Recap: A Streetcar Named Dessert with Sugared and Spiced

For the past few years, enterprising groups such as Streetcar Shows have been organizing gigs that take place on the High Level Streetcar. It’s a unique and intimate venue to be sure, and given the limited number of seats, the shows always sell out. I’ve been hoping to attend one of the concerts, but haven’t been able to snag tickets. So when I saw that Sugared and Spiced was advertising an event they were putting together (cheekily named “A Streetcar Named Dessert”), I jumped at the chance.

The streetcar concert would feature baked goods from Sugared and Spiced and Edmonton singer/songwriter Martin Kerr. Mack and I have been longtime fans of Martin (he performed at our wedding), so we couldn’t think of anyone better to provide the soundtrack to the evening.

On a Saturday in September, Mack and I headed to the Strathcona Streetcar Barn on south side of the river to join two dozen other guests.

High Level Streetcar

Off we go

It’s been at least a year since we’ve ridden the streetcar, but every time we do, we’re reminded of how fabulous the volunteers from the Edmonton Radial Railway Society are. Hugh and Sarah demonstrated their passion and knowledge about the streetcar, and made the experience even more memorable. It’s amazing that the streetcar continues to be operated entirely by volunteers; hopefully Edmontonians never take this for granted.

High Level Streetcar

Hugh, one of the Edmonton Radial Railway Society volunteers

Along the way, were each treated to a generous slice of cake (the rich, dense chocolate peanut butter was delicious). If that wasn’t enough, we were each provided with a box of goodies to take home, packed with brownies, macaroons, rosemary shortbread, ginger cookies, madelines, and my personal favourite, the girls’ night in cookie with chocolate, caramel, raspberry dessert wine and coarse salt.

A Streetcar Named Dessert

Almost too pretty to eat

Martin played two short sets. Although Mack and I have heard him perform many times before, this was the first time we were able to learn the inspiration behind some of his songs, including one he often plays at the farmers’ market. He was well suited to this small venue, and his rendition of Hallelujah, as we sat atop the North Saskatchewan River under the darkened skies, was simply magical.

A Streetcar Named Dessert

Martin Kerr

Even before the evening was through, Amy and Jeff were already fielding questions as to whether or not they’d organize another Streetcar Named Dessert. They have, and tickets are only available in conjunction with their current Alberta BoostR campaign. Sugared and Spiced will be opening a brick and mortar bakery next spring, and are hoping to crowdfund some of the start-up capital that they need. Although they reached their first goal of $20,000 in just a few days, they’re still hoping to get to $50,000 by October 27, 2016.

Thanks to Amy and Jeff for putting together a wonderful event, and best wishes on the BoostR campaign in these final weeks!

Alberta Avenue Charm: Passion de France

Passion de France, a relatively new bakery located in the Eastwood neighbourhood, has remained somewhat under the radar since opening back in November. Perhaps because of its location just off the main Alberta Avenue drag, one wouldn’t likely stumble across Passion de France by accident.

Passion de France

Passion de France

I sought out the bakery after around lunch time last week after a meeting near by. Passion de France charms with its pastel colouring, chandeliers and ornate seating. For those seeking something more substantial, Passion de France does offer a variety of savoury items, including sandwiches, quiche and soup. But no doubt, they specialize in more dainty goods.

Passion de France

Interior

The pastry cases were filled with an astonishing variety given the bakery’s size, ranging from macarons, tarts, cakes and pies. Being a sucker for croissants, however, my attention was eventually diverted to their selection of flaky treats. They had already sold out of plain croissants that morning, and I couldn’t wait for their second batch to finish baking, so I ended up with a few mini pain au chocolat ($1.95), as well as croissant twists in chocolate and salted caramel flavours ($3.40 each).

The chocolate croissants were my favourite of the two; they definitely didn’t skimp on the butter! The salted caramel twist was a little too moist for my taste, reminding me of a Danish.

With friendly staff and an inviting interior, Passion de France would make a great stop for those looking to indulge their sweet tooth – I know I’ll be back for their croissants some time soon!

Passion de France
11812 86 Street
(780) 257-2092

The Duchess Bake Shop Cookbook Launch

It’s finally here! A project nearly a year in the making, Edmonton’s Duchess Bake Shop has launched its first self-titled cookbook. Although it won’t be publically available until Wednesday, November 12, 2014, Mack and I were part of a lucky group invited to the bakery Sunday evening to not only preview the publication, but also to get our hot little hands on it first!

