Whether casual or formal, it can be a lot of work to put together a menu for a dinner party. After planning décor, drinks, appetizers, mains and music, dessert can sometimes become a distant afterthought. The simple solution? Visit one of Ottawa's many fabulous bakeries and pick up an impressive dessert. Ottawa at Home visited three local bakers to gather their thoughts on sweet endings.
Auntie Loo's Treats
One of the biggest dessert dilemmas can be accommodating dietary preferences. As local vegans have long known, there is an easy answer: Auntie Loo's Treats. Baker extraordinaire Amanda "Mandi Loo" Lunan, who has been called the mad scientist of vegan baking, has been sharing her passion for perfection for nine years. Now she's supplying her delectable goodies to Farm Boy stores along with various other retail outlets, and the small Centretown shop is moving to a larger downtown location this fall.
Visiting her shop - the first vegan bakery in eastern Ontario - is like a trip to a sugary wonderland. Staff whip up at least two custom-ordered birthday cakes each day, along with scores of other treats. Offerings include squares, cupcakes, whoopie pies, ice- cream cakes and more.
"We have loads of flavours for cakes and cupcakes from which to choose," says Mandi Loo, "including banana split, lavender-vanilla, chocolate-peanut butter and pumpkin spice, to name but a few." Their s'mores whoopie pies fly off the shelves, as do their sinfully sweet and tasty Nanaimo bars. One of Auntie Loo's most decadent treats is a chocolate-coffee cake filled with dulce de leche sauce and topped with dulce de leche icing.
Most items are available in gluten-free versions. Specialty cakes are as inventive as they are delicious. Given that 80 per cent of Auntie Loo's customers are not vegans, it's obvious that taste trumps all at this delightful little bakery where customers quickly become friends. As Mandi Loo observes, "Ottawa is a very intimate town in many ways and it is exciting to think that our baked goods are a part of so many celebrations. I love that."
Top of the Hill Bakery
Imagine having an award-winning pastry chef create something exquisite especially for you and your guests. "It's my pleasure," says Jeff Stoveld, executive chef and owner of Top of the Hill Bakery in Orleans. "Custom cakes - the more unique the better - are my favourite things to make. I like to think of them as edible art." Cordon Bleu trained, Jeff took over the popular bakery in 2011 and has refined and improved its delicious offerings. The preservative-free treats are so popular and reasonably priced that it's best to call ahead to enjoy your favourites.
In addition to gorgeous cheesecakes and tarts in a variety of flavours and sizes, Jeff and his team have a particular passion for chocolate. Top of the Hill's gluten-free Grandpa's Fudge Brownies are best-sellers, and perfect when paired with a scoop of artisanal ice cream like Adriana's.
One of their prettiest items to put on a dessert plate would be Cocoa- Bella, a layered treat composed of chocolate-almond dacquoise, strawberry coulis, bittersweet chocolate cookie crumbs and milk chocolate caramel, dipped in dark chocolate. A similarly impressive finale would be the equally decadent J'adore Chocolat; a chocolate sablé cookie covered with fresh raspberry compote, topped with their fudge brownie and wrapped in chocolate glaze.
With his extensive culinary background, Jeff can easily recommend the perfect dessert, both in terms of flavour and richness, to complement any menu. "Our goal is to provide a dessert that enhances your event or occasion," says Jeff. "We've actually had clients with tears in their eyes when they see what we've created just for them. As a baker, that feels pretty special."
Life of Pie
It took a stint as a personal chef to make Kerry Duffy realize that what she really loves is baking - particularly pies. She launched Life of Pie as a home-based business eight years ago and now occupies a cheery storefront in Old Ottawa South where her sweet and savoury treats fly off the shelves.
Rustic-looking and packed with flavour, Life of Pie's creations include custard tarts, fruit pies, carrot cakes, brownies and more. For fall, Kerry and her team are looking forward to reintroducing pumpkin and pecan pies, and will happily be making up to 500 pies per day at Thanksgiving. They love coming up with unique combinations to keep the pie-making interesting and fresh. "Sometimes our new best-sellers come as a result of customers' suggestions and we are always experimenting."
Some of their innovative creations include currant crumble, pear-vanilla-brown butter, Rocky Road and triple berry crisp pies. They've also had a lot of fun playing around with cupcakes - intriguing offerings include pina colada, lime coconut and blueberry pancake with maple syrup icing. "I don't love cupcakes, personally," explains Kerry, "so they have to be truly outstanding or we won't sell them."
Life of Pie offers a rotating menu of flavours which is available online. They bake by request with advance notice and you can order a pie to bake at home. "I have never tasted pie this good," is a comment Kerry hears most often and one that makes her enormously proud. "I learned how to make pies from my mother and have always loved to feed people. Whether you make it yourself, or purchase it, serving handmade food is like giving a gift to your guests."