Sweetfest Melbourne: an insider's guide

T by LuxBite in Melbourne's CBD specialises in tarts with an Asian twist.
T by LuxBite in Melbourne's CBD specialises in tarts with an Asian twist. Photo: Supplied

There's a sugar war going on. But the good news is, everyone's a winner. In Sarah Wilson's anti-sugar army? Thanks to Instagram, abstinence has never been sexier. 

Crowds at Sweetfest in Sydney in October.
Crowds at Sweetfest in Sydney in October. 

On the flip side, Australia's sweet scene has exploded in the best way possible. Pastry and gelato shops are everywhere. We have desserts of ludicrous, Edwardian proportions. And while some of those are freakshakes and mince-pie doughnuts (you can thank Donut King for that) and other things we may look back on with the same regret we hold for Tencel jeans (those floppy denim pants of the '90s), we've also gained the architecturally brilliant and beautiful cakes of Katherine Sabbath, the Sydney-based primary teacher turned cake boss; the edible dessert gardens of Darren Purchese, of Burch & Purchese, and the multi-layer, every-flavour, lolly-bag cakes of LuxBite. 

What a time to be alive.

Which brings us to Sweetfest. The new two-day festival, which launches this weekend, Saturday and Sunday at the Meat Market in North Melbourne, is the penultimate event of The Age Good Food Month and it's built for #teamsugar. 

A Choinkwich from Big Gay Ice Cream.
A Choinkwich from Big Gay Ice Cream. Photo: Donny Tsang

It's essentially a Katy Perry film clip brought to life, and the confectionary fan's answer to the Night Noodle Markets: a sweet marketplace filled with all things iced, baked, frozen, whipped, colourful, stuffed or fried, with a demo stage on the side featuring star sugar talent doing demos. There's also a bar run by the Black Pearl – currently ranked No. 10 on the World's 50 Best Bars list; all backed by a sugar-themed soundtrack.

Here's everything you need to know ahead of the festival this weekend. 

What can I buy?

The mix for the first year covers everything from chocolate (Ganache Chocolate) and raw desserts (by Raw Trader) to scrolls, cakes and gelato. Shortstop Coffee & Donuts is bringing caffeine and a selection of krullers and cake-based doughnuts injected with flavoured creams. Or you can get your dough fix Greek-style, drenched in syrup from St Gerry's. Gelato Messina is collaborating with the festival's international guests (New York's soft-serve legends Big Gay Ice Cream) to serve Fairy Bread Pops as well as creations such as the mini magic mushroom. For macarons, head to the folk at LuxBite, who are also selling their multi-layer lolly-bag cake and demonstrating their most popular seller: the Endless Love cake. 

Is it all sweet? What if I need salt?

Anthony Femia, of Maker & Monger, can help with that. The ex-Spring Street Grocer cheesemonger has make a killing since he went solo and started selling grilled raclette and luxe cheese toasties at Prahran Market, and he'll be present to keep your sweet tooth in check. 

Christopher The' from Black Star Pastry with the strawberry watermelon cake with rose-scented cream cake. 6th June 2012. ...
Christopher The' from Black Star Pastry with the strawberry watermelon cake with rose-scented cream cake. 6th June 2012. Photo: Steven Siewert Photo: Steven Siewert

What's with the bar?

The excellent news for the 18+ crowd is that your $20 entry includes a complimentary glass of Redbank Emily Brut Cuvee. Get it at the bar run by the Black Pearl, who are ranked as the world's No. 10 bar, and buy a pina colada or a bourbon and blackberry spider while you're at it.

Do I need to book a seat for the demos?

Instagram baking star Katherine Sabbath.
Instagram baking star Katherine Sabbath. Photo: Supplied

No, demonstrations are free and you don't need to book, but it's first-in, best-dressed. Sessions are expected to be popular, so you'll want to head towards the stage ahead of your preferred session to get a seat. There are three demos at each Sweetfest session (Saturday and Sunday, morning sessions from 9am-1pm, afternoon from 2pm-6pm).

