Monday, July 11, 2011

Just around the corner: Sonoma Bakery Café and HQ, Alexandria

Growing residential communities in previously industrial areas are often touted as grungy, up-and-coming, trendy suburbs. When two big name, gourmet bakeries move into the area, it's a pretty good indication that the suburb around several corners and main roads from me is on the rise.

Country white sourdough batard at Sonoma Baking Company HQ,
Birmingham Street, Alexandria

Sonoma Bakery Café, Alexandria
In just the second weekend of opening, the tables were full at the Alexandria outpost of Sonoma Bakery Café.

Attached alongside Sonoma's new 2,800 square metre factory headquarters - where one of this season's more interesting MasterChef team challenges was hosted - Sonoma Single Origin coffee and gorgeous bread-oriented breakfasts and lunches have brought new life to a very industrial back street.

Cappuccino at Sonoma Bakery Café, Birmingham Street, Alexandria
We find ourselves snagging the last table for two for a late brekky, or as I like to call it, early brunch. Orders are made at the counter, but the one-page menus are a little hard to find on top of the tall glass cabinets.

At least the brief but enticing menu is easy to navigate and a good, strong cappuccino starts us off well.

Poached eggs with veal sausages and Sonoma toast
There are several options for eggs, including more exotic baked and Turkish eggs, but we keep it simple with two poached eggs with Sonoma toast and add on a side of veal sausages.

The toast is Sonoma's wholewheat sourdough, served with a triangle of butter and two not-the-most-perfectly-formed poached eggs - a little more like what I attempt at home than I'm used to seeing out.

But most importantly, they had perfectly oozing yolks, which the toast mopped up and that sauced the two little veal sausages, which were impressively tasty and left us wanting a lot more.

Buckwheat crumpets with strawberry and vanilla compote
For a change, I leant towards the sweeter side of early brunch, being completely unable to resist the idea of crumpets. The obviously house-made buckwheat ones were fluffly and light though nothing like the air bubble filled ones available at supermarkets.

Instead, these were almost like a thick but light pancake; its buckwheat flour batter filled with spice flavours that were most compatible with the syrupy compote. The darker grilled of the two crumpets had an exciting crunch, even doused in the sweet sauce of stewed strawberries.

Already quite dessert-like for my brunching taste, a little scoop of ice cream would totally tip this over into naughty dessert breakfast territory.

Berry brioche
As I ordered at the counter, I couldn't help noticing and salivating over the display cabinet, filled with tarts and pastries, as well as pre made sandwiches and quiches.

As the chocolate hazelnut tart and berry brioche fought for my attention, I decided to takeaway one of the latter there and then, even before the meal - just in case they ran out.

What a reward - pillowy, buttery brioche that wasn't too rich; the crunch of almond flakes; icing sugar and sugar crystals for added sweetness; gorgeous, bursting fresh berries and custard hidden beneath in the sunken centre. It was all too good and disappeared all too quickly.

Sonoma Alexandria HQ launch and bakery tour
I'd come to know about Sonoma Baking Company's HQ and new Alexandria café - almost around the corner from me - thanks to an invitation to the launch party a few weeks back in June.

In its tenth year in Sydney, it's truly amazing what Sonoma Baking Company has achieved from its humble beginnings in Bellata, north west NSW; having moved factories from Arncliffe to Waterloo and now to its sprawling new home in Alexandria.

The fact that Sonoma's sourdough starter mix consists of some of an unknown age (possibly more than a hundred years) smuggled in from San Francisco where Sonoma Baking Company founder Andrew Connole learnt the art of leavened sourdoughs just adds to the story.

Donny GoodMac wines at the Sonoma Alexandria HQ launch party
For the launch, the long narrow café was filled with more bodies balancing wine glasses and Fat Yak beers than could properly maneuovre around tray-wielding staff.

On offer was the likes of hearty mini confit duck pies with beetroot jam; gorgeously buttery puff pastry tarts of balsamic poached pear, gorgonzola and pecan; chicken, walnut and tarragon finger sandwiches on wholewheat Sonoma bread; and Sonoma sourdough bruschetta with wild mushroom, pesto and goats cheese.

There was a crowd concentrated at the end of the café where one large window looks directly into the Sonoma factory, where the baking was well and truly happening. The bakery operations go into the early hours of every morning to supply Sonoma cafés, retailers and restaurants; of which many chefs were in attendance.

Sonoma Alexandria HQ launch party
I spotted Giovanni Pilu of Pilu at Freshwater, Matt Moran and Simon Sandall of Aria and Aria Catering respectively, Richard Ptacnik of Otto, Alessandro Pavoni of Ormeggio at the Spit and soon-to-open Spiedo at Westfield Sydney, John Susman of Cloudy Bay Fish Company (who apparently introduced Sonoma to Pepe Saya butter), last year's MasterChef winner Adam Liaw, and of course, Andrew Connole.

In groups, we were also taken on tours of the factory, which I think was a one-off treat for the launch party (sorry), with the necessary hair nets, hand sanitising routine before entering.

Inside Sonoma HQ factory
In a word, the new Sonoma factory is huge. Kept at a pleasant temperature of 26 degrees Celcius, the warm welcome into the factory was followed by some Willy Wonka-like glee.

Not that everything in there was edible, but this was the (rather large and oversized) machinery that produces several thousands of those gorgeous sourdough loaves and other breads.

