When a trendy and polished cafe opened in Maylands, we saw the word ‘woodfired’ and were immediately curious. When we tried their immaculate sourdough rye we were sold, but nothing could have prepared us for our chance to see baker and owner Andrew Ritchie’s baking process which involves an enormous century old oven, binfulls of reclaimed jarrah, and absolutely no shortcuts.
The Woodfired Bakery
Around the year 1920, German baker Georg Rossbach had the oven built by the Australian company Metters Ltd. The oven is an enormous brick structure the size of a small bedroom, it is insulated with sand and closer resembles a brick shed than a contemporary oven. On the outside edge of the oven, metal reinforcing struts have bowed out from years of intense heat expanding the oven. For many years Georg Rossbach and his son baked bread while his wife and daughter became the first women in WA to deliver bread, riding a pushbike throughout Maylands and out as far as Balcatta.
The Rossbachs were interned on Rottnest island when the second world war broke out, and leased out the bakery. They returned after the war ended and sold the bakery not long afterward. The bakery was sold several times thereafter and it’s last owner, Ted Aldridge, retired and shut up the bakery in 1967.
Experienced in using similar ovens, and disappointed to see more and more wood fired bakeries shut up shop, in late 2010 Andrew Ritchie decided to look for a wood fired oven of his own. He figured a bakery wouldn’t show up too far from an old city centre, and so wouldn’t be far from the train line. Being from Darlington, he followed the Midland line, and after passing a few ovens which had been demolished or repurposed, he eventually stumbled on a cafe which were using their back room as a gallery space. In this gallery space was the oven Andrew had been looking for, and after striking up an agreement with the cafe owners and three months of restoration, Andrew completed his first bake in 2011.
Andrew spent some time baking for farmers markets and direct to wholesalers, he struck up a deal to sell his bread at the cafe which hosted his oven. But the end goal was always to sell out of his own place. This May, some 50 metres away from the bakery, the Woodfired Baker cafe opened.
The contemporary fit out of the cafe may be deceptive at first but the staff proudly detail the rustic process. The design of the shop was made possible by Andrew putting his trust into talented people, happening upon a craftsman and designer who both saw eye to eye with his ideals. The history of the bakery is detailed on the back wall of the bakery beside a large sepia tone picture of Andrew using the oven in it’s current state.
The biggest seller in the cafe is the bread, but amongst it is a series of beautiful pastries. There are no cronuts or fad foods in sight, but classic, well-considered foods done right. We’d be remiss, too, if we didn’t mention that the coffee, roasted by Pound roastery, was well prepared and delicious.
“Anything which is being added by commercial bakeries, is being added to speed things along,” said Andrew. His bread making process involves just four ingredients: Flour, Water, Salt and a wild yeast colony which Andrew has been cultivating since 1998. The process begins with Andrew and his team milling their own West Australian Rye, their traditional stone milling process leaves in many of the fibres and nutrients which are filtered out of commercial breads, resulting bread is not only lighter and more textural, but better for you.
In the early days of the bakery Andrew made everything himself and was “Running around like a yoyo”. Now putting out over 1,500 loaves a week, he’s been able to employ other bakers including Dimitri, his talented patisserie chef. Much like the breads, their desserts and pastries follow traditional methods with no shortcuts. You won’t find any cronuts or sickly sweet fad foods, just simple, rustic desserts done well.
In fact, when we asked about fad foods, Andrew’s rebuttal seemed to perfectly sum up everything we loved about the Woodfired Baker, and everything we look for in the producers we seek out: “You don’t need anything highfalutin or gimmicky, If you do things well, people are going to come back.”