Duchess Bake Shop Cookbook Launch

Duchess Cookbook launch crowd

Given how popular Duchess has become in our community, it’s hard to think back to when they opened, in the fall of 2009, with just four staff. In the five years since, Duchess has grown to eighteen staff, churning out sixty-five different products, and astonishing quantities of delicious pastry, including two thousand macarons per day.

Duchess Bake Shop Cookbook Launch

Let them eat macarons!

Giselle Courteau, Garner Beggs and Jake Pelletier were all born and raised in Edmonton, and their vocalized desire to “put Edmonton on the map” is one of our city’s great success stories. Borne from hard work and a scratch-made philosophy, Duchess quickly outgrew their original space, and doubled their storefront size two years later. In 2012, Duchess Provisions opened, providing specialty items to help ambitious home bakers. And that same year, the National Post pointed to Duchess as possibly the best patisserie in Canada.

Duchess Bake Shop Cookbook Launch

Giselle introduces her book

Late last year, Giselle started writing the cookbook, which steadily became a family affair. All the more astonishing, Giselle managed to complete and self-publish the book while she was pregnant, welcoming her first baby last month!

Duchess Bake Shop Cookbook Launch

Giselle and her (other) baby!

The Duchess Bake Shop Cook Book contains nearly ninety recipes, which range from more basic cookies to the complex cakes and pastries the bakery is known for. So far, the book will only available in-store and online at Duchess Provisions (priced at $45), but a national launch is planned for next year.

Duchess Bake Shop Cookbook Launch

Lillian and I flip through the cookbook

I picked up a copy for myself, and though I will likely remain at the beginner’s end of the cookbook, the full colour pages are a treat to flip through nonetheless. I’m also hopeful the more studious bakers in my family might want to borrow my copy for a spin (hint, hint).

Congrats to Giselle and the Duchess Bake Shop team for this accomplishment! I’m certain the book will find its way under many a Christmas tree this year.

A Christmas Fête at the Queen of Tarts

We’re nearly a month away from Christmas, and with American Thanksgiving now out of the way, I think it’s now appropriate to pull out the decorations to start making merry at home. It was also perfect timing for a Christmas fête at the Queen of Tarts.

Queen of Tarts

Sparking wine and sparkling lights

There’s a lot to celebrate at the Queen of Tarts – this will be their first Christmas at the storefront, and the space will allow the Queen of Tarts to have a greater selection of pantry gifts (including a special Greek olive oil called Parthena – pure and cold-pressed, a sample yielded a light, fruity quality, and a flavour that made it good enough to drink). They will even be putting together baskets to make it easy for the harried shopper!

Queen of Tarts

Gifts for the pantry

Queen of Tarts

Parthena Greek olive oil

The cafe is also kicking off regular dinner service on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights starting on December 1st. And of course, special seasonal items will now start to appear in the bakery cases!

Queen of Tarts

All decked out for the holidays

This evening’s open house was intended as a showcase for these delights, an opportunity to sample both sweet and savoury treats that will be offered over the next few weeks.

Queen of Tarts

The Queen herself, Linda Kearney

Alongside a glass of sparkling wine, we were invited to try nearly ten different delectable desserts and appetizers that any hostess would be proud to serve. Among the more traditional sweets were mincemeat tarts, fruitcake and stollen (the latter was already packaged and ready for patrons to pick up).

Queen of Tarts

Fruitcake and mincemeat tarts

Queen of Tarts

Stollen

The palmiers, a delicate savoury cookie made from buttery puff pastry, simply melted in my mouth. The olive tapenade was a sophisticated addition. As well, mini brioche buns stuffed with mushroom duxelle were also a new item, a wonderful two-bite hors d’oeuvre with the earthiness of the mushrooms (I loved that the shallots retained their crunch) and a touch of sweetness.

Queen of Tarts

Palmiers

Queen of Tarts

Mini brioche buns and Mack’s favourite gougères

One cannot pass up the dessert tray at the Queen of Tarts, and tonight was no exception. The sinfully rich brownies are always a crowd favourite, but the seasonal gingerbread Bundt cakes held their own. I’m not much of a ginger fan, but I enjoyed them, won over by their moist and fragrant interior.

Queen of Tarts

Thunder brownies

Queen of Tarts

Gingerbread Bundt cakes

A big change is coming though – as you may have heard, the Queen of Tarts had organized a contest earlier this fall to help them pick a new name. Linda has finally settled on “Dauphine”, which is the French term for the Queen in waiting. Look for a launch of their new identity soon.

