The sweet assassin

Flavour bomb

The sweet assassin
Melt-in-the-mouth macaroons, croquembouche towers and cakes that look too good to eat.

Renowned pastry chef Adriano Zumbo’s creations are a dessert lover’s delight and a cook’s worst nightmare. Australia’s Willy Wonka was in the City recently for the second edition of World On A Plate. “I am pretty privileged to be here. I am excited to learn about Indian culture, the food and of course, the desserts,” he said. And what better way to pay an ode to the country than to create a dessert inspired by masala chai. “I call it the Dirty Chai. The flavours in this dessert are pretty much chai, coffee, raspberry with a bit of white chocolate and milk caramel,” he explains. Sounds simple enough, right? Wrong. Adriano is known to create extravagant sweet treats that not only look stunning, but also taste heavenly with the most unusual combination of flavours.

Adriano shot to fame after his appearance on Masterchef Australia, where he presented his technically challenging desserts that left many contestants in a fix. Since then, he has been a known face on the programme, and it also led him to come out with his own TV show, Zumbo’s Just Desserts.

Tell us about your beginnings in the kitchen. What was the first dessert you ever made?

The first dessert I ever made was a simple sponge cake. I was 14 at the time. I grew up in a small country town called Coonamble in New South Wales. My parents owned a supermarket. So I practically grew up around food. I was always eating the sweets and lollies at the store. When I was 15, I left school and joined as an apprentice with a pastry chef. Then I moved to Sydney. It has been 20 years now and I have never looked back.

Besides your own, whose sweet creations do you enjoy the most?
My mom’s desserts are great. They are quite simple and I love simplicity. When I am not working, I enjoy eating basic desserts. I spend all day working on tricky and technically difficult dishes, but when I get home, I just want to eat a bowl of ice cream, a custard or a sponge cake. My mom makes great trifle, which is simple and delicious.

What are some of the best combinations of ingredients in a dessert?
Chocolate and caramel is a winning combination for me. Apart from chocolate, in Australia most people like salted caramel. It has such a big and bold flavour. Having said that, vanilla is my absolute favourite. These might be common flavours, but they always work. Also when you are making a dessert, the ingredients need to appeal to a mass of people for it to become the best.

Tell us about Zumbo’s Just Desserts.
I have shot just one season of Zumbo’s Just Desserts. It has been a great experience. Once you have your own show, things are more intense. Having to create a new dish for every challenge was a monumental task, but I was lucky to have a good team. I got to meet some passionate home cooks. I have watched them grow, watched them get challenged and I’ve helped and mentored them. It takes quite a strong person to keep creating, criticising and mentoring.

Which is your favourite dessert?
My favourite dessert is the V8, which is essentially just a vanilla cake, with many different layers, textures and strengths of vanilla. And I love it because the flavours are clean and simple. You can eat it everyday. You can pair it with a raspberry sorbet, a chocolate ice cream or with coffee foam on top. It is very versatile.

Any tips for aspiring home bakers?
Patience. You need to be patient with the process. The beautiful thing about desserts is that you can prepare a lot of them before hand. You can make a sponge cake or an ice cream and store it. And you can assemble it just before serving. Desserts need time to prepare, and a lot of the components need time to set. You can’t just whip them up in the last minute. So take your time, don’t rush.

A balance of flavours is extremely important in a dessert. Sweet, bitter, salty, sour…the ingredients need to complement each other. You always need to have a few non-sweet elements to highlight the sweetness. Too much sweetness will not be enjoyable. It won’t have a pleasing effect on the palette.

Good quality ingredients and the right kind of equipment are also crucial. Things are possible without these, but the result won’t be good.

Being alert is also important. When a dessert goes wrong, you need to know what has gone wrong or what caused the problem, and learn to improve on it. If you make a cake and it collapses, you need to realise why it has collapsed or what you did wrong. This is the key to becoming a good baker. Never give up. I have taught several home bakers who had given up after one failed attempt. You need to keep pushing yourself and learning from your mistakes.

And the final and the most essential ingredient is love. Without passion and love, the dish will just fall apart. You have to be a part of the dish you are making and have fun while making it.

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