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Bake Shops: The Return of the Decade of Sweets?

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By James Geneau


I don't know what is happening in the rest of the world, after all I can't be everywhere at once, but sweets are certainly making a comeback and in a big way here in Toronto. Apparently the death of the Atkins diet founder had a profound impact on the carb-craving dieters who, after the memorial service, yelled, "Screw this and pass me a fork!"

It's about time. I remember growing up with my mother's delicious desserts every week as a child. She was a bit of a 1980s pre-Martha Stewart career woman who even though she was busy with charities, her own business, and school duties, always had time to make squares, cookies, pies and cakes. Of course, those days are long gone and we now have a new generation of moms marching forward who were raised on baked goods fresh from the oven. After all, 1980s Saturday morning moms had to make sweets for abandoning us throughout the week with our babysitter, the delightful Downtown Julie Brown. And so, MTV generation kids are now finding themselves in the same position and having to provide comfort sweets to relieve their guilt. OK, maybe not to relieve guilt but certainly to play the role of a true mom � one who always has fresh baked goods on hand for their younglings...or so it would appear.

There is a growing trend being generated by these time-constrained super moms of the MTV generation, one that is sweeping the urban culinary landscape. The mass-produced cakes and cookies from the supermarket are being cast aside given their loads of additives. After all, what mom today would pump their kids full of chemicals from an industrial park in New Jersey unless they lived in it and had no choice. But the time required to bake at home is a luxury for the modern family � especially when it could be better served riding bikes through the park or taking pics for Facebook profiles as a family. Enter the home-baked goods store.

Yes, it has happened. Those sweet delicious treats we devoured as a child are now resurfacing not in 12 month storage packaging at the A&P, but at a new style of bake shop. Butter tarts, date squares, gooey bars, and whoopee pies are creeping into homes again. Flour, eggs, and natural sugar included. The corner bakery has been reinvented in recent years and I for one could not be happier. A mere five minutes from me is a great little shop called Bake Sale on The Kingsway (3076 Bloor St. W., 416-232-2253). It opened a few years ago and today is one of the most popular shops in the neighbourhood. Every morning, they bake delicious cupcakes, squares, brownies and cakes using wholesome ingredients and recipes from your mother's cupboard. There are no chemical preservatives and they taste just like how mom made them back in 1982, 1972, 1962, or 1952 � whenever you grew up.

And they are not alone. On the other end of the city, along the Danforth, is Sweet Tooth (508 Danforth Ave., 416-778-8800). They follow the same philosophy of preparing freshly baked and unique desserts the way mom would have done it. It is first come first serve and they always draws a crowd.

And who is their consumer? Why thirty�something moms of course. All day long you can sit by the entrance of Bake Sale and see an endless parade of power-moms in their Jimmy Choos buying squares and cookies for their family. They even have little chocolate chip cookie packs, pre-packed into little servings for school lunches. All mommy needs to do is write a little note of encouragement and she is instantly on her way to being super mom of the century. Wholesome, quick, tasty, and convenient � the modern mom's manna from heaven.

And what is wrong with that after all? If I was an eight year old in today's world, the deception of a mini pack of "homemade" cookies with a note from mom would be far better than a chocolate ding-dong and my mom yelling "Eat your God-damn breakfast" with a rushed tone from her bathroom each morning. Today's mom is busy but also sophisticated. They know what they enjoyed when they were younger and they realize that they cannot bake everything from scratch. They also appreciate that sweets are a necessity for kids, as long as they are not loaded with chemicals. And so the return of the corner specialty baker is in full swing.

One day, while at the counter picking up some muffins at Bake Sale, I asked a woman if her kids knew her little secret. "God no!" was her immediate response. "I quickly remove them from the boxes and place them on our display counter in the kitchen" she added. When her kids came home from little league they flood into her kitchen, sit down, and enjoy a muffin with mom. She did confess that she occasionally baked on the odd weekend, but only when the kids were free to help. It was a family bonding activity. I wondered if the kids could tell the difference and then thought who cares, it is the experience she is creating that they will remember.

In today's busy world it is no surprise that the modern mom would outsource the baking process. After all, some families are outsourcing all of their meals to a wealth of private caterers and chefs who provide monthly in-home cooking and frozen meals. What is refreshing however is that the food is fresh, seasonal, and wholesome. Pizza, Fried Chicken, and Take-Out Chinese are still popular but the majority of families are now opting for a healthier alternative to manage their busy schedules. For my friend at the Bake Sale counter, the difference was that it was made by a person and not a machine. It had eggs and not egg substitutes. The muffins had imperfections, not uniformity.

And so, as I break away from the computer and head over to pick up my weekly supply of muffins, I will pass moms in the park doing Yoga with friends while their husbands pass the football with their sons. Little girls will help mommy plant flowers in the front garden while their neighbours enjoy a quiet afternoon reading as a family on the porch. Thank you corner bakery, for bringing back time for the busy urban mom. And to all the Super Moms at the Bake Sale counter, don't worry, your identity is safe with me.


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