Cakewalk: A Sweet Tour of Sydney, Australia from Cake Gumshoe Dianne

Cakewalk in Sydney!
CakeSpy Note: This is a special guest entry by Cake Gumshoe Dianne, who chronicles her culinary adventures at A Stove With A House Around It. She chronicled her sweet finds during a recent trip to Sydney, Australia ( with thanks for the help of her dear friends and Sydneysiders Kerrie, Greg, Nicole and Matthew Nott for their valuable assistance in researching the piece). Ready for some down-under decadence? Here goes:

I am not Australian. I don’t have an accent, I can’t follow cricket, I won’t stomach Vegemite. Even so, I love that continent like it’s home, and I’m always looking for flimsy and dubious excuses to travel down under yet again. This year, Qantas was having a sale--plus. I knew there were some significantly delicious cake shops and chocolatiers I had to visit. That, my friends, is reason enough to travel anywhere, no matter how long the plane ride.

What follows is a glimpse into a vibrant and varied dessert culture. It seems like every 20 minutes good Australian citizens are stopping their daily routines to have a coffee and a sweet--it is part of their daily routines, at least within my circle of Aussie friends. Here are a few of my favorite Sydney-area bakeries and chocolate makers. Of course, this list is anything but exhaustive, but if you’re planning a trip to Sydney, you would do well to take a break from the gorgeous glittering Harbour to stop (several times per day) for a bite of something sweet.
Adriano Zumbo in Sydney, c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Adriano Zumbo
Tucked in a slender and unassuming shop in Balmain’s Darling Street, patissier Adriano Zumbo displays his exquisite and creative pastries in a glass case against the simple backdrop of an attractive exposed-brick wall. It’s kind of like hanging original artwork in a modest, utilitarian space; here, pastries are art. And each work has its own quirky name. We enjoyed “Amanda made the cut 6/11/81,” a perfect white square of milk passion caramel mousse, lime crème, passionfruit marshmallow, coconut crunch and brownie, as well as the more descriptively named “Pine nut millefeuille,” a generous layered combination of pine nut gianduja mousse, dark chocolate crème, pate feulletage and sacher sponge. If my stomach was three sizes larger I definitely would have given “Squeeze” a shot, not only for its artful amalgamation of sticky date pudding, cardamom and 80% chocolate chips but also for its nod – real or imagined – to my husband’s favorite Brit-pop combo. Or the “Return of the killer tomato,” which is an intriguing tomato, chocolate and olive oil upside-down cake.
Adriano Zumbo in Sydney, c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Get your pastry-art to go, because just a few steps down the street is Adriano Zumbo’s café. The staff will plate up your patisserie purchase so that you can enjoy it with coffee or tea while you listen to excellent ambient tunes like John Lennon’s “Crippled Inside,” which I was happy to hear as I destroyed my pine nut millefeuille. There’s a fabulous red chandelier, a range of quality reading material and a pleasant outdoor space where you can linger over your “Lukas rides the tube” (macadamia praline mousse, macadamia dacquoise, vanilla Chantilly, pear tartin palette, macadamia feullitine). Trust me; you don’t want to rush through something like that.
Adriano Zumbo in Sydney, c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Note: Adriano changes his pastry collection often, so these particular selections might not be available when you visit. But something equally astounding will be.

296 Darling Street, Balmain - Phone: 02 9810 7318; online at


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Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, La Renaissance in Sydney, Australia
La Renaissance Patisserie & Café
Behind a weathered door marked number 47 in Sydney’s historic Rocks area is La Renaissance, a first-class French patisserie whose “art cakes” are named, naturally, after French painters. And whose rainbow-hued macarons are beguiling enough to make you abandon your sightseeing and languish on the La Renaissance premises until you’ve sampled at least one of each flavor. We visited on a Sunday morning when the adjacent Rocks Market was in full swing, and La Renaissance’s shaded outdoor café was inviting on its own as a tantalizing retreat from the crowd and the vendors selling everything from wooden kangaroos to knee-length striped terry-cloth shorts. Throw in La Renaissance’s gorgeous pastries and…your sightseeing plans can disappear more quickly than a piece of gateau St. Honore. What was that I heard about a famous opera house?

Truthfully, we did have tickets to a performance at the Opera House later that afternoon, so I indulged in a piece of La Renaissance’s coffee and chocolate opera cake. It seemed appropriate. I also couldn’t pass up the macarons, falling victim to a lovely little green number that was flavored with olive oil and vanilla with white chocolate ganache. I also had a dark chocolate one, because you can’t have just one macaron. I believe that is an old French aphorism, no? The menu says they offer salted caramel macarons, but I didn’t see any in the case that day. A reason to return. My friends ate tiramisu and apple flan while they drank cappuccinos and tried to banish the specter of the wine consumed the night before. Coffee and pastries, especially pastries like these, are especially good for that.


