Pink Ombré Cake

I’m not much of a girly girl. Most days, I’m sporting jeans, a t-shirt of some description and a flyaway ponytail, if I can get away with it. But when I stumbled upon this awesome pink ombré cake video tutorial, I couldn’t help myself – I squealed and jumped around in the girliest of girly girl ways for a good minute or two. Partly because I’ve been itching to try an ombré recipe for a while now, but also because Ann from How To Cook That makes it look like an absolute cakewalk – pun very much intended. 😉

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Not that I nailed it – as you can see, I totally botched some of the icing, whoops! – but overall, I’m pretty chuffed with how it turned out first time around. Besides, practise makes perfect, right? I’ve seen some crazy beautiful ombré cakes with impeccable rose petal icing and am already toying with the idea of attempting one myself.

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Anyway, onto the cake! I opted for a sponge, but you can use any cake that tickles your fancy. This was my first time ever making a sponge, so not even knowing where to start, I took to good old reliable Google and stumbled upon Donna Hay’s basic sponge cake recipe. I was a little puzzled at first, since there didn’t appear to be any sort of rising agent in the recipe aside from the eggs, but it didn’t seem to be a problem when I popped four beautiful golden babies out of the oven – not a euphemism, in case you were wondering. 😉

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Ann advises you have three cake layers for optimum ombré results, so you’ll have to increase the quantity of each of the following ingredients by adding half of their original quantities. I wasn’t sure how they were going to turn out, so I doubled the recipe, which left me with one cake to spare in case something went wrong – better safe than sorry!

Ingredients – Sponge Cake

Makes two 20cm cakes

1 & ¼ cups plain flour

6 eggs

¾ cup caster sugar

60g butter, melted

Method

Preheat oven to 350°F /180°C/160°C fan-forced.

Grease the sides of two 20cm round cake tins and line the base of each with baking paper.

Sift the flour three times and set aside.

Beat eggs and sugar with an electric mixer on medium-high speed for 8-10 minutes, or until thick and pale in colour, and tripled in volume.

Sift flour into egg mixture in two additions, folding gently.

Add melted butter, again folding gently until ingredients are well incorporated.

Divide cake batter evenly between both tins and bake for approximately 25 minutes or until cakes are golden brown and spring back when pressed lightly.

Cool on wire racks.

Looking forward, I’d probably experiment with another sponge recipe. These turned out relatively well considering they were a first attempt, but they were slightly eggy and not as light and airy on the inside as I would have liked.

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I used the buttercream icing recipe on the How To Cook That website, and doubled the ingredients thinking that would be enough, but silly me, I missed the note that said I needed to triple them to completely cover the three cake layers!  In any case, I’d probably recommend you make three separate portions of icing or else you’ll end up with a face full of icing sugar! I just got by with a double dose of each ingredient, but I was scraping the bottom of the bowl trying to cover the top layer in the end.

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Ingredients – Buttercream Icing

Makes enough to ice one 20cm cake

120g butter, at room temperature

2-2 & ½ cups icing sugar

3 tbsp pouring cream or milk

Your choice of liquid food colouring

Method

Loosely combine butter and icing sugar in a large bowl.

Beat with an electric mixer on medium speed until well combined.

Add one tablespoon of cream or milk at a time until you have reached your desired consistency.

Once you’ve churned out enough buttercream, place about a third into another bowl and set aside.

Then, starting with a few drops of your food colouring, incorporate into the rest of the buttercream and beat until you have a pale shade of your chosen colour. Take a fifth of the buttercream out and place into a zip-lock/icing bag.

Repeat the process, gradually adding a few more drops of food colouring to the buttercream at a time, until you have five different shades.

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Assembly & Icing

To assemble, take one of your sponge cakes and evenly spread a generous amount of the uncoloured buttercream over the top. Place the next cake on top and repeat the process twice more. Make sure to spread a thin layer on the outsides of each layer as well – this will help with the ombré icing later on.

Now for the fun part! Once your three-layered cake is covered in white buttercream, take the lightest shade of coloured buttercream and pipe blobs the whole way around the top of the cake. Then take a teaspoon or a small palette knife and squash the bottom half of each blob, dragging it downwards.

Sidebar: it really helps to occasionally dip your teaspoon or knife into some hot water; this way, you get a nice, smooth finish. Which I definitely will keep in mind for next time! By the time I got to the third row of buttercream, my water was lukewarm at best and the smearing got messy to say the least!

