This is a journal about what I bake, not what others make, so this entry is a brief diversion from the usual. A friend organized a pastry walking tour in Toronto recently and I jumped at the chance to sample the finest goods from the city's shops. She has done this before, so our diverse group knew we were in for a treat.
Our first stop was at the recently opened La Bamboche. The shop has its origins in Japan, and the interior features some exterior photos of their overseas locations. All the items in the pastry case were placed on little wooden boards, and your selections are carried to the register on one of them too. I tried a pain au chocolat which was flaky without being overly buttery. The croissant's interior was very soft and cool, with a nice soft chocolate centre. I also bought a Mont Blanc, a classic pastry made with cream, chestnuts and meringue. La Bamboche's version sits on some kind of crispy wafer, maybe a meringue. The middle hides a candied chestnut surrounded by cream.more…
Our next stop was at Fleurdelys. This store seemed more pedestrian by comparison: tables featured Halloween themed cookies in garish orange and chocolate icings. The case had some nice items including this pastry called Mardi Gras. I enjoyed the delicate lemon flavour of this one. Note how it's sitting on a cardboard circle with a tab on it so that the person behind the counter can transport it from the shelf into your box. How clever.
After a brief walk, we arrived at Le Comptoir de Célestin. The tiny boulangerie-pâtisserie is adjacent to the main restaurant. Inside, they featured some hard-to-find French classics, like charlottes and chiboustes. Their croissants must be fabulous because the batch they made not one hour before had sold out already. Customers came in and asked when the next tray would be coming out! I tried this Poire William Charlotte which is made with lady fingers, pear purée, crème anglaise, crème Chantilly and Poire William. The fruit flavour was too subtle for my taste, but the pieces of pear inside were a nice touch. Note the use of a cape gooseberry as a garnish. I saw this everywhere.
Next, we visited Rahier Pâtisserie. This is a much larger store with a wider assortment. Still, by the time we arrived, around 12:30, they were out of croissants! I had to take the photo on the left because I was fascinated by how they made the topping: apparently, with a special pastry tip, the St. Honoré tip! I bought some mousse cakes, made with a joconde cake surrounding a light mousse. They were well done, but not outstanding. As I was getting hungry, I also bought an apple/almond tart which was quite tasty, big chunks of fruit, lots of sliced toasted almonds in a flaky pastry.
A few doors down, we walked into Pâtisserie La Cigogne. The aroma of onion and bacon was immediately apparent: several tables were munching on tarte flambée, an Alsatian onion/bacon/cream cheese tart. They only make it on the weekend between 11:00-15:00. As they bake it to order, it's a fabulous treat for lunch. The very thin and crispy crust was perfect, but I wished their onions were cooked a bit longer, they were too raw for my liking. In the pastry case, they had this nice assortment of petit fours. I recently found out about transfer sheets which is acetate printed with a pattern. When you melt chocolate or pour batter on it, the pattern is transferred onto it. You can see examples of this on top of the petit fours, as well as on the joconde of the Fleurdelys Mardi Gras and Rahier mousse cakes above. There's a great visual demonstration of how joconde is made and decorated over here. I took home this lemon tart. It wasn't tart enough for me, and too creamy. I prefer a straight lemon curd, almost mouth-puckering. The garnish on top is quite striking, again, made with a transfer sheet.
Our last stop was at Hollywood Gelato. Many say that this store has the city's best gelatos. I've been to Soma, Solferino and La Paloma in Woodbridge, but the rumours were correct: they make some amazing stuff here. Even the presentation is stunning: each flavour had a carved piece of fruit, a piece of pie or some other garnish that reflected the flavour. I had three scoops: pistachio, kiwi and mango. Each were very very smooth, served at the right temperature with pure intense flavours. The only suggestion I can make is if the pistachio could be nuttier.
Two of the members of our tour were bakers at Thuet Cuisine. It was quite interesting to hear some behind-the-scenes stories of how a high-end restaurant is run, as well as getting a professional opinion of the stores we were visiting. I don't know what the bread baking scene is like in Toronto, but it's refreshing to know that there are serious artisan bakers here, and to know people that are dedicated to their art. Before we all went our separate ways, one of the bakers generously gave me a sourdough miche made from spelt, rye and pumpkin seeds. This wasn't any ordinary loaf: it weighed 1.75 kg! The tangy flavour was too sour for me on its own, but the crust was sublime, something that can only be baked in a wood-fired oven. These loaves are certainly a labour of love, as they take 4 days from start to finish!