The Baked Brownie: A Cocoa Quest

Recently I’ve begun to notice more baking recipes calling for dark, high quality cocoa. I’d never much ventured beyond good ol’ Cadbury Bourneville before, so the idea of experimenting with a premium cocoa really intrigued me. Nothing spurred this intrigue more than the famous Baked brownie recipe. Baked is a cafe and bakery in Brooklyn, New York, and I bought their first cookbook Baked: New Frontiers in Baking from Book Depository earlier this year very much on a whim. I’d never even heard of Baked before – but was in the mood for some new cookbooks and this one seemed fun.

I’ll admit, it remained untouched for many months. But when I did finally pick it up with a mission to bring to life a Baked recipe, I couldn’t go past The Baked Brownie. Flung to fame after being featured in Oprah’s O Magazine as one of her ‘Favourite Things’, this brownie seemed to be a pretty big deal. And there’s nothing quite like a fine brownie.

The Baked Brownie urges the baker to “Use a dark unsweetened cocoa powder like Valrhona. A pale, light-colored cocoa does not have enough depth.” It also implores that the dark chocolate one incorporates is a “well-respected chocolate”. Now – the first time I made The Baked Brownie, I used Cadbury Bourneville cocoa and whichever block of dark chocolate was on special at Coles. And I’m not going to lie – those things didn’t turn out half-bad. In fact, they were pretty damn delicious! Which is why I was especially curious to find out how much of a difference it would make if I went the extra mile…

I picked up some Lindt Excellence 70% Cocoa for the “well-respected chocolate’, but the dark cocoa powder proved a little more tricky. I couldn’t track down any of the Valrhona brand in Melbourne – it looks like I may have to order it online in future. For the time-being, and after quite a but of hunting, I found a ‘Premium Dutch Cocoa’ in David Jones. Made by a New Zealand company called Equagold, the only description intimated “Rich coloured, mild, bitter sweet flavoured Cocoa produced from the highest quality West African Cocoa beans and processed in Holland”. At $17.50 for 300g, I bit the bullet.

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(For anyone else on the hunt for a high quality, dark cocoa powder in Melbourne – I later remembered from my old days an an employee that Koko Black sell a dark cocoa powder at $14.45 for 300g.)

I was, as The Baked Brownie recipe suggested, less interested in the Dutch processing of the cocoa – but more in its colour and aroma. I was excited to get home and find that this cocoa was a gorgeous, dark brown, and that its smell was so deep and different to any other cocoa I’d used. It actually smelt like real chocolate!

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And so, I whipped up The Baked Brownie once again with my new premium ingredients. Unfortunately I had a minor mishap in removing the cooked creation from its baking dish, leaving a whole lotta brownie stuck to the glass base. Such silly kitchen tragedies can sometimes render me rather defeated, and perhaps it was that (or having eaten far too much brownie mix already) which led me to think, upon tasting the ‘new improved’ brownie, that it really wasn’t anything special. Despite the fact that Mat was experiencing a transcendent moment over his first taste, all I could think was: “Well, gee. That was a waste of money. Stupid, stupid brownies!”

It wasn’t until I opened my tin of ugly little broken brownie bits after work the next night that I truly experienced the awesome power of The Baked Brownie in all its intended glory. If the first batch was pretty damn delicious, this one was freakin’ sensational.

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The depth of flavour, as wanky-food-critiquey that may sound, is honestly what stood out. Using premium ingredients took everything from that first batch and magnified it to create such a rich, chocolatey taste that lit up my whole mouth. I think the texture benefited as well, adding to the wonderful hint of fudginess that makes a really fantastic brownie. I’ve already made another batch (this time removed flawlessly from the baking dish – thank you baking paper!) and I have to say, I think they could quite possibly be the best brownies I’ve ever tasted. I’ve had the joy of spreading The Baked Brownie love to friends and family, and received outrageously good feedback!

