Toronto Through the Eyes of Dufflet Rosenberg
There are few ways to elicit delight more reliably than by announcing that you've brought 'Dufflet's' for dessert. Self-taught and self-assured, Toronto's very own 'Queen of Cake' Dufflet Rosenberg has been helping people make people happy for nearly three decades now. A staple at weddings around town--let alone the hundreds of restaurants, cafes and shops--the desserts of Dufflet Pastries are synonymous with celebrating the sweeter things in life.
Fresh from her annual skiing trip in Jackson, Wyoming, Dufflet Rosenberg sat down in the back kitchen of her Queen West shop to chat about her hometown.
What neighbourhood do you live in?
I have been in Toronto all my life. We lived in the same house growing up. I ended up moving to Queen Street West in the early 80's and lived there for close to 30 years until I moved just a block north a year and a half ago. I moved to the neighbourhood for convenience at that time as I already had the store on Queen West and everything was easy and close by. At the time, it was inexpensive to buy property on Queen West. It was a little rough back then, but that has changed. Queen between Spadina and University had just started to develop - with the Queen Mother and Peter Pan restaurants opening.
I like living downtown. The suburbs are not an option for me. I don't think Toronto is the most beautiful place to live, but it's certainly an easy place to live.
What are your favourite parts of the city?
Roncesvalles has really emerged with more families and demand. There is such a great collection of small, independent food shops around there. They've got everything you need within walking distance - cheese shops, butchers, prepared foods, restaurants, cafes.
I love High Park. I like Trinity Bellwoods too, but High Park is bigger with more roads for cycling. They used to have cross-country skiing in High Park, but they don't acknowledge it in the same way, so now it gets beat up quickly after a snowfall. I like the fact that I can put my skis in the car and be there in five minutes to ski. There's been no snow this year, but last year I was skiing in Trinity Bellwoods. You just have to catch it fresh after the snow.
You are known for being an avid cyclist. How does cycling influence your engagement with the city?
I'll bike whenever I can when it's above zero and there's no snow. You see so much more on a bike. You're at a completely different pace and there are no parking issues, plus no road rage. Although I have been known to yell at cars from my bike as well.
My husband and I have a tandem bike. We prefer to take the bike in the car and drive out of the city, and ride where there is less traffic. Favourite spots to ride... Caledon, or the Escarpment near Milton. I think we've been everywhere that's within a 40-minute drive of Toronto. I don't want to waste my time in a car, but I also don't want to ride long distances in the city - too hard on my nerves.
What are your favourite restaurants and cafes in the city?
I love dim sum but don't often indulge. I've got a long list of Asian restaurants to try north of the city in Markham and Scarborough, but that means getting in the car. My friends prefer Bright Pearl, but I like Lai Wah Heen - when it's not lined up. Mostly I go to Yung Sing pastry shop on Baldwin, eat the buns as I sit outside at their picnic tables. They also do a few dim sum things. It's a little hole-in-the-wall and now I see they are closed for renovations, to reopen in the spring. If it doesn't reopen like the sign says, I'm going to be heartbroken.
I'm allowed to customize my own coffee at Dufflet's, which is freshly roasted and delivered weekly, so I don't have a need to go out for coffee that often. Sometimes I stop in at Luna or The Common, since they're close by. I find most cafes do not make a proper espresso. If you've been to Italy, you'll know what I'm talking about. I like to go to the Italian cafes on St. Clair West or the Italian bakeries in the west end. They know the rules of serving espresso - not the west coast style. My one exception is Bar One on Queen West - now they make a proper Italian espresso.
There are places along Ossington that I like - Foxley does great fusion. I like Union and Golden Turtle. For a special occasion I might go to Splendido, Note Bene or Scaramouche. Closer to the Queen shop and home I'll go to Oyster Boy, Terroni or Bar One.
Any hidden gems in the city?
I'm not sure if these are secrets or not, but I do like to take the bike path and ride out to Mississauga. If you keep going west you can stop at lovely little beach spots along the way where you can sit on a bench and watch the ducks in peace. It's amazing that we still have access to all of this. I also like the Bluffs. I'll ride out to the Guild--so sad that it's boarded up. There are a couple of spots along the Guild parkway where you can literally fall off the Bluffs. I rarely see anyone enjoying my view when I'm out there.
Do you have any baking tips for the average baker?
I do teach classes and often I tell people to develop a few recipes that they're comfortable with - save the experimenting for later. Learn the basics and then just mix and match.
How do Toronto pastry shops compare with those of other major cities?
Ten or fifteen years ago there were few places in the city. Now a lot of French and Belgian people have come and open shop; it's changed dramatically. There are some on Bayview and Mount Pleasant; everyone loves Pain Perdu. And of course, there's Patachou. The funny thing about the European places is that they tend to stick to a certain look and pattern whereas we take lots of liberties at Dufflet's.
Do you find that your three different retail locations sell different items depending on their neighbourhood?
Yes, with more kids living in the Beaches, we definitely sell more cupcakes and little treats at that location. The Yonge location also has a lot of families, but it does more wedding consultations. The Queen shop is all about selling whole cakes, doing more parties, and more wedding consultations.
How has Dufflet's changed over the years?
In some ways we've changed a lot and in other ways we haven't. We use more butter creams and mousses now than we when we first started. The chocolate cake we make today is still the same recipe from 35 years ago. The Chocolate Raspberry Truffle, The Double Decker Fudge -those cakes have not changed. Our regular customers do not like change - they keep coming for their favourites, year after year.
What is your favourite Dufflet's cake?
We do a tremendous amount of recipe testing for all kind of customers - I get to indulge in my fair share of cake at work. Actually, it sometimes gets to be too much - we will taste but not swallow. But dessert still comes first for me. I do take the Raspberry Charlotte very often when I visit people, but the Toasted Almond Meringue is still my all-time favourite dessert.
Writing and photo by Soojin Lee