• The tart native plum pairs dreamily with the cream and shortbread. (Tivoli Road Bakery)
Michael James from cult Melbourne bakery Tivoli Road may be a Brit but he's one of the biggest champions of native ingredients and of working alongside Indigenous communities. #DontKeepHistoryAMystery
By
Yasmin Newman

29 May 2018 - 9:44 AM  UPDATED 31 May 2018 - 5:08 PM

Cult Melbourne hotspot Tivoli Road Bakery may be best known for top-notch doughnuts, croissants and sourdough loaves, but it also turns out exemplary specials starring native produce. From lemon myrtle crème brûlée and raspberry and lemon financiers with finger lime to a riff on Sydney's famed Flour and Stone panna cotta lamingtons - Tivoli Road does a version with coconut and Davidson plum powder - this menu tempts with Indigenous flavours.

 

“They always sell out and we get great feedback,” says baker Michael James, who co-owns the South Yarra bakery with his wife Pippa. Attica chef Ben Shewry says James is "one of the greatest bakers of his generation ... with a quiet determination and fierce commitment to quality, sustainability and heritage grains. Michael lets his products to the talking. Tivoli Road Bakery is the the small ethical business all Australian bakeries should aspire to be."

"In our own small way, we hope to educate the wider audience so we can all come together and acknowledge the past."

You wouldn’t expect a Brit to be a champion for Indigenous flora, but the revered baker became enamoured with Australia’s exotica nearly 10 years ago after dining at Attica restaurant. He’s been adding them where possible to Tivoli’s line-up for the past few years. 

"I’m not from this land but I've read and listened to so many injustices from this country," says James. "Pippa and I run only a small bakery, but we want to support the First Peoples of this land, using their foods with respect and in turn support the growers. In our own small way, we hope to educate the wider audience so we can all come together and acknowledge the past." 

 

Getting to know our native ingredients

Native ingredients are a growing trend in Australian desserts, but one usually reserved for fine diners. As far as James knows, Tivoli Road and Sydney’s Flour and Stone are the only bakeries using natives in a big way.

 

Cost, more than interest, is the primary hurdle. “Natives are still quite expensive and there’s only so much you can charge for baked goods,” explains James. “A fancy restaurant can get away with charging a bit more.”

Cost, more than interest, is the primary hurdle.

Availability and seasonality are the next big barriers to including more natives in desserts. James sources Tivoli’s produce from a handful of dedicated suppliers and gleans insight on ingredients from Bruce Pascoe, Australia’s foremost authority on Indigenous produce. “He’s written numerous books on the topic and is constantly trying to figure out how it was all done before the white colonists arrived.”

 

Experimenting and educating

But it’s still a work in progress. As with native or heritage grains, greater demand equals better supply, but reaching that tipping point doesn’t happen overnight. Instead, it comes from tireless work by a small number of aficionados.

"Wattleseed has bitter, coffee, roasted dandelion-like flavours. We use it in our éclairs."

In the meantime, James ‘shows his support’, experimenting, educating and turning out tantalising creations with whatever he can get his hands on.

A recent poached pear galette, for example, highlighted beguiling strawberry gum - poached with the pears and lemon myrtle to release the flavour and aroma. “Strawberry gum is a eucalyptus leaf with a eucalyptus smell, but with strong notes of strawberry,” describes James.

 

In a croissant dough twist, James combines macadamia and wattleseed, a now more widely used native. “Wattleseed has bitter, coffee, roasted dandelion-like flavours. We also use it in our éclairs: ground in the chocolate creme patissiere, as well as sprinkled over the top. It really complements the complex flavours in the dark Valrhona chocolate we use.”

Crowd-pleaser jam

The crowd favourite? Without a doubt, Tivoli’s take on the Arnott’s classic Monte Carlo, filled with house-made Davidson plum jam.

“It’s on pretty much every day now,” James says. “We make it with a short, buttery, flaky biscuit using cultured butter and buttercream.” He describes the native plum as small, like a damson, with a big stone, deep red colour and decidedly tart flavour, which pairs dreamily with the cream and shortbread.

 

“Not every ingredient works, but if it tastes good, we use anything that is native to Australia. It’s a whole new palate of tastes that we are rediscovering.”

Short of going to Melbourne to sample James' baked goodness, you can try these these Tivoli Road Bakery recipes. Or, lucky Sydneysiders may spot the Tivoli Road Monte Carlo with Davidson plum jam in the pastry cabinet at Flour and Stone bakery - it's not there all the time, so call ahead to check.

In this column, Dessert Date, I scour bakeries, patisseries and dessert joints from around the world for the hottest sweet trends, up-and-coming ingredients and game-changing pastry techniques.

Don’t miss the next Dessert Date. Keep in touch with me via Facebook @YasminNewman or Instagram @yasmin_newman.

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