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Continue doing this until you’ve made it the whole way around the cake. Then take the next shade and pipe your next set of blobs so that they cover the bottom half of the smears from the top row. Repeat the process with the remaining buttercream. With the darkest shade, simply pipe blobs along the bottom of the cake and voilà! You have an ombré cake!

Check out the full video tutorial on How To Cook That here. Definitely worth having a visual aid handy if you get stuck! I had so much fun making this, and anybody thinking of making one should go for it. Life truly is better in colour!

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Enjoy!

– Erika x

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Peanut Butter Choc Chunk Cookies

Not too long ago, I was lucky enough to take up a six-week food styling and photography course at RMIT. The class is taught by Olivia Sparks, a super talented stylist who specialises in food, interiors, fashion and lifestyle. It was every bit as inspiring and insightful as I thought it would be, and, in addition to meeting some wonderful people, I also learnt heaps! Like how lighting can make or break a shot. And where to find the coolest props. And how stylists use lipstick to make strawberries look redder. And…yeah, I could go on all day! If you want to find out more about the class or are interested in taking it because, like me, you’re absolutely hopeless at anything that requires the flow of creative juice, here’s the link to the course page. I highly recommend it!

Of course, even having completed the course, I’m still a complete novice. But whenever I whip  my camera out now, I’m thinking about props and backdrops and surfaces and negative space and a bunch of other things I’d never considered before I took the class. So, I decided to put a little effort into today’s post. A little more than my usual ‘dunk it on a plate and take a photo’ method, that is. 🙂

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I thought I’d stick with something simple. But truth be told, I’ve never had much luck with cookies. In all of my tragic cookie-related experiences, I’ve always taken them out of the oven and waited eagerly while they cooled, only to find they had turned rock hard. Like eat-one-and-you-will-chip-a-tooth-rock-hard. Anyway, I woke up the other day with a massive craving for something – anything – peanut butter-flavoured, and the first thing that popped into my head was a big fat peanut butter cookie, oozy melted chocolate chunks and all. Promptly followed by me sledge-hammering my likely version of the poor thing to death.

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Lucky for me, Curtis Stone knows his cookies. These peanut butter choc chunk bad boys are everything a cookie should be – soft, chewy and outrageously addictive. The recipe is pretty straightforward, as well – one of those plonk everything in the mixer and watch it work its magic types.

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Ingredients

Yields approximately 15 cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 tsp baking soda

1/2 tsp salt

1 cup (roughly 280g) peanut butter (I opted for smooth, but you’re more than welcome to go down the chunky route)

1/2 cup (packed) light brown sugar

1/2 cup caster sugar

1/2 cup (125g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 ½ tbsp honey

1 large egg

1 tsp vanilla extract

155g semisweet chocolate, coarsely chopped (you can use chocolate chips, as well!)

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Method

Preheat oven to 350°F /180°C/160°C fan-forced.

Line 1 large tray or 2 medium-sized trays with baking paper.

Combine the flour, baking soda and salt in a small bowl. Set aside.

Beat the peanut butter, brown sugar, caster sugar, butter, honey, egg and vanilla extract with an electric mixer until smooth and creamy.

Add flour mixture to peanut butter mixture in 2 parts, mixing well after each addition.

Gently fold in chocolate chunks.

Spoon 1 ½ heaped tablespoons of dough for each cookie onto prepared baking tray(s), spacing them about 5cm apart. No need to flatten them, they’ll expand on their own in the oven.

Bake for 12 minutes or until cookies are slightly browned on top, but still very soft.

Allow cookies to cool on trays for 5 minutes (if you can wait that long, goodness knows I was chomping at the bit to eat one by this point) and then transfer to cooling rack once slightly they have firmed up a little.

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I’m slightly alarmed at how many I’ve already polished off, but like all the sugary treats I’ve come across lately, I’m just going to file this one under ‘to be worked off at the gym’. Besides, it’s peanut butter! And chocolate! All counter-arguments are invalid. 😉

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Enjoy!

– Erika x

two birds one stone

12 Claremont Street
South Yarra, VIC 3141
(03) 9827 1228
www.twobirdsonestonecafe.com.au/

I’m not a morning person. It takes me a good hour of snoozing my alarm (I usually have two or three set and spaced 10 minutes apart), walking into walls and a splash of ice-cold water to wake up. And even then, I’m still halfway in lala-land or trying to figure out what I was dreaming about before my alarm so rudely interrupted.

