Beatrix: The Return of Cake Weather

Don’t get me wrong, I’m an advocate for the consumption of cake at almost any given time. As I settled into a little window spot at North Melbourne’s Beatrix last week, however, I had to agree with the lovely lass serving up a hefty piece of Coconut Shagg to a customer: it’s officially cake weather. So long to the sweaty days of an all-too-hot summer – Melbourne’s autumn has finally kicked in. And whilst I’m not a huge fan of the impending cold, it’s at least a comfort to remember that wonderful ability to warm up from the inside out. A cup of tea and a bit of cake from Beatrix is a pretty splendid way to do just that.

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Loved by locals and one of the North-side’s greatest sweet spots (though I’d venture to say all of Melbourne!), Beatrix is a tiny café on the corner of Queensberry and Lothian Streets in North Melbourne. It’s cute and quaint, though be warned that the cosy size might make for a wait to sit, particularly on Saturdays. If you’re pressed for time, however, don’t think you’ll be alone in swinging by to pick up a take-away treat or two. Speaking from delicious, passionfruit-frosted experience – the Saturday-only Vanilla Slice is cause enough to make a trip totally worth it.

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What I love about Beatrix, and what makes it the perfect chilly day comfort, is that everything is freshly homemade – in the warmest, fuzziest sense of the word. I’m talking unabashed CWA-style, Grandma’s kitchen baking. Last week I fell prey to a piece of Beatrix’s Carrot Cake (pictured above). It’s probably not winning any beauty contests, but I was at once reminded of the chocolate sponge cakes my Nana used to make for every family birthday growing up, and so couldn’t resist. Wonderfully moist and light, a divine white chocolate cream cheese buttercream frosting and a hint of wintery spice – it was just superb.

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I’m still on my way to conquering most of Beatrix’s baked fare, but I can say that the Rhubarb and Custard Crumble Tart, Ginger Crème Brûlée Tart, Potato Brioche Doughnut, Vanilla Slice and Salted Caramel Slice are all magnificent. I’ve not sampled one of Beatrix’s famous ciabattas yet, but I do believe that needs to be rectified very, very soon. The ciabattas maintain somewhat of a cult-like following – only a couple of varieties are available each day, and they disappear fast. Luckily, Beatrix updates Facebook every morning with the day’s offerings: ciabattas, cakes and cakeish things alike. So if you’re hanging out for that Sydney Road ciabatta or Devil’s Food Cake, Beatrix makes for easy stalkage.

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Beatrix is the sort of place I’d make sure to take an overseas visitor; it’s cosy, welcoming and embraces old-school Aussie baking (I was not surprised, but very impressed to find that owner Nat Paull apprenticed for Maggie Beer!) with a little vintage America and a whole lotta love. In absence of foreign callers, however, I’ll be hopping over to Beatrix to continue my own personal pilgrimage. These are the days of cake weather, my friends, and I know where I’ll be taking shelter from the cold.

Beatrix | 688 Queensberry Street, North Melbourne, VIC 3051
https://www.facebook.com/BeatrixBakes
Open | 
Tue – Sat : 9.00am – 4.00pm

Beatrix on Urbanspoon

Cupcake Central: The Best Cupcakes in Melbourne

Cupcake Central make, hands down, my favourite cupcakes in Melbourne. And believe me, I’ve put in a lot of groundwork (read: eaten a lot of cupcakes) in supplement of this statement. I first visited a few months after the initial Hawthorn store opened in 2010, whereupon a friend and I proceeded to try every single cupcake flavour on offer that day. Yes, we were full to near bursting – but in the most gloriously happy way.

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Cupcake Central’s cupcakes are fresh, light and fluffy. Kind of like cloudy little pieces of heaven. You’ll find favourites like Salted Caramel, Vanilla Vanilla and Red Velvet on offer every day, plus a batch of exciting seasonal flavours – the current summer menu boasting the likes of Golden Gaytime, Pavlova and Baklava – baked on alternate days throughout the week. The autumn menu will be appearing next week, so you can bet I’ll be keeping a keen eye on Cupcake Central’s Facebook page and Instagram feed for a first look at the new flavours! The weekly baking schedule features on their website, making for easy scheming for cupcake conquering.

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It’s Friday, however, when I most anticipate an update from the holy cupcake deity. Fridays are Surprise Flavour Fridays, and feature a one-day-only flavour that’s usually experimental and fantastically decadent. Pictured above is the cupcake that, just this past Friday, quite literally made me leave my house and venture to Melbourne Central for the sole purpose of consuming such a baked beauty. Inspired by the French pastry ‘Paris Brest’, this is a classic vanilla bean cake filled with handmade chocolate custard and topped with a crown of choux pastry, custard and a drizzle of melted chocolate. Um. Yum. Other past creations have included a layered Oreo and Peanut Butter Brownie cupcake, Strawberry Pop-Tart, Caramel Meringue Choc-Top, and Strawberry-Lime Rekorderlig Cider.

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It’s been amazing and endearing seeing Cupcake Central grow from that first Hawthorn store. There are now stores in Melbourne Central and Highpoint (wonderfully located for me!) and owners Sheryl and Tin have maintained a really genuine, fun and actually quite inspiring level of integrity in the brand. I had the pleasure of meeting Sheryl way back in 2011 during another all-you-can-eat cupcake adventure, captured most lovingly in the heyday of my video blogging career – take a peek here for some retro Cupcake Central (and some retro Terri!)!

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The high quality of product and service across all three stores is also wonderfully consistent. I’ve been particularly impressed with the Melbourne Central and Highpoint stores, which still manage to create a really unique and welcoming space midst the craziness of a busy shopping centre. I can wholeheartedly confirm that the solace of sitting down with a cupcake and coffee during a Highpoint run is a comforting one indeed! These stores also run a variety of cupcake baking and decorating classes – details can be found here.

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Cupcake Central is fuelled by passion and innovation, and has flourished well beyond the ‘cupcake craze’. It’s come a long way over the past few years, which makes me very excited to see what’s in store next!

Cupcake Central Hawthorn | Shop 7, 672 Glenferrie Rd, Hawthorn, VIC 3122
Open | Mon – Fri : 7.30am – 6.3opm (full range of cupcakes avail. from 9.00am), Sat – Sun: 10.00am – 5.30pm

Cupcake Central on Urbanspoon

Cupcake Central Melbourne Central | Level 2 Dining Hall, Melbourne Central, Melbourne, VIC 3000
Open | Mon – Thu : 10.00am – 7.00pm, Fri : 10.00am – 9.00pm, Sat – Sun: 10.00am – 6.00pm

Cupcake Central Workshop on Urbanspoon

Cupcake Central Highpoint | Shop 2561, Level 2 Fresh Food Hall, Highpoint Shopping Centre, 100/200 Rosamond Road, Maribyrnong, VIC 3032
Open | Mon – Wed : 9.00am – 5.30pm, Thu : 9.00am – 8.00pm, Fri : 9.00am – 9.00pm, Sat : 9.00am – 6.00pm, Sun: 10.00am – 6.00pm

Cupcake Central on Urbanspoon

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!

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