This Easter: The Non Choc Shop

So I don’t want to stir anyone into a panic and/or food and gift buying frenzy, but it is officially ONE SLEEP until Easter! Last year I wrote a little wrap up of some of the nicest Easter chocolate gifts available in Melbourne at places like Koko Black and Haigh’s (check it out here: http://northmelbournelife.com/2014/04/07/eatster-i-mean-easter/

 But I have a dark and terrible secret in my family, which plagues us each Easter, and it is this: a certain unnamed member of my family (ahem little sister), who normally has impeccable foodie taste, does not like chocolate! Yes, you heard right, someone closely related to me eschews all things gloriously cocoa. I have checked, she’s not adopted. 

 The list below is for you, baby sis, and all the people out there who are not as addicted to the brown stuff as me. It’s a list of my top 10 non-chocolate gifts in Melbourne this Easter.

 1. Marshmallows: Yes they are great in hot chocolates, but they can also be a gourmet treat on their own and a fun addition to baking. Mork (Errol Street, North Melbourne) makes packs of 12 perfectly cubed vanilla bean infused ‘mallows for $10 a pack. 

2. Honey: For the chocolate-hating hipster or conservationist in your life, Rooftop Honey brings bees back into cities and produces small batch honey from different suburbs, so it’s possible to buy a jar of South Yarra honey or a jar of Degraves Street (CBD) honey. The Melbourne chapter sells online or at a whole bunch of fine food outlets across the city. 

 3. Macarons: Aparently these are ‘so over’ and have ‘reached saturation point’ in Melbourne, but I obviously didn’t get that memo. They’re brightly coloured, light and delicious, perfect for Easter. I’d recommend a box from La Belle Miette who are doing special gold, yellow and cream Easter pacakging and, wait for it, a limited edition hot cross bun flavour macaron! Boxes of 6 start at $15.90. 

4. Oxfam Unwrapped: Give someone who really needs it a chicken ($10) or a bunch of carrots ($52 for a whole veggie garden) this Easter. Cards can be purchased and downloaded online as e-cards, or you can buy them in store (Carlton, Chadstone and the CBD). 

 5. Hot cross buns: A total classic. They don’t really last more than a day or two fresh, but then, you’ll probably eat them all by then anyway! Vegans will appreciate the buns at Crumbs Organic Bakeouse in North Melbourne and Ascot Vale and gluten intolerant peeps might like the gluten free (also vegan) ones at Fatto a Mano (Fitzroy). 

 6. Jelly beans: Not the most sophisticated treat, but super fun, colourful and nostalgic. I still love Jelly Belly beans, available at David Jones and candy stores like The Original Lolly Store. Just avoid those cherry flavoured ones…gross! 

7. Caramelized coconut truffle: Koko Black does a super delicious white chocolate truffle filled with a caramelised coconut cream. They are about $2.10 each. Since it’s white chocolate and not technically ‘chocolate’ I think it qualifies for this list. My prediction is there will be zero elbow room in any Koko Black store this afternoon, but it might be worth the crowds for this delicious treat!

 8. Salted caramel spread: Pure decadence…possibly to be eaten with a spoon from the jar. Really good options for this are Lux Bite’s salted caramel spread ($10 for 190g jar), Burch & Purchese’s Famous Salted Caramel Spread ($14 for 300g jar) and Bonne Maman’s caramel spread, available at various supermarkets (approx. $8 for 380g jar). And don’t ask me why I know so much about jars of salted caramel…you know why (*hides empty jar behind back*). 

 9. Caramel kisses: More caramel, in biscuit form this time. These crazy good little biscuits are basically two small shortbread biscuits sandwiched together with caramel and cream icing. Available at David Jones’ Food Hall’s cookie counter. Yes, they have a cookie counter. Yes, I do go there a lot. 

 10. Baklava: Bring a little Greek Easter to your gift giving – head to a local Greek or Turkish bakery for a container of this gorgeous little slice of honey-nut-pastry heaven. And then attempt to refrain from eating it all before you manage to give it to your loved ones.

Have a happy and safe Easter everyone! Whatever you’re doing or however you’re celebrating, I hope it’s with great people and delicious food. 

