Mix it. Roll it. Knead it. Bake it.

Softer. Tastier. Better. Hungrier.

That's how Helen and I roll...

...the flour dough that is, during a breadmaking workshop at the Convent Bakery inside the Convent Abbotsford, a Melbourne Food & Wine Festival event.

My mum would be so proud to see her son making his first own bread from scratch. On a second thought, hmmm... nope, actually she won't. She is more incline to think I've gone mad and out of my mind to make my own bread when she probably can buy one for a dollar! I can hear her thunder loud voice ringing in my ear already just imagining what she would say to me if she finds out. A very typical Chinese family I have...

But things have changed. I've been forced to learn how to cook for one self since I moved to Australia 14 years ago. But slowly it has became a passion and even now my mum thinks is a good idea and encourage me to cook more often at home rather than eating out as she thinks whatever I eat outside is either - "deep fried", "greasy", "heaty" or "full of MSG".  *Ahem...* which is true... (typical Chinese of me!)

Today, Helen and I are going to make our own breads. It is one of the highlights during our short weekend trip in Melbourne, courtesy of Tourism Victoria. I've made my own pizza dough at home before and some not-so-great-tasting scones. So I am extremely excited about the breadmaking workshop, especially we are going to make our own sourdough!

I love sourdough!

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After stuffing ourselves silly at MoVida Aqui just the night before, I am struggling to wake up at the ungodly hour and ready to be taken by our driver to the breadmaking workshop at Abbotsford.

The workshop is held at the Convent Bakery, part of the historic Abbotsford Convent, built between 1868 and 1908. Once a home for the Sisters of Good Shepherd, the Abbotsford Convent is now an invaluable resource for the arts community. The bakery is busy with weekend strollers, a perfect rest stop for coffee and breakfast after checking out the farmers market which held at certain weekends in the convent.

I simply love the smell of fresh-baked bread as soon as I step inside the bakery with beautiful pastries lined up inside glass display and all different kinds of bread are neatly stacked on the rack against the wall.  We are offered a cup of coffee while waiting for the class to commence.

Shaun Hudson, is our head baker of the day. After spending many years in France learning the art of pastry and bread making, he recently joined the team at Convent Bakery and now is one of the head bakers to run the workshop. He leads us to the back room behind the bakery where we will be having some hands-on baking using the magnificent 109 year old wood-fired masonry ovens. There are ten of us today at the workshop, surprisingly with more men (7) than women (3) who are interested in bread making.

The breadmaking workshop is actually not as daunting as you might think. We are actually given sheets of step-by-step recipes to follow and in the mean time, Shaun will teach us a few baking methods and sourdough techniques. So to kick off the workshop, we start by making some scones.

Scones

First of all, do you pronounce Scone, as in "scon" or "scoan"? Scones are actually quite difficult to make I find, it is notorious for overkneading. I've made scones once and they didn't turn out as fluffy and soft as I'd hoped for. Don't over knead the dough is the key and by using milk instead of water definitely gives it a better flavour.

We are making "rustic" scones today, so we don't use any scone cutter but by simply squeezing the mixture in our palm and push through the gap between the thumb and index finger to form a rough ball-shaped dough. Everyone also gets the chance to put their scones into the wood-fired oven using the long shovel.

And the result...

Voila! I was actually preparing for an "F" in my baking report card, but my scone actually turns out excellent and surpasses my already very low expectations! We then have a short tea break outside the bakery to have our first taste of the scones. I like how my scones are buttery soft, a light crust on the outside and still so warm straight out from the oven. But it is a different kind of satisfaction and perhaps a little happy-dance inside me while eating my own baking that turns out to be a success.

We also get to try the house roasted single origin coffee with our scones. There is a massive golden coffee roasting machine at the back of the bakery, humming away throughout the day, slowly roasting the fresh coffee beans into perfection. I've been told all their coffee beans are fair trade and from single origins in different countries.

White and Rye Sourdough

The sourdough bread is probably the most technical thing to make during the workshop. What makes a sourdough "a sourdough" is the yeast culture added in the dough. Most bakeries will usually make their own sourdough from one origin fermented yeast culture that had been kept alive for many years with some dated back over 100 years old, which believes the flavour will be carry on through generations.

The yeast culture at Convent Bakery is approximately 5 years old we've been told. I always thought the yeast culture is like a block of cheese where you just cut a chunk whenever you want to use it and then just patch it up with new dough and let it regrowth. Until Shaun brings out a bucket of which looks more like a blob of gooey pancake mix that had been left out in the open for days with the pungent sour smell of gone off milk.

We got to learn two different techniques on how to roll the sourdough. The white sourdough is folded and rolled to form an oval shaped Vienna, while the rye sourdough is rolled into a perfect ball. One of the baking traits we've learned is the sourdough needs to be cut on top to let the steam out while baking, by not using a knife, but a sharp razor blade twined to the blade of a small knife.

We baked way too many scones and sourdoughs (and pizza!) during the workshop, I simply had to offload some of it to our driver and also Michele happily accepted by little offer while meeting up with her and Brad at Madame Brussels. I wasn't intended to bring the bread back to Sydney, since we only checked in with hand luggage and really not sure is worth the effort but I am so glad that I did. The sourdough still taste so good after 2 days! My only regret is that only Helen and I couldn't take up the offer for some yeast culture to take home because it is just too far for us to bring it all the way back to Sydney because it has to be kept refrigerated. *~sigh*

Pizza Dough

That last thing we learn is how to make pizza dough. I've made pizza dough at home a few times so this will be a good chance to compare between two recipes. I usually prefer the thin crust pastry base for my pizza by using heaps of olive oil while rolling the dough out, just like making a roti. The pizza base we learned today is the other variation, which is thicker and fluffier inside. You know, those pizza base which you normally will just eat the fillings and then leave the crust behind cause they are just too thick and filling.

But filling the pizza base with different toppings is always the fun part. I've made one which is more like a "supreme" with olives, artichoke, salami, capsicum, mushroom and the lot, which the other one i keep it simple and only chicken, sweet onion, capsicum and pumpkin. But such a shame, none of us feeling peckish during lunch time cause we had our tea breaj with scones only just over an hour ago. Most of us only had one slice of the pizza that we made and take the rest home. Helen and I have decided to give them away to other students in the class and also to our driver instead of going to waste.

The workshop is not too intensive but informative. Just a little over 5 hours, I have made 6 scones, 2 white sourdough, 2 rye sourdough and 2 pizza bases.

While waiting for the sourdough to cool down before taking them home, Shaun also leads us through the compound and gives us some insights of the historic Convent Abbotsford. The many different sections in the convent is now occupied with a glass making workshop, an art gallery, dance studio and also Lentil As Anything, which is documented on SBS only just recently. It is a unique not for profit community organisation, where customers give what they feel the food is worth and have the opportunity to donate towards the philosophy.

The Convent Abbotsford is a place worth checking out if you are in Melbourne.


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The breadmaking workshop is $120 per person, runs from 8am till 3pm. You will get to take home an embroided apron (a good one too I must say), 1kg organic flour, and of course all the fresh breads that you make. Also a informative tour around the convent. Please check their website for more information as I can see most workshops already sold out until May!
Convent Bakery - Convent Abbotsford 1 St Heliers Street
Abbotsford VIC 3067
P: (03) 9419 9426
[ A Table For Two attended the Breadmaking Workshop as a guest of Convent Bakery and Tourism Victoria for the Melbourne Food & Wine Festival ]

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