Passing by Black Star Pastry in Newtown early on a recent Sunday, I was struck by an unnerving sight: the absence of a queue. How rare a sight it was not to see great hordes of contented cake-for-breakfast fiends unspooling into the street, those not focussed on wielding long lens digital cameras throwing back their heads in the throes of pastry-induced ecstasy. A glitch in the matrix, surely? An hour later, by the time I’d finished breakfast across the road, order had seemingly been restored to the universe: a queue had begun to form and carefully portioned parcels of the patisserie’s signature Strawberry Watermelon Cake were being dolled out once more.
Since it first opened in 2008, Christopher Thé’s flagship café and bakery has grown from a similarly carefully portioned shopfront to a burgeoning pastry empire with, as of yesterday, four progressively larger outlets scattered throughout the city. The most recent instalment at Moore Park’s Entertainment Quarter is an 80-seat, two-storey eatery that centres around a glass-enclosed production kitchen, making the magic of Thé’s pastry chefs visible to customers and passersby alike. The set-up also reportedly includes an $18,000 egg-cracking machine imported from Japan that’s able to separate yolk from white in a matter of mere seconds, most of which will be used in the production of their signature, most requested (and most photographed) confection, the impossibly light and perfectly balanced Strawberry Watermelon Cake.
That dessert will feature as part of Black Star’s contribution to the launch of this year’s Melbourne Night Noodle Markets. From tomorrow, a team from the patisserie will head south and set up shop as one of the many hawker-style food stalls returning to Birrarung Marr from November 9-26, alongside 30 of the city’s pan-Asian favourites including Hochi Mama, Bambu, Mr Miyagi, Hoy Pinoy and Wonderbao.
Those without an egg-cracking machine, a Victorian residence or one within reach of one of the four Sydney-based patisseries alike need not despair. Below, Black Star Pastry share with GRAZIA an easily-replicated recipe for their signature dessert.
250 gm seedless watermelon, thinly sliced
60 ml (¼ cup) Rosewater
4 tbsp caster sugar
40g almond meal
500g strawberries (about 2 punnets), halved
10 seedless red grapes, halved
1 tbsp slivered pistachios
1 tbsp dried rose petals
150g almonds, coarsely chopped
150g pure icing sugar sieved
5 egg whites
135g caster sugar
300 ml thickened cream
30g caster sugar
2 tbsp rosewater
For the almond dacquoise, preheat oven to 200C. Process almonds in a food processor until finely ground, then combine in a bowl with icing sugar. Whisk egg whites in an electric mixer until soft peaks form (3-4 minutes), then gradually add caster sugar and whisk until stiff peaks form (1-2 minutes). Gently fold through almond mixture, spread on a 30cm x 40cm oven tray lined with baking paper and bake until golden (10-15 minutes). Set aside to cool on tray, then cut in half lengthways.
Arrange watermelon slices in a single layer on a wire rack. Sprinkle with 20ml rosewater, then scatter with 2 tbsp sugar. Stand to macerate (30 minutes), then pat dry with absorbent paper.
Meanwhile, for rose-scented cream, whisk cream and sugar in an electric mixer until soft peaks form, gradually add rosewater and whisk until stiff peaks form (do not over-whisk).
Spread one-third of rose cream evenly over one half of dacquoise, scatter with half the almond meal, then top with watermelon, trimming to fill any gaps. Scatter over remaining almond meal, spread over half remaining cream. Top with remaining dacquoise, spread over remaining cream and refrigerate until firm (1-2 hours).
Combine strawberries, remaining rosewater and remaining sugar in a bowl, toss to combine and set aside to macerate (15 minutes). Carefully arrange on top of cake, gently pushing into cream. Trim edges of cake, scatter over grapes, pistachios and petals, and serve.
Tile and cover image: Collaged/Courtesy of Black Star Pastry