For a coeliac pastry chef, one of the hardest parts of nailing gluten-free baking is not being able to taste test the real deal.
Fortunately, Felix Goodwin can rely on his chef partner Elena Nguyen to tell him whether he’s nailed it – or not.
“It’s really good having someone to try the original product, because when I say the [new] product is good for gluten-free, she’s says, ‘No, the other one is better, we can still improve it.’ So that’s a massive benefit,” says Goodwin.
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In summer, Goodwin and Nguyen will open an entirely gluten-free micro-bakery in a previously unused nook of the CBD’s Windsor Hotel.
It hasn’t got a name yet, but the cleverly designed space by Melbourne’s Kitayama K Architects will open onto Little Collins Street and make use of the city’s incoming al fresco dining rules.
Goodwin’s original plan was to bake bespoke gluten-free wedding and celebration cakes for events at the Windsor and external clients, but Covid-19 caused him to change tack.
"[We] were all in lockdown and not so many weddings were happening, so we decided to do more day-to-day items – small sweets and things like that – to start testing out some recipes and seeing what people responded to,” Goodwin says.
The result was a range of ambitious gluten-free products including sweet, buttery brioche loaves; chocolate-ganache-swirled babkas topped with blitzed hazelnuts or candied popcorn; Japanese-inspired hojicha (roasted green tea) canelés (the moulds for which inspired the bakery’s fluted-pedestal tables); cinnamon doughnuts; inventive cookies and cakes; and sourdough loaves with naturally leavened wild yeast.
“We find the original recipe and look at the way it’s traditionally done – the gluten version – and then we try and substitute different flours to replicate that effect, because the wheat or gluten flours often play different roles in different recipes,” Goodwin says. “We work around different ratios of protein, fibre and starch, and different ways of cooking … to get very different results.”
It can take up to six months to find the right balance, and Goodwin and Nguyen have recently started milling their own flours as well.
Many of the products are already available to buy through the Windsor’s website, but in-store you’ll find them artfully displayed on the floating blond-wood shelves.
There’ll also be a few newbies on the menu, including handheld pizza pockets with fillings such as ‘nduja, tomato sauce and mozzarella, or kimchi and mozzarella.
Godwin prefers to source produce locally, and often highlights Australian native ingredients while drawing flavour inspiration from Southeast Asia – one of his most popular creations is a chocolate, wattleseed and whisky cake.
“For something like the canelé, we use milk from St David Dairy [in Fitzroy] and rum from Jimmy Rum out in Mornington,” says Goodwin. “Something like the pineapple and Davidson plum cookie is inspired by a cookie from Taiwan. There’s pineapple jam in the centre, surrounded by coconut cookie and topped off with a Davidson plum frosting – something similar to a choux-pastry-style biscuit on the outside.”
Everything in the tiny terrazzo-floored bakery will be 100 per cent gluten-free, with a few options for dairy- or nut-free diets.
“I just want to make sure I can make a really good gluten-free product,” Goodwin says.