In Profile: Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio

The words “Where Science Meets Sweetness” are scrawled almost imperceptibly on the glass wall that separates the sunlit, corkboard lined walls of Melbourne sweet studio Burch & Purchese’s shop from the studio’s consultation area with its wall of flavour jars and table full of cakes, yet the words underpin the philosophy that drives the creation of the myriad of desserts, chocolate bars and other sweet treats that fill the glass cabinets and shelves in the South Yarra store.

Flavour Wall

Chefs Ian Burch and Darren Purchese opened the store in April 2011 after distinguished careers both in their native England where they worked in some of the country’s top establishments including the Bentley Hotel where they met in 2003 and here in Australia where between them they have worked at restaurants such as Vue de monde, Press Club, Fenix and Bennelong.

I got the sense from visiting the store and speaking to the chefs that they are not fond of resting on their laurels. They won a number of industry awards in their native England before deciding to pursue new challenges in Australia. Says Purchese, “After I moved to Melbourne in 2005 I called Ian to say ‘come to Melbourne, it’s a fantastic food city and I think we can create something special here in the world of pastry’.” And create something special they have.

Ian Burch

Opening their own store has enabled Burch & Purchese to unleash their creative talents to enable their customers to serve restaurant quality desserts at home. This is the primary focus behind the store which is why you won’t find ‘dine in’ tables & chairs or a coffee machine in sight. As well as making their own cakes and desserts, the chefs also stock a range of items to complement the desserts on sale and to help home cooks finesse their own creations, from toppings such as green tea & white chocolate clay, salted oat and ginger crumble to freeze dried fruit, ice cream, sauces & spreads, the majority of which are made in house.

So why science? The answer is twofold. Science serves flavour and texture. As well as devising their own flavour combinations, Burch & Purchese have started collaborating with the creators of Foodpairing, a Belgian website to create flavour matches for some of their bespoke cakes. Foodpairing is a technology created by Bernard Lahousse whereby individual ingredients are subject to scientific testing at Firmenich and the University of Leuvenand are used to create Foodpairing trees, which identify the best flavour matches for particular ingredients. The resulting matches range from the expected (orange & mango) to the surprising (cucumber & straight Bourbon whiskey.)

Presentation Box

Texture is major part of any of a Burch & Purchese dessert and this is created using a mixture of traditional and modern techniques and equipment. When asked about utilisation of modern techniques and equipment Purchese says, “It allows us to innovate and develop new recipes as well as improving on past recipes. We write menus with the equipment we have in mind. Some of our equipment takes care of long laborious tasks which frees up our time to enable us to concentrate on the creative side.”

So, the big question is, how do the desserts taste? In a word: Sublime. I tasted some individual portions of their bigger desserts, some of which had been deconstructed to give a view of the layers that make up the larger versions. The desserts are named for their major flavour components, so first up was Chocolate, Mandarin, Salted Caramel. A creamy Kendari 60% dark chocolate mousse was layered over Murray River salted caramel, burnt mandarin cream, St Clements marmalade and aerated chocolate shortbread. The dessert was then covered in a chocolate mirror glaze and topped with a wisp of freeze dried mandarin. The richness of the mousse was beautifully offset by the sweet and salty caramel and the savoury elements of the burnt cream and marmalade. It would be very easy to get a dessert like this wrong. Any element could overpower the dessert if not used correctly but here they are harmonious, a perfect balance of flavours.

Chocolate, Mandarin, Salted Caramel

Chocolate, Mandarin, Salted Caramel

The next two desserts I tried could have easily been a case of style over substance as a multitude of flavours and textures were presented in each dish but in the hands of these chefs they were a triumph. Coconut, Passionfruit, Ginger, Mint consisted of a perfect hemisphere of coconut mousse finished with a brilliant white chocolate spray atop passionfruit curd, coconut caviar, passionfruit jelly, salted oat & ginger crumble. The dessert was adorned with a ginger macaroon and a white chocolate mint wafer. There is something to be said for plunging a spoon into a dessert and discovering something new with each bite, and this dessert delivered that in spades.

Coconut, Passionfruit, Ginger, Mint

The same could be said for the Avocado, Mint, Cucumber, White Chocolate. The flavour profile of this dessert intrigued me as avocado and cucumber are not normally things I’d expect to find at the sweet end of a meal but in this dessert, the flavours worked incredibly well. The avocado cream was sweet and slightly salty, a perfect counterpoint for the other flavours in the dish.

The final dessert was the challenge that Darren Purchese presented on the last season of Masterchef. The simplicity of the name Banana, Caramel, Rum belies the complexity of the flavours again, all presented harmoniously.

I won’t describe any more about the desserts here as part of the magic of visiting Burch & Purchese (and I can assure you it is magic) is discovering and trying the desserts for yourself. There were many more incredible looking desserts in the cabinet and creative flourishes in every corner. Despite the complexity of what these chefs present, they do so without pretence and with the delight of those dining on their desserts firmly in their minds.

It’s easy to become cynical about life as we grow older, but for a time while exploring the shop and trying their desserts, I regained that childhood sense of wonder. As others pass through their doors, I know I won’t be the only one.

Some of the desserts tasted were provided courtesy of Burch & Purchese whilst others were purchased by the author.

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio

647 Chapel St
South Yarra VIC 3141
03 9827 7060 

Burch & Purchese Sweet Studio on Urbanspoon

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Author:Jeremy Bowell

Jeremy Bowell is the founder and editor of Taste Explorer. He also writes for,, and has featured in the Sydney Morning Herald's Good Living section. He is an avid connoisseur of all things food and drink related.