Burch and Purchese – Heroes of Food Science

I have a confession to make. English food doesn’t inspire much confidence in me. This is cruel irony for me because of my love for five little letters spelled SWEET. Most people are well aware that English desserts can trigger sugar highs. Most people are also aware that the English have a unique sense of humour and can get quite creative when it comes to naming. Just think of banoffee pie, Eton mess, knickerbocker glory, jam roly poly and happy faces to name a few. I have no idea what happy faces are, I always thought it was just used to describe one’s expression. Disturbingly, I also chanced upon a English dessert called “Flies Graveyard” – I’m positive that this one is just an expression too.

When I first heard that Burch and Purchese Sweet Studio (B&P) had opened in South Yarra and that it was helmed by two UK pastry chefs, Mr. Ian Burch and Mr. Darren Purchese, I had mixed feelings. I was two parts excited, one part nervous and one part scared of what they might come up with. I don’t know a lot of famous English chefs. I do know of one – Heston Blumenthal – and he is pretty radical. I have watched and liked many episodes of Heston’s Feast and the one scene that is forever etched in my mind is the one where he placed four and twenty blackbirds in a gigantic pie. Thousands of miles away from the actual event, across huge bodies of water, and safely behind the TV screen, I STILL DUCKED when the birds flew out. There was a muffled scream which could have come from me. It was certainly very theatrical and a little like watching a horror scene where an idiot opens a musty old coffin and vampire bats screech and fly out to attack. I figured B&P will be a lot milder.

When I say milder, I don’t mean boring. The sweet studio is as far from boring as you can possibly get. I don’t know if it was meant to be intentional, but the three characteristic colours that B&P have incorporated into their shop design are the same as that in Neapolitan ice cream. The fun-filled atmosphere in the studio is infectious and I’m not just saying that because they play catchy songs such as “Lollipop” by the Chordettes – which incidentally got stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Serving staff buzzed around in their English maid costume of black and pink, enthusiastically eager to offer customers a small taste of sweetness. Everyone in the shop was offered chocolate chip cookies, a bit of a meringue and some chocolate mousse cake. The nice lady who offered me the chocolate chip cookie was particularly persistent and wouldn’t take no for an answer. Cookie Monster would have loved her.

Unlikely as it sounds, it was the meringue that trumped the chocolate chip cookie in my books. Prior to that day, I thought meringues were hard, plasticy, and probably tasted chalky – three properties I’m certain no one likes in their food (except those who like musk sticks). I had seen lots of them in window displays along Acland Street in St Kilda and never once was I tempted to buy them home. However, B&P’s meringues are in a different class. They aren’t meringues on steroids, they look like a small puffy cloud. Eye-catchingly pretty, they come in friendly pastel shades of yellow, pink and purple which is in sharp contrast to others that looked as though they may be slightly radioactive. But best of all, they taste like a wonderful combination of sticky soft, slightly chewy and fragrant fruitiness (passionfruit, strawberry and blueberry). In a blindfold test, you will be able to tell which fruit you are munching on. I regretted not buying one, and for that I blame the cake display which had snagged my attention.

B&P don’t give fancy names to their cakes. A glance at their cake list and you’ll find that they list down every bit of deliciousness that goes into their masterpieces. I think that this is an awesome idea because it bypasses the need for one to ask, “What’s in the cake?”. Also, B&P won’t have to give the same long answer for the umpteenth time. There is only so many times you can read out all the ingredients enthusiastically before keeling over or planting the person’s face into the cake itself.  What is even better is that B&P sometimes provide a cross-sectional view of their cakes so you can see how all the individual elements stack up. Which science student doesn’t love that? There is a good looking selection of cakes behind the glass that are all begging to be taken home, and I did adopt some of them. I also notice a good deal of chocolate pops and chocolates that have molded to look like flowers with each petal is painted. I think these are meant to cater to little kids or people who are allergic to real flowers but like the idea of eating them.

When I’m in a chocolatey mood, I go for the Chocolate, Mandarin and Salted Caramel which is a darkly delicious treat composed of ‘Kendari’ 60% chocolate mousse / Murray River salted caramel / burnt mandarin cream / St Clements marmalade / aerated chocolate shortbread / chocolate mirror glaze. This is NOT a chocolate jaffa cake. I don’t even like chocolate jaffa, mind you. This is not just a pretty face kind of cake either. If you can look beyond the chocolate mirror glaze and taste it, you’ll understand why Darren Purchese has been invited on MasterChef more than once. There is a gift for marrying so many strong flavours without one drowning the other out, and B&P has it in spades. If you love salted caramel, boy do they have a treat for you in the form of dark chocolate gold bullion bars. The studio stocks a number of these so there’s no need to recreate scenes from the Victorian Gold Rush of the 1850s-60s.

For those who don’t want to plunge headfirst into a hedonistic chocolate feast, there are always lighter options such as the Raspberry, White Chocolate, Honey, Lychee which is now served in a funky clear acrylic tube. Specifically it has White chocolate & raspberry mousse / raspberry & lychee jelly / muesli & honey nut sponge / raspberry & hibiscus jam / raspberry compote / lychees /exaggerated raspberry cream / white chocolate velvet spray. I ate the cake version of this and remembered feeling pleased as punch because of how healthy the dessert sounded. What? Why are you incredulous? I’m not joking, there’s heaps of fruit, honey and even muesli in there! Even my Mum liked it – I also threw away the descriptor, lied and told her that the cake contained no chocolate because she wouldn’t try anything if there is chocolate involved.

Having trouble deciding what to buy Dad for his birthday? Here’s a hint, don’t get him socks, ties, handkerchiefs or power tools. I don’t think that Dads really like those things as much as the hardware store advertisements make it out to seem. He might prefer something to eat, guys are almost always hungry, right? If your Dad likes coffee, you should check out this one: Coffee, Smoked White Chocolate, Aniseed, Lemon. With so many different layers that it resembles an Opera cake, this baby has smoked white chocolate cream / crunchy almond meringue / coffee buttercream / coffee sponge / aniseed syrup / brownie sponge / lemon curd / dehydrated choc rock built into it. The cake was a hit all around. I even got Mum to eat a slice of it minus the brownie part. Even when she clued in and asked if the white bits were white chocolate, I nonchalantly lied again and said it was the almond. She continued eating – enough said about the quality of the cake.

You don’t need a special occasion to go visit B&P, but B&P does special occasions extremely well. Jump on their website to marvel at the fantastic creations that have been served at birthdays and weddings. You can book a consultation with them for that special day. Visit the Langham and enjoy the high tea that B&P has just created. I promise you that it will be infinitely more exciting than cucumber ribbon sandwiches. Most importantly, visit the pastry maestros in action at their genius lair and try to walk out of their shop without buying a single thing. It is no mean feat to steel yourself against temptations that are leaping out from almost every corner; and hence I have never bothered to try. It doesn’t matter if you or your loved ones are allergic to nuts, gluten, or dairy, B&P has thoughtfully catered products for them as well. If you are unsure, I’m sure one of their friendly staff would be happy to give you a hand.

Mr Ian Burch and Mr Darren Purchese, I am insanely jealous of the equipment in your science lab (especially your chocolate spraying device which my fingers are itching to try) and its breathtaking creations. If I were to have as much fun with liquid nitrogen in my lab, I would be in hot soup with OH&S. Oh, and I am also very glad that you now call Australia home :).

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