31 Mar Western Living
Why We Love Edmonton’s Duchess Bake Shop
Duchess Bake Shop has launched a cookbook that lets the rest of the country in on Edmonton’s secret—that it’s home to one of Canada’s best pastry and bake shops.
By jennifer cockrall-king. photos by carey shaw. March 31, 2015
New York has Dominique Ansel and City Bakery. Paris has Ladurée, Pierre Hermé and Gérard Mulot. Edmonton has Duchess Bake Shop. And quit your snickering.
The Duchess, as locals call it, is home to exquisite handmade pastries, including a few signature house items. And, like its contemporaries in New York and Paris, there’s a guaranteed lineup every day at opening.
On any given Saturday, over 300 Edmontonians will file through in the first hour alone. It’s a well-choreographed routine now between devotees and the young, stylish and efficient staff. Customers point through the glass display counters at multi-hued macarons, brioches, croissants, pains au chocolat, éclairs, galettes, madeleines, lemon cream tarts, quiches and housemade marshmallows. Of course, there’s also the dark ganache-draped Duke cake, and the pistachio-green domed cake—the bake shop’s namesake, the Duchess.
Selections are made and paid for; pastries pies and cookies are eaten on the spot or carted out in elegant white pastry boxes adorned with “Duchess” in gold script. By day’s end, over 2,000 handmade macarons will have been sold, as well as hundreds of Florentine cookies, croissants with almond cream, key lime and banana cream pies, and scones.
Duchess and its adjacent retail space, Provisions by Duchess (where home bakers come for jars of bergamot extract, tins of candied violet petals, gelatin sheets, gold leaf, varieties of baking flours and chocolate) are the undisputed food destinations in Edmonton. Yet for all that success, the three friends who have gone from themselves plus one staff person to a 58-person operation in just five years have remained in the background, working. Now, Giselle Courteau, Garner Beggs and Jacob Pelletier have launched their first cookbook, written by Courteau. And it feels like a coming-out party of sorts.
“Hi. I’m Giselle,” Courteau announces sincerely to the mass of supporters crowded in at the launch party at Provisions. “I’ve been hiding in the kitchen.” She jokes, but many Duchess regulars wouldn’t actually recognize this visionary force behind the business. (Beggs is the most visible of the three, as he runs the busy floor, while Pelletier covers the baking operations in the back.) If Courteau has been out of sight, she has a 288-page reason.
Courteau calls herself a self-taught baker and this is her love letter to other ambitious home bakers. “I have a macaron obsession, obviously,” she says. These finicky meringue and ganache mouthfuls are a passion that ignited while she was living in Japan, teaching English with her then-husband, Beggs. Courteau slowly perfected a recipe after hundreds of batches. “We only had a toaster oven. I spent four years making macarons in a toaster oven!” she says. Courteau, who is now with Pelletier, clarifies: “For those of you who don’t know, Garner is my ex-husband. And Jake and I are now together. But we all adore one another!” Then she jokes about their “modern family” co-ownership at Duchess.
Courteau’s perfectionism and obsessive attention to detail explains a lot about the business, and how she was able to pull off a beautiful self-published cookbook. Every recipe was tested over and over again in home kitchens. “We went through 18 drafts on some recipes. This was the hardest thing I have ever done,” says Courteau, pointing at the stack of books lining the shelves of Provisions. “I’d rather have another five babies!”
Perhaps part of the frenzy over this book is that professional bakers are almost always so secretive about their recipes. Courteau, however, is unfazed with having her life’s work on the printed page. “If anything, it’ll give people more respect for what we do here.”
For those who wish, the book lays out step-by-step techniques (and photos) for treats of every level, whether you want to whip up a batch of dark chocolate meringues (easy), make your own croissants and macarons (challenging) or attempt the Duchess cake (a 24-step recipe that will take you all day). Almost all the bake shop’s favourites are included in the 88 recipes. “We just could not adapt the passion fruit bombe for home bakers,” Courteau says.
Self-publishing was just another calculated risk the Duchess team has taken over the years. And once again, Courteau’s instincts were right. Home bakers are an obsessive bunch. She’s “overwhelmed” with the support from the shop’s Edmonton devotees, she says. They’ve already had to order another printing (the first 5,000 sold out before the book could even ship outside Edmonton). They’ve ordered a “much larger” reprinting because as Duchess Bake Shop’s cookbook makes its way to bookstores across Canada this spring, it’s certain that Edmonton’s best-kept secret won’t be a secret for long.
MAKE DUCHESS BAKE SHOP RECIPES AT HOME: