli throughout the day.
Celebrity chef and owner of Tank and Bretts Wharf Restaurants in Brisbane, Alastair McLeod  provided cooking demonstrations and utilised one of the miche in his dishes. He is a strong supporter of locally produced foods and some of his chefs have even travelled from Brisbane to spend time in the bakery with Laurie.
The festival was held on a property on top of a gentle hill overlooking farming land in all directions. Hay bales were scattered around under trees for people to sit and enjoy the local food while taking in the scenery. Some rain did drop for minute or so during the day but was welcomed happily by the farming community.
At the end of a long but rewarding day we headed back to the bakery to re-fire the oven and prep for Laurie’s Monday wholesale bake. It was time to try and sleep again.
… to be continued.