South Mel­bourne baker Ox Noo­nan fol­lows cen­turiesold tech­niques – and even uses 130-year-old in­gre­di­ents

Time Out (Melbourne) - - Made in Melbourne -

OX NOO­NAN, OWNER of bak­ery Ox the Baker, prefers to dis­tance him­self from the artisan baker la­bel (he says it’s been “overused”) and prefers to call him­self a crafts­man. “I make bread the old­est way pos­si­ble, us­ing just flour, wa­ter and salt,” he says. Noo­nan has been in and out of the bread busi­ness for decades. In July this year, he opened his South Mel­bourne bak­ery with Sal­va­tore Malat­esta of St Ali. Here, he fo­cuses on his sig­na­ture range of loaves: the tra­di­tional coun­try loaf and a mixed grain loaf with whole­meal and rye flours, us­ing Aus­tralian in­gre­di­ents. Each one takes up­wards of three days to mix, knead, and fer­ment be­fore it goes in the oven. “There’s no set start and fin­ish times for me. Some­times I’ll work through the night, other times I’ll start at 3am un­til about noon, and I’ve gone 24 hours with­out a good night’s sleep,” he says.

When he’s at work, Noo­nan will be check­ing on the dough, which gets a thor­ough knead­ing in a big elec­tric mixer. Af­ter a good bash­ing, the dough is pulled out of the mixer, rested on the bench and then di­vided into loaf-sized por­tions. “Af­ter the dough’s rested, I shape them be­fore they go into the ban­netons [wicker bread forms tra­di­tion­ally used in French bak­ing], where they’ll stay on racks for any­where be­tween 12 to 18 hours.”

It’s dur­ing this time pe­riod where the real magic hap­pens: the process of fer­men­ta­tion. Noo­nan is cur­rently a PHD su­per­vi­sor on a re­search project look­ing into di­gestibil­ity of wheat when it’s been fer­mented. “The sci­ence is still a work in progress, but we’d like to prove that by fer­ment­ing dough for long pe­ri­ods, peo­ple with gluten sen­si­tiv­i­ties may find bread more tol­er­a­ble.”

A firm be­liever that old-school bak­ing tech­niques are best, Noo­nan re­fuses to use com­mer­cial yeasts or bread im­provers. In­stead, a cru­cial com­po­nent to his loaves is the leaven, a vis­cous liq­uid yeast that is made when a wa­ter and flour mix­ture is left to fer­ment. “My leaven has its roots in the late 1800s; it’s been passed down and fed for over 130 years. We feed the leaven every­day with or­ganic flour and fil­tered wa­ter. It still gets mixed by hand, the way it’s been for hun­dreds of years. The leaven evolves with what’s in the en­vi­ron­ment and that gives the bread a richer, deeper flavour in the bread. You’ll no­tice the dif­fer­ence in flavours day to day, no two loaves are the same.” Good things come to those who wait, and good bread needs time and the watch­ful eye of a crafts­man who cares what goes into his loaves. Ox the Baker will soon be mak­ing pies and sausage rolls with house­made pas­try. De­lima Shanti àox the Baker, 356 Claren­don St, South Mel­bourne 3205. Mon-sat 7.30am-3pm.

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