So, my foray into the world of dark, high-quality cocoa powder was quite a successful one indeed. I’ll definitely continue to make brownies this way, and I’m eager to start using it in other recipes too. I’m sure Cadbury Bourneville will always have a place in my cupboard, but it’s exciting to get more and more confident in baking and experimenting with how quality ingredients can make such a difference. In the meantime I’ve got a kick-ass new recipe in my repertoire, and a huge new item on my bucket list – visit Baked in New York one day to try the real thing!

Parkville Store

I am fiercely fond of Parkville, where I set up camp in April of this year. Despite having been a past Parkvillian during my early university years, I don’t think I quite appreciated what a stunning suburb it really is. Having since dwelled in a mishmash of postcodes across Melbourne, north and south, I can safely say that this little elm-lined pocket is my favourite. I love exploring and trying new places to eat, but there’s something so lovely and comforting about having a good ‘local’.

Parkville is certainly no great trek from delicious fare at some amazing cafes and restaurants of the inner north – but admittedly is scant of much within moseying distance. I’m talking serious moseying here – the kind that you barely muster after hunger pains have finally forced you out of bed late on a Saturday morning (I’ll ‘fess up now to the occasional early Saturday afternoon). And so it was with great excitement that Mat and I recently discovered our very own ‘local’ – the Parkville Store.

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Located on Morrah Street off Royal Parade, Parkville Store lies neatly tucked away in what may just be the quaintest and quietest part of all Parkville. If it hadn’t been for a quest Mat and I were on to find somewhere close by that sold Jam Lady Jams – absolutely divine jams handmade in the Yarra Valley  – we may honestly have never found it! The cafe’s online presence is seriously minimal at the moment – without even an Urbanspoon listing (I quickly rectified that!), we were reluctant in believing it actually existed. But our thirst for a good Rasperry Grappa preserve spurred us on, and thank the Brunch Gods it did.

Parkville Store really strikes a genuine balance between modern and retro cosy. Sleek wood benches blend with formica-topped tables and vinyl chairs, and you’re as like to find old-school cinnamon sugar and butter as smashed avocado on your toast. There’s a small, friendly staff (Mat and I are determined to edge in as first-name basis regulars as soon as possible) and the atmosphere is warm and relaxed. And of course – the food is pretty damned great.

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Pheonix Chai latte // Porridge with rhubarb and ginger, coconut and ginger crumble and Parkville honey

I’ll admit, I knew it would be love from the moment I first glanced the menu to order my usual chai latte: they served Phoenix Chai. My absolute favourite! It’s made from syrup but it’s wonderfully potent and gingery, just the way I like chai. To find it on offer at Parkville Store was obviously a stroke of destiny. For coffee lovers, Melbourne specialty coffee roasters’ Padre Coffee is the house brew.

The menu features delicious, simple dishes that embrace local produce like Parkville Honey, Jam Lady Jams, Istra Smallgoods, Mt. Zero Olives, Myrtleford Butter Factory and Meredith Dairy. In a nod to its beginnings as a grocery store in the late 1800s, the walls are lined with shelves and fridges from which customers can purchase the fresh produce and pantry goods used in the cafe’s own kitchen. There’s also a beautiful old jewellery cabinet displaying a selection of tasty pastries and a delightful range of lollies dear to any Aussie childhood!

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Parkville Store honestly feels like the sort of place more people should be talking about. Perhaps that’s part of the charm, though – that the owners aren’t at all bothered with attracting the zealous crowds of Melbourne brunchers, or half-hour long wait lines milling on the pavement outside. It’s everything a ‘local’ should be: focused on its locals. Customers and suppliers alike, Parkville Store makes them the star of the show.

And with regulars like this guy, why wouldn’t you?

