The Queen of Tarts
283 Roncesvalles Avenue
Not many people can count watching Martha Stewart bite her own leg off as a hi-light of their culinary career, but for Stephanie Pick, proprietor of The Queen of Tarts bakery on Roncesvalles Avenue, it was an event that garnered her already popular shop international attention.
Someone at Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia got hold of some of Pick’s gingerbread cookies decorated to look like Martha’s famous getting-out-of jail poncho, and very quickly Pick was invited to appear on the show where Martha happily bit off the gingerbread likeness of her ankle, complete with royal icing ankle monitor.
Pick and her team of artisan bakers have been creating sugary likeness’ of celebrities for years ranging from Paris Hilton to Don Cherry to the Trailer Park Boys. Aside from Martha Stewart, Cherry was until recently the only person they definitely knew had seen his own face made of frosting, but that list very recently expanded when the Queen of Tarts team created Bob and Doug McKenzie cookies for the Strange Brew 24th anniversary show wrap party as well as likeness’ of this year’s inductees into Canada’s Walk of Fame. Rick Hansen, Johnny Bower, Lloyd Robertson, Jill Hennessy, Gordon Pinsent, Nickelback, Ivan Reitman, Catherine O’Hara, and Eugene Levy were all presented with gift baskets that included their likeness in cookie form.
The actual process takes days, and is a group effort, with each layer of icing being applied and allowed to dry completely to ensure the colours don’t bleed. Customers occasionally come in and ask for custom work which Pick and her team accommodate as much as possible.
Given the attention that the gingerbread cookies attract, it would be easy to walk into Queen of Tarts and ignore everything else, but there are so many other wonderful treats available. The shop is more than just a gingerbread cookie factory and the line of products ranges from savoury items to cakes, handmade marshmallows, shortbread cookies and biscotti, and of course, those gorgeous tarts.
Originally from Newmarket, Pick headed to California to the California Culinary Academy where she did a formal chef’s degree, but after her first baking class, she knew she was going to be a pastry chef because she was entranced with the combination of science and artistry involved.
Returning to Toronto, she opened her shop in the Annex in 1998 and eventually moved to the current location in 2001 where the Roncesvalles neighbourhood has welcomed her with open arms and happy stomachs and she supplies them with a vast selection of tarts, cakes and pastries.
The tarts are truly the piece de resistance of the shop, artfully displayed in a glass case, and Pick and her team work hard to keep everyone happy. “It’s worthwhile to note that we have two types of customers,” says Pick, “Those who have favourites and never deviate, and those who come in and want to try anything new that we’ve made. I have to take a few things into consideration when making a new tart: what flavours and textures I think would work and what I want on my menu is paramount, what I think that customers will enjoy is also extremely important, and of course cost-effectiveness.”
Long time favourites such as Mexican chocolate and chipotle, snicker tart, raspberry white chocolate cheesecake, and lemon are always available, but Pick names the seasonal chocolate cherry cheesecake as her personal favourite and taunts this writer mercilessly with a description of a new tart flavour in the works – vanilla bean roasted pineapple with a rich pastry cream. I am so there!
When the shop first opened, cakes were outsourced, but they are now made on the premises as well with four or five different variations on offer each week. Pick says vanilla sour cream cake with vanilla buttercream and chocolate truffle cake are favourites.
And lest we forget the savouries, there is also a selection of soups and quiches in the freezer. Both are big sellers and some customers come specifically for the savoury items – that’s a whole lot of willpower going on there!
So whether it’s the daring pastry aficionado looking to work their way through a world of delectable favours in the form of tarts and cakes, or the folks buying bride and groom gingerbread people as wedding favours, Queen of Tarts has a little something sweet for just about everyone. Even Martha.