47 Argyle Street, The Rocks, Sydney - Phone: 02 9241 4878; online at

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Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Babycakes in Sydney
Baby Cakes by Renee
This is the shop to visit if you want a tiny sweet bite of something while you hoof around Sydney, perhaps on your way to nearby Darling Harbour. On a hilly block of Erskine Street, the shop’s cases are filled with wee cupcakes, small enough that you can try several (many) different flavors without feeling guilty. When we walked in, the very friendly woman behind the counter chatted with us about our holiday as she restocked the baked goods. “We had a rush.” I can see why.
Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Babycakes in Sydney
Even though we had visited at least two bakeries earlier that same day and had just come from a luxurious gourmet Thai lunch, we nevertheless dove straight into three flavors of baby cakes: hazelnut mud, caramel mud and strawberry mud, the latter of which was topped with precious pink frosting and the most adorable and crunchy yellow candy topper. We also bought a chocolate lamington, the iconic Aussie dessert cake rolled in chocolate syrup and coconut. My camera did a whole lot of flirting with the cake-sized cakes, baked in large cupcake-like wrappers and covered sweetly with pretty shades of white and pink icing. In retrospect, I wish I had tried the carrot cake baby cake, as well as the lemon poppyseed. Certainly I could have walked them off on our journey around the shops at Darling Harbour. You live, you learn.

66 Erskine Street, Sydney - Phone: 02 9279 2794; online at

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Abla's in Sydney, C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Abla’s Pastries
Get yourself to the Central train station. Then get yourself on a train traveling west, one that stops at Granville (just a handful of stops). Then get off the train and make your way out of the station to the corner of Railway Parade and Carlton Street to Abla’s Pastries. It looks kind of like a bank, all stone and drab façade. Go in anyway. You will not be sorry.
I have never seen as many baked goods in one place at one time as I did at Abla’s. This Lebanese bakery clearly does great business, judging by the miles of display cases piled high (and I mean high) with baklava and any combination of phyllo, honey, rosewater and nuts. Then there are the overflowing trays of cookies behind the display cases, you know, in case they run out. Then there are the packaged sweets on the windowsills behind the cookies behind the display cases. Then there are the glass shelving units filled with individually wrapped pistachio and nougat treats. And the case of European-style cakes and tarts. And the handmade chocolates. And the wrapped trays of candies and party favors. There is only one word for it: astonishing.

The best news in all of this: Everything we tried was as good as it looked. We shared a pistachio bourma, pine nut baklava, a mamoul biscuit made from semolina and dates, a confection called a karabij that is a nut base topped with a type of meringue. We put together a tray of various treats to take home with us and enjoy later with visiting family from Melbourne. We also ate a fried turnover filled with a sweet cheese or pastry cream, but sadly we were unable to determine exactly which pastry it was. Truly, who could possibly care? When you are sitting next to a tray as big around as an SUV tire stacked higher than your head with baklava, it’s hard not to enjoy whatever’s on your plate.


48-52 Railway Parade, Granville - Phone: 02 9637 8092

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Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Cupcakes on Pitt in Sydney, Australia
Cupcakes on Pitt
I make no attempt to disguise my love for the Cadbury Crunchie, a candy bar comprised of airy sweet honeycomb covered in Cadbury’s delectable milk chocolate. I therefore make no attempt to say I sought out Cupcakes on Pitt for any other reason than the fact that they serve a honeycomb cupcake: chocolate cake with honey icing and a chunk of Crunchie perched on top. Perfection! I learned when we got to the tiny shop just a short walk from the Queen Victoria Building that Crunchies aren’t the only treats making their way onto Cupcakes on Pitt’s baked goods: you’ll find pieces of Cherry Ripe (another Cadbury candy bar), crumbled butter cookies, dried apricots and rocky road ingredients scattered over the cupcakes’ colorful frosting. It’s a lot of flavor and texture to fit into a small cake, but it works. It works well.
Photo c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Cupcakes on Pitt in Sydney, Australia
Of course I had the honeycomb. I also happily consumed a lamington cupcake – with chocolate, jam and coconut – and an amazingly flavorful lemon meringue cupcake, just bursting with citrus and kissed on top by a perfectly browned dollop of meringue. I also tried one of their vanilla macarons, which was large and shattered pleasingly when I took a bite. Even the light rain that started to fall as we tucked into our sweets at one of the sidewalk tables couldn’t dampen our mood. For we were in Sydney, Australia, eating cupcakes. I’ll take that scenario any day of the week.

