When Anu Haran first placed her crunchy, ricotta-filled pastizzi in the display window of her small bakery in Sydney, she thought she only knew one Maltese person in her life – the person who first introduced her to the addictive treat. 

Once she began mastering the craft of making the perfect pastizzi, she realised that she was surrounded by people linked to the small Mediterranean island.

 “I found out that our other baker Jenn Kamsler’s mother is Maltese, that our main supplier is Maltese, and that our barista has a Maltese passport!” 

Earlier this month, Haran’s customers were introduced to her freshly baked pastizzi with a pinch of thyme and garlic – her twist on the traditional snack.

“Many of our customers were intrigued and had no idea what pastizzi were, and they loved them,” the 39-year-old baker told Times of Malta

Fresh pastizzi baked at the Flour Shop, Sydney.Fresh pastizzi baked at the Flour Shop, Sydney.

“But a fair number of customers also told me about their Maltese connections. A good number came in with their Maltese mothers and grandmas. I had no idea there were so many people in my life with Maltese connections.

“It’s amazing how food can link us to people. To think that in this world so many people are fighting but the familiarities of food in different cultures can make us closer and open our minds to others. I am no politician but a baker, but learning more about other cultures makes people a lot more tolerant.”

Haran’s first encounter with the humble pastizz took place years before she opened her bakery, Flour Shop, and before she called herself a baker. It was through a Maltese friend and colleague, Karl Galea, who had invited her for dinner.

“I can’t remember if it was a fresh or frozen pastizz, but I remember that I was super impressed by its flavours,” she said. 

“I could tell that making pastizzi from scratch required a lot of work and time.”

At the time, Haran was not a pastry chef but a marketing representative with Vodafone. However, the encounter with the Maltese savoury snack was ingrained in her mind.

Anu and her husband Parag outside Flour ShopAnu and her husband Parag outside Flour Shop

In 2018, Haran took the plunge to quit her corporate job, diving into the life of a baker. She worked in different cafes, learning the tricks and trade of bread and pastry making, cleaning, chopping fruit, and more cleaning. 

“There are a lot of romanticised notions about croissants and bread making as if you wake up in the morning to birds chirping, the sun rising, while you magically pull out fresh bread from the oven,” she joked. 

'I start my day at 2am'

“In reality, it is very beautiful but there is a lot of science, precision and pressure. And an insane amount of cleaning! Also waking up at absurd hours during the weekend. It’s 2am right now and that’s when I start my work day in the bakery.”

Haran opened the doors of Flour Shop, in the Sydney suburb of Turramurra, in February 2020.

While the bakery only opens on the weekends, Haran and her staff keep themselves busy behind the scenes, creating and baking delicious treats for their customers. 

The small but mouth-watering menu is posted every week – a neatly scribed document divided into three categories: bread, savoury and sweet. 

Some of the tasty treats found in Flour ShopSome of the tasty treats found in Flour Shop

“If there is something I learned from my marketing days, it’s that it’s important to keep things simple if you want to run a profitable business, and not confuse customers.”

The bakery’s specialty is fresh sourdough bread baked to perfection, but that’s not the only thing that keeps her customers coming for more.

Inspired by her travels and her Indian background, Haran wanted her customers to learn about different cultures through every bite. 

“When you look at our menu, a lot of the baked goods are not necessarily Australian or Indian, but from different parts of the world, and are a core to a particular culture,” she said. 

'A pastry reminds them of childhood'

A glance at Flour Shop’s menu shows just that. Customers can choose between cheesy Palestinian flatbread coated in sesame and nigella seeds, Greek savoury Spanakopita rolls filled with spinach, feta and ricotta, South Indian vegetarian puffs, and crispy and sweet Pasteis de Nata (Portuguese custard tarts). 

“Often we have customers telling us that a dish or pastry would remind them of their childhood. At one time we were baking Honey Jumbles (popular Australian biscuits) and people lost their minds when we started selling them!”

She said her team usually specialise in dishes that excite them and often include dishes that are technical and difficult to make.

That is when Haran’s memories of  pastizzi returned to her.

Perfecting pastizzi baking

Despite the pandemic and lockdown, Haran said Flour Shop was constantly busy with customers eager to try their delicious treats from across the globe. 

“Karl was one of her first customers, and one day he came with his family and asked me ‘So when are you going to make pastizzi?’

“I remember how the pastizz has a crazy number of layers and is very crispy, similar to the dough of the Portuguese tart,” she said. 

So she started to research, read and watch countless videos of how to make the perfect pastizzi

“We had a bunch of trials, and many times our ricotta filling would explode in the oven,” she recalled. 

She spent hours in the kitchen with another Sydney-based baker, Hayley Thorncraft, who managed to perfect the recipe. 

Pastizzi on Flour Shop’s handwritten menuPastizzi on Flour Shop’s handwritten menu

“Once you go down the rabbit hole of making something, you want to know what you were doing wrong. They are not easy to make, it’s very technical, and I would even say they are just a touch easier than making croissants.

“I love making them, they are very time-consuming but I enjoy it a lot,” she said. It takes over four hours to make 100 of the small but mighty Maltese snacks.

Pastizzi made their way to the Flour Shop’s small menu last month and the response has been very positive.

“We sold about 200 pastizzi during the two weekends they featured,” she said. 

Will they become a staple on the menu? 

“It’s hard to tell. New items always do well, as people are curious to try our specialities, we need to see if, after three or four weeks, people will still want to buy them.”

Looking back, it was never Haran’s plan to have her bakery centred around the nostalgic effect food has on people. 

“People get lost in the comfort of nostalgic food and how a dish can connect so many people. When I started experimenting and making pastizzi, it reconnected me to Karl and I got to meet the Maltese grandmother of my barista. The connections I have made make it more special.”

While Haran has travelled across the globe, she has yet to visit Malta. What would be the first thing she does once here? 

“I would find one of the oldest pastizzi chefs and ask to spend time in their kitchen to watch and learn from them. Bakers are very generous with their time, and I have developed a huge respect for them.”

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