Inside the kitchen of Maggie Frith, the owner of Magpie Cakery
Frith’s two kitchens are stocked with vintage baking supplies, a single-scoop ice cream maker and canned olives
Maggie Frith wasn’t always a baker. “I am a recovering lawyer,” she says. “I used to sneak cookbooks into my office and research baking techniques just to de-stress.” In 2016, after having her third child, she finally reckoned with her job dissatisfaction and quit. She started channelling her legally honed attention to detail into researching how to make the perfect macaron, developing recipes for pie crust and learning how to dress cakes in fondant. Eventually, she began selling her wares to friends and family. “There was a year when I made 13 pies in one oven for Thanksgiving. It was ridiculous.”
Frith started Magpie Cakery in 2019. She began by giving baking lessons to neighbourhood kids. Then, in 2021, she scored a spot on the fourth season of The Great Canadian Baking Show, where she whisked her way into the semi-finals. While she was gone, her husband, Matt Watson, stepped into the role of family grill master. “I was away for six weeks, so he needed to learn how to cook,” Frith says. “Now, he really enjoys doing it—and I enjoy not doing it.” This change in dynamic came just in time, because Frith is now busier than ever. In 2022, she moved Magpie’s operations into Leslieville’s Mess Hall food hub, where she hosts virtual and in-person baking classes, corporate events, camps for kids, and parties for all ages.
In her Danforth home, the main-floor kitchen is organized with the unique precision of a lawyer-turned-baker. Meal-planning is a no-nonsense affair. “On Sundays, my husband and I will roast a bunch of vegetables, make rice or a grain and stick it all in the fridge for sides during the week,” she says. “Then, each night, we’ll cook fish, chicken or beef. When we run out of protein, we throw all the leftovers into a frittata and call it egg night.”
Of course, there is the odd night when no one feels like cooking. On those days, they’ll head to the kid-friendly Il Fornello or order from North of Brooklyn. “We occasionally make our own pizza too. Or sometimes when I’m feeling lazy I’ll just buy Mediterranean flatbread from Loblaws. The kids do the rest.”
Frith may be an expert at whipping up sweet indulgences, but she doesn’t even keep sugar in her home kitchen. Instead, the fridge is stocked with fruit, yogurt, protein and vegetables. “My kids have a smoothie every day when they come home from school. If they want a treat, I always have homemade energy balls and granola,” she says. “Cheesecake is great, of course, but if you have it too often it’s no fun.”
The floor-to-ceiling pantry is also not baking-oriented—you won’t find any flours, sprinkles, gum paste or chocolate chips. Instead, it’s meticulously lined with glass jars full of salty snacks and cereals. “Having my kids be self-sufficient in the kitchen—and everywhere else—is very important to me. I’ve organized the space so that, if they ask me to get them a snack or make their lunch, I can comfortably ask them to do it themselves without feeling guilty.”
Since family dinners are similar from week to week, Frith relies on a range of condiments and a well-stocked spice cupboard to keep things interesting. “We make frequent trips to St. Lawrence Market for fancy hot sauces, like harissa, and mustards, like Kozlik’s. I also love the spices there.” New Mexico chilies, local staghorn sumac and za’atar are currently in heavy rotation.
Even though Frith and her husband don’t have much time to entertain, they do occasionally enjoy a cocktail at home. “We’re creatures of habit,” she says. “We drink Aperol spritzes in the summer and dark and stormys in the winter—made exclusively with Fever-Tree ginger beer.”
It’s not uncommon for a dedicated home chef to keep a deep freeze in the basement, but Frith’s downstairs set-up is next level: a full second kitchen, complete with a luxuriously wide fridge and stacked ovens that scream Food Network studio. “When we bought this house, we converted what was a basement apartment into a commercial-grade kitchen so that I could sell baked goods out of my home in a legitimate way,” she says. “During Covid, everyone wanted to learn how to bake, and fortunately I had that space to use for virtual classes.”
Down here, you’ll find all the baking supplies that are conspicuously absent from the upstairs kitchen. “Upstairs, I have to label things so my kids put them back in the right place,” says Frith. “Here, I label stuff so I can tell what the heck it is!” There are jars full of different flours, kamut flakes, roasted sugar, turbinado sugar, a variety of salts, cinnamon sugar, puffed quinoa, maple flakes, buckwheat and oats.
There are also, oddly, a few cans of California olives. “I hate olives, but I’ve been commission to build a dessert with them,” says Frith. “Someone else will have to do the taste testing.”
Also tucked away in the cupboards is an impressive stash of freeze-dried fruit (Frith is a fan of rolling truffles in raspberry powder) and dates (for those homemade granola bars and energy balls).
Frith has a taste for vintage bakeware, and the downstairs kitchen is full of antique tart tins, glassware and tools. “I have sisters who live in northern Ontario. Most of this stuff is from random side-of-the-road-type places.” She also has a nut grinder, a stainless steel ice cube tray (for freezing leftover egg yolks after making meringue), individual dutch ovens (to house her chicken pot pies) and a vintage single-scoop ice cream maker. “I bought that one for my grandpa in the ’80s. It’s my favourite thing.”
She’s also a self-proclaimed cookbook geek, with a library full of colourful tomes to prove it. Many of her cookbooks are stuffed with handwritten notes and adjustments, including the original French edition of Pierre Hermé’s Macarons. “I don’t speak French well enough to understand the directions in that book, but I knew it was the best one, so I used Google Translate to read it through. Now I have the English edition—thank goodness!”