Shop 2, 323-327 Pitt Street, Sydney - Phone: 02 9264 4644; online at

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Josophan's Fine Chocolates c/o Cake Gumshoe Dianne
Josophan’s Fine Chocolates
Yes, I realize that neither Josophan’s Fine Chocolates nor Café Josophan’s is a proper full-scale bakery. But if you find yourself in the Blue Mountains about an hour west of Sydney (and lots of travelers do), stop off the Great Western Highway in the lovely town of Leura and visit Josophan’s. The award-winning chocolates are made by hand in the Blue Mountains and I probably don’t have to mention that they’re as pleasing to the eye as they are to the palate. In sophisticated combinations like Mayan chili and saffron honey and lime and basil, the chocolates are like jewels beckoning from behind the glass in the tasteful and elegant shop.
Cafe Josophan's
But the real treat is down the street at Café Josophan’s. The desserts are divine: Mexican chocolate cake, crumbly and sweet shortbread biscuits, scones, waffles with Belgian chocolate. We ordered the fresh strawberries and were served a heaping pile of plump, sweet fruit with a pitcher of delicious melted chocolate and fresh whipped cream. We arrived just in time, because around 3:30 the friendly café employees feed scones to the five or six assembled sulphur-crested cockatoos who clearly know where to come for baked goods. The birds were hysterical, peering in plaintively through the windows, stubbornly throwing a plastic “reserved” sign from a tabletop down to the sidewalk, holding their scones in their claws and nibbling away gratefully. The handcrafted chocolates and café desserts are certainly impressive and delightful, but I won’t lie to you: the cockatoos made my afternoon.
In Sydney, even the birds appreciate baked goods
132 Leura Mall, Leura - Phone: 02 4784 2031

Café Josophan’s, 187a Leura Mall, Leura - Phone: 02 4784 3833; online at

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C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Pasticceria Papa, Sydney, Australia
Pasticceria Papa
So we did the elegant pastries (Adriano Zumbo). We did the Lebanese pastries (Abla’s). We ate more than our share of tiny cupcakes (Babycakes and Cupcakes on Pitt). We shared scones with birds (Café Josophan’s). What was clearly missing from this dessert tour was a stop at an Italian bakery. Haberfield is located close to Sydney’s Leichhardt neighborhood, the city’s Little Italy. Where Leichhardt is replete with restaurants, Haberfield is home to the Italian bakers and pasta makers and cheese shops. If you start with an empty stomach at one end of the block, I guarantee you it will be full by the time you reach the other. Especially if you stop in Pasticceria Papa, a large dessert and bread bakery that also serves lunch.
C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Pasticceria Papa, Sydney, Australia
The woodwork on the face of the long bakery counter is marred and scuffed – even split here and there – from the feet of the many customers who have bellied up to the case over the years to have a look at the array of Italian cookies, beautifully executed cakes and crusty breads. We were eight of those feet. For lunch we had arancini filled with chicken, tomatoes and cheese, and then shared an overflowing plate of cookies: lemon-almond, amaretti, almond and cherry, perfect strawberry swirl. I think the strawberry might have been my favorite, but it’s hard to tell for sure. We also indulged in a cannoli and eyed the passionfruit cake. This busy corner shop (there was a constant line) also serves ice cream. So come hungry. You won’t have to eat for the next two days.

145 Ramsay Street, Haberfield - Phone: 02 9798 6894

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Photo C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Colonial Bakery in Sydney, Australia
The Colonial Bakery
At the north end of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, right near the train station and close to the steps that lead up to the bridge’s pedestrian path, is The Colonial Bakery. Its green and gold sign advertises CAKES & PIES and tray after tray of slices and ANZAC biscuits in the window inspire even the most casual passerby to stop and gaze. If you want something homespun, a dessert that’s traditionally Australian, step inside. If you’re about to walk across the bridge, or if you’ve just finished walking across the bridge, step inside. You’re going to want a snack and The Colonial Bakery has something to suit you.
Photo C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Colonial Bakery in Sydney, Australia
This is not an elegant bakery; this is not impossibly clever pastry on display. These are desserts that your grandmother would have made, if your grandmother grew up in Australia. It was hard to choose among the many varieties of slice, essentially bar cookies cut into very large squares. There was peppermint, chocolate-cherry, chocolate-macadamia, citrus, lemon-pistachio and many more. We eventually settled on a jam-coconut slice and a ginger-pistachio slice. Both were very sweet and very homemade, and the jam-coconut prevailed only because we’re such gigantic coconutphiles. (Though I must say that the bird that was harassing us as we snacked next to the Harbour clearly preferred the ginger-pistachio.) The Colonial Bakery’s speckled passionfruit tarts looked fabulous to me, but I had exceeded my dessert threshold on that particular day. When I return I’ll also try the neenish tart, an Australian creation of pastry, jam and cream covered in two colors of icing. It looks a lot like a Southern Hemisphere black and white cookie. You can also, of course, get yourself a meat pie or a sausage roll at The Colonial Bakery if you’re not in the mood for a sweet.
Photo C/O Cake Gumshoe Dianne, Colonial Bakery in Sydney, Australia
The friendly but shy woman behind the counter was embarrassed to appear in my photos. In between serving the locals who were stopping in for bread rolls and pies, she kept slinking out of the frame. She told me she would just ruin the picture. When I asked for a business card, she handed me the bakery’s phone number and advised me that I could call if I ever wanted to order in advance. I wonder, does she ship to Ohio?

4 Ennis Road, Milsons Point - Phone: 02 9955 3958.

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Want more? Check out all of Dianne's Australian baked good photos here!