Nestled at the end of one of Epping’s ‘busy’ strips (read: sleepily peaceful at 10AM on Friday morning) Sweetness the Patisserie is decidedly anti-Wonka. Instead of the vivid, attention-seeking kaleidoscope of sounds, colours and button-and-valve activity, the refurbished heritage-style building from 1910 is full of rustic benchtops, calming sage green, and not an Oompa-Loompa in sight.
Gena Karpf, head chef and director, does, however, lead the occasional sing-a-long to the radio as she moves between checking the racks of cooling gingerbread cookies, cutting Christmas ribbon for packaging, and joking with the cashier. She’s in patissier whites instead of Willy Wonka purple, but there’s something about the mischievous twinkle in her eye that recalls Gene Wilder’s portrayal. The young apprentices working in the light-drenched open kitchen respond to Gena’s teasing with good-humoured candor.
The lively vibe of Sweetness’ kitchen is backed by a keen awareness and focus of the brand’s fundamental identity and strengths, defined in part by pastel marshmallows, blocks of fudge, caramel and Rocky Road, sets of bite-sized shortbread cookies, and slabs of chocolate. It’s a focus that has been honed and refined over the years, as Gena moved away from 30 cake varieties that had dominated Sweetness’ initial, French-based product set, into the marshmallows, caramels and sugar-based products that constitute the patisserie’s core strengths.
In her advice to readers starting a culinary journey at home or otherwise, Gena’s key advice is that “you need to get miles under your belt”, you need to be unafraid of pushing boundaries, and that you need to use all the senses, in order to develop the ability to know when something is cooked perfectly not merely through sight, but through texture and smell. “Every food you put in your mouth creates a flavour memory. It’s only when you have an accumulation of flavour memory that you can develop some context.”
More than that, there’s dedication to doing things right at Sweetness, based on their commitment to creating products that can live up to its admittedly hefty price tag. The kitchen is a certified HACCP (Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point) accredited business, meaning food safety standards are stringent and I don a very fashionable hairnet and lab coat during the filming, and wash my hands every time I cross the threshold into the kitchen area. The store also practices environmental sustainability strategies and caters to various food sensitivities and allergies.
Gena speaks at length about the desire to “narrow the distance between who the customer is, the purchase decision they make and how the product is made”. This is not an easy process, especially as Sweetness is a small-scale manufacturer as well as retailer, so a key focus lies in building close relationships with a diverse range of suppliers. Gena speaks of the constant challenge of finding a balance between ethical, local producers and pragmatic, economic sustainability, and is the first to admit that it’s still a work in progress, though one that Sweetness is dedicated to.
It’s an even greater challenge for a family-owned business like Sweetness to expand, though another Sweetness the Patisserie in another Australian city is definitely a dream for Gena. More immediately in the works is a designed pop-up space project in a family-owned food store in Waterloo, with Sweetness’ involvement tentatively slated for mid-way through next year. Gena’s enthusiasm about a space that allows Sweetness to reach new audiences in different parts of Sydney, with less risk and investment than committing to a property lease, is palpable.
Having dropped by Sweetness several times over the years, here’s my small compilation of favourites and recommendations for present-giving:
The hype about Sweetness’ beautifully packaged SWEET Mallows is definitely real, and this is coming from a girl who is not a fan of marshmallows on most occasions. The marshmallow texture is light and bouncy, while also tasting dense and full of flavour, to create, simply, a ‘fresh’ taste – it truly is something you need to taste to appreciate. Personally, I subscribe to the slightly tangier, fruity marshmallow flavours that balance out the sweetness of the desserts. I definitely adore the passionfruit, which is a cult favourite at Sweetness, as well as the lime and coconut, mango and toasted coconut. The peppermint marshmallow, special to the Christmas season, can also be a fun alternative to an after-dinner mint.
Sweetness’ salted caramels are absolutely amazing. I was lucky enough to try some that had just come out of the stove, which meant it was warm as well as being incredibly creamy, chewy and rich in flavour. It’s a definite, all-purpose recommendation. Their mini shortbread, which is buttery and melt-in-your-mouth, is also another bestseller – I would particularly endorse the Ginger and Lime Shortbread Mini.
I received the Peppermint Chocolate Bark for Christmas from a good friend a few years ago and have never forgotten it. It’s a solid, high quality present of rich dark chocolate and a refreshing hit of mint, with a slight crunch to give it some textural interest. Just be careful you don’t consume in one sitting, as tempting as it is.
And if you’re up for a decadent treat, Sweetness’ gluten-free brownies are everything a brownie should be – dense, dark chocolate-y, chewy, generously filled with chocolate bits and they are, surprisingly, not too sweet so it’s not completely overwhelming.
With Christmas just around the corner, it might be worth reconsidering the usual suspects lined up on your supermarket shelves and make the trip into suburbia, to collect some unique goodies for loved ones with a sweet tooth.
Sweetness the Patisserie
38 Oxford St, Epping, NSW
Phone: (02) 9869 3800
Web: Sweetness the Patisserie