Sydney's favourite pandemic pastry chefs prepare for a big Valentine's Day

Baker Isabella Leva of Pane Dolce prepares Valentine's Day deliveries in the bakery she set up in her garage during the ...
Baker Isabella Leva of Pane Dolce prepares Valentine's Day deliveries in the bakery she set up in her garage during the pandemic. Photo: Edwina Pickles

One of the silver linings of COVID, at least for anyone with a fondness of slices and tarts, has been the rise in dessert businesses delivering sweets from oven to door.

"We were getting a bit bored being in lockdown, so we started creating cakes and tarts for delivery," says former Rockpool pastry chef Isabella Leva who founded Earlwood bakery Pane Dolce with her partner John Laureti in 2020.

Like many new dessert businesses to launch in the past two years, Pane Dolce is home-based, eliminating the barrier to entry of needing to sign a commercial lease.

"I'm very lucky to have a dad who works in construction, so he sectioned off a small space in the garage and we fitted it out with a deck ovens, a dough sheeter and big spiral mixer," says Leva. "It's definitely not what you would call a 'home kitchen'."

Pane Dolce's morning buns and weekly-changing pastry boxes were big sellers through lockdown. "Then restrictions were lifted and whole cakes became popular because friends and family could get back together," says Leva.

The business has been such a success that Leva and Lauretti and now renovating an old shop in Lewisham to open a brick-and-mortar site next year.

Pane Dolce's chocolate strawberry rose for Valentine's Day is also avaible for delivery until February 19.
Pane Dolce's chocolate strawberry rose for Valentine's Day is also avaible for delivery until February 19. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Other home-based cake heroes of COVID that continue to thrive include former Momofuku Seiobo chef Samantha Alice Levett who takes orders through Instagram for iced chiffons that look like Royal Easter Show ribbon winners from the 1960s. Added Sugar also rose to dessert fame on social media through the pandemic and offers equally frou-frou creations.

Blood's Bakery owner Alex Lynn crafts delicious sourdough, custard puffs and tarts from his Ultimo apartment for pick-up and delivery, while former software engineer and Home Croissanterie founder Ben Lai bakes French breakfast pastries to order in his personal oven.

When the pandemic cancelled events for caterer Alex Cadger, the business owner was quick to pivot his Blonde Butler service to deliver retro sweets.

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"We're focusing on all the old school stuff such as pineapple doughnuts and jam-filled long johns," says Cadger. "When the lockdowns hit, people wanted to send food to their friends, but there are only so many times you can deliver a box of sandwiches."

This week Cadger has been preparing for a late influx of Valentine's Day requests and still has some chocolate strawberry-topped brownie slabs available at the time of publication.

However, with a two business-day delivery time, it's unlikely that any last-minute orders will arrive by February 14. "Regardless, I'm still expecting a lot of calls this weekend from desperate partners," says Cadger.

"It's definitely not what you would call a 'home kitchen'." says baker Isabella Leva of Pane Dolce.
"It's definitely not what you would call a 'home kitchen'." says baker Isabella Leva of Pane Dolce. Photo: Edwina Pickles

Thicc Cookies is another dessert delivery service to enjoy success through COVID, delivering 5000 cookies a day during last year's lockdown. The family-run business is now selling about 5000 cookies a week compared to July, although Valentine's Day orders are back at peak pandemic levels.

By Friday, Thicc had sold out of its one-kilogram "Lovefetti" choc-chip cookie for February 14 delivery, but the heart-shaped biscuit has proved so popular that bakery founder Chris Sheldrick is making it a permanent menu item.

"We didn't say on our website that 'you can't order this cookie for delivery after Valentine's Day' and now there are orders for it stretching over the next few weeks," he says. "It should be handy for all those guilty people who forgot about Valentine's Day on Monday."

Former Momofuku Seiobo head pastry chef Samantha Alice Levett has set up her own dessert delivery service through Instagram.
Former Momofuku Seiobo head pastry chef Samantha Alice Levett has set up her own dessert delivery service through Instagram. Photo: Chris Chen

Pane Dolce is also delivering its chocolate strawberry rose through to Saturday for any couples celebrating Valentine's later in the week. The $8 tart features strawberry compote and leaves of Valrhona chocolate ganache sprayed velvet cocoa butter, not to mention a little gold leaf for the occasion.

Last-minute Valentine's Day treats for pick-up

Home-based cake businesses are beaut if you remember to order a few days in advance, but anyone without a February 14 delivery already booked may need to visit a real-life shop.

Humble Bakery

Decisions, decisions. Heart-shaped lamington topped with a generous tumble of coconut, or a heart-shaped gingerbread cookie featuring a "Be Mine" in pink icing? Consider taking both home and a lush finger bun to boot. 50 Holt Street, Surry Hills; 02 9435 0801.

Saga Enmore

The $15 "Izzy" mini-cake from meringue master Andy Bowdy is a menu constant, but you would be hard pressed to find a more Valentine's Day appropriate dessert. A riot of vanilla butter cake, strawberry mousse, pandan custard, coconut, strawberry compote and salted caramel. The patisserie is closed Monday so make a beeline today. 178 Enmore Road, Enmore; 02 9550 6386.

Tokyo Lamington

A handful of V-Day $25 lamington three-packs are still available to order for pick-up at the time of writing. A nifty little number filled with rose cream, raspberry jelly and lychee is the lamington you've been looking for. 277 Australia Street, Newtown; 0404 662 397.

Loulou

Lavender Bay's shiny new bistro, boulangerie and traiteur is your one-stop shop for beautiful pâté en croute and a raspberry passionfruit tart. An excellent Valentine's Day dinner in any universe. 61 Lavender Street, Milsons Point; 02 8000 7800.

Berkelo

Extra kudos goes to this northern suburbs favourite for its "I Want Choux" Valentine's Day pun. Berkelo's four stores are spruiking a trio of special edition profiteroles including one choux sporting strawberry, mascarpone and rose petals. Locations in Brookvale, Manly, Mosman and Mona Vale.