Who's on stage? 

Big Gay Ice Cream's Doug Quint and Bryan Petroff are coming in to make boozy shakes and floats including one with Guinness and ice-cream. They'll also be demonstrating their Choinkwich – a chocolate and caramelised bacon ice-cream sandwich. 

Insta-famous cake queen Katherine Sabbath is flying in from Sydney to demonstrate her watercolour cake icing tricks (this is the geometrically perfect pastel-coloured cake that almost broke the internet). On Sunday, she'll back it up with Harajuku burger cupcakes, complete with buns, cheese, patties and condiments. 

Melbourne's pastry chef Philippa Sibley​ will be teaching the essential baking skills she drills into kitchen staff, while the Black Pearl team will lead a sweet cocktail session. Pierre Roelofs, the man who has been running dessert-for-dinner degustations at Cafe Rosamond for years and has now moved to Fancy Nance​ in South Yarra, will be showing you how to make his trademark dessert tubes – layers of mousse and rubble in a glass vial that resemble a strata sample. 

I'm 11 years old, do I have to pay?

You sure don't. Anyone under 12 can enter for free.

Do I have to buy tickets now?

Sweetfest was held in Sydney in October and most sessions sold out, so it's smart to buy now, but some tickets may be available on the day at the door. 

Is there anything vegan?

Yep. Raw Trader are coming along with their p-not butter chocolate cups – a cashew and macadamia butter encased in raw chocolate – and their white chocolate and salted caramel slice. 

What should I wear?

If you want to dress like a sundae, go right ahead. Stretchy pants are never a bad idea. Nor is a bib. And comfy shoes – one side of the hall is cobblestones. 

The line-up 

Session one, Saturday Nov 28 9am-1pm 

9.30am Bernard Chu, of LuxBite, shows you how to make LuxBite's biggest-selling dessert "Be My Love".
10.45am Bryan Petroff and Doug Quint, of Big Gay Ice Cream, demonstrate boozy floats and shakes.
noon Chris The, of Black Star Pastry, on how to make your very own Strawberry Watermelon cake.

Session two, Saturday Nov 28 2pm-6pm 

2.30pm Katherine Sabbath, Sydney's new cake boss, shows you her tricks for the watercolour lollypop cake, including how to nail the rainbow swirl icing. 
3.45pm Philippa Sibley, our local pastry hero is doing a queen of tarts session, showing you how to nail baking basics that even pastry chefs get wrong.
5.00pm Fred Siggins, of the Black Pearl, the world's No.10 cocktail bar, will teach you how to make it sweet.

Session one, Sunday Nov 29 9am-1pm 

9.30am Pierre Roelofs, the Melbourne-based pastry chef and creator of the Dessert Evenings demos his trademark dessert tubes. 
10.45am Katherine Sabbath is back to show off her Harajuku Mini Dessert Burgers (cupcakes dressed as meat). 
noon Chris The, of Black Star Pastry, takes it back to handmade pastry basics with his 4,3,2,1 Method.

Session four, Sunday Nov 29 9am-1pm 

2.30pm Bryan Petroff & Doug Quint Big Gay Ice Cream How to make a Choinkwich – the chocolate and caramelised bacon ice-cream sandwich of your dreams.
3.45pm Samanta Bakker​ and Caleb Fitzgerald from Melbourne chocolatier Monsieur Truffe teach you everything you need to know about the dark stuff.
5pm Chef Shaun Quade​ made a name for himself as the pastry chef at Sydney's Quay and this year opened his fine diner, ​Lume, in South Melbourne. He'll be showing off advanced moves from inside Melbourne's top kitchens. 

Sweetfest runs from November 28-29 at the Meat Markets, North Melbourne, as part of the Age Good Food Month presented by Citi. $20, TICKETS