Australia’s most iconic desserts

02 September, 2015 by
Aoife Boothroyd

There's something really special about signature desserts. The ability to perfectly craft a dish that marries together complementing flavours and textures to win over both savoury and sweet-tooths is a talent few can boast. 

Although the dish itself was created almost two years prior to the airing of the program, it was the 2010 finale of MasterChef that really cemented the place of Peter Gilmore's Snow Egg on the national culinary radar. 

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"It was already a really popular dessert even before MasterChef, and I guess it's one of those really iconic, signature dishes that will probably stay with me for the rest of my life," says Gilmore. 

"When I first came up with the idea, I was mucking around with a few different things like fruit, granita and ice-cream and I was thinking about doing something like a white peach fool. Then one day I came across the half hemisphere moulds and the idea popped into my head that I could actually poach a meringue in a half shell, and then put two half shells together to form a sphere. I thought that could be really cool because then I could basically make a hole in the middle of the meringue and put ice cream inside. From there I thought about the fact that I needed to join the two halves together and the idea of doing some sort of melted toffee over the top that you would be able to crack through came to mind." 

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Gilmore says that the Snow Egg took a good couple of months to develop as he needed to find a sugar for the toffee that didn't stick to your teeth. After a bit of experimenting, he found that maltose did the trick because instead of being sticky it shattered and created a 'beautiful crunch'. 

"So I developed a toffee out of the maltose which surrounded the poached meringue and the ice cream, and then I put that with the granita, the fool and the ice cream. The beautiful thing about this dessert, apart from how it eats, is the surprise element. It sort of engages all of your senses in a lot of ways because you have to crack through the Snow Egg, then once you hear the crack, you see that the inside yolk of the egg is actually the ice cream and then there are the cool textures and then smooth textures of the fool together with the granita that make it really refreshing." 

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Considering the months it took to fully develop and perfect the dessert, it's no surprise that the Snow Egg hasn't really changed since the recipe was conceived –  the only exception being the flavours of the fruit, which change with the seasons. 

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Quay's Snow Egg

"The very first one was strawberry guava which I did with a custard apple ice cream, strawberry guava granita and strawberry guava fool. So that was the original one but there have been so many. We're about to go into jackfruit on the current menu, but we've also done cherry versions, white peach versions, raspberry versions¬ it's quite endless what we can actually do with it. So as far as an iconic signature dessert, its not a bad one to have because it changes." 

Just across the harbour from Quay is Gilmore's second culinary home, Bennelong, located inside the Sydney Opera House. For Bennelong, Gilmore wanted to create a dessert that would not only become a signature of the venue, but also a dish that was unequivocally Australian. 

"With the desserts over at Bennelong I really wanted to reference quite classic, iconic Australian favourites and you can't go much more classic than the pavlova. So I made an Opera House pavlova, which was a lot of fun. It's your basic pavlova, so there's soft meringue and crispy meringue that I've actually made into sails as a nod to the iconic sails of the Opera House and again, that is something that will change with the seasons as a pavlova always has some sort of fruit combination. At the moment we've got rhubarb inside because it's in season." 

Improving on perfection 

Troy Rhoades-Brown, executive chef and co-owner of the Hunter Valley's Muse Dining says that his signature dessert has been constantly evolving over the past five years. The dish – as it's know today – comprises a husk made of dark chocolate which holds a whipped coconut cloud mousse and coconut water which is thickened slightly and flavoured with vanilla bean. The husk is then presented on a bed of shaved coconut and edible flowers. 

"Initially the whipped coconut cloud mixture was used as a base of a dish. I came up with that about five years ago and we were serving that as a dessert just with some fresh lavender petals, fresh local mulberries and some crystallised violet. It was a beautiful and light way to finish the meal," says Rhoades-Brown. 

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Muse Coconut

"So we just kept on evolving it over and over again and then we got to the point where we were serving the coconut cloud as a palate cleanser with house pickled ginger and lemon balm. I wanted everyone to try it and by having it as a palate cleanser it meant that every person that dined in the restaurant got to taste it." 

