Wednesday, November 17, 2004

Love at last bite - Babka

Shoo-fly bun
I’ll never forget the time I told my mother that I would never eat a raisin bun.

“I hate those things. The bun’s already sugary and crumbly and those pellets of bird-food like dried fruits do nothing to help! I don’t want one now and I won’t want any more this lifetime!”

You see, until that point in my life, I hadn’t had a raisin bun whose dough had the right balance of sweetness or tenderness, let alone one with currants that weren’t dry and tasteless.

This belief remained in me until one day when I visited Babka, a bakery-café on Brunswick Street, for my weekly loaf of bread. It must have been around five or six in the afternoon, as they were just about to close. After yet another lunch-less day, my stomach was protesting loudly, and the only snack-sized item left on the racks at Babka were their ‘shoo-fly buns’.

Glistening in the back, behind the glass counter where luscious cakes and pastries once were (more on them later), were a couple of rows of sticky glazed, golden-brown bun tops. A closer inspection revealed a creamy yellow bun packed full of the abovementioned and offensive (as it seemed then) currants. It was no less than repel at first sight, but lingering love at last bite.

Unfortunately, hunger got the better of me and I basically scoffed down the first few mouthfuls of the bun without really tasting it. However, about half a bun later, I was hit by a surreal wave of orange aromas. Chewing suspiciously, I looked at the semi-devoured bun. There they were, small flecks of orange rind distributed evenly throughout the bun amongst a very generous scattering of semi-dried raisins in the custard yellow dough. As the currants have not been fully dried, there is a surprising “pop” when initially bitten into, which is followed by a gradual release of a fruity, syrupy juice. This must be perfection in Bread World.

Exactly what makes this bun so much better than others is highly debatable. Is it the incorporation of zesty orange puree that keeps the dough moist and aromatic, or is it the strong yet pliable strands of gluten that leaves the bun tender and chewy, or would it be the intense, alcohol qualities of the semi-dried currants? Then again, perhaps it is the way that these three things so flawlessly compliment and contrast with each other.

If, unlike me, you visit Babka before they close, you may find that this quaint café is nearly always full. All complaints about waiting, however, are easily forgotten once the food arrives, although you may still prefer to come outside peak (lunch) hours.

Come at 3pm and have scrambled eggs on toast, if you so wish, as breakfast is served all day. A ‘must-try’ on the breakfast menu is the Georgian baked beans. This dark burgundy dish of flavoursome, spicy, house-baked beans comes in very substantial portions upon two thick slices of toast fresh from the bakery, with a sprinkling of parsley on top. It is a rich, hearty dish, excellent for all those cold, wet, miserable days we’ve been having recently.

The owner’s Russian heritage is evident in the permanent offering of borscht on the specials blackboard and blintzes in the breakfast menu. The former comes as a large bowl of (literally) beetroot-red soup full of vegetables, with a dollop of snowy white sour cream floating happily on top. The latter is a sweet affair – nuggets of soft, fluffy cottage cheese enveloped by crisp, thin crepes, served in a pool of citrus syrup, finished off with a light dusting of cinnamon sugar.

More ‘standard’ offerings include a range of generously-sized sandwiches made with their famous bread, and delectable pies (both are served with small side salads). The specials board also offers an array of other simple but extremely well executed lunch dishes.

It would almost be wrong not to finish a meal here without one of their excellent coffees. Also available is freshly squeezed orange juice, as well as the usual selection of beverages. By now, you’d probably be too full to try a slice of their wonderful tarte tatin, a caramelised layer of apples upon a rustic pastry, or a delightful version of the café staple, flourless orange and almond cake. Of course, there’s takeaway, but if like me, your bag’s already full with the half-dozen shoo-fly buns you’re hiding away from your mother, you may consider coming back again. And again... and again.

358 Brunswick Street
Fitzroy 3065
Tel:+613 9416 0091
Open Tues-Sun 7am-7pm (Kitchen closes 6pm)

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