A Wonky Wonder with The Wonky Loaf
Long before it became a coping mechanism for surviving lockdowns, one local woman discovered the joy and therapeutic benefits of making sourdough. Deb Caruso discovers the wonders of The Wonky Loaf.
Workshops can be fun – grab your girlfriends, have a bit of wine and unlock hidden talents or learn new skills. Katie Faulkner was a personal trainer until 2016 when she went to a sourdough workshop that literally changed her life.
The process and concept of making sourdough deeply resonated with her and sparked an interest and passion that has set her on a lifelong mission.
“The bread we made wasn’t great but I connected with the concept and the reasons why we should eat sourdough resonated on a deeper level,” she said.
“I was consumed with making what I thought was fancy bread but I also wanted to figure out what was actually involved in making the perfect loaf.”
Katie researched all she could about sourdough and started making two loaves per day.
“I became obsessed. It was my everything and something I needed in my life at the time,” she said. “It really helped me find myself and focus.”
Even with three teenage boys, she was making too much for the household to consume so she started giving it away.
After two years of doing that, the recipients of her loaf love pushed her to reach a wider audience so the self-taught baker took her product to the local markets and was blown away by the response.
“I was working out of a bush block where the temperature could easily reach 35 degrees,” she said. “When using live culture, you have to accommodate for that and often the bread was wonky.”
The Wonky Loaf was born, and Katie suddenly owned a micro-bakery. For two years, she would bake about 300 loaves per week, hand-mixed and wonky – and sold out in the first few hours.
It was getting to be too much. Enter Alana and Anthony Uechtritz who had moved to the Sunshine Coast from Melbourne and were on a mission to find a good baker.
“We heard about Katie and found her at the markets,” Alana said. “The first few times, it was sold out, so I always made sure to order in advance.”
When COVID lockdowns brought about a change in circumstances, Alana and Anthony looked to invest in a local business and thought of Katie.
“No one’s going to stop buying bread and we knew that Katie’s was the best,” Alana said.
At the same time, the demand for Katie’s products changed overnight.
“The way people thought about food shifted,” Katie said. “They were suddenly interested in where food came from and how it was made, and they descended on farmers’ markets. I was struggling to keep up and realised that this was not sustainable.
“So, while Alana and Anthony were thinking about investing in and growing my business; I was wondering how on earth I could make this work.”
Katie welcomed the partnership but made it clear that she would not change the things that made her business.
“Often when artisan producers grow and the money talks, corners start being cut and before you know it, they are mass-producing a different product,” she said. “The integrity of the product will always rule.”
Luckily Alana and Anthony couldn’t agree more.
“Katie looked us in the eye and was clear about her principles from the very start,” Alana said. “We didn’t want her to change, we just wanted to make her products more accessible.”
For Katie, sourdough is a process not a product and the most important part is the fermentation.
“I started baking as a form of therapy and I just wanted to do my own version of sourdough and then extend it into other foods,” she said. “Opening The Wonky Loaf with Alana allowed me to do that, and we’ve built a team who understand our philosophy and are as passionate about it as we are.
“Our customers can trust that our products are the real deal. It sounds corny but we put love in everything we do,” Katie said. “It’s simple really. From a production point of view, I have a line in the sand on what I’m prepared to compromise. If something’s a shortcut, cheaper or takes less labour but impacts on the end product, there’s no way.
“We use a live culture to ferment wheat which breaks it down and makes it more digestible. That’s also what makes it taste amazing and so we use the same process for everything else that we do – pastries, croissants, pie bases and pizza bases.
“It always surprises me when bakers create sourdough and then use commercial baker’s yeast for other products. That never made sense to me; you’re pouring this attention and commitment into this live process so why wouldn’t that translate to other products; it just seems logical.”
Baker’s yeast is shelf-stable, so it is easier, more reliable and convenient; but it is not a live culture and for Katie, therein lies a big difference.
While Katie is self-taught, the team includes experienced bakers and pastry chefs. She admits it has been a challenge to untrain some of the traditional baking methods but she has an extraordinary group of talented people who believe in what they’re doing.
“The main component is time,” she said. “The minute that the culture is added to the flour and water, it starts fermenting and two hours later technically you could have that in the oven, but it hasn’t done the work that it needs to do. At 12 hours, we’re starting to get good fermentation; 24 hours is really good and then we push our luck.
“At some point the yeast will give up. It’s a fine line – the weather changes, the flour changes, humidity. Every time we bake or mix, it’s about balance.
“We are just the facilitators of the process. The mother (live yeast culture) is making all the rules and we just love her and manage her and sometimes she’s not into it. That’s the danger for a small business; that makes it unpredictable.
“That’s also where the beauty and magic lies.”
The Wonky Loaf in Kuluin opened in January 2021 and produces about 1,000 loaves per week. It is dog-friendly with a Wonky Cubbyhouse for kids. Market stalls include Wednesday’s Eumundi Markets; Saturday’s Kawana Farmers’ Markets and Yandina Markets; and Sunday’s Noosa Farmers’ Market and Caloundra Street Fair.
With room to expand and a growing interest and understanding of what true sourdough is, The Wonky Loaf is about to get wonderfully wonkier.