I had never been really a huge fan of marshmallows until that day. I remember the day when my Sister came home with a small bag of treats – mini marshmallows in various pretty pastel colours, sealed in the most adorable little bag with carry handles, emblazoned with the silver label “Sweetness the Patisserie”. It was , frankly, love at first bite as I discovered the flavours came in heady aromatic flavours like blueberry, orange and lemon, and since then the confections and pastries from Sweetness became a part of festivities and excitement in my every day life. I have bought the marshmallows as a present for a date in a Thomas Dux grocer, stopped by and said hello at the Eveleigh Carriageworks market early on Saturday morning, sneakily dropped by on the way home during my Macquarie University days, and taken a couple of bags of marshmallows up to Newcastle when meeting my partner’s family during last Christmas. Notably, my Sister also decided to go to Sweetness for her wedding bombonieres, and the marshmallows were very well-received by all her guests who raved on about their pillowy texture and unique flavours.
It was therefore a very big shock and saddening to hear earlier this year that Sweetness had been sold; the Epping Town Centre has been endorsed as an Urban Activation Precinct and as a result, the heritage-listed building that currently houses Sweetness is slated for re-development as a 20+ residential and commercial complex. Can you imagine that? 20+ storeys…and a heritage-listed building!
Most importantly, the lease is due to end 31 October 2016 with no option for renewal. Dear owner and founder Gena Karpf and her husband ultimately made the decision to return to her family home in Chicago at the end of the year. While we have recently heard some good news about Adora Handmade Chocolates taking on the business meaning that many of the Sweetness goodies will continue to be available for sale, it is the end of an era to an iconic shopfront that has graced the Epping neighbourhood for the last seven years. I was fortunate enough to have a friend who had her ears to the ground (or eyes on Facebook!) and found out quickly about a dessert degustation-style evening that Sweetness would be holding to celebrate their classics. I immediately said yes and on the evening of, prepped myself with a light supper of cheese and crackers before heading over to Epping on the dusk of Friday 23 October.
We were greeted with bubbles (or sparkling/still for those driving) before being introduced to the team and to the Head Pastry Chef for the evening, Andre Sandison – Head Teacher Patisserie at Le Cordon Bleu, Sydney. Andre and Gena had actually picked out the location together of Sweetness several years ago, and it was so good to see them coming back for its grand finale. Over the course of the evening we were to revisit the Sweetness classics in six acts – and looking at the menu, I could hardly wait!
At the start of each course, Gena or one of the other staff would come around with a plate of the “centre-piece” dish. And of course the first dish was a huge plate of their iconic marshmallows.
The three little morsels with the accompanying flavoured-marshmallows were Act One: Mango-Maple & Lime-Davidson Plum, the curd of each sitting on a perfect cut-out of pillowy marshmallow, on a biscuit disc. The Davidson Plum was my favourite with its deep, rich and burgundy-style flavour – if only fresh plums tasted as good!
Act Two was the English Toffee: Warm apple slice, parfait, apple jelly, ganache and apple skin. I’ve never actually tried their toffee before for fear of it sticking to my teeth; but on my first bite I was stunned at how buttery it was without that jaw-breaker snap, and it was creamy yet crunchy all at once. I had a packet of it to take home, and I’m embarassed to say that the next week at the office I devoured it all in one sitting. I guess it just means I need to go back to buy some more?
The pastry chefs came around to each table to individually serve us balls of spun sugar to top off each plate. In a very unique way they had also “jellied” the apple skin (the little pink pile to the right of the plate), and it had an incredible intense flavour.
Act Three: Caramel Slice. Milkshake, biscuit, straw.
Now, this was a fun one. I absolutely love their caramel slice and it won the Championship (Gluten-free) and Gold medal at the 2013 Melbourne Fine Food Awards. Crumbly delicate biscuit base, buttery caramel and a rich, dark chocolate topping with a beautiful sheen. A near perfect 1:1:1 ratio proportion of each element.
What came out was charming: caramel milkshake, chocolate straw, and accompanying biscuit. I actually squealed with excitement. We each firmly shook the milkshake, which frothed up beautifully and was so delicious I could drink it every day of my life without complaint. Sip at the milkshake while eating your cookie, then nom up the straw at the end.
Act Four: Lemon Meringue. Lemon glass, shortcrust, meringue, curd, granita and Limoncello. It didn’t seem like it could get any better but it was surely about to. I had never had a Sweetness lemon meringue tart and shared one with my friend Kath ; I was surprised as the meringue had not been torched – something I see pretty much on every lemon meringue. But it really didn’t need it; it was pillowy soft Swiss meringue, and not too sweet yet balanced the acidity of the lemon curd perfectly.
The deconstruction of the lemon meringue tart was nothing short of amazing. A delicate and wafter-thin lemon glass “tube”, filled with shortcrust crumbs and dollops of curd, scattered with crunchy bites of meringue and rose petals. They came around and scattered lemon granita over the top, and the icy element brought the whole dish together. It didn’t really need the Limoncello, but I do adore the syrupy sweet-sour concoction and happily sipped away at it.
Act Five: Rocky Road S’More – Graham cracker, jelly, Neapolitan marshmallow, chocolate wafer. It was both good and bad that I was only now discovering so many of Sweetness’ classics so close to their end date: better late than never, except now I feel very much a sense of urgency to stock up in the next week! It was my first taste of their Rocky Road and I particularly love the scatter of slivered almonds and the strong intensity of the pate de fruit jellies.
This dessert also had an interactive element, with a graham cracker and jelly layer with the Neapolitan marshmallow being a fusion of mandarin, rhubarb and another delightful flavour which has slipped my mind. We were handed around a blowtorch to lightly toast our marshmallow before putting on top the chocolate layer, allowing it to slightly melt – a true s’more! While extremely tasty at first, it became a little too sweet when you got halfway. The decorative leaf was edible too – made of sugar – and I chanced an experimental nibble at it too. Hilariously, we discovered that the serving plates were actual cross-sections of some of the trees out the back of the Sweetness building; apparently they had someone come through earlier in the week to remove the trees and on a whim decided that they would make excellent rustic plates!
It was sad that our degustation was nearing its end but my belly was quietly getting thankful – maybe the savoury snacks I had earlier wasn’t a good idea! But I couldn’t resist an admiring “ooooooh” when the final Act 6 came out. The Florentine was tuile, mousse, blood orange gel, citrus slice, salted chocolate and a sneaky nip of Pedro Ximenez.
“It’s a chocolate taco!” I exclaimed when it came out, to much laughter. It was a very rich dessert and while the tuile, sponge, gel, and mousse were all amazing elements in their own right, Kath and I were fascinated by the orange slice, which was made completely out of agar agar and had a delightfully sherbet texture and taste.
I don’t think I could have been any happier at this stage, but then Gena brought around the Epilogue: gift boxes for each of us containing the classics – marshmallows, English toffee, rocky road, and Florentines. At the time of writing I’ve actually demolished most of it myself, so looks like I will be making a trip over up to Epping to stock up this weekend!
Sweetness the Patisserie in Epping will continue trading through to 3.00pm Saturday 15 October 2016. They will also be in attendance at their final markets: Carriageworks Farmers market on 8 October 8am-1pm, and Northside Produce Market 8am-12pm on 15 October 2016.
Sweetness the Patisserie
38 Oxford Street
(02) 9869 3800