There are two things that will unmistakably have me up and at’em before my phone starts quacking at me. One is me falling out of my bed, which, admittedly, doesn’t happen often. Actually, it’s only happened once, but suffice to say, I got up. Maybe I should get someone to push me out of bed every morning. Or not. Pretty sure I bruised my butt the first time. The second – a far more pleasant and common occurrence – is the promise of brunch. /end long-winding psycho babble.

C and I decided to head over to South Yarra and kick off the 2013 brunch series at two birds one stone (every fibre of my being is fighting the urge to capitalise each of those starting letters!). We arrived just before midday and were able to score a booth between the outgoing breakfast and incoming lunch crowds. I hadn’t even ordered and I already liked what I saw – the café was bright and airy, with clean, varnished counter tops and random bursts of teal. The guys who brought us Three Bags Full are doing well – not only have they heated things up along Claremont Street with this little gem, they’ve just opened up shop in Richmond with Top Paddock.

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As always, C started off with a skinny latte (3.8), which, according to her, was nothing special. We’re yet to find a cup of Joe that really knocks her socks off. I, for one, could not stop gushing over the Tiffany blue cups and saucers – they were too cute! They definitely gave the otherwise sparse space a bit of warmth and colour.

Latte (3.8)

Latte (3.8)

My hot chocolate (4.0) was more lukewarm than hot, but nice and chocolatey. I loved the detail of the chocolate powder dusted over the top.

Hot chocolate (4.0)

Hot chocolate (4.0)

‘Breakfast served all day’ is my all-time favourite phrase next to ‘Sale on now!’. So, of course, my heart did a little flip-flop as my eyes skimmed across the same words atop the menu. C ventured down the sweet route and ordered the twice-cooked marmalade French toast with oranges and vanilla panna cotta (16.5). The bit of French toast that I was lucky enough to try practically melted in my mouth. It was the perfect balance of flavours; not too eggy, but not overly sweet. And finished off with the vanilla panna cotta (which was more like a quenelle of a really thick cream) – incredible! An absolute ripper of a dish, no question.

Twice-cooked marmalade French toast with oranges and vanilla panna cotta (16.5)

Twice-cooked marmalade French toast with oranges and vanilla panna cotta (16.5)

While C tended to her sweet tooth, I ordered off the specials menu and wolfed down the smashed peas with crispy pancetta, chèvre and poached eggs on toast (16.5). My egg was poached beautifully – the yolk oozed out like a boss as I cut into it with my knife and fork. The smashed peas were a great alternative to avocado and went nicely with the salty pancetta. The only issue was that it could have done with another slice of toast! The slice flying solo on my plate could barely hold it together, it was like the peas, pancetta and poached egg were playing stacks on.

Smashed peas with crispy pancetta, chèvre and poached eggs on toast (16.5)

Smashed peas with crispy pancetta, chèvre and poached eggs on toast (16.5)

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I couldn’t leave without taking a few of the apple and pistachio crumble muffins (4.5 each) home. There’s no photographic evidence to suggest this actually happened… because they were in my belly before I could whip out my camera. But hey, I defy anyone to resist a cupcake that good-looking. The apple filling was deliciously sweet, the vanilla bean frosting was spot on and the pistachio crumble gave it great texture. Not to mention they were fresh from the oven – the cake was so lovely and fluffy, I wanted to die. Not unlike Agnes in Despicable Me 😉

Pastry and cake selection

For a morning feed that’s sure to please, check out two birds one stone. The menu boasts variety, the space is fresh and funky, and that twice-cooked French toast… well, let’s just say I’d be more than happy to wake up and smell the marmalade any day 🙂

Two Birds One Stone on Urbanspoon

Taste of Melbourne 2012

Taste of Melbourne is the ultimate event for any camera toting, wine swilling, gourmet cheese sniffing foodie. Or, you know, any human being with functioning taste buds. For anybody who hasn’t had the chance to go, Taste brings together some of the city’s best restaurants to showcase their signature dishes. The festival also gives exhibitors the chance to flaunt local food, wine and produce.

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This year, the annual celebration of food and drink made the move from the Royal Exhibition Building in Carlton to the lakeside location of Albert Park. G and I had purchased tickets for the Sunday session in advance, which was all well and good – except we had no idea what the weather would be like! We were so lucky in that not only did it turn out to be a beautiful, sunny afternoon – we also got an extra hour to take in the sights, as it was the longest and last session of the lot.

