Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The bold and the beautiful - Melbourne

The bold and the beautiful - Melbourne

Rapturous indulgence: Dolcetti's array of sweet treats.

The bold and the beautiful - Melbourne

The baklava at El Fayha Sweets.

The bold and the beautiful - Melbourne

Photography by Manuela Cifra

Sugardough's red velvet cake

When it comes to sugary treats, Melbourne's best chefs and bakers are sweet talkers, as Simon Plant discovers.

At St Kilda's Il Fornaio, Philippa Sibley has finished making yet another one of her famous Snickers bars... and as it sails into the dining room, Melbourne's queen of desserts loves to observe her diners' reactions.

"People do the funniest things," she says. "Some of them roll their eyes. Others stop talking and do the spoon point. Love that. Best of all is the air guitar face... that's the ultimate. Heaven."

Snickers - a shorthand descriptor for caramel parfait glace with salted peanut caramel and milk chocolate mousse - was a mouthwatering fave with viewers when Philippa made it on MasterChef Australia this year in a Celebrity Chef challenge. Its charms are obvious: dark cocoa, a velvety parfait and subtle hints of salt. But Snickers is not the only thing sweetening our lives.

Far from it. Melbourne has sugar hits aplenty - from gaudily coloured cakes and sticky baklava to magic mousses and light-as-air pastries. Philippa can resist them all ("Strangely, I don't have a sweet tooth") but this passionate pastry chef, whose skills have enriched restaurants such as Circa and Bistro Guillaume, is powerfully aware of her power.

"I can be Machiavellian making dessert," she says. "Even if I was horrid, I know I could make people like me with a great sweet."

What is it about desserts that send us into a spin?

Philippa thinks they satisfy our appetite for something deliciously shallow.

"They're like pop songs," the gifted chef says. "They're frivolous, they're fun."

They can also be impossibly pretty. Just look at Il Fornaio's Snow White and Rose Red. This fanciful finisher combines meringue "angel wings", "ball bearings" of strawberry and sugared rose petals. And Philippa, its gifted creator, reckons Snow White is so gorgeous, "you could wear it as a hat to the Spring Racing Carnival. On second thoughts, maybe not."

Comfort is another factor. Sugardough Panifico and Patisserie, in Brunswick, keeps customers satisfied with scrumptious goodies that remind them of home... or a fuzzyfelt image of it. Co-owner Orlando Artavilla explains: "A lot of our cakes are based on recipes we've collected and they're not over-elaborate."

Sugardough's Red Velvet cake is simple enough to make (see recipe) but vibrating with Day-Glo colour and mortared with frosting, it makes quite a statement. One day, Melbourne is bound to get a fully-fledged dessert restaurant. In the meantime, you might want to map out a patisserie path of your own. As Philippa Sibley likes to say: "Life's too short... eat dessert first!" Sweet.


Where: Il Fornaio (2c Acland St, St Kilda; ph 9534 2922)

Philippa Sibley's Snickers bar had sold out by the time I arrived. No problem. The Million Dollar Bullet I sampled instead was a sweet sensation, combining chocolate ganache and licorice ice cream with grapefruit jelly and raspberry coulis. Seasonal fruit inspired it.


Where: Monsieur Truffe (90 Smith St, Collingwood; ph 9416 3101)

Chocaholics are in heaven here because proprietor Thibault Fregoni is a connoisseur of couverture and cocoa. He sources single-origin chocolate bars from exotic locations and his truffles are tremendous. But M. Truffe's dairy-free chocolate mousse - served cool in a glass with shards of chocolate - is the ultimate indulgence.

BAKLAVA (about $10 for 10 pieces)

Where: El Fahya Sweets (648 Sydney Rd, Brunswick; ph 9386 6974)

Still going strong after 40 years, Lebanese proprietor Fadi Wazze crafts miniature marvels from kaitaifi pastry, sugar syrup and chopped nuts. His flaky baklava is arranged with architectural precision and perfectly-balanced with crunch and stickyness.


Where: Dolcetti (223 Victoria St, West Melbourne; ph 9328 1688)

Marianna Di Bartolo runs this charming bakery just up from the Queen Victoria Market and regulars cannot get enough of her blissful teacake with "a touch of Strega". But for a true Sicilian sensation, nothing surpasses Dolcetti's cassateddi - a sugar-dusted pastry filled with lightly-sweetened ricotta.


Where: Sugardough Panifico and Patisserie (163 Lygon St, Brunswick East; ph 9380 4060)

TARTS, biscuits, slices and loaves... Sugardough's daily bake yields a host of delicious goodies. But regulars can't go past a slice of red velvet cake, which throbs with colour and carries enough frosting to make an igloo.


Orlando Artavilla recommends this eye-catching cake be served for afternoon tea: "It's very visual and the hint of cocoa sneaks up on you."

This recipe makes a cake big enough for 12 good serves

90g unsalted butter280g sugar2 x 50g eggs3 tbsp red food colouring1 1/2 tbsp cocoa1/2 tsp salt160g buttermilk405g plain flour1/2 tsp vinegar1/2 tsp baking soda


225g butter21/2 tbsp flour225g milk150g icing sugar


Beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs to the mixture, one at time and beat well after each addition. In a separate bowl, mix red food colouring with cocoa and add to batter. Beat well.Stir salt into buttermilk and add to batter, alternating with the flour, and beat well until ingredients are well incorporated. Do not overmix. Stir in vinegar and baking soda. Pour into a 20cm cake tin and bake at 180C for about 40 minutes. Check with a cake skewer. Leave cake in tin for 20 minutes to settle before applying the frosting.To make the frosting, melt butter gently in a saucepan and add flour to make a roux.In a bowl, add the mixture to milk and icing sugar and whip till smooth. - Herald Sun - October 2010, Page 6

Simon Plant

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