The dough mixer is taller than me (in heels)

Mixing dough
The mixers put my home stand mixer to cowering shame, and the ease with which the hook runs through the thick mix is nothing short of impressive.

Flour storage (all organic; gets pumped in directly from a truck)
And with a chute that automatically measures and distributes flour for each mix, this high-tech bakery is light years from what the Connole boys would have done 14 years ago at the Bellata General Store and Bakery.

Conveyor belt sends the proved batard loaves to the oven

Proved dough (and there's a machine that turns these big portions into perfect,
consistent dinner rolls - seen behind)

Baskets for shaping the bread
Amid the shiny technology, there are simple bread rules that can't be broken. Like the sacred starter mix and proving time, and adorably rustic baskets used to shape the bread, or indeed, the more freeform baguettes.

Like all good things, it still takes time.

Stacks of tin loaves

Bread dough proving

Bread coming out of the rotating oven
After moving through the prep section into the oven section, the game was on. Dinner rolls coming out of the spinning ovens; batards and baguettes out of the larger conveyor belt oven; and bread seriously everywhere.

Country white batard

Smaller-than-normal baguettes

Kamut tin loaf

Turkish bread

Country white baguettes and olive baguette (centre, I think)

Seeded rye tin loaf

Soy and linseed batard

Spelt boule

Country white dinner rolls

More dinner rolls

Wholewheat batard

Packaging and packing bread

Freshly baked madeleines
Aside from bread, the Sonoma HQ bakery also produces pastries for its now five cafés, which include croissants, brioches, various tarts, and on this special evening, cute little madeleines piping hot from the oven.

Chocolate madeleines
The equally hot and cute chocolate madeleines hinted at orange within though I really loved the crisp flaked almonds on the vanilla madeleines.

Almond topped madeleines

Raspberry tartlets
Miniature tarts featuring fresh raspberries and custard were also a sweet little mouthful, with the ripe berries just outshining the crumbly tart base.

As the evening and crowd petered out, and as goodie bags went satisfyingly out the door, a whole lot of baguettes seemed to appear out of nowhere, with Sonoma staff handing them out to anyone who would take them.

This is how I came to have my bread supply for the week well and truly sorted (and slathered with locally-made Pepe Saya cultured butter, it is eye-rollingly divine). But then again, I really don't think I'll have any problems stocking up of bread and pastries from here on - I just need to get around the corner to my new local bakery.

Food, booze and shoes attended the Sonoma Baking Company HQ launch with thanks to Liquid Ideas.

Sonoma Bakery Café on Urbanspoon

17 comments:

Ramen Raff said...

Glorious freshly baked bread! One of the best things in life. I'm getting hungry again.

Gastronomous Anonymous said...

wow the berry brioche looks fantastic!!! will have to check it out soon :)

joey@FoodiePop said...

Really need to come here for the berry brioche ....

lateraleating said...

Impressive pics of the factory!

Dumpling Girl said...

I'm swooning over those buckwheat crumpets. The berry brioche is right up my alley though, must visit soon.

Jonha | FriendsEat said...

Those raspberry tartlets look delicious and makes me hungry! haha Right after you've finished baking, do you let others taste it first or you do?

Merry Johnson said...

Wow!!! what an amazing blog... The best blog i have ever read....Baking Supply

Lorraine @ Not Quite Nigella said...

Their bread is fantastic and they've grown so much since their one shop!

Obesebaby said...

wow thanks for the post this place have so many variety of breads. my bf is a bread lover. I will bring him here thanks!

Two fit and fun gals said...

wow all that bread WOW!! craving sum bread and butter with sprinkle of salt now heheh yummo

Keely aka The Richest Girl in Bondi said...

Good to hear another great experience of the Sonoma bakery and cafe. I popped in after it had been open only a few days and had an egg, lettuce and tomato salsa sandwich -- I can tell you it did not disappoint! Funny you mention that MasterChef ep - I don't think I'd ever make it as a baker ..

Tina said...

Hi Ramen Raff - Sure is, especially sourdough!

Hi Gastronomous Anonymous - Yep, the berry brioche is a good pick, but the passionfruit tarts are gorgeous too!

Hi joey - And some bread too, surely!

Hi lateraleating - Thanks, was awesome to be able to look around in there!

Hi Dumpling Girl - I guess you're a sweet brekky kinda girl :)

Hi Jonha - They were delish!

Hi Lorraine - Yes, I'm looking forward to trying all their breads!

Hi Obesebaby - He should love it then! Bread heaven...!

Hi Two fit and fun girls - Yes, the Pepe Saya butter we got in the goodie bags is already salted and just divine!

Hi Keely - The sando doesn't sound much, but I'm sure it was impressive. Look forward to checking it out.

Jasmin said...

Those white country dinner rolls have me quite excied and I love Pepe Saya butter, although I think I'll stick to Lurpak for day to day needs.

Those eggs and sausages look great as well, although I'm not sure you see veal sausages around quite often, it's such a delicately flavoured meat I'd be interested in how they work in sausage form.

Lovely pictures as well.

Miss Feathers said...

It all looks fab. I'm wanting to go travelling now!!

Tina said...

Hi Jasmin - Thanks Jasmin. I'm loving my round of Pepe Saya at the moment, but may revert to Lurpak after. See how I go... :)

Hi Miss Feathers - As in, to my hood? :)

Corinne @ Gourmantic said...

It was a great night! Loved reliving it through your post and photos :)

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