we’re off to the tropics! back in a month!
Monthly Archives: March 2012
i was in the city so early the other day that my go-to sushi roll place at melbourne central was only three rolls into their display. cupcakes then.
cupcake central recently launched their autumn collection, which includes this adorable butter popcorn cupcake. why so bashful, little cake? you’re an exceptionally moist creamed corn cake, topped with a pouf of vanilla frosting, a drizzle of caramel sauce and a crunchy cluster of caramel popcorn. yum! it darned near knocked the black velvet off its preferred cupcake perch.
the hot chocolate was pretty good too, served in a fetching blue cup of sturdy china and topped with shaved chocolate. do i even need to mention the tidy little wooden snack tray on which cup and cake are delivered? surely one of the more agreeable ways to rid yourself of that five dollar bill in your purse.
ice cream is my favourite.
a few weeks back, the kid and i thought it would be a good idea to roadtest the coppa di gelati at brunetti, a sundae for two to share. it was only on for the summer, and the summer was fast tumbling to its end. i wonder if many coppe had crossed the pass in three months — it had been spruiked on the brunetti facebook page, but the only onsite publicity was a small placard on the counter, turned halfway to the wall. even the countergirl was momentarily confused when we ordered one.
but she seemed excited, and asked us to sit while she prepared it. “it will be a few minutes,” she said. so we sat and waited, and watched — amused — as she walked back and forth between the gelato outpost and the main cafe section to fetch the necessary ingredients: a special dish, a couple punnets of fresh berries… at one point, even the guy from the drinks station was summoned with his siphon of whipped cream. we’d picked the berry coppa (there were two others to choose from, on the themes of “chocolate” and “nuts”).
the kid was excited as well, dancing before the counter to watch the scooping of gelato and the assemblage of… well, you shall see. after quite a few minutes, the countergirl walked slowly to our table, bearing a silver tray. she seemed at once reverent, and proud. she’d done a great job! we may even have applauded.
so. here we have five scoops of ice cream and sorbet: raspberry, strawberry, berry cheesecake and vanilla. whipped cream, berries, coulis, wafers. maraschino cherries. we ate it so quickly, matching each other spoonful for spoonful. in the glow of late afternoon sunshine, it was gone much too soon.
it’s a crazy notion, of course, that a sundae should be just a summer fling. surely a judicious curation of stewed fruit, crumbled cookie crumbs and warm sauces in a coppa would see us safely through the winter.
choukette, down the road, plies a trade in little french treats. a black sesame macaron is a fine treat on any given day, pleasingly chewy with its buttercream filling all subtly nutty. (a rose macaron is also a fine treat, as is one filled with salted butter caramel…)
but what of the chouquettes, for which the shop is named? you can get a dozen in a large paper bag, corners twisted as they do in paris (i imagine), for five dollars, and you can eat them as you head back up the street. they are just balls of choux pastry, dotted with large sugar crystals, but they are strangely compelling. by the second set of lights, you will suddenly realise that you’ve gobbled down four.
save some for when you get home. slice them open, and fill them with ice cream and berries. i suppose it defeats the purpose of a simple little pastry, but daymn, it makes for a perfect mouthful — surely the finest treat that day.
shortly after harlan was born, a box arrived at our house. it was one in a flurry of packages — i’d recently bought some books from book depository, and my reasoning that buying them all in one go would save on air miles and cardboard was negated when they all arrived as individual parcels over a couple of days — but this one seemed special. different. it wasn’t especially large, but it was heavy. it was covered in important red stickers. i opened it carefully, and extricated a flagon — almost two litres! — of maple syrup. of course, it was from my crazy sister.
i had long been entertaining the idea of a waffle maker in my head, and really, who doesn’t want a waffle maker in their head, specifically the cuisinart waffle machine i’d seen at the good food show last year, all brushed steel and vintage spaceship aesthetic. shortly before harlan was born, i’d been in that monster kitchen place next to the south melbourne markets with my mother, and i’d shown her the waffle machine.
she pursed her lips and shuddered. “waffles are so unhealthy,” she said. “why don’t you get the kitchenaid?”