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The Botanical

We thought we’d get our bearings first and take a little stroll around, so we could note down restaurants and stalls we wanted to hit up before digging in, but weakness struck at our first stop. I could already tell my book of Crowns (the unique currency used across all Taste festivals) was going to last all of five seconds. Plus, the Botanical’s menu was pretty banging. The crumbed pressed confit pork medallions with apple and fennel coleslaw (8 Crowns) was my first pick. The pork medallions were so succulent and juicy, and went down a treat with the creamy slaw. The fennel and mustard seeds gave the dish a bit of extra kick.

Crumbed pressed confit pork medallions with apple and fennel coleslaw (8 Crowns)

Crumbed pressed confit pork medallions with apple and fennel coleslaw (8 Crowns)

We also nabbed ourselves a lamb burger with truffled mayonnaise (10 Crowns). It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t a standout. The sad, lone leaf of iceberg lettuce made for a lacklustre burger. The lamb was moist and nicely seasoned, though, and the truffled mayonnaise gave us a little bang for our buck.

Lamb burger with truffled mayonnaise (10 Crowns)

Lamb burger with truffled mayonnaise (10 Crowns)

Malaysia Kitchen

G and I were lucky enough to sit in on the Malaysia Kitchen presentation with MasterChef heavyweight Poh Ling Yeow. I could watch cooking shows all day long, Poh’s Kitchen included, so it was way cool to see her cook up a storm. She’s just as exuberant and chatty in person as she is on TV. 🙂

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The cooking demonstration itself was really enlightening; we learnt about common ingredients used across the Malaysian cuisine as well as the different processes involved in making a kickass sambal. Poh and the Malaysia Kitchen team are all for making Malaysian cooking more user-friendly and accessible to the Australian community. It wasn’t long before her pineapple and prawn curry had the crowd oohing and aahing and clamouring for a bite!

Sensology Presents ‘The Art of Cocktail Making’

Next on the mental list of must-dos was a visit to the Sensology tent. I’ve always wanted to learn how to make a mean cocktail and I was so bummed when I missed out on this the last time I was at Taste. For just 10 Crowns, you get an exclusive look into the tricks of the bartending trade and you get to reap the fruits of your labour by taking your drink with you.

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By the time we got there, we had just missed the Mojito session, so we booked ourselves in for the 1.30 Southside class. I didn’t even know what a Southside was before signing up – turns out it’s like a mojito, but with gin instead of rum.

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The Sensology team really know what they’re doing! They got everyone involved and pumped up (ok, maybe it was the gin, but still, we had a blast) and the tutorial was really easy to follow.

Shakin' it like a polaroid picture ;)

Shakin’ it like a polaroid picture! (Photo courtesy of Taste of Melbourne)

Even though we may or may not have poured in more gin than we were supposed to, these bad boys were pretty delish!

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Mamasita

FREAKIN’ FINALLY! This is probably the closest I’ve ever gotten to the actual restaurant – I’ve struck out every single time in the past with Mamasita. I mean, seriously, what’s a girl gotta do to get some tacos around here?! Naturally, half the festival’s patrons seemed to be gathered at the Mamasita stall, so it took us a while to locate the end of the queue and even longer to get to the front of it. But after some confusion and moving around in circles, we eventually clawed our way from the crowd victorious!

Mamasita

Mamasita’s famed elotes callejeros (6 Crowns) were being doled out faster than you can say olé! The street style corn was a little more on the charred side than I would have liked, but boy, was it good. The chipotle mayo and parmesan packed an amazing flavour punch that was salty, sweet, sour and spicy all at the same time.

Elotes callejeros (6 Crowns)

Elotes callejeros (6 Crowns)

The taco de pescado or fish taco (8 Crowns) struck me as a weird concept, but it worked. The fish was lovely and moist and complemented the red onion salsa and achiote paste rather than overpowering them.

Taco de pescado (8 Crowns)

Taco de pescado (8 Crowns)

Over the din of the crowd, the guy at the counter mistook our request for the bean taco as a request for the ‘beef taco’ – so he gave us the braised ox taco (8 Crowns) instead. I’m sure there’s logic in there somewhere. In any case, the combination of the tender meat and the zingy pickled vegetables was unreal. Not totally mind-blowing dishes, but good enough that I might just have the patience to wait around for a table at Mamasita next time I’m around. 🙂

Taco de lengua (8 Crowns)

Taco de lengua (8 Crowns)

Saké

The afternoon was absolutely flying by! We still had some serious eating to do, but not enough time do it all, so the game plan was to hit up as many stalls as we could in rapid succession. Saké was our next stop. I’m a sucker for pork belly anything, so of course, we had to give the tonkatsu cups a whirl.

