Having spent two years building a loyal following at The Cannery markets, Shadow Baking has gone permanent – next door to Messina in Darlinghurst. “It started as a creative outlet for the three of us during [the pandemic],” Tom Mitchell, co-owner and executive pastry chef at Messina, tells Broadsheet. “We had time to stay in the kitchen and do some bake-offs.”
Those bake-offs brought together two cuisines: the “nostalgic” Aussie fare that Mitchell grew up eating, and French, the home food of his business partners Florian Fritsch (Messina sous chef) and Remi Talbot (former head chef of Messina Creative). “I grew up in Canberra, which wasn’t the finest culinary city,” says Mitchell. “But, you know, it gave me some elements of bogan that level out the French-ness.”
This international combo manifests as a Vegemite and avocado scroll, layered with fermented chilli egg jam and finely grated pecorino, sitting deliciously next to twice-baked croissants. “I had to convince [Florian and Remi] to let me have that one,” says Mitchell. “They didn’t understand it.”
The Aussie-inspired pastry is one of a few additions to the Shadow Baking repertoire arriving with the shop. Another is the Reuben pretzel croissant, which debuted with a bang at a Messina Eats event in September. It’s a fully loaded, zingy viennoiserie packed with house-made pastrami, gruyere, sauerkraut, pickles and Russian dressing.
Long-time fans will be glad to see a bunch of their favourites. The most popular of all time is the simple – yet ingenious – custard danish. “It’s inspired by the old-school Aussie custard tart you grew up eating in the canteen at school,” says Mitchell. “Where the custard seemed to come out of the pastry shell and wobbled like crazy.” The chefs have fancied it up with a custard made with Messina’s own Jersey milk (from the ice-creamery’s private dairy farm in Victoria) and the award-winning Heilala vanilla.
Other delights include a pastel pandan-coconut brioche, blueberry cheesecake tarts and those twice-baked croissants topped and filled with the chocolatey, hazelnutty Messinatella spread. Plus, just as at Messina, there’ll be surprise specials on the menu every week. “We want to shake things up and keep customers guessing,” says Mitchell. “We’re opening at a good time with so much seasonal produce – blueberries, mangoes, peaches – coming through.”
When it came to designing the shop, the trio took matters into their own hands. “We’re not as good with the drill and the saw as we are in the kitchen, so you’ll see blemishes and holes in the walls, but it has charm,” says Mitchell. Distracting from any imperfect rendering is the dazzling glass-topped counter your eyes will be drawn to from the moment you step over the threshold. Neat lines of Shadow Baking’s oversized pastries sit on display, making for a tough selection.
Beyond that there’s an oven, from where savouries (like leek, potato and ricotta tarts) are served hot, and a small open kitchen, where the chefs are in action adding finishing touches. There’s outdoor seating for just one lucky duo – everyone else is queuing for takeaway.
Despite Shadow Baking’s success – and the nine years he’s spent at Messina, plus six years before that as head chef at Adriano Zumbo – Mitchell isn’t convinced he knows the secret to perfect pastry. “I still haven’t found it, though we’re trying every day and we’re getting better with every bake-off we do,” he says. “Once we do, we’ll let you know.”
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