“huh.” i said, “what do you think i’ll be making with the kitchenaid?” i was genuinely curious why she thought i wouldn’t be whizzing up cake and the buttercream frosting to go with.
that day, we returned home with bags of fruit and vegetables and fat fillets of salmon, but no waffle machine (or, alas, kitchenaid). to be honest, it was as good as mine, in my head. i was happy just biding my time. and then the syrup arrived. the maple syrup in a jug as big as a baby pretty much sealed the deal.
i had wondered if a waffle machine would be a white elephant. there was definitely a concern that it would end up being one of those appliances that sits in the back of the kitchen cupboard, taking up valuable space that could be used to store… some other appliance. turns out, having a waffle machine is just great! we’ve had waffles for sunday breakfast three times already — the last batch, yesterday, was even spelt waffles — with blueberries, with raspberries, with strawberries, with aerosol cream, with a river of maple syrup.
one sunday afternoon at the height of summer, we went for a long walk, and harlan awoke from the ensuing nap to find himself in the sunlit wonderland that is l’atelier de monsieur truffe. it’s like teleportation, i tells ya — the surprise in his eyes when he wakes and discovers he is somewhere new and different. did you ever read the short story by stephen king, “the jaunt“? like that. it was hot that day, and perhaps being our first formal cafe date together, i played it safe and ordered something i could easily eat with one hand: a fruit salad. oh, and that there iced chocolate.
how many cafes in town, you order a chocolate drink, and get some milky beverage with barely a teaspoon of chocolate power or a dribble of sugary chocolate (flavoured) sauce in the bottom? many. not this one. mister truffle serves a tall glass filled with a deep dark chocolatey elixir. it is topped with a modest scoop of good ice cream, and a generous dusting of cocoa. it is all about the chocolate. and it comes with a stripy waxed paper straw! here’s the thing: it is served over ice. this means that though the chocolate is rich, it does not have the heft of half a litre of milk to add to your stupour. it does not have a cloud of aerosol cream for distraction (and i do love cream-in-a-can). but as bitter(sweet) as the situation is, the gradual dilution of the drink through the melting of the ice keeps things on an even keel.
so that you will be completely present to enjoy your $8 bowl of fruit. the menu listed rockmelon, raspberries and passionfruit, and that is what it was. there might have been a puddle of lime syrup at the bottom of the bowl, and the strange feeling you get from paying $8 for some cut-up fruit (this was before the height of melon season, when half a melon could be had at woolies for 60c) dissipated with each juicy mouthful.
on this day, harlan was happy sitting on my lap and watching… i dunno, the shiny thing in the middle distance? there is much to see in this big, light converted warehouse: the industrial fittings, the ornamental tiles in the prettiest shade of blue, the handsome wooden shelves of chocolate (housemade single origin bars, nibs, hot chocolate shavings…) begging to come home with you, the secret window into the chocolate moulding room, the behemoths that are the vintage chocolate processing equipment taking up a good third of the room…
but so, i had such a wonderful time that afternoon, that i thought kid #1 might like it too. so as an end of school holiday excursion one day, we trundled over. completely ignoring the fact that it was a chocolate cafe, she ordered kiddie pancakes and a ginger beer. i had a hot chocolate…
again, a wonderfully chocolatey drink, with all the rich and dark, and none of the glug or warm milkiness. and such a treat to drink from the ceramic tumbler and lick froth off the smooth wooden spoon; a tactile experience all round.
and an omelette to go with, a most elegant plating of a long golden pillow, moist and soft, filled with cheese and chives.
melty, oozy cheese, the variety of which now escapes me. gruyere? fontina? something. the kid was happy enough with her pancakes and ginger beer, but after rather too many tastes of my lunch, decided that she might have to have an omelette and a chocolate bevy to herself on our next visit.
which was not too many weeks later.