Saké

The deliciously crunchy panko-crumbed pork belly went so well with the tangy miso mustard, and the addition of the purple cabbage and baby butter lettuce leaves made for a pretty picture. The asking price was a little steep, though (8 Crowns for two cups), considering they were absolutely miniscule.

Tonkatsu cups - panko fried pork belly, mustard miso and barbecue sauce served in a lettuce cup (8 Crowns)

Tonkatsu cups – panko fried pork belly, mustard miso and barbecue sauce served in a lettuce cup (8 Crowns)

The Aylesbury

We saw a few of the dorper lamb ribs with pea and mint (6 Crowns) floating around and after scanning frantically through the menu, we found ourselves at The Aylesbury.

The Ayslesbury

The lamb was cooked beautifully and fell off the bone with the gentlest of tugs. The only issue I had was that the fat hadn’t been rendered down enough, which made it unbelievably greasy. Didn’t stop me from licking that rib clean 😉

Dorper lamb ribs with pea and mint (6 Crowns)

Dorper lamb ribs with pea and mint (6 Crowns)

Cointreau Fizz

In need of another drink, G and I followed the trail of ridiculously cute cocktails in conical flasks to the Cointreau Fizz tent. We got to watch the bartenders make our drinks, fancy tricks and all.

Cointreau Fizz

G went for the strawberry and mint variation, while I settled on the cucumber and basil. All I remember is the massive Cointreau hit! Sadly, the cucumber and basil was lost in amidst all of the alcohol.

Strawberry and mint Cointreau Fizz, Cucumber and basil Cointreau Fizz (8 Crowns each)

Strawberry and mint Cointreau Fizz, Cucumber and basil Cointreau Fizz (8 Crowns each)

Livingroom

At this point, we started jonesing for something sweet. The desserts on offer at Taste this year were off the chain – far more impressive than most of the savoury dishes, in my opinion. Round one of dessert saw us paying a visit to the Livingroom tent and treating ourselves to their warm chocolate mousse with toasted marshmallows and caramel popcorn (8 Crowns). The cup that it came in couldn’t have been bigger than your average shot glass, but given how wonderfully rich and sweet the chocolate was, I couldn’t complain. The consistency of the mousse was more like a thick Belgian hot chocolate and the gooey marshmallows were the bomb diggity.

Warm chocolate mousse with toasted marshmallows and caramel popcorn (8 Crowns)

Warm chocolate mousse with toasted marshmallows and caramel popcorn (8 Crowns)

Mr. Hive Kitchen & Bar

Mr. Hive Kitchen & Bar has been on my ‘to visit’ list for quite some time now but I haven’t had the chance to swing by yet, so I was pretty stoked when I saw them in the line-up for Taste this year. Their summer berry Eton mess (6 Crowns) was probably my favourite dessert of the day. For lack of a better description, it was like eating a fruity cloud (it sounds so lame when I put it like that) but so much better. A truly wonderful summer dessert!

Summer berry Eton mess (6 Crowns)

Summer berry Eton mess (6 Crowns)

Mr. Hive’s chocolate bar (8 Crowns) wasn’t actually on the menu, but I guess they had a few left over from their dessert degustation and wanted to sell them. Good thing they were, too, because it was a little slice of heaven. I’m totally itching to go to the real thing now!

Mr. Hive's chocolate bar (8 Crowns)

Mr. Hive’s chocolate bar (8 Crowns)

Libertine

The Point had run out of cheesecake (nooooo), so off to Libertine we went. Their apple and frangipane tartine, with maple and honeycomb (8 Crowns) was to die for. The puff pastry was warm and flaky and mopped up the honeycomb ice-cream like a boss.

Apple and frangipane tartine, with maple and honeycomb (8 Crowns)

Apple and frangipane tartine, with maple and honeycomb (8 Crowns)

Burch & Purchese

Our last stop on the Taste circuit was Burch & Purchese. We didn’t know that they were exhibiting until we saw some people carrying the pretty B & P bags around. Darren Purchese is the nicest guy ever! It was great to see him manning the B & P stall and chatting away with customers. I was even lucky enough to get a photo with him!

