Edmonton Bakery Review: Duchess Bake Shop

One of the dessert cases at Duchess.

One of the dessert cases at Duchess.

Where have I been all this time? Duchess Bake Shop (@duchessbakeshop) opened up along 124 Street in the fall of 2009 when I still lived at home and was about a five minute drive away. Yet, it took five whole years and me moving all the way across the city before I ever set foot in the shop.

As far as I know, I had never had anything from Duchess before. Perhaps they had catered events I had attended in the past, but I couldn’t be sure, so I count my summer date with some potential guy I met online as my first time eating something from the bakery. Meeting there for tea and dessert seemed like a great idea. It was an area I knew well and it was a public place, so win-win. We split some of the dainty little macarons while we chatted before we had to vacate the premises as they were closing for the day (I do wish they stayed open a little bit later every day). I walked away thinking the macarons were delightful and even unique (the rose flavour is unlike any pastry I’ve ever had before). I also very much enjoyed the European feel of the shop. I even thought well of the guy for a short time. Although the date didn’t really pan out in the end, I found a not so secret new hang out.

Fast forward a few months and after dinner down the street, my friend and I popped into Duchess for some sweets to finish off our evening. Wanting to write about this bakery that was voted onto The Tomato‘s list of 100 best eats and drinks in Edmonton for two consecutive years now (No. 14 in 2013 and No. 16 in 2014), this was the perfect opportunity for me to try several items.

I decided to order a key lime tart to stay, as well as a few other items to take home with me. The tart was superb. You could tell that it had been made fresh that day. The graham cracker crust was tightly packed, so the crumbs didn’t fall apart with each bite, but they were still dry enough to provide a bit of a crunch. That subtle sweetness from the crust as well as the texture contrasted really well with the rich and creamy filling of the tart, which you could see was generously infused with key lime zest. The overall tanginess that came from the freshly squeezed lime juice really made this a home run. As full as I already was from dinner, I savoured each and every bite until my plate was empty, and I can honestly say that I still wanted another one (I’ll put this into perspective; each 4 inch tart provides 1 to 2 servings).

The desserts that I opted to pack up with me included a pumpkin pie macaron, a coconut meringue and one each of the three flavours of shortbread cookie available – regular, chocolate pearl and earl grey. Those were all devoured within a day. The coconut meringue is large, raised nice and tall, gorgeously shaped with ruffled sides and a hollow center. A crisp outer layer melts away at the touch of your tongue. The inside is fluffy, moist and a little chewy with some shredded coconut. It was really tasty, but the sheer size means that it becomes surprisingly sweet by the last piece. Duchess sells bags of the smaller meringues, and I think the more petite versions would be the perfect amount for a snack.

Being that it was fall, I couldn’t pass up trying the pumpkin pie macaron. The cookie portion, made up of two meringue wafers, actually doesn’t provide much flavour. The taste comes from the buttercream-like filling. It was delicious though. I would have loved to have left the shop with a macaron gift box; the rainbow coloured cookies are a pretty treat that anyone would appreciate.

Shortbread is one of my favourite kinds of cookies, so I had to sample the ones they offered at Duchess. I was a little bit surprised because, while they are buttery, the shortbread leaned towards a salty profile rather than a sweet one. The cookies were actually more dense than I expected, too, meaning there was more bite and they didn’t dissolve in my mouth like some other shortbread cookies are apt to do. There was nothing wrong with that though. They were different, but worth eating. I also liked that the chocolate pearl one used a semi-sweet chocolate, so it wasn’t overly sugary, and the earl grey cookie had a nice mild citrus flavour.

I absolutely love the desserts that are prepared at Duchess, and I cannot wait to go back. Perhaps I’ll go for lunch one day, so I can try their soups, sandwiches or quiches (I hear those are all great) followed by a pastry.

If you’re a baker, you may also want to drop by Provisions by Duchess. Located next door to the bakery, the shop sells everything you need to make confections just like theirs. In fact, starting mid-November, Duchess released their own cookbook, which opens up almost all of their recipes to the public. Try your hand at making the desserts they have perfected. And, if it doesn’t turn out just right, rest easy knowing that the experts are still there to back you up. I know I would love a copy for Christmas. I’m sure that you or a baker close to your heart would appreciate a beautifully bound book as well! That, along with a few choice pastries from the shop itself, would make for a thoughtful gift.