Thanks again to Linda and her staff for hosting the festive open house – it definitely helped get me in the mood for Christmas!

Queen of Tarts Bakery & Bistro
10129 104 Street
(780) 421-4410
Tuesday -Friday 9am-7pm, Saturday 8am-6pm

Welcome Home: Queen of Tarts

It has been a long time coming, but Queen of Tarts has finally opened, just a stone’s throw away from her summer home at the City Market!

Queen of Tarts

Queen of Tarts

It was announced back in September 2010 that Linda Kearney would be opening a permanent storefront on 104 Street in the historic Armstrong building, with an anticipated opening date of November. Construction delays pushed that back four months, but after visiting the shop today, I think it was well worth the wait!

In October, Mack and I popped our heads inside the still bare room, where Linda was kind enough to receive us. This was the space before renovations:

Queen of Tarts

This is the space after:

Queen of Tarts

Isn’t it gorgeous?

It feels bright and airy and just the sort of place that can help you escape from Edmonton – even if just for a moment.

They similarly did a lot of work to create a cozy dining space that takes advantage of the room’s lone window. Before:

Queen of Tarts

After:

Queen of Tarts

The cases were filled to the brim with delectable treats. Among them – pear frangipane tarts, flourless chocolate cakes and brownies, and their signature lemon and lime curd tarts. They even had take-home containers of their ganache-based twist on a chocolate hazelnut spread!

Queen of Tarts

Desserts

The shelves behind the cases were stacked with fresh bread (most still warm out of the oven). Those who had the chance to visit the Alberta Avenue Farmers’ Market received a preview of some of the levain breads, but now, patrons will be able to buy her breads almost daily (though I love dessert, I’m most thrilled about the fact that we now have access to a great artisan bakery across the street)!

Queen of Tarts

La Fourchette silverware

Queen of Tarts also serves lunch, including soups, salads and quiche. Check out the day’s menu here.

Queen of Tarts

Savoury case

The shop may also become a go-to spot for those looking to pick up small gifts. Besides Mighty Trio Organics oils and Jam Lady spreads, Queen of Tarts also sells packages of biscotti, granola, and their popular cheddar shorties, among other things.

Queen of TartsQueen of Tarts

Cheddar shorties and chocolate biscotti

With Credo across the way, Transcend about to open up down the street, and now, the Queen of Tarts on the Promenade, 104 Street and Jasper Avenue is now the go-to place for a coffee break (I even ran into Cathy inside the shop – she wrote about her visit here).

Queen of Tarts

Stunning

I look forward to more trips down the stairs to feed our bread (and sweets) fix!

Queen of Tarts Bakery & Bistro
10129 104 Street
(780) 421-4410
Tuesday-Wednesday 9-6pm, Thursday-Friday 9am-8pm, Saturday 8:30am-6pm, closed Sunday & Monday

A New Bakery on the Block: La Monarca

Sergio Manrique and I have sat on an inter-agency immigrant services committee for some time now, but I had no idea that he and Ninfa Castellanos had been planning on opening a Latin bakery together until I read about it.

La Monarca opened on December 1, just a block away from where the Old Bread Factory (now shuttered) used to be, tucked behind the Whitemud Crossing complex. It takes its name from the Monarch butterfly, which migrates from Canada to Mexico every fall, symbolizing a bridge between the two countries.

On Saturday, Mack and I walked over to the bakery after an event at the nearby library, and Sergio warmly welcomed us both.

La Monarca

Sergio

As it was near the end of the day, it wasn’t a shock that he had been nearly cleaned out – most of the bread, and all of the cakes had been sold out. We still did have a fair share of sweet and savoury pastries and cookies to choose from, beautifully displayed and lit in wooden cases fit for a curio collection (customers select what they want using tongs and plastic trays, a la Garden Bakery). Most of the items were under $2, so a trip here definitely wouldn’t break the bank. I couldn’t help but think the location is great – students studying at the library could easily pop over for a snack.

La Monarca

Display cases

We asked Sergio what his favourite treat was, and though it was difficult to get him to commit, he did lean towards the conchas (sweet, shell-shaped buns). Mack ended up choosing a corbata ($1.50), a sweet bun filled with custard, and I decided on the tornillo ($1.75), a chocolate twist.

La Monarca

Tornillo

La Monarca

Empanada

La Monarca

Too cute

Mack’s corbata was our favourite of the two – he initially said we’d only have a bite before dinner, but of course, it was gone before you know it: he bread had a subtle sweetness that complemented the custard so well.