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Parkville Store | 52 Morrah St, Parkville, VIC, 3052
http://theparkvillestore.com/
Open | Tue – Sat : 7.30am – 5.00pm

Parkville Store on Urbanspoon

Gelato World Tour, Melbourne 2013

A few weeks ago, I had no idea such a thing as a Gelato World Tour existed – much less that one of its eight whirlwind stops around the globe would be in my very own Melbourne! Luckily, things very quickly changed. That very stop was set to take place over the fast-approaching weekend of 25th-27th October, and the Melbourne foodie community was abuzz with anticipation. Sixteen Australian gelato artisans would converge upon Argyle Square, Carlton, to offer up their bid for a place at the tour’s grand finale in Italy late next year.

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It probably goes without saying that I love ice-cream. I’ve gelato’ed my way across Europe, look forward to my Ben & Jerry’s chocolate-sprinkle waffle cone as much as any movie at my cinema, and had a major life moment when David Lebovitz, famed homemade ice-cream connoisseur, responded to a tweet of mine. So obviously, the Gelato World Tour was an event I’d have been remiss not to attend. Mat and I trundled over to the festivities on the Sunday afternoon, met up with my friend Hannah, and bunkered in for the ‘Gelato Experience’.

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A $10 ticket earned two cups of gelato plus three mini cones to sample whichever of the sixteen flavours on offer took our fancy. The lines for each gelato artisan and their nominated flavour were, in most cases, extraordinarily long – which at least gave us time to strategise how we were going to use our precious five samples to best effect!

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‘Cremino’ – Salted caramel gelato with house made gianduia fudge, fresh meringue and crushed amaretti : Gelato Messina // Donato Toce (head chef) and Simone Panetta (manager and local partner of Messina Melbourne) : Gelato Messina

The one ice-cream that all three of us chose to line up for was Gelato Messina’s ‘Cremino’. Aside from wanting a taste of what is often famed as the best gelato in Australia, the Cremino creation simply sounded downright delightful. As we waited in line, we actually learnt that it had just been declared the winner of the Melbourne leg of the Gelato World Tour, which was a nice affirmation of our first choice! It did not disappoint, either. The ice-cream, meringue and crushed amaretti created a beautiful taste and texture – but it was the pockets of incredible gianduia fudge that really set it off! Donato Toce and Simone Panetta of Gelato Messina were also the loveliest gelato artisans we met all day. Whilst most of the other representatives seemed a bit worn by the weekend (understandable!), these two had plenty of time for every customer and did it all with a smile and a laugh. Very much looking forward to the first Melbourne store opening on Smith street, Collingwood, very soon!

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‘Deconstructed Kaya Toast’ – Pandan kaya gelato with swirls of kaya and a Malaysian cream cracker crunch : N2 Extreme Gelato

For my second gelato cup, I chose N2 Extreme Gelato’s ‘Deconstructed Kaya Toast’. I’m a huge fan of N2 Extreme Gelato on Brunswick Street, Fitzroy, but hadn’t tried this creation which featured on the rotating menu back in August. Inspired by a popular Malaysian snack, kaya toast, I was very curious to give it a go! The kaya – caramelised coconut egg jam – was served in true N2 style via syringe, and was a wonderfully new flavour for me. The whole creation was really brought together by the Malaysian cream cracker, though – that element just worked wonders, and certainly makes me want to try the real deal!

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‘Pavlova Gelato’ – Meringue based gelato with a passionfruit swirl mixed with meringue pieces : Frangipani Gelato // ‘Pistachio Crunch’ – Smooth and creamy pistachio gelato made and layered with roasted pistachio nuts : Cones Ice Cream Hawthorn

I capped off my tastings with the ‘Pavlova Gelato’ from Frangipani Gelato in Sydney, and ‘Pistachio Crunch’ from Cones Ice Cream Hawthorn. The Pistachio Crunch was definitely the standout, with a sensational salty-sweet flavour. Mat and I had run out of time and had to sacrifice our final mini-cone – but honestly, we had been well and truly satisfied with our spoils! The tour was a fantastic chance to take a gastronomical glimpse into some of the country’s best gelato creations – here’s hoping we can hold our own at the grand finale next year!

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