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio

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Then we did some damage! 😉 B & P’s ice-cream range is too awesome for me to put into words. I picked up a chocolate chip cookie dough, while G chose a raspberry explosion (8 Crowns each). It was like biting into a real cookie! There were actual chunks of cookie dough in the ice cream, which was unreal.

Raspberry explosion, chocolate chip cookie dough (8 Crowns each)

Raspberry explosion, chocolate chip cookie dough (8 Crowns each)

Scrounging up the last of our Crowns, we also picked up a slab of their popcorn and honeycomb rubble (14 Crowns) and a few meringue clouds (2 Crowns each) to take home.

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What a way to end such a fantastic event – on a colossal sugar high! This year’s line-up of restaurants was phenomenal and the food was spectacular across the board. Even though the five hours honestly felt like five minutes, we learnt heaps and had so much fun. I absolutely can’t wait to see what Taste of Melbourne 2013 brings to the table! 😀

Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier

Shop 1, Café Court
The Star
80 Pyrmont St
Pyrmont, NSW 2009
adrianozumbo.com/the-star-pyrmont/

G and I couldn’t wrap up our Sydney weekender without another dose of Adriano Zumbo. If there’s a dessert train within walking/driving/flying distance, I will move mountains to get on that train. And if there’s UNLIMITED SOFT SERVE (that got your attention, didn’t it?) aboard that dessert train, then I’m never getting off. Ever. 😉

By this point in the trip, we had pretty much eaten our weight’s worth in food, so we were feeling a little queasy to say the least. But as soon as we saw the hot pink neon signs, the crazy awesome macaron display and the dessert train chug-chuggin’ away, all signs of nausea miraculously disappeared.

We didn’t have to wait too long before two seats were made available. I couldn’t stop jiggling around in my seat, I was so psyched! If you haven’t had a chance to swing by Adriano Zumbo at The Star yet, dessert prices are indicated by plate colour. White plates are $5, pink plates are $6 and black plates (reserved for macarons and petits gateau) are $10.

The hazelnut dacquoise (5.0) was my first pick. It tasted like a ferrero rocher in cake form. The spongy meringue was slightly crunchy on the outside, but soft and moist on the inside, and went perfectly with the silky smooth hazelnut mousse. Yum!

Hazelnut Dacquoise (5.0)

Continuing with the confectionary-turned-dessert theme, we tried the violet crunchie (6.0) next. A beautifully deconstructed version of the classic chocolate bars, the honeycomb flavour rang through and through. The chunk on top was melt-in-your-mouth awesome.

Violet Crunchie (6.0)

The cherry and coconut concoction (6.0) was probably my least favourite dessert of the day. Perhaps it’s because I have an aversion to Cherry Ripes? Which is weird because I like chocolate, and I like cherries – I just don’t like them together. This number was more sour than sweet, which I was a little put off by, but I’m nitpicking here. It was still an enjoyable dessert.

Cherry & Coconut (6.0)

Comfortably full at this stage, G and I ummed and aahed over whether to call it a day. Then one of the wait staff (bless her) asked us if we wanted a never-ending bowl of soft-serve. To which the natural response was, “Um. Only heck yes!” And out came an epic bowl of chocolate-raspberry soft serve (5.0). It was chocolatey indulgence with a fresh, fruity twist. Mind you, we could barely get through that bowl, but hot damn, it was good.

Chocolate-raspberry soft serve (5.0)

We decided to give the macarons a miss since we had already sampled almost every flavour at the Manly store. We did, however, see this beast on our way out. I totally should have taken one home.

Adriano Zumbo at The Star is truly an experience like no other. His sweet works of art are made with such finesse and imagination. Forget trains of the steam or sushi variety; dessert trains are what’s up.

Adriano Zumbo Pâtissier on Urbanspoon

The Tea Room, QVB

455 George St
Level 2, Queen Victoria Building
Sydney, NSW 2000
(02) 9283 7279
thetearoom.com.au

I usually try to steer clear of anything excessively girly or swarming with snooty society matrons, but I think I may have found a reason to set my prejudices aside. High tea may be archaic and elitist and pretentious, but at the end of the day you get a cake stand filled with miniature desserts and sandwiches with the crusts cut off for you. What’s not to like? 😉 G and I have been itching to try out high tea for a while now, and thought it would be a great idea to pencil it in for our trip to Sydney. After a bit of research and some blog-trawling, we settled on The Tea Room at the beautiful Queen Victoria Building and booked ourselves a mid-morning session.