Edmonton Bakery Review: The Art of Cake

One of the displays at The Art of Cake shop.

One of the displays at The Art of Cake shop.

As I’ve grown, my appreciation of food has, too. I can cook and bake well enough, but I don’t really have that touch. Not yet, anyway. Some people learn from a really young age, some are just naturally good at nurturing and cooking, but not everyone has what it takes to venture out on their own and make a living from it. Gloria Bednarz and Guenter Hess, pastry chefs and owners of The Art of Cake, took the leap and have made a nice niche for themselves in Edmonton over the last few years.

I first learned about The Art of Cake about five years ago when my friend Alexis announced she was getting married. Gloria, being her aunt, was going to be making her cake, so I was lucky enough to try a few of them at both Alexis’ engagement party and her wedding. Unfortunately, I don’t recall the flavours that they opted for, but I do remember that the cake itself was absolutely delectable, moist, dense and not overly sweet. Most memorable was the look of the 4 or 5 tier cake, which had been covered in a white chocolate fondant that had been rolled and applied to look like the petals of a flower – delicate and beautiful – with the final touches being fresh gerbera daisies.

Alexis and Ryan's beautiful wedding cake!

Alexis and Ryan’s beautiful wedding cake!

Their independent business has built up a good reputation since it was established. Named to Avenue Edmonton‘s list of 25 Best Things to Eat 2012 and The Tomato‘s list of the top 100 best things to eat and drink in Edmonton for 2013, it’s obvious that they have a big fan base here. So, lo and behold my excitement when I walked through City Centre mall during my coffee break back in July and found their new shop in the basement level by the food court (next to Caffè Sorrentino). I was so excited that I could finally try some of their touted old-fashioned coconut macaroons – the item that kept getting mentioned in all these articles – without going out of my way.

The shop, for the most part, retains the layout created by the previous tenant, Big City Cupcakes. Simple and sleek, the store keeps a largely white palette, allowing the desserts, wedding cakes, tiers of mini cupcakes and large canvas imagery to steal the show. The Art of Cake’s tagline is “Nostalgic Artisan Baking” and it’s easy to see that they’ve made the choice to keep things to the basics. Everything is wonderfully presented with a vintage feel that fits the classic offerings, but nothing is overdone.

On our first visit, my break companion and I were happily greeted by Dawn who keeps watch of the store. Even though I walked in fully ready to purchase a Friday snack, she plied us with samples of blueberry cake and fluffy cruellers. I tried each one and both were delicious, but the blueberry cake would be my choice between the two. In the end, I opted for a carrot cupcake. Having been recommended by Alexis and also one of my favourite cakes, there was no question about it. The cake was soft, but it didn’t fall apart when eaten and the flavours were good as they refrained from using too many spices. The icing was unexpectedly subtle as well. It still had a bit of a cream cheese taste to it, but instead of being heavy, it was closer to a buttercream frosting, making it smooth and much lighter. I could tell that it was made fresh that day and everything tasted natural.

Our second trip was my chance to try their coconut macaroons. I forgot to buy them the first time around, but that’s okay because it was an excuse for me to go back. Plus, I think it’s better to spread out all these indulgent desserts. Packaged in groups of 6, the macaroons were larger than I thought they would be, and the bottoms of each macaroon were lightly spread with dark chocolate. The outside was nicely browned on the edges, providing that slight crunch when first bitten into, but breaking away into a moist and chewy center. My friend walked away with a couple “Elvis” peanut butter bacon cupcakes, which she tells me were very yummy.

The third time around I bought myself a shortbread cookie and a slice of banana cake. The shortbread was super buttery and melt-in-your-mouth with a small dollop of raspberry jam on top. It was delicious. Honestly, sometimes a good shortbread cookie is all you need. I found the banana cake to be heavier than the blueberry cake. It’s covered with a thick layer of brown sugar icing that I could have used a little less of, but doesn’t take away from it overall. Thankfully, their cakes seem to have little excess grease and this particular one was filled with the perfect proportion of semi-sweet chocolate chips making for a lip-smacking, albeit, sweet lunch substitute.

A lemon poppyseed cupcake with raspberry icing - the September feature - bought for my friend's birthday.

A lemon poppyseed cupcake with raspberry icing – the September feature – bought for my friend’s birthday.

