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Stylish French-inspired pastries and desserts from Duchess Bake Shop

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Our cookbook of the week is Duchess Bake Shop by self-taught baker extraordinaire Giselle Courteau. To try a recipe from the book, check out: blackberry goat cheese blancmange; sour cream cherry pie; and l’Amour macaron gâteau.

It wasn’t a trip to Paris or Lyon that cemented Giselle Courteau’s fascination with French pastry. Tokyo, and its legions of exquisite patisseries, sparked her pursuit of the perfect macaron.

As a home baker, she had long been entranced by the venerable French tradition. But it was while teaching English (and saving money for her own pastry shop) in the Japanese capital that her baking took new shape.

“On my days off, I would basically plot a map around Tokyo and go to all of these crazy French pastry shops… A lot of famous French pastry chefs will open locations in Tokyo even before they do in Paris,” Courteau says.

L'Amour macaron gâteau

L’Amour macaron gateau from Duchess Bake Shop by Giselle Courteau.

“I had an endless supply of (inspiration). I can go to Toronto and go to all the relevant bakeries in an afternoon, but in Tokyo it took me two years to cover that ground.”

In North America, macarons were dubbed “the new cupcake” in 2014. When Courteau moved to Tokyo in 2007, the almond meringue confection had already taken the city by storm. For her, they were a dainty and delicious discovery.

Spying the colourful sandwich cookie in bakery windows, she assumed they would be easy to make. “But they weren’t,” Courteau laughs. After two years of research and testing, she mastered the macaron – with the aid of her trusty toaster oven.

“You have to be inventive and the kitchens are so small, you don’t have any of the same tools. I (even) learned how to make cake in my rice cooker in Japan,” she says. “You just learn to work with what you have.”

Back in Edmonton, Alta. in 2009, Courteau opened Duchess Bake Shop with her then-husband Garner Beggs. The macaron was the foundation of their business and continues to be their best-loved menu item.

“It was kind of a risk for us (at the time). Even my family said, ‘Nobody knows what those are here,’” Courteau recalls.

Giselle Courteau

Giselle Courteau is co-owner of Edmonton’s Duchess Bake Shop, Duchess Provisions, Duchess Atelier, and Cafe Linnea.

“But I don’t think we give Canadians enough credit. We’re pretty well-travelled people. A lot of people came in and had seen them in France and had eaten them before. So it was a good move.”

Now, nearly a decade later, Duchess has grown from a café with a staff of three to a family of four businesses. Courteau is also co-owner of Duchess Provisions, Duchess Atelier, and Cafe Linnea (all in Edmonton).

In a recently updated version of her debut cookbook, Duchess Bake Shop, she shares her vast expertise in more than 80 French-inspired recipes accompanied by detailed process photography.

“I wrote a book that I would have wanted to bake from,” she says, explaining that the step-by-step photography was key to her approach.

“It’s really difficult to teach yourself how to make something like a croissant at home without a visual. So we spent a lot of time on those procedure shots. Making sure that people weren’t wondering, ‘Well, what does that look like?’”

Chapters dedicated to macarons, croissants and danishes, brioche, pâte à choux (pastry dough used to make profiteroles, éclairs etc.), tarts, and more include foundational recipes and creative applications.

“I really appreciate tradition and simplicity, and there’s something magical about French pastry,” Courteau says. “We keep a lot of (our pastries) quite traditional, but we also like to put our own twist on them. I think a lot of it is open to interpretation.”

Thoook.com