Step into Duchess Bake Shop and you will swear you have been transported to an authentic and genuine Pâtisserie in the middle of France. Conveniently tucked beside the Roxy Theatre on 124th Street, Duchess Bake shop is a long awaited drink of water in the proverbial dessert of Edmonton's culinary scene.
Simply adorned with all the charms of European sweet shop and bakery, Duchess provides a serene and welcoming environment that encourages you to indulge with warm pastries and sweetly frothed cappuccinos while imaging you have just stepped off of Champs-Elysées from a long day of shopping and frolicking with Parisian locals.
Glistening pastry cases reveal tantalizing desserts to hungry patrons anxiously waiting to place their orders while the heavenly scent of baking croissants and brewing coffee wafts through the entire shop. Duchess is a veritable yellow-brick-road to all the senses, but instead of The Emerald City at the end of the journey, a treasure trove of tirelessly tested recipes for hand-made marshmallows flavored with strawberries and tart blood oranges, Butter and Rosemary shortbread cookies, a plethora of pies and tarts like the almost-bite-sized butter and key lime tarts, croissants, both milk and dark chocolate Pain du Chocolat, crisp yet delightfully chewy meringues, lemony sweet Madeleines, chocolate glazed, pastry-cream filled eclairs and a multitude of other delectable delicatessen goodies sure to appeal to even the most fussy of dessert connoisseurs.
And one would surely be foolish to overlook the delicately tinted array of macarons including Strawberry, Pistachio, Lavender, Salted Caramel and Chocolate, among others! Pleasantly sweet shells sandwich a perfectly flavored filling that lingers delicately on the palate urging the mind for just one more, or two...
My first words of advice for introducing both yourselves and others to the sinful treats of the Duchess Bake Shop are to start first with one of the plain croissants, rumored to take over three days to prepare and bake. There does not exist in Edmonton, and I dare say in Alberta, a croissant that I have met that meets the texture, flakiness, overwhelmingly decadent buttery flavor and moist, savory crumb of these croissants. A crisp, crunchy exterior gives way to a light, moist interior that can only be reached by taking bite by mouthwatering bite resulting in a healthy halo of buttery flakes around your plate that, like the croissant, will disappear in less than a heartbeat. I realize the weight of these words and for fear of paying insult to accomplished bakeries throughout the area, I have not yet had the pleasure of tasting such a wonderfully delicious croissant this side of the Atlantic and I do not hesitate to say that it will take hefty competition to sway my decision in a different direction.
Boasting a diverse selection of pastries made with only fresh, preservative free ingredients: rich butter, Valhrona chocolate from France and when possible, all natural colorings, Duchess further enriches their menu with flavorful fair-trade coffee supplied by St.City Roasters based out of the neighboring city of St. Albert. A perfect and warming accompaniment to any and all of the extravagant yet affordable desserts on display.
The Madeleines have a pillowy texture with both a sweet and tart lemon glaze. This one sits alone amidst the buttery, flaky crumbs of a croissant long gone.
If ever I crave a meringue in my life, I will not struggle to produce my own but instead make the trip to Duchess Bake Shop to purchase as many as my bag can carry. The exterior of these meringues, crispy, airy and sweet, reveals only the slightest hint of what awaits your palate upon the first bite.
The crisp shell easily gives way to a moist and chewy center studded with deep chocolate chunks that perpetuate the beauty of such a classic combination of meringue and quality french chocolate.
For those who like to follow dessert with lunch, Duchess caters to those whims as well. Slightly to the left of the sweet-filled pastry cases sits yet another combination of palate pleasing flavors in the form of rustic, savory croissant-wiches filled with the likes of tangy preserved artichoke hearts, capicola ham and a variety of fresh artisan cheeses.
While feasting the other day, and I do mean feasting, the sweetly tempered and knowledgeable staff offered my friend and I a sample slice (each) of the Duchess Cake, a dessert-homage to the bakery itself. A domed cake: mint-green tinted marzipan coating, tasting faintly of sweet almond, vanilla bean flecked pastry cream, layers of chiffon cake and a berry compote... need I say more? Tasting that cake only wetted our appetites for the Duchess Cake's counterpart, the Duke Cake.
In a place where dessert comes before lunch, and then again after, the salted caramel macarons and dark chocolate-coated eclairs make a perfect duo to finish off yesterday's tasting frenzy. The eclairs, noticeably and appreciatively hand made, are filled to bursting with the same vanilla bean flecked pastry cream that makes the signature Duchess Cake so light and creamy, and topped with a satisfying layer of chocolate on a delicate pastry crust. A fitting partner to the faintly salted-caramel filled macaron that, as with many other of the delicious goodies, only encourages a second trip to the counter with an empty plate in hand, and an appetite for more.
Duchess Bake Shop certainly satisfies any foodie who has been waiting for a Pâtisserie to sweep them off their feet and right into an ethereal world of Artisan baking, the 'un-apologetic' use of butter, and a smartly dressed, knowledgeable staff that are as sweet as the pastries they serve. Welcome to our world Duchess, Edmonton and area welcomes you with open, longing arms and an aching sweet tooth!
And if this ranting review did nothing to convince you of the merits of Duchess Bake Shop, let this image of our table, après le déjeuner, the stacks of plates, the numerous drinking vessels, the scattered utensils and sprinkling of crumbs convince you. Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words!