I’ve stopped by to check out the dessert cases a couple more times since. In addition to everything I’ve mentioned so far, they seem to have muffins, cookie packs, cake pops and housemade jube jubes (covered in white chocolate and shredded coconut) readily available. Cupcakes come in an assortment of flavours and are offered in both regular and mini sizes, and you can also order single tier cakes through the shop.

If you’re looking for a bakery that can cater to your wedding needs, a special event, or cravings for your sweet tooth during the work week doldrums, I highly recommend you stop by The Art of Cake. Although, at this point in my life, I’m not expecting to get married any time soon, I’ll continue to keep them in mind for when I do…one day. In the meantime, they’ll be one of my go to places for when I need a pick-me-up.

Consider The Art of Cake for your wedding, special event or just because!

Consider The Art of Cake for your wedding, special event or just because!

For a more in-depth look at this establishment, visit The Local Good to read my profile of The Art of Cake

Edmonton Restaurant Review: Upper Crust Cafe

Upper Crust Cafe opened in 1986, just a year after I was born, and has lived up to their initial goal of becoming a popular yet unpretentious place to enjoy a good meal. After 28 years, they are now well-known for their desserts and catering services. However, it’s their knack for making sandwiches using freshly baked in-house molasses or oat bread (other types are available; however, they are not housemade) that made me a fan several years ago.

The interior of Upper Crust Cafe.

The interior of Upper Crust Cafe.

I was dragged there by a friend the very first time I visited. She couldn’t stop telling me about the fantastic sandwiches and potato salad. Never having been much of potato salad lover, I was skeptical. But, upon sitting down at one of their distinctive green-topped tables and biting into a deliciously thick roast beef sandwich that was layered with alfalfa sprouts, tomato, lettuce, cheese, cucumber and house mustard, I was a convert. Not only were the sandwiches filled to the brim with healthy yet tasty ingredients, the included side salad was there to ensure that your stomach would be completely satisfied. I took my friend’s advice and tried the potato salad and, to this day, I find myself getting a hankering for it at times. I think what I love about the salad is that it isn’t overly creamy or eggy, which I tend to find off-putting with other variations. It’s actually been a long while since I’ve eaten an actual meal there and I hope to do so in the near future.

Bringing this back to the present though, my most recent experience there was after a hearty brunch at the Sugarbowl (@sugarbowlcafe) about three months ago. My friends and I wanted to keep chatting and decided that we would walk over to Upper Crust for dessert. Since they had made The Tomato‘s second annual list of best eats and drinks in the city, coming in at No. 78 this year, this presented a good opportunity to hit up another top 100 location.

A slice of the carrot cake.

A slice of the carrot cake.

Walking into the establishment, you are met with the dessert display where every cake, pie and square looks rich and decadent. The three of us perused the choices for probably fifteen minutes, asking what each iced cake was before making our decisions. After we ordered, we made our way to a table by the window. It was rather quiet in there that afternoon, with maybe a handful of tables occupied.

My friends had carrot cake and chocolate cake with raspberry filling, both of which looked delicious. The carrot cake was without raisins, pineapple and nuts as my friend prefers. I didn’t try their slices, so all I am going off of is the appearance of the cakes. They seemed to be quite moist and fairly dense with the perfect amount of icing to go with each piece.

I went with the coconut cupcake. It was touted as the best cupcake in the city by Edmonton Journal (@edmontonjournal) writer Liane Faulder (@EatMyWordsBlog) a few years back when cupcakes were all the rage. Being someone who certainly appreciates the humble dessert, I was intrigued at the time. Despite that, I never did make my way to Upper Crust on a Saturday (the only day they are available) to eat one. That is until now. I have to say that I did like the flavour of the cake and that the icing was topped with shredded coconut; however, I was a little disappointed with the overall texture. I’m not sure if it was just this particular batch, so I can’t be definitive about this, but the cake seemed too solid to the point of being slightly dry and the icing wasn’t as creamy and smooth as I would have liked.

Regardless, we popped in for a quick dessert and ended up staying for around a couple hours because we had so much to discuss. The server was attentive and, though his shift was over before we were ready to go, we never felt rushed. This relaxed atmosphere makes this restaurant a wonderful place – nice and quiet – for an afternoon or evening out with with family or friends.

Writing this review, I now find myself salivating and wanting, very badly, to eat some of their potato salad and a sandwich. I’ll be back soon to quell that craving!