Pastry chefs going rogue and starting glamorous side-hustles has to be one of the best outcomes from the persistent lockdowns. The winner, dear friands, is most certainly you.
We're awash with couture cakes, high-tech tarts and the kind of confectionery you usually only get after you've committed to a fine-dining degustation, with little gas left in your tank.
Despite pastry being one of the most vital sections in the kitchen (the penultimate course and lasting impression), it is rarely billed as more than a support act, and historically it has also been the glace ceiling against which countless female chefs have butted their heads while male colleagues were promoted to the top job.
Thankfully, much progress has been made in the past decade. We don't merely have more female-led restaurants, they're some of the best in Australia. This has freed the sweet domain from the gendered stigma of it being a dead end, returning it to those who truly love the craft.
Now, armed only with a council-approved kitchen and a strong social presence, many undersung pastry stars are getting the spotlight they deserve.
Will this boom last when lockdown ends? Can the city sustain so many solo artists? Can restaurants survive without them?
Don't make any guesses about 2021. Get your couture cakes and eat them while you can. These are my top of the cake pops.
Going solo seems like exactly the right move for second-generation pastry chef Jasmin Diggins, who has just handed in her notice at Vue de Monde to give Sockret (which means "the sugar" in Swedish) her full attention.
Diggins was raised by her single mother, also a pastry chef, which she says made her fanatical about aesthetics and flavours ("you can't just make something pretty," she says). She is also passionate about the role she wants her products to play in people's lives. Her mother would "sometimes be so busy, celebrations would come up and she would be consumed by guilt at not organising (a cake) in advance".
For this reason, while capacity allows, Diggins strives to fulfil orders often at just 24 hours' notice to take the stress out of celebrations.
What's in the box:
You can order a la carte from her list of signature tarts, or choose smaller 8cm versions (pictured) if you can't commit to a whole pie. Each is as faithfully decorated in miniature, and what lookers they are. A lemon myrtle meringue pie is adorned in perfect torched Swiss meringue swirls, and smells of the Australian bush.
But you really want to lean into the Swedish specials here. Diggins has named the bakery in honour of her Swedish partner (whom she met at Vue de Monde – sweet indeed), and two of the specials stick faithfully to tradition.
The double chocolate tart is filled with kladdkaka (pictured above), a gooey brownie-like mix which, when eaten cold, is like wading through treacle, and warmed becomes a self-saucing pudding.
Her cinnamon buns (available by the dozen or double dozen) are finished with lemon cream cheese frosting or parlsocker (aka, crunchy nibs of pearl sugar), sourced from the Swedish Church in Toorak, a literal church-slash-pantry for expats.
Miniature tarts $9-$12 each, large $30-$44. Order via sockretbakery.com, pick up available from Prahran or delivery within reason (discuss when ordering).
PS Take 3
I can hardly call Philippa Sibley, Melbourne's oft-billed "queen of desserts", an unsung hero. She has been celebrated since her time at Est Est Est and Ondine, and will be resuming her post alongside fellow legend Karen Martini at Hero when lockdown ends.
But I also cannot shout loudly enough about Sibley offering a trio of at-home desserts for a limited time. Sibley chides herself for being unable to sit still, but the benefit for us is that neither do her desserts.
To amuse herself, she is modelling each week's trio of desserts after screen goddesses, from Princess Buttercup (white peach and burnt butter frangipane tart) to Lorelei Lee (raspberry and rose cheesecake).
What's in the box:
This week it's all chicks from Tarantino flicks, baby. Mia Wallace from Pulp Fiction will be a remix of the $5 shake, which in Sibley's hands means almond and olive oil cake vertically layered with vanilla creme chiboust, vanilla buttercream, white chocolate bubbles and a cherry on top (pictured right).
As for Alabama Whitman from True Romance, Sibley says that muse will simply "taste like a peach".
Desserts $60 for three. Order via firstname.lastname@example.org. Pick-up only, Oxford Street, Collingwood.
Rosemary Andrews' dessert boxes are available via a weekly ballot. Photo: Kimberly Wen Qi Liew
Rosemary Andrews' star rose exponentially in 2021. She started the year behind the "dessert trolley of dreams" at Attica Summer Camp, but I remember when she stole the show during one of the earliest services at Hazel.
While the kitchen as a whole was still finding its feet, Andrews' bitter-sweet treacle tart in a perfect shattery crust shone through so brightly it made you really pay attention.
Many restaurants will pine as she moves into larger premises to continue her solo journey.
What's in the box:
No decisions required here; just luck. To be as egalitarian as possible, Andrews runs a ballot each week and winners get to buy her wares. The $55 boxes contain four of her desserts.
Cross each of your fingers and toes that it includes the twice-baked Valrhona chocolate tart, which looks like cooked ganache, and a strawberry and cream tart that is the most impeccable way to support farmers through the current strawberry crisis.
$55 for four desserts. Order from instagram.com/rosemary___a. Delivery $5, 15km from Flinders Street.
Dust Donuts, by ex-Oakridge chef Rod Shokuhi, is a particularly focused project. Shokuhi's doughnuts are "lady fingers" (shaped more like an eclair) and come in just two flavours: classic and raspberry, dusted in powdered sugar. Orders open mid-October. dustdonuts.com
Aidan Robinson's Chic de Partie is booked until November for custom orders but keep an eye out for sneaky spaces that come up and cafes like Abacus and St Ali that stock his Portuguese tarts. Pick-up is from the Port Authority Building, Melbourne, or Robinson can quote for delivery virtually anywhere you're willing to pay. chicdepartie.com