The Flour Market

At 7:30am this morning I was awake and out of bed. On a Saturday. There could only be one reason for this very uncharacteristic behaviour: the pursuit of pastry!

This morning I went to the Flour Market, a pop up bakery market in Fitzroy. There was one held late last year which I missed, so I was determined to get in early and go into a cake-induced coma at this one. There were about 12-15 stalls at the indoor market, which was hosted by The Baron Said in Fitzroy, just near the corners of Johnston and Brunswick Streets. All the stallholders were artisan bakers of some description, plus there was a coffee stand and milkshake stand to help wash it all down.

I arrived about 8:40am to a line maybe 80 people deep. The crowd was mostly young locals, foodies, plus quite a few parents with (surprisingly well behaved) kids. Doors opened at 9am, except for people with early bird entry tickets. Given how crowded and crazy the place got, next time I’ll definitely be trying to get my hands on an early entry ticket. I think one issue was that there was no crowd control, so when the doors opened at 9am, everyone poured in rather than say letting 50 people in at a time. The crowd was great though, everyone was polite and really happy to be there. We formed relatively orderly queues at our chosen stands, accidentally elbowed each other and greedily eyed each other’s choice of treats. Traffic flow and direction was a bit of an issue though, with half the crowd going left upon entry and half going right and everyone smooshing together at the central stands!

Anyway, enough about crowd control, on to the important stuff, like salted caramel donuts. So there were so beautiful looking goods at the stalls, I didn’t really know where to start. There were gorgeous solid looking savoury pies by Pure Pie, big stacks of waffles at Waffle Jolie, fresh artisanal breads, vegan cheesecake, homemade donuts of several shapes, sizes and flavours, glossy bagels, homemade oreos at Bakewell & Co, pecan pies and lemon tarts.

flour carry bags

crumpets

I started off by perusing all the stalls and buying a couple of bags of Dr Marty’s Crumpets, as I’d heard of them before but had never tried them. They are currently sitting in my fridge, ready to be toasted and covered in honey and butter, as they conveniently last a couple of days in the fridge. Then I joined the bagel line for 5 & Dime, which was epic! I think it must be the current obsession with American diner style food in Melbourne at the moment, but everyone wanted a bagel. I grabbed myself a plain and a sesame seed bagel. I was tempted by the more unusual sounding white chocolate raspberry bagel, but resisted as there were a lot of sweet options on offer at the Flour Market that I needed to get through. I’ve just had one of the bagels for lunch with a big smear of cream cheese and spinach dip from the Queen Vic markets. Oh baby. There was a reason for the line. Melbournians know their food. 5 & Dime don’t have a store sadly, but do sell at farmer’s markets. They also supply to some very cool cafes across Melbourne, include Pope Joan and Bowery to Williamsburg (which I recently visited, a CBD brunch gem!). The bagels are super soft and just a little yeasty on the inside and have a chewiness on the outside which comes from the traditional boil then bake method. My only criticism was an aesthetic one – the bagels are so generous and puffy that they basically have no hole in the middle, so when you cut them in half, they don’t really look like a bagel to me.

bagels 01

bagel stand

Then it was on to the sweet stuff, starting with a milkshake at MilkBar. I went with the ‘Choc Haze’ milkshake, essentially a nutella flavoured milkshake. The ingredients were delicious but the texture wasn’t brilliant, it lacked bubbles and volume because they were using dinky little blenders with hardly any power. But I do love a good milkshake and expect a lot from them, so perhaps I’m being too tough.

I think the highlight of the morning was the salted caramel donut from Cobb Lane Bakery. It was just unreasonably soft and delicious. So light and doughy and then the salted caramel filling was very salty, very sweet and very smooth. It wasn’t the easiest thing to eat out of a paper bag, but hey, it was worth getting powdered sugar on my nose for! Cobb Lane Bakery is based out in Yarraville, but Twenty & Six Espresso on Queensberry Street stock their donuts, so they could become a regular and extremely dangerous habit of mine.

