Festive Food, Five Popular Holidays

With the celebration season nearing, Australian Baking Business takes a look at live popular holidays and the innovative bakers who are catering for them.

CHRISTMAS

DREAMING OF A WHITE CHRISTMAS

Originating in Germany, Stollen is a traditional fruit cake usually eaten during the Christmas season. Similar to the Dutch kerststol and the Italian panettone, stollen contains yeast, dried fruit, nuts and spices, and is covered with snow-like powered sugar.

James Schmidt from Heidleberg Cakes in Stepney, South Australia, was personally handed down the recipe from his baker father.

“The stollen is an important family tradition, passed down through generations to my father who came to Australia from Berlin in the mid-1950s. He started Budapest cakes in 1956, and it was in this shop I learnt the recipe, and more importantly, the technique,” James says.

The technique itself is fairly involved, with each stollen taking about five hours to make.

“The dough needs to stand and ferment up to three-times, and then be painted with melted butter three-times. So the whole process is fairly time consuming,” James says.

Nonetheless once made, the stollen will keep for up to a month if refrigerated.

“I think one of the reasons it is so popular in Europe is because it keeps well. You only need a thin slice, and you can keep it for weeks after all the other Christmas food runs out.”

Filled with locally sourced sultanas, almonds, lemons and rum, as well as handmade marzipan, it’s no wonder several of James’ customers drive for miles to pick it up.

“A lot of people who buy it are German ex-pats, or Europeans who have known it from childhood,” James says.

“Over time though, I think it may make more of a name for itself in the Australian market – as long as people buy it from a baker and stop buying those shocking dried-up versions in the supermarkets, which are imported from Germany and left to sit on the shelf here for months. I think the supermarket versions are doing the tradition more harm than good!”

While baking with yeast is not Heidleberg Cake’s core business, the stollen tradition is one James and his family will continue every December.

“We are a cake business that specialises in wedding and special occasions cakes. But we bring out the yeast every Christmas because of my love for it,” James says.

“I’m very passionate about baking stollen, and you can taste the enthusiasm. It sounds a bit stereotypical, but the most important ingredient really is love.”

CHRISTMAS

A COLOURFUL FAIRYTALE

Born in France, and still served throughout many former French colonies, the bûche de noël – or yule log – is a traditional sweet roulade served at Christmas time.

With this in mind, it’s fitting the decorative cake is a seasonal favourite at Brisbane’s French Patisserie, where head pastry chef Justin Gravestein is currently gearing up for the festive season.

“This is not a cake that a lot of bakeries and patisseries in Brisbane make, so it’s good to get a little creative every December,” Justin says.

The traditional bûche is made from chocolate génoise or sponge cake, soaked in rum, and topped with chocolate buttercream. After being frosted, rolled into to a cylinder, and frosted again on the outside, the dessert aims to look like a freshly-chopped wooden log.

“The best part about the bûche is the decoration which makes it look like a branch straight out of the French Alps,” French Patisserie’s cake decorator Anthony Steele says.

“Some people garnish the cake with raspberries, or spruce sprigs. We always like to make home-made meringue mushrooms to sit on top.”

“It’s not a cake that you should be afraid to try. Once you have perfected the icing, you’ve got the cake,” Justin adds.

VELENTINE’S DAY

A TIME TO PAMPER

Few things say ‘I love you’ quite like freshly baked treats. And while heart-shaped toppers and three-letter-phrases can certainly help ‘love-up’ the standard cupcake, Valentine’s Day baking need not rely on decorations.

For Deb Doyle, owner of Brisbane’s Couture Cupcakes, February 14 is a welcomed chance to bring out the red velvet cake mix.

“Everyone goes for the classic, love theme on Valentine’s Day. And while we would never think to forego the love hearts and sprinkles, red velvet is such a nice surprise when you bite into it,” Deb says.

“We find a lot of the cakes are bought by women for their male partners, who have often not experienced the rich texture and striking colouring of a red velvet recipe before.”

With a good price point, and the obvious ‘share’ factor, it makes sense that cupcakes would be a popular gift item on Valentine’s Day.

“A lot of people don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on a present for an occasion that isn’t a birthday or Christmas. But they still want something that says, ‘I thought of you today’,” Deb says.

“And what else do you buy a guy for Valentine’s Day? A box of chocolates? Chocolates are great, but cupcakes are something he’s less likely to try at another time.”

Last year, Couture Cupcake’s Valentine’s Day gift packs proved particularly popular with locals.

“We did up beautifully presented gift packs, that included two red velvet cupcakes, a teddy bear, Belgain chocolates and the choice of either a sparkling wine or a little bottle of Moët,” Deb says.

“We sold about 25 of these packs, which we publicised on our facebook page and in the store.”

Couture Cupcakes offer delivery on all Valentine’s Day cupcakes and gift packs.

