Apex Bakery, Tanunda, Barossa, South Australia – Living History
Apex Bakery is a family run and owned business dating back to 1924. Owned by three brothers, the most senior, Keith “Chiney” Fechner, 101 years old, respected for his stubbornness, has insisted the bakery be kept running with traditional recipes and artisan techniques, and given due credit, is one of the reasons the outlet has such a great reputation today. Now operations are carried on by three Fechner boys: grandson Corey; Uncle John; and Brian aka “Nipper.”
Corey Fechner at work
You’d never guess from the shop front what lies beyond the counters of freshly baked breads and pastries. For the privileged few who get a chance to visit behind the scenes however, it’s like stepping back in time and walking through a living museum.
Oldest Continuously Running Wood-Fired Oven in Australia
A giant wood fired oven, sided by a pile of chopped mallee wood, and old utensils I thought only existed in museums and antique stores, fill the room. This Scotch Oven is believed to be the “longest running, continuously fired commercial oven in Australia!” A central workspace is laid with hessian sacks, and bread tins that quite possibly could be close to 100 years old are still hot from their last trip to the roaster.
Old Bread Tins
The fire is stoked up in the morning with mallee wood. A chimney on the opposite side of the oven draws the flame across the top creating instant heat. Unlike a modern oven the temperature is not precise and can change within a baking session. It takes a mix of expertise and artistry to work this baby. The baking process is staggered so that products go in at different times as the oven cools. First the bread enters at the oven’s hottest, then the rolls, pies and pasties, and finally the cakes are added. It takes skilled judgment and manual checks to get the timing just right.
Some breads are baked directly on the bricks for additional flavour, but most are escorted in and out on trays by large paddles resembling boat oars. You can even cook a roast in this oven. It’s a Christmas tradition for the community to cook their turkeys in this oven, and often family and friends unite on a Friday evening over a few bottles of red wine and prepare a roast meal together.
Old Leavening Tub
Many of the recipes date back to the 1800s, and the bakery is known for their slow ferment doughs and breads, pies, pastries and a mighty fine Beinenstich (Bee Sting). And… by slow, they mean really leisurely – fermented for about six hours, the total time to prepare one loaf from start finish ranges from seven to nine hours! Compare that to the less than an hour processing time for commercial bakeries and you understand why visitors believe Apex Bakery is something rather special.
Hot Out of the Oven
We try a few of their products and can’t help but feel a certain kind of magic as we’re munching on loaves, pies and pastries in the historical kitchen. Over a delicious white loaf, soft within and crusty outside, we hear stories of adventures of the boys from the past. Yarns of mischief and fun are passed down, not only as enlivened anecdotes, but we see them also in the twinkle in Corey and John’s eyes as they retell tales of roguery surrounding the bakery.
White Bread with Olive Oil and Dukkah
John Fechner Weaving a Tale
A good traditional standard of an Aussie meat pie is great with tomato sauce. A doughier base contains the gravied meat, and a flaky pastry furnishes a lighter top. Pasties are brimming with ingredients and we find one filled with beef, potatoes, carrots and onions very satisfying.
Hubby is enamored with the Beinenstich and shows no self-control in gobbling up the brioche style dough filled with a custardy cream, and topped with almonds and honey.
The German Cake too makes an irresistible morning tea treat. A brioche-like dough base supports a streusel top – dried fruits mixed with a crumbly combo of flour, butter and sugar. Corey likes it with a thick spread of butter, and it proves superb with a cup of hot tea.
Reasons to visit: a walk back in time; breads made with recipes from the 1800s; a taste from the oldest continuously running wood-fried oven in Australia.