Bobbette & Belle
Bobbette & Belle, an artisan patisserie that began as a studio that catered to couples looking for wedding cakes and wedding reception favours, moved into a retail location in Leslieville late last year, and already they have regulars. After checking out the gallery wall of cakes and its counter array of tarts and scones, and after chatting with owners Sarah Bell and Allyson Meredith, I could see why. Bobbette & Belle offers sugar, art and community - always an irresistible combination.
Bobbette & Belle has already made its name in the wedding industry, with Allyson's cakes featured in wedding magazines and Allyson winning the Canadian Wedding Industry Award for Cake Designer of the Year. Sarah's French macaron favours have also made their mark, building on Sarah's background as executive pastry chef at Canoe. However, when customers began asking about the possibility of individual orders, Sarah and Allyson decided it was time to expand into retail.
While most people think of pastry shops as take-away places, Sarah notes that "people now are interested in experience." I found the design of the shop an interesting combination of art gallery and living room, where baked goods are art to be admired, but the point of visiting is to sit back and relax with friends.
Stark white walls are offset by a comfy sofa set, an imposing gallery-style wall of tiered cakes faces shelves of packages to take home ($8.50 for a package of 8 handmade caramels, $10.95 for 8 packaged cookies), and a glass counter display of tarts ($3.50 each, flavours include lemon meringue and chocolate ganache) and cupcakes ($2.75 each, assorted flavours) is made welcoming by the long tables that invite you to sit for a while. These long tables usually become "community tables," Sarah says, where groups of people who didn't come in together end up sitting at the same table and chatting. "It's very European," Allyson says, adding that it reminds her of cafes in Paris.
Bobbette and Belle's business model is very customer-driven: Sarah and Allyson create products that customers want. For example, their handmade marshmallows began as garnish, but when customers began asking for it, Sarah and Allyson made it a separate menu item. Created in-house with real fruit puree, these marshmallows come in flavours like passion fruit and chocolate chocolate chip ($4.95 for a package of 8).
They also serve hot chocolate (mix created in-house) with homemade vanilla marshmallows that they toast right at the counter with a torch. "It's part of the whole experience," Sarah says. She remembers how as a child, she loved getting hot chocolate with marshmallows as a treat, and she wanted to share that experience with their customers.
Their cupcakes ($2.75 each) are also very popular. Larger than most competitors' cupcakes and moist with Swiss meringue buttercream frosting, their cupcakes come in a variety of flavours including chocolate with Lindt chocolate buttercream, chocolate with Gianduja buttercream (milk chocolate and hazelnut), vanilla with mango passionfruit buttercream and apple spice with maple buttercream. Allyson describes buttercream frosting as "light and rich without being overly sweet," which sets it apart from traditional cupcake frosting.
Sharing the home-baked experience is key at Bobbette & Belle, so all their items are freshly baked. While their baked goods are veritable works of art, beautiful pieces that will certainly impress at any wedding or special event (for smaller parties, a 7-inch cake with buttercream flowers costs $34.75, 9-inch cake is $44.75), Sarah and Allyson focus on providing tastes that give customers the comforting, home meal experience.
On weekends, Bobbette & Belle serves French baguette sandwiches for lunch ($8, assorted meats and cheeses, vegetarian option). Bobbette & Belle's scones are created from Allyson's grandmother's recipe. Allyson remembers how when she was a child, her grandmother, who was herself in the wedding cake business, would bake these scones at home. Nana's scones beat out other contenders in a blind taste test and are now served with fresh Devonshire cream ($3.25).
"My philosophy on flavours is that they should be approachable and classic, with a twist," Sarah says. This, Allyson says, is why most of their macarons ($2 each) have chocolate-based fillings. Flavours include classic (rich and creamy ganache with semi sweet chocolate), caramel (rich butter caramel with fleur de sel) and gianduja (dark chocolate ganache with praline and roasted hazelnuts).
Their flavours "aren't out there," Sarah says. While some places serve such exotic macaron flavours as lavender, Sarah notes that very few people, if any at all, would list lavender as their favourite flavour, whereas chocolate is generally well-loved. Still, these "classic" flavours are by no means ordinary. Sarah and Allyson spent months in Paris doing research to develop their French macaron recipe. What sets their macarons apart? Allyson says that it's the method they use. Sarah adds, "That's a secret."
Writing by Jaclyn Eunice Qua Hiansen. Photos by Dennis Marciniak