Roselle Desserts is a pastry shop born from a love story. Co-owners Stephanie Duong and Bruce Lee first met at George Brown College; he was in culinary arts, she was in the pastry program.
Both of them had signed on to take a two-week school trip to Paris. ("The side story is, I was badmouthing him," Duong jokes - it was a trip for pastry students, and there were only so many spots to go around.) But after their fellow students returned home after the two weeks were up, they were the only two students who elected to stay behind in France.
He ended up in Paris, and she was in the countryside, where they both plied their trade in Michelin-starred restaurants. She soon joined him in Paris; they then moved to Hong Kong, where he worked for a Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant, and she refined her skills further at L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon .
After circling the globe together, they've landed in Toronto again, setting up their own little pastry shop in the former home of a catering company, a few short blocks away from where it all started. (Oh, and they're engaged now.)
There's a lot of love and hard work poured into this place; the former shows up in the decor, furnished simply and stylishly with a lot of white and red accents, and the latter is on display in the pastry case, where a roster of fanciful, high-technique sweets sit in painstakingly identical rows.
The idea, the owners say, was to present top-notch desserts and pastries alongside a casual atmosphere. "We love to go to different pastry shops and try everything, but sometimes you walk in and you feel like you're so out of place," Duong says.
There are showstoppers like the Turtle tart ($7), a perfect dome of caramel atop a buttery crust. Dig in with a spoon, and layers of rich flavour reveal themselves; chocolate biscuit, candied pecans, a mousse made with Valhrona chocolate, and pockets of caramel. As Lee puts it: "These are kind of small, they look delicate, but we try to pack in as much flavour into them as we can."
The same goes for the banana eclair ($7), which Duong says is one of the classic recipes they've tweaked to appeal to Torontonian tastes. Even though the piped filling inside is vanilla bean, the flavour from the small banana layer is huge - Duong caramelizes the bananas, deglazes them with rum, and sets them on fire.
Another specialty: Their caramels ($5 for 6), which they started making as a side business in their pre-cafe days and selling wholesale to Canoe and the Ritz-Carlton. Unlike most of the caramels I've ever eaten, the super-fresh candies actually taste like something made by hand - like butter and singed sugar.
The secret, Duong says, is super-rich Sterling butter: "That's how you get that really nice mouthfeel and it doesn't stick to your teeth." On top of the classic, they do vanilla bean, raspberry and roasted almond flavours.
If you don't want to commit to a full cake slice or fancy tart, they've got some less-intense (but no less tasty) cookies. Their best sellers are the "shorties", orange and Earl Grey shortbreads sandwiched with white chocolate and candied orange ($3); they also do sables bretons, financiers, and housemade granola. There's tea from Pluck ($2.50) to drink, with French press coffee on the way.
The couple has big dreams for the spot, with plans to roll out a lunch menu of savoury and sweet crepes, as well as keeping the spot open for after-dinner dessert crowds once the weather improves.
For now, they've been getting adjusted to their new digs, with plenty of friends, family and friendly neighbours stopping by. They sold out of cakes on their soft-open days, and they've already had plenty of new customers come in based on word of mouth (and taste-tests at dinner parties). According to Lee, that's a good sign: "It just shows that there's a certain demand for it here in Toronto - good pastry in a relaxed setting."
Photos by Morris Lum.