Nothing makes me happier than celebrating the good things that come from Edmonton, Alberta. It always seemed to me that growing up in Edmonton, I spent much of my time yearning for all the exciting things — clothes, food, concerts, etc. — that other bigger cities had to offer. Which is why I looked forward to family vacations. Trips to Toronto were great and, even better if the trips were to the U.S. It wasn’t until I got older and moved eastwards in my twenties that I began to pine for the familiar and wonderful places around Edmonton I missed so much. Duchess Bake Shop wasn’t around when I was a kid — it was Bee Bell Bakery that my mom would get all our birthday cakes at or pick up easy meals like quiche or baked goodies for special after-school treats. Sadly, when Bee Bell Bakery closed its doors many years ago, I wondered if I would be able to find a bakery in Edmonton that I loved as much. So, on a trip to Edmonton to visit my family, a friend encouraged me to give Duchess Bake Shop a try.
Unlike Bee Bell (which opened in the 1950s and was like a physical embodiment of the Purity Cookbook), Duchess Bake Shop is the perfect blending of a fancy French patisserie full of croissants, macarons, and the like with the type of homey bakery that I enjoyed as a child. A magical place! At this point some of you may be wondering why you should care about the bakery scene in Edmonton and, why you should invest time and money into a cookbook from a Western Canadian bakery? For me the answer is easy — because, if you enjoy baking, this is an essential book to own.
Unlike Giselle Courteau’s first book, Duchess Bake Shop, her latest book, Duchess at Home, is full of both sweet and savoury recipes. And, while the first book is all about the wonderful goodies from Duchess that you can bake in the comfort of your own home, Courteau’s second book is all about the things she makes in the comfort of her home. The recipes are organized into 7 chapters: Family Breakfast, Sunday Afternoon, Je Me Souviens, La Belle France, Christmas, Celebrations, and, In My Garden. Drawing upon her French-Canadian heritage as well as her own experiences she offers a wide variety of satisfying recipes. Duchess at Home is really about the joys of baking your house a home. I really connected with Courteau when she talked about coming back to home baking after her children were born — something that has happened to me since the birth of my daughter.
What Duchess at Home looks to do is to demystify home baking so that anyone can consistently achieve beautiful results. Throughout the beginning of the book, Courteau explains the ways in which to become a better baker and, she discusses the essential tools and techniques that will improve your home baking practises. I’m sure that many of you are like me, having grown up baking from Company’s Coming, Martha Stewart, Purity, or the like, you measure the ingredients for your recipes using volume (cups/spoons). What I’ve come to learn, and it’s something that Courteau takes time to explain, that measuring by weight is the only way to really improve your baking results. Slowly, over the last decade, baking-related cookbooks published in North America have begun to include both volume and weight measures so if you have a choice (and Courteau would agree), always use the weighted measures. Courteau takes the time to outline what to look for when choosing a digital scale, and I found that her advice felt like it was coming from a trusted friend (no, we’ve never met) rather than an instructor.
Duchess at Home, like the Duchess Bake Shop cookbook, offers photos not only of the final product but with recipes (or techniques) that might need a bit more help to understand, the book offers many (what I call) “process shots” where you see a series of photos that offer a step-by-step visual guide on how something is done or should look. Never take these photos for granted because it’s a costly thing to add into a book. Since I still consider myself a novice baker, I find these pictures invaluable to learning more and improving my technique (although my favourite photograph in the book is on page 25 and it shows part of Courteau’s home cookbook library — I really was curious to see what titles were on her shelf).
I appreciate Courteau as a cookbook author because she takes her job seriously. Recipes which are, as the information inside the front cover points out, “quadruple tested” and turn out beautifully. When I recently made the Chocolate Liege Waffles for my family, the recipe directs the home baker to measure out 12 balls that weigh about 100g each and it weighed out EXACTLY. If that’s not an example of precision recipe writing, then I’m not sure what is. Needless to say, the waffles were incredibly delicious — yeasted and filled with pearl sugar — they made for a memorable family brunch.
It was on Christmas Day that I realized, halfway through making the dinner with my mom, that I still hadn’t made up a batch of Easy Mixer Pie Dough from the book so that I could make my mom her favourite holiday treat: mincemeat tarts. Not one of my favourite fillings, I found that everything I hate about store-bough mincemeat filling, doesn’t exist in Courteau’s homemade version. I appreciated the delightfully bright citrusy flavour that complimented the dried fruits and spices. For those who find the texture unappealing, Courteau suggests pureeing the mixture (which was perfect for my daughter whose enjoyment hinged on a smoother texture). I was able to make up the dough in between making different dinner dishes and, I was able to serve the Mincemeat Stars topped with whipped cream for dessert. Nothing could have been easier, and, my mom told me how much she enjoyed them because they tasted so much like the ones my grandmother made. No better praise for a recipe could be given! If it tastes like memory and home, it’s a keeper. As a side note, I also used some of the mincemeat to bake up a Gingerbread Pinwheel from the book — a glazed, stuffed gingerbread cookie. A recipe so beautiful and delicious that I’m adding it to next year’s holiday baking list.
This review is getting a bit lengthy and I feel like I can’t help but gush over all the recipes I’ve tried. From that Winter Bundt Cake that got rave reviews from my cookbook club friends, to that Pear Blueberry Cheesecake Galette I made for an afterschool treat on my daughter’s first day back at school in 2020, all the recipes in Duchess at Home have brought me (and my family and friends) so much enjoyment. After baking from Courteau’s book I feel like I’ve improved my skills and that I’ve found recipes that will follow me through my lifetime. And, since I can’t travel the 4,800km back to Edmonton very easily to enjoy all the treats the Duchess Bake Shop has to offer, having her books is the next best thing. If you’re curious to see what else I’ve found in Duchess at Home to enjoy, then checkout my dedicate Facebook post or my custom Instagram hashtag #duchessathomeiseatworthy.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.