From the intricate details in the ceiling to the Royal Albert china doled out during service, The Tea Room is all class and whisks you away to a different time where bustling kitchens and harried waiters are non-existent. Of course, it was all we could do not to let a few high-pitched squeals loose/jump around like lunatics/make passing comments with truly awful British accents, but somehow we managed to keep it together.

Seated at a table by one of the windows, we were greeted with views of the Pyrmont Bridge and a menu with a kickass tea selection. If you’re something of a tea whiz and don’t mind paying a little extra, there’s also a ‘tea for connoisseurs’ range. We settled on a pot of the Wokou Garden (6.0), an organic green tea “carefully handcrafted to accentuate the delicate sweetness of spring.” It had a very mild but pleasant flavour that complemented our afternoon tea well.

Wokou Garden (6.0)

Speaking of, The Tea Room offers a number of afternoon tea packages, including sparkling wine (44.0), cocktail (51.0), champagne (57.0) and gluten-free options. Not caring much for intoxicating substances so early in the day, we went with the traditional afternoon tea (39.0). One can expect to pay a little more on weekends.

The scones that arrived shortly at our table were absolutely mammoth! No complaints here, though – they were the bomb diggity. Warm and soft on the inside, with a slightly crunchy exterior – I couldn’t fault them even if I tried. Of course, what’s a scone without strawberry preserve and cream? If I were stuck on a desert island with only one thing to sustain me, these would top the list without a doubt. 🙂

Equally delicious were the polenta and truffle oil tartlets; the combination of the smooth, creamy polenta and the richness of the truffle oil was so, so good. I could snack on those bad boys all day. The only drawback was the fact that they were tiny! The finger sandwiches were good, but nothing special compared to the rest of the spread. The shaved ham and roquette number was quite tasty, but the tuna and tomato not so much.

After clearing the second tier, we switched to dessert mode and set our sights on the top tier petit fours; a sticky citrus and almond cupcake, a fruit and custard tart and a mini opera gateau, all of which were unbearably cute. Almost too cute to eat! The opera gateau was superb; it tasted like tiramisu minus the coffee, which I quite liked. The mint chocolate garnish emblazoned with the crest was a nice touch.

We were surprisingly full by this stage, but the bottom tier beckoned. The pistachio macarons were a bit of a letdown; there was no pistachio flavour whatsoever and they were super sweet. The lemon meringue boats and passionfruit melting moments, however, more than made up for the macaron faux pas. Not to mention we’d already had our fair share of macarons the day before, so we weren’t too fussed.

All things considered, our first afternoon tea experience has probably set the bar high for all future afternoon tea experiences. I can’t praise The Tea Room enough; the service was top-notch and the food was sensational. 🙂

The Tea Room, Queen Victoria Building on Urbanspoon

Adriano Zumbo

Shop 1A, 40 East Esplanade
Manly, NSW 2095
(02) 9810 7318
adrianozumbo.com

If you’re ever in Sydney and looking for something to while the afternoon away, hop on a Manly-bound ferry down at Circular Quay. For a $14 return ticket, the 30-minute journey gives you some of the city’s best views. Make sure you get a seat out on the front deck and soak up some sunshine along the way!

G and I were incredibly lucky to fly in on a perfect 33 degree day and we couldn’t think of anything better to do with our afternoon than kicking it on the beach. We weren’t meaning to stop by the Manly edition of Adriano Zumbo’s macaron enterprise as we knew a certain dessert train was waiting for us to hop on at The Star, but then again, how could we not? 😉

We spent a good ten minutes walking up and down East Esplanade on the hunt for the infamous Zumbarons. I even dug out my phone and started following the moving blue dot on Google maps only to find ourselves staring at a brick wall. Long story short, look for the kayak rental store across the road from the Manly Wharf Hotel – Zumbo’s patisserie in the back.

We walked in with the intention of buying three or four, so naturally we ended up walking out with nine or ten. Clearly, my resolve is a little shaky when it comes to these bite-sized beauties. If macarons aren’t your thing, the Manly store also carries a number of cakes, pastries and tarts to tickle your pickle. Not a croquembouche in sight, though 😦

There’s a seating area next door, but we ended up taking them down to Chinatown to the pier and downed them like fish and chips.