i had been somewhat obsessed with the iced chocolate in the interim, and it proved to be the perfect accompaniment to the reuben-ish sandwich i ordered off the specials board. pastrami with braised cabbage and picked onion slices. melted cheese. it was somewhat breadier than i’d like, and the pastrami sliced a little thin, but it was salty and good, and came with a perfect little salad.
the omelette filling that day was hot smoked trout and zucchini flowers, but maeve gamely ordered it anyway, despite her aversion to the gourd. how generously stuffed it was with slabs of flaky pink fish; and how delicate the ribbons of zucchini flower that ended up strewn all across the plate. i must admit, i helped her finish it off — that and her own iced chocolate — but even then, at the end, she lay her head down on the counter and said, “and now, i am dead.”
i read the online reviews, and people grumble about how the atelier is a chocolate cafe not serving chocolate desserts, but this is something rarer and altogether more necessary: a purveyor of superior chocolate drinks and well crafted savoury food, and then all the fancy chocolate bars and slabs of hazelnut-studded gianduja you can fit in your arms on the way to the cash register. i expect kid #2 and i will jaunt over this way quite a bit.
sometimes, if the timing’s right, i’ll drop kid #1 off at school, and then amble the perambulator up to the main street with kid #2. it’s usually good for a quick burst of grocery shopping while he catches another nap, though if i’m feeling really lucky, i’ll try and have myself a cafe breakfast. last friday, i wheeled us up the ramp at albert street food and wine, dark and imposing as an old bank (which it is) on the outside, but friendly and light within.
they bring water quickly at albert street, in elegant gold-tinted glasses, and take drink orders straight up. however, they may then take 15 minutes or so to come back and take your food order, even if there are only a couple of other tables to attend to. this means that a baby might have awoken in his pram in the meantime, and might — after a little bit of quiet reflection — require some attention. we chatted for a bit, and then admired the industrial fittings and high ceilings, and then eventually the waitress thought to check in and see if we wanted breakfast. when i placed my order for the baked ricotta with peaches, the waitress warned, “it will be a good 15 minutes, because it is baked to order, but if you have the time it is worth it!”
i made a quick calculation in my head, balancing out recent feeds and naps: 15 minutes, no problem. and then we sat and waited. the rolling stones were on repeat, and for a while harlan was happy enough bouncing along. he looked out the windows into the street. i sipped tea. he watched the other small children on either side of us. and then we got up for a bit and wandered through the adjoining food store — jams and terrines and house-made pickles; chocolate and wine and olive oil; a basket of heirloom tomatoes, perfect as jewels… and then we waited some more. 15 minutes takes a while sometimes, and seemed to take even longer when the tables around us, who hadn’t ordered the baked ricotta, were getting their mueslis and breakfast piadini delivered.
and finally, finally, just as harlan progressed from spirited fidgeting to low-grade growling, the waitress brought this shallow dish to the table:
well! it was not what i was expecting. on the menu, simply listed as “baked ricotta, peaches, almonds, local honey”, it gave no clues. and i mean, baked ricotta, right? you see it in delis, it’s a cake of ricotta still indented all over with the grooves from the plastic tub in which it is set, and the counterperson will cut you a wedge: under its brown skin, it’s cold and dense. here was a veritable golden pudding, all dusted in powdered sugar and drizzled with honey, with little peaks of chopped up peaches peering tantalising through the surface.
it really was quite lovely. peach juicy and perfumed, cakier towards the edges, and still moist and eggy in the middle, punctuated by the crunch from the toasted flaked almonds. alas, two mouthfuls in, harlan decided that the half hour he’d waited was enough; 15 minutes of waiting to order, and 15 minutes of waiting for food had exhausted his goodwill. which was fair enough, really.
when quiet reasoning failed, i thought i might have to leave the rest of my breakfast. the toddler across the room had already thrown a high-pitched screaming tantrum some minutes earlier, so i didn’t feel i could inflict upon the dining room another grumble. but when i stood up to put the child back in the pram, he fell silent.
and so, yes, i did eat the remainder of my pudding, standing up and rather a bit quicker than i would have normally… but as the waitress said, it was worth it.