La Monarca

Corbata

Be sure to check out La Monarca the next time you’re in the neighbourhood – I know we will – there are still two dozen options we have to try! Best of luck to Sergio and Ninfa with this new endeavour.

La Monarca
4119 106 Street
(780) 218-9777

Treats Galore: The Old Bread Factory

I had read about the The Old Bread Factory after it opened in the summer, but the one time Mack and I remembered to stop there, it was already closed. We were in luck on a Saturday night recently, however, as when we passed by the small bakery in the Whitemud Crossing strip mall, we were greeted with a glowing “open” sign.

The Old Bread Factory

Though the hours of operation sign indicated they were only open until 6pm on Saturdays, the clerk said that they had extended their hours until 8pm that day, but hadn’t yet indicated the change on the sign. While we didn’t have too much time before our dinner reservation that night, our senses appreciated the fleeting moments in the bakery – immersed in the wafting smell of goods baking in the oven, taking in the sheer variety of pastries, breads and cookies on the shelves.

Interior

The Old Bread Factory operates like Garden Bakery – customers fill up a plastic tray which is brought to the clerk to be packed up and paid for. But boy, was it difficult to decide – most of the shelves had an accompanying label explaining the varieties in each section (Old World specializes in Mexican goods), but some were less clearly marked than others (with some different fruit varieties mixed in together). We probably could have asked for clarification if we needed it, but for that quick trip, we decided to stick to what was marked. It is also worth noting that everything is very reasonably priced – most pastries were under $1.50.

Fresh bread

Empanadas galore!

We ended up with a few sweet treats – a strawberry empanada and apple canasta (cupcake shaped cookie dough), and a savoury one – a Colombian Bunuelos, a deep-fried corn and cheese ball.

Colombian Bunuelos

The Bunuelos wasn’t as cheesy or as crunchy as expected, and with the dominant flavour being the corn flour, it probably would have been better warm. The canasta was all right – I would have liked a higher filling-to-dough ratio, but I appreciated the dense nature of the dough. The star of our treat selection was undoubtedly the empanada, liberally dusted with sugar. The thin layer of jam-like strawberry filling was subtly sweet, and complemented the baked shell well.

The Old Bread Factory is worth a visit when you’re looking to treat yourself, but might also be a place to keep in mind for your next potluck or office party – it would definitely be more unique than your typical box of chocolates or vegetable tray!

The Old Bread Factory
110, 4211 106th Street
(780) 466-5211
Monday-Friday 8am-8pm, Saturday 9am-8pm, Sunday 10am-4pm

Edmonton’s Newest Bakery: Duchess Bake Shop

Life is all about the little things. Watching the leaves fall from the trees in autumn. Drinking in the mid-afternoon sun. Savouring that first sip of morning coffee. Or, finding that a new bakery opened up in your neighbourhood.

Thanks to Nate Box (who will be opening his own restaurant, Elm Cafe, soon enough), I found out about Duchess Bake Shop, located in the High Street area within walking distance of Mack’s place, and right along my homeward bound bus route. I stopped in on Monday to check them out, and found that they had only been open a whirlwind three days.

Interior

The shop has a chic, sophisticated feel about it, with hardwood floors and a dominant white interior. A chandelier and a handful of tables and chairs round out the space, helpful for those looking to stay and pair their indulgence with something from the bakery’s cafe menu.

Owners Garner and Giselle Beggs have been thinking about opening a bakery for years. Fresh from a four year sojourn in Tokyo, they decided the time was ripe to return and make their dream a reality. Although Duchess offers many French-inspired treats (croissants, macarons, madelines), Garner says they aren’t restricting themselves to a French repertoire, with apple and banana cream pies also available, among other treats. Everything is made from scratch without preservatives – even the food colouring they use is from natural sources.

Macarons

I picked up two croissants ($1.50 each) for Mack and I to serve as a savoury bridge to dinner. They smelled of butter, and on first bite, had that crispy-crunchy texture I look for in a croissant. Mack didn’t like it as much (he prefers the softer variety), but I’d buy it again.

Croissants

Duchess also serves croissant sandwiches, which would make it an interesting destination for lunch. Or, like the couple who filed into the shop after me – for those looking for something to “make a bad day better”. I will be back.