G and I had a blast taste testing each macaron! The flavours were so distinct, I could have blindfolded myself and named them all accordingly. My favourite one by far was the Salted Butter Popcorn. It was like reaching into a real bucket of popcorn, but so much better. The sweet, marshmallow-esque filling complemented the slightly salty, popcorn-coated macaron shells like a dream. The Malted Milkshake came in at a close second. The vibrant turquoise and shimmery exterior was a little counter-intuitive, but the malty flavour was certainly there. Yum. We also picked up a Salt and Vinegar Zumbaron on a whim, which wasn’t nearly half as disgusting as I imagined it would be 🙂 The balsamic was very pronounced, but not overwhelmingly so. Definitely one to try if you’re up for something a little different!

From left to right: Malted Milkshake, Pineapple & Lime, Peach Iced Tea, Salted Butter Caramel, Choc Mint, Salted Butter Popcorn, Musk, Chocolate Doughnut, Lamington (2.5 each)

If you’d asked me what a macaron was three years ago, I probably would have pointed you in the direction of some French car model or obscure article of clothing. Thanks largely to Adriano Zumbo, though, macarons are now something of an institution in Australia. I take my hat off to him – the guy is a mastermind when it comes to crazy, innovative flavours and insanely beautiful desserts.

Adriano Zumbo on Urbanspoon

Mart 130

107 Canterbury Rd
Middle Park, VIC 3206
(03) 9690 8831

The past few months have been a blur of brunches. Waffles, bacon, mushrooms, eggs –  in each of their delicious manifestations – you name it, I’ve had it. After a while, though, the memory bank tends to haze over and that completely decent but not outstanding dish from that one time becomes exactly that – vague and nameless.

Mart 130’s corn fritters will most likely be etched into the cornices of my brain for the rest of time. Just putting it out there. 🙂

C and I rocked up to the Route 96 tram stop for a bite to eat late Tuesday morning. Why Mart 130, you ask? Mart (upon thoroughly examining the sign out front) is tram spelled backwards and 130 is the number of the tram stop. Now there’s a name you won’t forget!

We traipsed into the quirky station turned café and were welcomed by cheery greetings all round before we were seated in the corner booth of the sun deck. The Mart 130 vibe is relaxed but in amongst a flurry of activity, with the St Kilda-bound tram departing every once in a while on one side and the jovial banter at the Middle Park tennis club on the other.

Our waiter was a hoot and managed to crack a joke or two in between taking our drink orders. My chai latte was nicely spiced and dusted with cinnamon sugar – win! C went with her daily dose of caffeine; a skinny latte. Due to a complete lack of tact, I forgot to note drink prices, but if I had to hazard a guess, they were both around the $4-4.50 mark.

Chai latte, latte

Mart 130’s menu is a real beaut, with classy but unpretentious dishes to tickle everybody’s pickle. Their famed oven-roasted corn fritters with grilled bacon, tomato relish, sour cream and coriander (18.9) had my mouth watering before we had even arrived. I dug into the impressive stack and felt my tastebuds do the running man/play the air guitar/raise the roof. The fritters were fluffy, but also densely packed with sweet corn kernels that absolutely exploded with flavour. Paired with the streaky, salty bacon and zingy tomato relish, this dish was killer.

Oven-roasted corn fritters with grilled bacon, tomato relish, sour cream and coriander (18.9)

C had her eye on about three different things, but eventually succumbed to the other, equally delicious-sounding corn fritter option with smoked salmon, beetroot relish, crème fraiche and cucumber, dill and lemon salsa (18.9). The salmon was smoked beautifully and, teamed with the zesty freshness of the salsa, went down the hatch like a treat. C was happy to report that while they weren’t as good as her mum’s corn fritters (when are they ever?), they could definitely give them a run for their money.

Oven-roasted corn fritters with smoked salmon, beetroot relish, crème fraiche, topped with a cucumber, dill and lemon salsa (18.9)

We couldn’t help but ogle the three-tiered sweet stand as were paying, and being the suckers we are, we scooped up a few of their yoyos on our way out (3.0 each). Like the corn fritters, these were in a whole other league from some of the crummier versions I’ve had in the past. Absolute buttery, melt-in-your-mouth goodness.

Big ups to the team at Mart 130 for service, atmosphere and – most importantly – incredible food! I’m already itching to go back and blitz my way through everything else on the menu. 😀

Mart 130 on Urbanspoon