A couple months back I had great fun writing a piece on cupcakes in Toronto, comparing a variety of the pretty little cakes from different bakeries and shops across the city. The result of that taste test determined that the vanilla cupcake from Circles and Squares bakery topped our list, winning as both our favourite vanilla cupcake and our favourite overall.
It turns out that the bakery is just a few minutes from my house and when owner David Baxter invited me to stop by, I certainly wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity.
Hidden around the back of 171 Liberty Street East, the complex that houses Atelier Thuet, I found the bakery by following a couple of men unloading 50-pound bags of flour. While there are plans to eventually create a small storefront along the mews where Thuet and other businesses now exist, Circles and Squares does not currently have a retail location. Which is a shame because the people of Toronto need better access to these amazing treats.
Baxter explains, “Most of our products are available at restaurants or places that require a ticket. So, if you are going to the Four Seasons Centre, Roy Thomson Hall, The Princess of Wales, The Royal Alexandra, Second City, or Diesel Playhouse you can always pick up at least a cookie or some of our roasted nuts.” Individuals wanting to sample the wares without buying a ticket for the opera or ballet can contact the bakery directly, says Baxter. “The most reliable way to get anything from our bakery is just to call in an order, give us a day or two notice.”
Don’t know what to order? Circles and Squares has a list of offerings on their website, but what visitors will likely notice first is the fact that the menu is partially seasonal. They offer a regular menu of cookies, squares, biscotti and even candied nuts, but the front page of the site is adorned with photos of apples, carrots, zucchini and blueberries, not cupcakes, pastry or cookies. As I wander through the bakery facilities, I encounter huge bags of carrots and bushel baskets of apples.
“Well, first,” Baxter says, “to keep everyone’s sanity at the bakery we need to be doing new things all the time. It keeps us constantly learning new things, adding to our own recipe book and lets us use these really great regional fruits and produce.”
“Also, we make desserts for so many restaurants whose customers demand that their menu reflects the seasons, so we have to work with them and ensure that what they are serving their customers uses the freshest, best Ontario ingredients. When October comes around I think everyone expects to see apples on the menu, and anything with blueberries should be let go.” Although Baxter does admit that there are plenty of blueberries and other summer fruits in his freezer in case of custom orders.
In terms of the local twist, Baxter explains that he would rather spend a bit more and get better tasting local produce, although availability can sometimes be an issue. And when I ask him about courting the locavore community, his answer is that of someone who cares about creating a great product first and foremost. “I want people to buy our products because they taste the best,” he says, “not just because we use local carrots, unbleached flour, or wild blueberries. We just believe in baking with the best ingredients you can and without cutting corners that shouldn’t be cut.”
This philosophy can be partially explained by Baxter’s enthusiasm and delight with the process of baking itself. “We started the bakery because we thought we could make things better than everyone else,” he says as he boxes up some of his popular strawberry cupcakes for me, “which is what I think most people think that open bakeries. Also, I’ve always appreciated baking, I think baking is incredibly underrated as a skill, it is the creation of something from nothing. When we make a carrot cake, we make it out of flour, sugar, cinnamon, etc., things that by themselves are nothing, but when they come together they create this delicious thing.”
While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the old adage of “do what you love and the money will follow”, I have always believed that people who love what they do are better at it. It’s kind of hokey to say something like “you can taste the difference”, but when I bite into one of Circles and Squares strawberry cupcakes, there’s more than just light fluffy cake and gorgeous frosting full of pureed strawberry there. You can tell that the people who made this cupcake really, really love making cupcakes. They care about putting out the best product possible. And since they’ve managed to create what I would consider to be the best cupcake in the city, I’d say they’ve most definitely achieved that goal.
Orders can be placed by contacting Circles and Squares at 416-534-1511. Some items are available at Pusateri’s.