After serving as a palate cleanser for a while, Rhoades-Brown decided he wanted to take the dessert back to its former glory by placing it in its full form back on the menu, much to the delight of his diners. 

"We made the decision to put it back on as a full dessert, and from there it has evolved to where it is now." 

Rocking it since 1984 

In terms of iconic restaurant desserts, it's hard to go past Rockpool's Date Tart, which has been on the menu since 1984 without a single tweak to the recipe. 

"I think what makes it so special is its underlying simplicity," says Rockpool Est. 1989's executive chef, Phil Wood. "I think that people don't expect it to be as good as it is but when they have it, they realise that it is actually quite amazing. I mean when you think it's just custard, pastry, and dates, you sort of say, 'well how good can that be?' But then you have it and you realise how amazing simplicity can really be. 

"I still remember the first time I had it," says Wood. "I wasn't working at Rockpool, I actually had it at Tetsuya's. Tetsuya was having a charity function where Neil and Tets cooked a course and the Rockpool guys made the Date Tart for dessert. There was a whole extra tart left over so they brought it down to the kitchen and I tried it there." 

Wood says that the only aspect of the tart that has changed since it was created is its size. When Rockpool moved from its former home on George Street to the new Bridge Street location, Wood made the decision to downsize the dessert from a full-sized tart to a petit four. 

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Rockpool's Date Tart

"In the last year or two down at George Street, we used to make the Date Tart but not really sell that much of it. When people read it on the menu, I guess they get more attracted to other things and don't quite realise how good it is. I mean we used to sell a bit, but not enough. So coming here, I wanted to make sure that we had a link to the old restaurant and I wanted to make sure that every single person had it, so that's why we turned it into a petit four." 

Wood admits that he did try to play with the recipe once by adding fresh truffle, but came to the conclusion that some recipes just need to be left alone. 

"I asked Neil if he would mind if I tried to make a truffle date tart and he said 'you can try it, but I doubt it will be any good.' So I made it and I thought, 'this is going to be great,' but no it wasn't – I mean it wasn't bad, but it wasn't good either. I think the recipe has stayed the same because it's pretty much a perfect recipe. And that doesn't come along very often." 

If it ain't broke 

St Kilda's Donovan's restaurant is famous for its desserts, but it's the venue's signature Bombe Alaska – their take on the traditional French dessert – which has kept punters coming back for over 15 years. 

Comprising chocolate and hazelnut ice cream, meringue and a flourless chocolate cake base, co-owner Kevin Donovan says that the recipe development process of the Bombe Alaska was exceptionally involved and that the final recipe is so exact that he wouldn't dare try to change it. 

"The way we prepare it is quite tricky because the size of the dessert is perfectly designed," says Donovan. "After we churn the ice cream we put it into a mould and then place the chocolate base on. The dessert is then inverted and taken out of the mould and piped with the swiss meringue on the exterior. One of the key elements here is that we need to be able to ensure that the meringue is cooked but the ice cream doesn't melt at the same time. 

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Donovan's Bombe Alsaka

"So we had to work out the size ratios of the ice cream and the amount of meringue. If you put in this huge mould of ice cream with meringue, the ice cream would be rock hard, but the eight minutes that it takes to bake the meringue softens the ice cream just so that it doesn't melt. So it was quite tricky to work out the exact size. Some guests have asked if we can make larger ones, but we really can't because the formula of how the dessert is composed is really quite tricky." 

Donovan says that there's been a few people who have created their versions of the Bombe Alaska based on the success that the Donovan's version has enjoyed, and to be honest he is not particularly fussed about it. 

"There has been some imitation of it which is the most sincere form of flattery – so we don't mind. People have told us that we cannot take the Bombe Alaska off the menu and we wouldn't dare. You know, you always agonise about making any menu change, but that is one item that will never come off."