Jack O’Donnell of Wellington’s Leeds Street Bakery shares his most popular recipes.
Brothers Shepherd Elliott and Jesse Simpson had a clear vision with their first venture, Ti Kouka Cafe, from which Leeds Street Bakery grew: to lavish care and excellent technique on every item. There, the small details were clear right from the start; clean, elegant icing on a cheesecake, beautifully risen muffins, pared-back but careful decor and, of course, those famous salted caramel cookies, rich with the good stuff.
Technique is a tricky one as much of it goes on in the background. Done well it’s almost taken for granted as you see rows of flour-dusted loaves on the racks, each perfectly shaped and risen. What you don’t see is the years of learning, the hours spent carefully shepherding the dough through each stage, knowing when to leave it, when to nurture it. As head baker, Jack O’Donnell, says, “We make things properly; if it takes a long time, well, that’s just how long it takes.”
Both care and technique are evident in Jack’s championing of wholegrains, organic products and his support of local grain economies. Learning from Chad Robinson of Tartine in San Francisco made Jack ask himself, ‘How do you make this bread in the environment you have?’. So now he works closely with local organic-grain growers and has gained a deep understanding of the local grain. Because New Zealand has a short dry season our grain has weaker protein. This is where technique comes in – rather than seeing that weakness as a fault, Jack works with it. “The baker’s role is to take that grain and make the best of it, elevate it and showcase it, then market it in a way that’s approachable so that people appreciate it.”
Of the triple cheese scone Jack says, “We’re always asking ourselves, ‘How can we make this taste better while staying true to the integrity of that item?’. Hence, there are no great flourishes or whimsical decorations on our cheese scones; everything has a purpose and that purpose is flavour.
“This can be seen in the lemon cake, too. It’s such a simple cake but to make it properly takes an acute baking knowledge and includes both scientific know-how and tried-and-true technique. Made well they rise to a beautiful round top and yield a tight-knit but soft and supple crumb. Made poorly, they dome terribly, colouring more on the outside and giving way to a dense and dry crumb that cannot even be salvaged by an excess of lemon syrup.” While lucky Wellingtonians can duck down Leeds Street to sample Jack’s skill, those of us further afield can now have a go at home.