It’s clear that the simple act of making pastry brings Michael James much joy.
“It's just really nice just dumping the flour onto the bench, adding some butter and then rolling the butter into the flour, and then also adding some liquid, and it comes together into a beautiful pastry, I love doing that,” says the Melbourne based chef-turned-baker who, along with wife Pippa, ran the much-loved Tivoli Road bakery in South Yarra before the pair sold the business in 2018.
“And sausage rolls, I love doing that because I'm rolling that pastry and then making a great big line of meat or vegetables and rolling the pastry up like a huge long log across the bench and we cut it up for kid-size or adult size… yes, it's very satisfying, and especially when it comes out the oven and you got wonderful flaky layers and you get to see the end result. And when friends enjoy it, that's even better, that's the main thing. Flaky pastry and beautiful fillings that you've spent time to make, a labour of love.”
It’s a love he’s hoping more people will discover.
When SBS calls James to talk to him about his new book, All Day Baking, he’s just stepped away from working on a batch of sourdough croissants at Red Beard Bakery in Trentham, where he’s currently helping out a few days a week.
Since selling Tivoli Road, James has been cooking at home, consulting, teaching baking classes – and working on a lockdown project: the new book. All Day Baking is devoted to the side of baking that gets less attention, but is nonetheless full of deliciousness, the pies, tarts, muffins and breads of savoury baking.
“We are craving comfort and sustenance in an increasingly uncertain world, and savoury baking provides both of those. This is a style of cooking that stretches our creativity at the same time as being deeply soothing,” James writes in the introduction to the book, which was co-written with Pippa James and with the pair’s young daughter as a key taste-tester.
“I'm very excited about his book, it's different. The first one [Tivoli Road Baker, published in 2017] was all about the bakery, this one's more homestyle cooking and baking,” James tells us. Do you think more people are discovering the comfort of savoury baking lately, we ask him?
“Yes, I think COVID brought that on with people baking more nourishing kinds of food, maybe that they had from their childhood or stuff that they were always interested in at the places they went to eat out. I feel like more people were definitely interested in a good well-made pie, maybe they couldn't go to the footy, for example, and they just want to make nice things at home, and could take the time to actually make it.
And savoury baking is often more forgiving, with recipes that make a great place for new bakers to start.
“Making a croissant at home, a nicely laminated croissant, is probably the hardest thing to do,” James says, “... but savoury baking is much more achievable.”
All Day Baking is a wonderful book for both established and new bakers. Endearingly, before James heads into equipment, technique and recipes, there’s a page devoted to ‘A Little Baking Pep Talk’. “The aim in offering these recipes is that they can be used as a guide – switch up the pastries, filling or topping and create something uniquely yours,” it says. “…You will make mistakes along the way, but that’s OK, we all do. Embrace your mistakes and keep going… more is learned from mistakes than success.”
The book is, however, packed with information and tips to minimise the chance of mistakes, and there are plenty of easy recipes. We asked James what he’d suggest for new bakers.
“I say start with a flaky pastry and make a quiche. Super easy, with custard and throw in some veggies, and if you don't have the veggies that are in the book, substitute it with something else.” (Get the recipe for the All Day Baking red onion quiche here.)
And then there’s the sweet corn and sour cream loaf, which the book describes as “based on all the things that make a great sweet corn fritter, but in a loaf form”.
“That one and the zucchini one are super easy to make,” James says, “mixing wet and dry, throw it in a tin and bake it for 45-50 minutes, so that's a very easy way to start. And a galette. Galettes are super easy too… flaky pastry, you just kind of mix the dough, and then you've got this base that you can put anything on top. We recommend doing pumpkin or tomato [in the book] but again, you can just throw in whatever you want and make it your own, which is important.”
The recipes in the book are divided into Early (recipes to start the day, including brioche buns, English muffins, and an egg galette); Midday (including pasties, pies, quiches and sausage rolls); All Day (an eclectic mix, including cheesy gougeres, a sourdough focaccia and rye sourdough crackers – great for using up discard); Later (recipes for dinner and sharing with friends, including butter chicken pie, a root vegetable Wellington and the Cornish pastie tart shown on the cover); and Pantry (things to serve with, or use in, your savoury bakes, from pumpkin ketchup to lime pickle). And good news for those following vegan or gluten-free diets: the book has you covered. Alongside recipes for puff pastry (with rye or wholemeal variations), flaky shortcrust pastry (same), lard shortcrust pastry, savoury shortcrust pastry, hot water pastry and choux pastry, there’s a vegan flaky pastry (made using a home-made vegan butter) and a gluten-free flaky pastry.
So which does James make at home a lot?
“Scones definitely, because I do a lot of baking at home for my daughter, so scones are made for snacks or lunch boxes… if we have people over we will do a slightly hard one, a pithivier or a Wellington, but in general, it’s across the board. Quiches are made a lot. And I make a lot of pasties at home, because I'm from Cornwall in the UK so I do miss a good pastie. Like the pastie pie which is actually on the cover, that's something that my gran used to make. It's super easy, kind of line the tin with pastry, meat and vegetables go in and pastry on top and bake, so it's very simple, fairly quick dinner.” (Get his recipe for pumpkin scones here.)
Above all, James says he hopes people will be inspired to develop their own favourite takes on the ideas in the book.
“I want people to be able to bake from it and enjoy it and not only follow recipes but make it their own. I find that even more rewarding when you put your own twist on it.”
Images from All Day Baking by Michael and Pippa James (Hardie Grant Books, $45, available where all good books are sold). Photography: © Lisa Cohen
Our chef Charlie made this chicken curry to eat with rice at home, and decided it would be great in a pie. The curry is beautifully fragrant and mildly spiced.
We first made this savoury scone as an alternative to a sweet scone for our farmers’ market stall. They’ve since become a firm favourite of our bakery repertoire.
Growing up, my Gran would take me to the amusement arcade, where I would watch the doughnuts coming out of the fryer into the cinnamon sugar, and eat them warm.
This is a reliably versatile pastry that's perfect for a range of sweet tarts - from fresh fruit to lemon meringue and the humble cherry pie.
Shortcut pastry is the workhorse of the pastry world, providing a firm base for pies, quiches and savoury tarts. Luckily, it is an easy dough to master and nothing you can buy will ever taste like the shortcrust you make at home.