Duchess Bake Shop
10720 124 Street
(780) 488-4999
Hours as of October 26, 2009: Wednesday 9am-6pm, Thursday-Friday 9am-8pm, Saturday 10am-6pm, Sunday 10am-5pm, closed Mondays and Tuesdays

Fresh Start Bakery

I decided to check out Fresh Start Bakery (484 Riverbend Square) with my parents while we were in the area this afternoon. I had originally read about the cafe in Vue Weekly, and noticing the apparent hunger in Edmonton for upscale breads and treats (Fresh Start joins Cobbs Bread and the more established Bon Ton and Bee Bell Bakeries), it seemed time to try the city’s latest.

Catering to the wealthy and idle, the cafe was clean and spacious, with stone accents and marble counters to boot. Atop the hearth sat a flat-panel television screen, listing the country songs being played on the digital radio station. The bakery counter was located to the left of the entrance, displaying fresh loaves and desserts too saccharine for a late lunch. My dieter’s sensibility drove me instead to the bistro showcase.

Given the location of this cafe, expensive dishes were to be expected. The bistro side offered some freshly-prepared goods, including paninis, rice bowls, and pizza, but also some heat-from-the-cooler standard coffee shop fare, such as quiche and shepherd’s pie. I opted for the latter, while my Mum ordered a large bowl of beef and vegetable soup.

The pie was nicely plated, but sadly, I couldn’t tell if it had been microwaved or oven-heated (usually indicative of the former). Still, the beef was well-seasoned, with a reasonable quantity of vegetables, and the cookie-pressed mashed potato florets created a distinctive presentation. My Mum’s soup was disappointing in size ($5.99 for the bowl), but she did appreciate the low sodium flavored broth and generous portion of beef included.

Before heading home, we opted to take home some baked goods. I chose a Montreal-style cheese bagel, and after a frustrating “Who’s on first?” type exchange with the clerk (“No, we want the goosen, NOT the cinnamon bun!”), my mum ended up with a cinnamon bun (don’t ask). I found the bagel to be worth a return trip – crunchy with a sumptuous cheesy essence. My Dad commented that the cinnamon bun was good, but inferior to Mum’s own.

Fresh Start can be considered an alternative to the run of the mill coffee chain, and if I happen to be in Riverbend in the future, I wouldn’t overlook dropping by for a cup of coffee. But I’d be sure to load up on a heartier meal elsewhere first.

Fresh Start Bakery (I neglected to bring my camera, so I was forced to take an image from the website).

Cupcakes!

I am not afraid to admit that I have a cupcake fetish, or at the very least am in the midst of a cupcake phase.

Ever since Magnolia Bakery hit it big in New York, gourmet cupcake shops have been springing up in major centres across North America. Even Edmonton, as small as we are, currently supports four cupcake franchises: two physical stores and two home-based businesses.

  • The Cupcake Shoppe: a home-based business, they deliver, and have sold their product at St. Albert’s Outdoor Farmer’s Market in the past. I haven’t yet had a chance to try out their cupcakes, so I will withhold judgment until then.
  • BabyCakes Bakeshoppe (6861-170 Street): a cupcake bakery and tea room, I just read about this location in the Edmonton Journal. I will be sure to make a stop there sometime soon.
  • The Cupcake Bakeshoppe & Cafe (17298 Stony Plain Road): I visited this cafe a few weeks ago with a friend of mine, and after much anticipation, I was sorely disappointed. The cafe itself was quite charming, but the cupcakes were not what I expected. Because they were refrigerated, it was hard to determine whether or not they were freshly made. Moreover, the icing was of the buttercream variety – not sweet enough for my tooth. The server explained that they only use imported Belgian fruit purees in the icing, but to me, the strawberry icing atop “The Diva” tasted strangely reminiscent of artificially-flavored Pocky. I will return sometime soon, if not only to try the ‘cakes that they had sold out of (“The Don” especially), but I will remain cautiously optimistic.
  • Whimsical Cake Studio: another home-based business, they are clearly my favorite (with the best website too!). They also deliver, and sell their product at the St. Albert and Downtown Farmer’s Markets. Over the summer, Whimsical was profiled in the Edmonton Journal, which is where I discovered the company. I had my first taste of their cupcakes at the city centre market, and felt even more privileged when I managed to score the last two they had for sale that Saturday (yes, there was a little boy behind me in line. No mercy when it comes to cupcakes). The ‘cake was obviously freshly baked, and the icing was a little taste of heaven – sweet, but not overwhelmingly so. If you’re interested, Whimsical will be setting up booths on November 4 & 18 at Churchill Square. Details here.

An unidentified Whimsical cupcake (picture courtesy of a coworker with a talent for photography).

EDIT: on a cupcake-related note, I discovered Johnny Cupcakes clothing today. They make one cute shirt.