Who doesn’t love the crunch and chew of fresh bread on a breezy summer morning or a sinful sugar-laden dessert with a hot coffee in the wake-me-up hours of the weekend? With glorious smells drifting seductively down Harris Street in Pyrmont towards the city, it’s no wonder that Pioik Bakery has been the best thing to happen to the area since, well, sliced bread. It is ironic because they don’t actually do sliced bread (I’m sure they would if you asked), but they do provide a mouth-watering range of various artisan breads, savoury bites and gourmet pastries.
When you eat something made by someone else, you usually take on a little part of their world too. If the walnut and cinnamon, Danish-like snail I had was anything to go by, then the head baker and chef, Shady Wasef, was certainly a man worth getting to know a lot better. To do so, I signed up for one of the cooking classes, which he holds at his bakery once a month. As well as sharpening my skills, having fun with the other culinary foodies and baking my cake and eating it too no less, I took the time to chat to him about his business and how his passion for pastry and bread began.
“I was really bad at it, and I think that I’m not that good either now, but I thought there was only one way to learn, which is to just throw yourself in there,” he said.
Since its opening in February this year, Shady and his cheerful wife Rose, who runs the front of house and makes a superb coffee, have quickly established themselves in Pioik as a winning couple in the eyes of locals and visitors. Drawing from their own native Egyptian background, ‘Pioik’ is the Coptic language word for ‘the bread’, and his menu of breads are also similarly named in Coptic. They include the infamous two kilogram Epooro, a five grain Etyoo and a rye based Kemu as well as some Italian breads like the Altamura and the ubiquitous ciabatta. But this marketing is not what makes Pioik’s breads exceptional, it is the fact that they are really baked in the witching hours of the day (when the sane portion of Sydney’s populace are asleep) in which they are sold.
“The whole idea is, in the morning, the bread bakes at six o’clock in the morning. So at seven o’clock, when we open the door, the bread is just coming out of the oven, so it’s a really hot loaf of bread,” he explains.
Although inspired by their Mediterranean background, the interior of the café space is how many would imagine a rustic and traditional European bakery to be. It is atmospherically dark and intimate. Behind the front counter and glossy display cabinets, which are both always full with an intimidating array of scrumptious breads, flat pizzas, and foccacia sandwiches as well as their buttery, melt-in-your-mouth sweet pastries and indulgent cakes, is the inner sanctum and kitchen of their dedicated staff, which, unlike most bakeries, is open, so people can watch the remarkable process unfold. It is here where Shady spends most of his waking and, I suspect, sleeping hours between the baking racks and ovens conjuring up his wicked delights.
"Saturday, [their busy day] I started at one ‘o’clock,” he said. “It longs hours and its early hours.”
Being the quintessential artisan product, good bread is an achievement in itself, and Shady’s loaves all have a superb, toothsome crust, marshmallow centre and delicate sweetness that does not come by accident, nor are there any short cuts on the way from bench to oven. All his breads are made from Australian Certified Organic flour, although he does occasionally import special grains from Italy for some of his specialty breads. As the class was learning the art of making a good foccacia, Shady lets us in on one of his secrets, which is to mix baker’s flours with rye and wholemeal. This gives the nutty taste of the wheat and the goodness of the vitamins in the rye.
Good things, as they say, take time. Shady insists on using the best ingredients, and fermenting his sourdoughs with a natural yeast mother over a long rise time. It is a labor of love where the simple feeling of opening the oven and taking the first loaf out in the morning is the ultimate reward.
“The most satisfying part is because it takes three days to produce that loaf of bread and the anticipation you build up behind that. And when you see it come to success, that is the most incredible feeling that you can’t experience unless if you actually do it.”
It has also taken Shady a fair amount of time to develop his craft, which he began over a decade ago. Having honed his skills in Sydney under chefs like Stefano Manfredi, he also spent significant time in Italy where he developed a wealth of knowledge in Italian recipes, techniques and fine ingredients. To round off this Italian influence, Pioik’s sweet assortments include a regular gluten-free orange cake and recently a citrus sultana panettone for the upcoming festive season. Shady also taught us, during the cooking class, the divine delights of Tuscan chocolate over our dessert course, an intensely rich hazelnut and Amedei chocolate torte with apricot compote.
Although only in its first year, locals have arrived en masse to the heart-warming, childhood-memory-inducing scent of freshly baked bread as well as Shady’s open passion radiating from behind the ovens. What you don’t get in any other bakery is “me”, Shady laughs.
“It’s the passion, it’s the atmosphere. You walk in, and you see me (doing the bread), and talk to me, and have a coffee with me, and that feeling of the family and the community.”
The only pickle I have is that there’s not much room to have a seat, which is something to bear in mind, and given it’s popularity, you have to be especially lucky to find a table there during the weekend, or you may just have to settle with a takeaway picnic. That said, every good suburb deserves a fine bakery, and you would be hard pressed to find a better one than Pioik where there is a treat to satisfy anyone, where even the aroma of the coffee and diet slaying goodies are exquisitely irresistible, but don’t take my word for it, the proof is in the pudding.
|176-178 Harris Street|
|+61 2 9660 0343|
Mon – Sat 7am – 3pm
Sun 7.30am – 3pm