FRANGIPANE (215 Madison, at Dupont, 416-926-0303) Complete desserts for $4 per person. Open Wednesday and Thursday 8 am to 6:30 pm, Friday 8 am to 7:30 pm, Saturday 9 am to 6:30 pmn Sunday 10 am to 4 pm. Closed Monday and Tuesday. Unlicensed. Access: short step at door, no washrooms. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
Of all the culinary arts, baking is the most scientific. In no other discipline are exact measurement, specific technique and nanosecond timing as crucial as when making a cake.
Just ask Claudia Egger of Frangipane. "Sure, you have to stick to the rules," says the energetic entrepreneur who only opened her deluxe bakery slash coffee shop on the Annex's designer strip 10 weeks ago. "But there's room for experimentation, too. Sometimes you make a sloppy mistake, but sometimes you get a happy accident."
Little of Egger's straight-out-of-the-box success with Frangipane has been haphazard. The first Body Shop franchisee in Canada, she traded in her booming businesses five years ago for the uncertain life of a professional foodie. To do so, Egger joined the CIA - the Culinary Institute of America in the Napa Valley, not Cheney's henchmen - and took its yearlong pastry program. After graduation, she moved back north and spent a season at Taboo, the slightly risqué Gravenhurst golf course, followed by a stint with local chocolate queen J. S. Bonbons. She launched Frangipane in late January.
Her café's decor is as thought-out as her business plan. Seating all of four, the stylish storefront's interior has been painted pale celadon and prettified with purple orchids. Frosted pink light fixtures illuminate three display cases impressively packed with Egger's spectacular baked goods.
As you'd expect from a joint named Frangipane, the rich cream filling made from ground almonds is a player in many of the house pastries. Both the pear with slivered almonds and the wild blueberry 'n' hazelnut tart sport a layer of frangipane paste inside their buttery pâte sucrée short-crust shells, while the bourbon pecan version comes cross-hatched with finely drizzled chocolate.
Understated elegance defined, Egger's lemon tart is pure pucker perfection (all $3.95 small/$15 medium, $28 large). There's even a pair of super-savoury tarts, an eggy Gruyère as well as a cheesy mini-quiche loaded with caramelized onion, prosciutto and fresh rosemary (both $3.95).
Cakes stick closer to tradition. A triple-layer lemon chiffon comes iced with not too sugary Italian meringue ($28/$45), while lifesaver-shaped Bundt cakes come in two flavours - chunky apple walnut glazed with Calvados, and spicy triple ginger ($20/$30/$1.95 slice). Those watching their waistline will appreciate Egger's terrific bite-sized petit fours layered with frangipane, apricot 'n' red currant jelly and dipped in Kirsch fondant and bittersweet chocolate ($2.50).
Not only does Egger put up her own preserves, but she also picks the organic fruit they're made from herself. Using the French method - just fruit, a little sugar and no water or pectin - she combines wild blueberries with caramel, red currants with strawberries, and Italian prunes with cranberries. Watch for a batch of the house's Meyer lemon marmalade to hit the shelves this weekend (all $9.95/8 ounces).
Other than an assortment of Ace Bakery baguettes ($2.45), the only thing that Egger doesn't make in-house are the commendable croissants ($1.50/$1.95) she brings in from Patachou. "Those I leave to the experts," she laughs.