The year was 1991, and a teenage Natalie Paull – now the pastry-chef and owner of Melbourne bakery Beatrix – was using her Year 12 ancient history exam to career plan.
“I had bought Gourmet Traveller’s best restaurants in Australia – you know the editions that come out every year?” she says. “I was so keen to get started with what I wanted to do, I wrote all of the restaurateurs a letter [during the exam] and asked them for a job, and Maggie Beer wrote back.”
Paull didn’t nail the history exam, but shortly after graduating she moved from Sydney to Nuriootpa in South Australia's Barossa Valley for an apprenticeship and then a job with Beer. Two decades later – on March 1, 2011 – she opened her popular bakery, on the corner of Queensberry and Lothian streets in North Melbourne.
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Nine years to the day after unlocking the moss-green door for the first time, Paull released her first cookbook, Beatrix Bakes, revealing the secrets behind her generously stocked glass cabinet.
“I think I was just ready,” Paull says. “I remember years ago when I bought Marco Pierre White’s first cookbook White Heat, in one of his recipes he described that his dishes were like fruit ripening on a tree and that some were ready to be picked but some weren’t … I think that’s probably the best way to describe it.”
Paull felt she’d tinkered long enough with her recipes and wanted to share them with the world, not just her many loyal local customers.
The cookbook is filled with Beatrix classics, such as the modestly named Cheesecake (That You Will Love the Most); the lavish, layered Notorious BFC black forest cake; unorthodox Levantine lamingtons with a tahini-based glaze; smoky, salty choc-chip cookies; and tweakable rhubarb-ginger custard crumble pies – “like a crunch-squidge-crunch sandwich”.
She encourages home bakers to experiment; most recipes come with “adaptrix” suggestions for additions and substitutions. “I call it a flavour wheel of fortune, where you can choose your own baking adventure,” she says.
There’s also a shopping list of baking essentials, a breakdown of Paull’s preferred tools and techniques, and the “baking beliefs” that underpin her practice (invest in digital scales, never use the top speed on a mixer, be present).
“The information in there is pretty much verbatim much how I’ve trained all the bakers at Beatrix,” she says.
“It’s so cute, customers are coming in telling me … ‘I’ve pre-ordered the book Nat, but don’t worry, I’ll still come here and eat cake’.”
Beatrix Bakes (RRP $45) is out now with Hardie Grant Books. You can order your copy online or buy it from your local bookstore.