We left around 10am and things were already starting to sell out, including Cobb Lane’s donuts. I noticed La Belle Miette’s macaroons weren’t selling as quickly though, suggesting to me that the Melbourne love affair with macaroons is well and truly over. They are still very beautiful though, and great if you’re wanting gluten free. If you haven’t been, their shop in Hardware Lane is super cute and their pastel coloured gift boxes elevate their macaroons into a very stylish little gift I think!

pecan pie from Bakewell & Co

pecan pie from Bakewell & Co

It was great to be reminded of what a wonderful foodie city Melbourne is with such passionate producers and purveyors. And the best part? I was back on my couch, bagel at the ready and air conditioning on by 12 o’clock today, the time when I’m normally just emerging from the doona covers!

Cobb Lane on Urbanspoon

La Belle Miette on Urbanspoon

Ten baked goods I just don’t understand…

I love baked goods. When I travel, it basically ends up being a tour of all the best bakeries and cake stores in that country. I read guides and blogs on pastries. I make lists of cake shops to visit. I also love making baked goods myself. I bake pretty wicked double chocolate chip cookies (even if I do say so myself) and a growing repertoire of cupcake flavours on a regular basis. I’m also the keeper of the family’s secret passionfruit sponge recipe. However, there are some baked goods I just don’t get. I don’t like them. Never have and probably never will. Yet, they are very popular. Why? I don’t know, but here’s my top (or rather bottom) ten. Feel free to object – perhaps something you love is on my dis-list…

Mince pies – it’s less than 12 weeks until Christmas. Myer has their Christmas trim shop set up already. But there’s one part of the festive season I won’t be looking forward to, and that’s mince pies. I think it’s the mixed peel and dried fruit in them that I don’t like, because I also don’t like Christmas cake or pudding. My sister always disliked them too, until she went to the UK. Over there they eat mince pies (in the freezing cold weather) piping hot with thick cream. I’m unconvinced but she swears that the hot UK version completely turned her on mince pies.

Coconut ice – logically I should like this slice. It’s pink and white. It’s super sweet. I love coconut. But there’s something about the extreme sweetness I just don’t like. Plus it’s all so same-y. There’s just one texture, just one flavour, no levels or layers of interest. In addition, I think I feel misled by this slice. Half is pink and half is white, suggesting there’s two flavours there, but it all tastes the same!

Jaffa cake – chocolate and orange is a combination I really dislike. I don’t like my beautiful chocolate despoiled by orange’s bitter oily intenseness. Also in this category is any kind of chocolate/mint cake combination. Really, who likes toothpaste flavour with their chocolate cake?

Mega muffins – I love muffins, but I often find that the giant ones are really disappointing. Unless made somewhere reliably good, I won’t buy them. What tends to happen is that the baker puts three blueberries at the top of a huge muffin. Based on the appearance of the top of the muffin, you (rightfully) assume the muffin is choc full of juicy moist blueberries. In fact, there’s only those few on the top and the rest of the muffin is just stodgy plain cake flavour. It’s like somewhere in the past there was an official allocated number of berries/chocolate chips etc per muffin and that allocation has not been adjusted upwards to take into account the new jumbo sized trend in muffins.

Jelly slice – I know this is an Aussie favourite, but I don’t get why people go for this one. It’s wibbly, but not in a good way. It’s a weird texture combination. Plus, being a jelly top it’s typically not vegetarian friendly. I know, I know, you can kick me out of the country now…

A baked good I do get: melting moments!

A baked good I do get: melting moments!

Lemon slice – while we’re on slices, lemon slice is another popular item I have no love or time for. There are so many delicious slices out there people! Caramel slice, hedgehog slice, brownie slices, even those oatmeal Anzac type slices. Why go for the plain as plain lemon slice option? Plus they’re often quite dry on the bottom with sickly sweet icing on the top; an uninviting prospect.

Pumpkin scones – does anyone actually eat these? Besides your great aunt? What is the point in putting pumpkin in a scone, besides making the scone the colour of radioactive American cheese?

Pumpkin pie – I have nothing against pumpkins, but pumpkin pie is another item I can’t get into. I spent a Halloween and a Thanksgiving in Louisiana a few years ago, so believe me, I gave this American treat a go. I tried homemade ones, I tried slices from bakeries and I also tried two flavours of pumpkin pie made by Wholefoods. Nothing. It’s a pie crust with weird goopy (or in some cases jelly-like) custard the colour of baby spew.

