I am almost embarrassed to admit how much I frequented bakeries and pastry shops in Sydney. With a strong cafe culture, it was difficult to find a bad cup of coffee. To accompany all these silky smooth cups of flat whites, obviously I did not resist the call of flaky pain au chocolate, moist cakelets, meat pies, ubiquitous sausage rolls, and tarts of both sweet and savoury varieties.
In Sydney, there are certainly boutique-style pastry shops like Adriano Zumbo and Bécasse Bakery that rival any luxury patisseries in major metropolis. However, it was the quality of neighbourhood bakeries that charmed me the most. You could always count on them for good bread, non pretentious sweets, and excellent coffee.
Black Star Pastry in Newtown was my absolute favourite. The cupboard-size store was jammed with customers queuing for decadent breakfast and take-home treats when I visited on Saturday morning. I was lucky to find a spot to sit by the window and precariously balanced plates of goodies on the low polished rock stool. The Persian Fig, Quince, and Orange Cake with Pistachio and Rose Petal was a highlight of my trip Down Under. The buttery cake was moist with orange soaking syrup and the exotic Persian flavour combination was emphasized by pretty toppings’ textural contrast. It tasted like the most perfect cupcake except for its diminutive size…which made me crave more.
Good thing I was not stuffed because the Pumpkin Coriander Chickpea Tart with Pesto and Naked Ginger Ninja deserved my undivided attention. The hearty filling of roasted pumpkin and chickpeas was familiar to my taste buds since it is something I would make at home. The surprise came in the form of fresh pesto and puff pastry. Black Star Pastry is famous for their quiche and they were sold out when I visited. If the savoury tart was any indication, I could only imagine the deliciousness! Australian ginger is a much coveted baking ingredient. Beyond the cuteness of the gingernut ninja, the soft chewy spicy cookie was spot on.
It is rare for me to make repeated visits when I travel but Bourke Street Bakery inspired exactly that. With multiple locations, this bakery has quite a loyal following in the city. I visited both the original Bourke Street store and their newest Marrickville outpost in separate occasions. Everything I sampled was exceptional. The thick-cut fig sourdough toast was appropriately tangy with sweet pockets of jammy dried fruit. I could have ordered it with homemade jam, butter, or ricotta but it was not necessary. The bread held its own without any embellishment. The pain au chocolat was textbook perfect with its flakiness and two batons of dark chocolate. It was just soft enough to have that yeasty goodness without shattering into shards all over my lap. Don’t be fooled by the minimalist appearance of carrot cake. The smear of tangy cream cheese frosting did not overwhelm the delicate, almost sponge cake like, layers of cake. Quite a departure from the over-the-top North American style carrot cake but very enjoyable nonetheless.
In Sydney, every bakery sells sausage rolls. The oversize pig-in-a-blanket can easily be a meal on the go. I do not claim to be a connoisseur but I was very happy with Bourke Street Bakery’s signature fennel sausage roll. The crunchy fennel seeds were easily spotted in the filling. The combination of fennel and ground pork is classic. Once again, the bakery showed its finesse with laminated dough.
Last but not least, ginger brulee tart. My mouth waters just thinking about it. What was so special? Crunchy cookie crust was properly browned to bring out the best flavour. A thin layer of hard caramel shattered under my teeth. But the cream! Oh the cream! Not only was it infused with feisty ginger, it was made with extra thick double cream popular in Australia. Heavy cream in North America contains 35% of fat. In Australian supermarkets, I had a choice ranging between 35% to 46%! The creaminess and body of using double cream was out of this world.
Central Baking Depot began as an off-shoot of Bourke Street Bakery. Definitely very similar in terms of style and quality. It easily became my neighbourhood bakery during my trip to Sydney because it was practically around the corner from where I stayed! On my way to the train station, I would often stopped by for morning coffee. I even picked up a croissant sandwich filled with cheese, spinach, and roasted pepper to pack as lunch on one of my hikes. Tahini cinnamon scroll, hazelnut ganache twist, and fig barberry tart were all excellent.
I can’t talk about pastries in Australia without mentioning meat pies. The chain Pie Face was everywhere I looked (even in Manhattan!). Bacon cheese and egg pie seemed unusual to this Canadian but the oozy filling made so much sense whether for breakfast or post-late night drinking. Asking locals about best pies in the city guarantees a lively discussion. I enjoyed a quick meal before boarding the Manly ferry with a beef curry pie from allegedly home of Sydney’s Best Pie Harry’s Cafe de Wheels. You could find high end version from Pie By Mick’s Bakehouse on the 5th floor of CBD Westfield. There are annual pie bake-off and judging around the country.
An interesting observation about pastries in Sydney is the tart crust. Every cookie crust I came across was well-baked to dark brown with a lovely caramel undertone. This was very different from the typical golden crust I am used to in other cities (French or otherwise). Even with custard fillings, the crust maintained its crunchiness. Becasse Bakery’s signature banana salted peanut brittle tart was a fine example. The tart was meant to be picked up with hands and bitten into.
One thing is certain. If you’re visiting Sydney, chances are good that you will enjoy some amazing pastries.