“I go to the dentist and I bring bread, I go to the accountant and I bring bread. It always puts a smile on people’s faces,” says baker and adoptive Sydney resident Igor Ivanovic, of Iggy’s Bread, in Bronte with a warm grin. “I don’t know what else I could be doing, it’s such a primal thing.”
The Yugoslavian-born, ex-Boston baker is sipping a freshly squeezed juice at Three Blue Ducks cafe in Bronte, just next door to the newer of his two tiny artisan sourdough bread outlets. Down the hill the sun sparkles invitingly on the water, reminding Ivanovic of childhood holidays spent on the Croatian coast. It was as good a reason as any to settle in the eastern suburbs when he and wife Ludmilla decided to bring their bread-making repertoire to Sydney.
“To me that felt like it was right. Maybe some people think it’s my mid-life crisis, going back to my childhood,” he laughs, “but I just thought it was incredible.”
For Ivanovic, there’s no secret formula to making the perfect loaf, just the passion that goes into the baking. “Of course, you need some technique, but the real difference is the kind of energy you put in. It’s not as simple as a recipe. It’s your whole approach. If you feel it here,” he says, placing a hand on his chest, “then people get that.”
The emotive nature of bread is a big part of Ivanovic’s passion. And with the aromas of a fresh bake wafting by on the breeze, it’s easy to see why.
“Sometimes you smell something and it immediately brings you back to your childhood. That happens a lot with bread,” he says, going on to share a story from the 2012 Woodford Folk Festival in Queensland, where he was baking for festival-goers from a mobile bakery.
“There was no sign or anything and some kids walked by while the bread was in the oven and said ‘Mum, it smells like Iggy’s!’ It turns out the kids were locals from Clovelly and every morning they smell the bread here,” says the baker with wonder, elated that the kids recognised the distinctive smell of his artisan sourdough. “Can you imagine, one day these kids might be on the other side of the world, they’ll smell baking and it will bring them back to their childhood here.” It’s a powerful thought.
Having started as a delivery boy for a bakery on Madison Avenue when he was at uni, he eventually built up quite a reputation with his bakery in Boston. But it wasn’t until he started over in Australia in 2008 that Ivanovic really felt he could bake the bread he wanted.
“This time I was making the bread just for me, how I like it, and that’s a bit extreme. It’s pushing the limits of baking with the colour and the texture and length of fermentation. It was quite possible that people might not like it.”
As it turns out, the locals loved the naturally leavened, daily baked, hand-cut bread and word spread quickly. Now it’s commonplace to see queues out the door at both diminutive Iggy’s bakeries in Bronte. But it wasn’t as simple as bringing the formula or starter from the States. Everything from the weather to the water and the flour is a careful balance, adjusted daily.
“We brought a batch of our flour from Boston out here and I was very excited, but the bread just didn’t come out at all!” nods Ivanovic with a cheeky grin, explaining that the Boston flour didn’t mix well with Sydney water. “We finally had to use all the flour for dusting the surfaces.”
Even now, it’s a constant dance with conditions and climate, right down to treatment of the sourdough starter.
“The starter always adjusts no matter where you bring it from,” he says, noting that even travelling between suburbs can affect the starter and that it takes time to settle into a new environment.
“I feel like there’s all this emphasis on how old your starter is and I feel like it’s an idea that’s over-used. Starter is continually changing; it’s about how you manage it on a day-to-day basis. You can have a very old starter, but if you don’t manage it properly it’s no good.”
For Ivanovic, this means refreshing and monitoring the starter up to twice a day and testing it for the right texture, consistency and smell. Knowing your starter this intimately only comes from practice and commitment. But even after all this time, baking can still take Ivanovic by surprise.
“There’s so much magic in making bread. Often you can do the same thing day after day, but for whatever reason it just won’t come out right, or it will come out amazingly well…and you just don’t know what it is,” he pauses, smiling. “It’s not an exact science.”
Iggy’s Bread of the World
49 Belgrave Street, Bronte
Tues-Sun 7am until sold out
Tues-Fri 7.30 until sold out
Sat-Sun 8am until sold out