Carrot cake – carrot is a vegetable. Don’t put it in a perfectly good cake. And don’t try to make the crappy vegetable cake better by wasting delicious cream-cheese icing on it. Plus, carrot cake sounds sort of healthy, but with the amount of sugar put in it to make it taste good, and all that cream cheese icing, it’s a really deceptive choice. Go home carrots, go back to where you belong!

Sticky buns or coffee scrolls – I’m talking about those big doughy wheels covered in icing, sometimes featuring sultanas. I don’t really understand why anyone likes these. It’s just bread that tastes mildly of cinnamon, covered in extremely average icing of the plain or instant coffee flavour variety. Lame.

Choco-ma-holic

I love Melbourne (quite obviously). I love lists. I also LOVE chocolate. So it was quite clear to me that today’s post was long overdue for my blog. Below are my top ten chocolate experiences in Melbourne, in no particular order. And yes, I am eating chocolate while I write this, it’s the only way.

1. Chocolate soufflé at Bistro Vue (see pic below). They bring this baby out on its own little purpose made dish. The waiter picks up a pot of melted dark chocolate, cuts a cross in the top of your soufflé and pours the molten chocolate into your soufflé. It’s just so light in texture, yet that sauce is so deeply dark.

2. Iced chocolate donut at Crumbs Bakery. This one is dangerously close to me, on Errol Street. The donut is super crispy on the outside and fluffy on the inside, with tonnes of sweet sticky chocolate icing on top. And, as an added bonus, it’s vegan and organic. Nice!

3. Pear and chocolate tart at Dolcetti. I could eat everything at Dolcetti. The baked caramel cheesecake is crazy-good. But this chocolate pear tart is something really special, a great combination made with love by beautiful Italian women.

4. Handmade chocolates at Koko Black. I’m sorry, I can’t choose just one flavour as my favourite (and neither should you).

5. Giant chocolate chip marshmallow cookie at Patricia. The coffee is a bit too cool for school (though apparently very good), but this giant cookie is chewy, gooey goodness with very large milk chocolate chips.

6. Chocolate passionfruit brownie at Le Petit Gateau. There’s brownie, there’s some sort of hazelnut crispy layer, there’s passionfruit mousse, there’s chocolate mousse, there’s dark chocolate ganache and there’s passionfruit gel. Not for the faint hearted. Definitely for me.

7. Cherry ripe bar at Haigh’s. Not very sophisticated, but so delicious and nostalgic.

8. Death by TimTam cocktail at The Carlton Yacht Club. I don’t even know if they make these any more. But they were amazing. Think of an alcoholic chocolate milkshake with a whole TimTam floating on the top, all served in a martini glass to make it feel a little bit classy. I was certainty not very classy after a couple of these!

9. Chocolate coated almonds at the Lindt Café. Personally I don’t like the ambience or the service much at the Lindt Café, but you can eat these delicious little morsels on the go.

10. Ferrero Rocher ice-cream at Seven Apples. Sweltering 40 degree days are totally worth it for this St Kilda gem. The ice-cream is thick and creamy and full of crunchy Ferrero pieces. I’d also recommend their Turkish Delight flavoured ice-cream, which won a silver medal at the 2011 Sydney Royal Cheese & Dairy Show. Wouldn’t you just love to be a judge at that show…

Bistro Vue's chocolate souffle

Bistro Vue’s chocolate souffle

I can pie and go to heaven now…

banana cream pie SF

Possibly the jewel of San Fransisco and the eighth wonder of the world: Tartine’s banana cream pie. It consists of a flaky pastry case so buttery that it’s sort of like a hard croissant, the case is then coated in dark chocolate and filled with caramel, bananas, pastry cream and whipped cream, with giant chocolate flakes on the top. Despite its huge size, I finished this baby. In fact, it was so delicious looking that a fellow Australian traveller asked to share my table (it was very crowded) and an older US woman on the next table declared that she had ‘pastry envy’!

Tartine Bakery on Urbanspoon