MELBOURNE CUP

BITE-SIZED ELEGANCE

As the head pastry chef at Victoria’s Le Petit Gateau, Pierrick Boyer has a wealth of experience catering for prestigious Melbourne Cup events.

To tie in with the day’s focus on glamour and decadence, Pierrick’s finger-food is elaborately decorated – often with gold leaf.

“The food has to stand out within an already elegant setting, and I find colour combinations of gold, dark chocolate and red raspberries work well,” Pierrick says.

“The gold leaf looks quite extravagant, while remaining simple enough to remain classy.”

Of course, finger food at this type of event must not only please the eye, but also offer exciting flavour combinations.

“I never want to just do the standard chocolate, vanilla or pistachio macaron, or the traditional French strawberry tart,” Pierrick says.

“I always strive to combine unusual flavours, like dark chocolate and foi gras, or chocolate raspberries with szechuan pepper.”

At recent high-end after-parties, Pierrick’s black sesame macarons have been particularly well-received.

“This is one of my personal favourites, because the savory flavor complements the sweet macaron very nicely,” Pierrick says.

“But as a general rule, macarons are crowd-pleasers, despite being quite trendy for a while now. I think it’s the vibrant colours and the unique texture that really draw people in.

“Even when I put pictures of my macarons on facebook and Instagram alongside wedding cakes and plated desserts that are far more complicated, it’s the macarons that always get the most ‘Likes’.”

With models, television celebrities and athletes often in the crowd, Pierrick is careful to create treats that are not overly fatty.

“Lots of people at the high-end events that Le Petit Gateau caters for are watching their weight, so I give them bite-sized food that still tastes great, but that is also light and fruity.”

Inspired by Japanese design, Pierrick takes a ‘less is more’ approach to his finger-food.

“For me, it’s important to not have too many things on the plate at one time. This goes for flavours as well. The trick is to not make food taste too complicated, which is harder than it sounds,” Pierrick says.

“Some chefs enjoy placing weird flavours together, but I don’t think this is very fun for the customer. I want to have edge, but not too much. For me, it’s all about flavours working well together.”

For most larger events, including Melbourne Cup parties, Pierrick likes to work with two-to-three other chefs.

“We get together before the event and plan every detail. We talk about the event, the theme, and, of course, the customers,” Pierrick says.

“It’s all about the customers. You must consider what they want; otherwise there is no point to what you are doing. And if you can’t do what they want, don’t take the job.”

HANUKKAH

RUSTIC FAMILY FAVOURITES

Deep-fried, ball-shaped doughnuts are popular treats in the lead up to the Jewish festival of Hanukkah. Filled with jam or custard and topped with sugar, it’s no suprise they are also a quick-seller with non-Jewish customers.

Known as sufganiyot, the treats are commonly found in Jewish communities around the world throughout December, including in Melbourne’s Balaclava – where local baker Mark Lichtenstein has worked for the past decade.

Lichtenstein Bakehouse sells an enviable range of French-style brioche, but it’s the doughnuts that have boosted the bakery’s reputation.

“Around Hanukkah, we bring out about 12 to 15 different kinds of doughnuts, including sufganiot filled with jam, custard, chocolate custard, caramel and fresh cream. We also do American doughnuts with different flavoured icing,” Mark says. “We make a range of different sizes, including small ones which are very popular with parents who are buying a treat for their children.”

The doughnuts are symbolic for Jewish people, because the oil they are fried in is reminiscent of the oil that burned in the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, according to the Hanukkah story.

“Doughnut season is always a good season for Lichtenstein Bakehouse. Of course, we have a lot of customers from all faiths, as well as Jewish customers after traditional food. The general community loves Kosher food, because it’s something different,” Mark says.

HALLOWEEN

KOOKY AND NOT TOO SERIOUS

Although Halloween is a tradition undeniably popularised in the US, celebrations on October 31 are becoming increasingly popular in Australia. Children in particular are jumping on-board the trick-or-treat bandwagon, while more and more businesses are coordinating Halloween-themed parties and fundraisers.

For bakers, Halloween’s iconic symbols – cats, ghosts, pumpkins and graveyards – present endless creative possibilities. And, as demonstrated by this year’s winner in the Fine Foods Australia Decorated Cake ‘wild and wacky’ category, Halloween creations need not be limited to the festival’s notorious black and orange pallete.

“Halloween is a bit like Christmas in that it is often targeted at children. So the food can be fun, imperfect, weird and imaginative,” says Dewi Susiwati from the Italian cake chain Bruennti.

“As a cake decorator, it’s really refreshing to be able to try techniques that you perhaps haven’t been game to try on cakes for more serious occasions.”

Dewi’s elaborately-iced madeira cake was inspired by Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas film; a cult-favourite around Halloween time.

“I’ve always loved the colour and creativity of Disney films, and because the category at Fine Foods was ‘wild and wacky’, I thought I would branch out to incorporate elements of the slightly darker Nightmare Before Christmas.”


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