In the spirit of honesty – which is important in emotional times, such as this – I need to make a confession: I never really liked cake.

You don’t have to tell me that this is weird, because I already know that it is. To me, cake had always seemed like cricket or The Hangover series: I knew a lot of people loved it, but I just didn’t get it. It’s often one flavour and is frequently dry. There’s contrast between the icing and the cake, but the ratio always felt vaguely unsatisfying. I knew this was an unpopular (and almost suspicious) opinion, so I mostly kept it to myself. I wanted to be liked and it’s very hard to like someone who doesn’t like cake.

This is all to say that Beatrix, the beloved bakery that yesterday announced it will close in August, made me a cake convert.

Never miss a Melbourne moment. Make sure you're subscribed to our newsletter today.

SUBSCRIBE NOW

If you’ve never been to Beatrix, imagine what your 10-year-old self would guess that heaven looked like. A glass case sits in the middle of a sun-drenched room and is filled with rows and rows of every baked treat you could possibly imagine. Tarts seemingly groaning with layers of chestnut-coloured cream and bitter cookie crumbs; plump doughnuts filled with jam; lamingtons so perfectly speckled they almost look like a cartoon; heaps of gingerbread; and scrolls that glisten with glaze.

Owner and accomplished pastry chef Nat Paull has a knack for taking the familiar and adding a depth to it that you never thought possible – have rhubarb and custard always contrasted so wonderfully? Were chiffon cakes always this soft and zingy? Of course meringue belongs in an already stuffed roulade – why wouldn’t it? Each bite of her creations reveals new textures and flavours that exist harmoniously but somehow still feel surprising. The Calamity Jane (freeze-dried strawberries and homemade marshmallow sandwiched by graham biscuits and covered in chocolate), Tart-a-misu (pears, mascarpone cream, amaretto coffee syrup in an almond crust) and Potato Brioche Bombes (filled with apple allspice, almond crumble and custard) were particular favourites, revealing new sensations with every bite.

So, about the cake confession: it’s not that I didn’t love sweets. I could eat slice for days: gooey, caramel blocks of vanilla custard, hunks of lemon and Marie biscuit crumbs. I consider biscuits – whether cream-filled, choc-chip-laden or oaty mounds – to be the work of angels. Hell, I made loaves (and loaves and loaves) of banana bread during lockdown like everyone else. Cake was just never the treat I daydreamed about – until I wandered up the road to a small bakery on the corner of two residential streets in North Melbourne.

It was one of the simpler items that made me change my mind. The Sponge Layer Cake is a tower of bright yellow hunks separated by a thick strip of cream on top of a layer of raspberry-and-lime jam. It’s iced in a vivid Barbie pink that resembles an Iced Vovo or the back of a Tic Toc biscuit (a pink one, obviously). It looked like the kind of sweet that belonged in an Enid Blyton book, not one that existed in real life, so I bought it. And from then on, I bought a slice of cake from Beatrix every Saturday morning.

Beatrix was more than just a cake shop to me. When Covid hit, and cafes and restaurants were allowed to operate on a takeaway basis, being able to get a cookie or a slice of tart while seeing other (masked) humans provided a moment of relief in a terrifying string of groundhog days. In the before times, I had brought friends in there for long overdue catch-ups. I once met an agent there to pitch her a book (she didn’t take the book; she did buy me shortbread, though). I have known friends who have gone straight there after difficult hospital appointments, numb with grief, taking home a box of comfort. I filled a box with different cakes and brought it to a first-time mum when she was in the thick of postpartum shock. “Beatrix” was shorthand for “the fancy treat you really, really need”.

When I moved away from Beatrix and lockdown made moving outside of your five-kilometre radius quite literally illegal, I would look at Nat Paull’s cookbook for a distraction after daily press briefings, turning the pages to soak in the perfectly laid out slices of Cocoa Sour Cream Layer Cakes, Red Velvet Cakes and the crumbly Coconut Shagg. The recipes themselves told stories of care, nostalgia and balance. Thinking about it now, those are the exact values that Paull brought to running her business: providing intricate, sugary works of art that felt comforting and exciting all at once, elevating traditional, often taken-for-granted dishes, but making them available to everyone.

I’ll miss the bakery but I cannot wait to see what Paull does next. I bet it will be delicious.

Beatrix is closing in early August.

beatrixbakes.com