The Bourke Street Bakery was apparently set up in 2004 in the buzzy Sydney suburb of Surry Hills by two workaholic men on a bun, brioche and muffin mission. The mission succeeded. The queues got longer, the customer numbers higher, three more bakeries were added to their loaf empire and, before you know it, a literary agent walks in (no doubt) and a honey-covered deal is sealed.
A bakery book can only becomes a bestseller or fill a razor-thin gap in the most competitive and crowded publishing market of all, when it tells a very personal and very human story. A story of how two men, from nowhere, decided to set up a bakery business, with no money, no public relations initiative, no marketing strategy and no celebrity bandwagon attached. The breads, pies, pastries and cakes spoke honest quality, variety and wholesomeness, and their makers' obsessive focus on the pursuit of excellence and the collaboration of the community around them, have all served to make this story compelling and absorbing in equal measure.
The story of the bakery's products is delineated into four main sections. The first tells the neo-baker all about the fundamental basics, the ingredients and the equipment. Then there is a very thorough, detailed and didactic masterclass of breadmaking, from kneading, to ferments, to sourdoughs, to yeasted breads and olive oil breads. Beautiful photography marks and punctuates each process and each achievement. Then begins the pastry section, and by now you are on Page 144, and are facing golden croissants, buttery pate sucree, crumbly pate brisee, soft empanada pastry and all manner of breakfast buns and viennoiserie. Then come the savoury pies, like ratatouille pie and rabbit and quince pie (unusual). The heart begins to race, as lemon curd, ginger brulee and strawberry and ricotta tarts rise up to greet you, and into the final, rousing crescendo where, possibly, the worlds' most tempting, delectable and magnificent cakes, biscuits and desserts round off this world class pudding tour de force. Exhausted from the sheer depth of detail and the magnitude of the content, you recline in semi-slumber, trying to muster the strength to move, to enter the kitchen, to start the process, not really knowing where to begin. Although the "Sour cream butter cake with pears and raspberries", possibly accompanied by a strong cup of coffee, would do me nicely.
I am, quite simply, in awe of these two men, and their ability to withstand the gruelling, punishing schedules of running four urban bakeries, producing such a vast range of goods at such a high level of quality. They then find the time, after going home shattered to their families, to write a compendium of Biblical proportions, to create instruction and give advice to strangers wishing to partake of their experience. This is not a book for the faint hearted or the complete beginner, however. There is a certain silent and pre-required level of knowledge and skill implicit in the author-reader contract that would leave the total novice afloat in a sea of chocolate speckled confusion. For the die-hard, accomplished home baker and the patisserie chef, however, this is, arguably, one of the definitive works in the higher echelons of bakery gospeldom. Enjoy.