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Sort-of Secret: Castle and Coal, a petite patisserie with all-dessert tasting menus

Part of our series spotlighting the city’s edible hidden gems

By Helen Jacob| Photography by Joshua Best
Sort-of Secret: Castle and Coal, a petite patisserie with all-dessert tasting menus

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The sort-of secret: Castle and Coal, a patisserie serving up British and French baked goods made by a Michelin-trained pastry chef You may have heard of it if: You’ve ever googled “where to buy cannelés in Toronto” But you probably haven’t tried it because: It’s a few steps north of Queen on Dovercourt, so it’s easy to miss if you never turn that corner   Pastry chef Junelle Casalan opened her Dovercourt Road pastry shop and café in the thick of Covid, but—pandemic be damned—she developed a following for her British dessert staples like sticky toffee pudding, mincemeat pies and the Queen’s favourite custard tart. “We’d been open for a month when this girl came in and said, ‘I have to try your sticky toffee pudding—my dentist recommended it,’” says Casalan. The irony was not lost on her.

A portrait of Junelle Casalan, the co-owner and pastry chef of Castle and Coal, a Toronto patisserie
The exterior and patio of Castle and Coal, a Toronto bakery and café that does all-dessert tasting menus

Casalan went to George Brown for culinary management and ended up working abroad at various Michelin-starred restaurants including Per Se, Le Bernardin and Eleven Madison Park. But, before all of that, at the beginning of her career, she worked in the kitchen of a boutique hotel in the small town of Helmsley, England. Her experience there changed the way she thought about desserts. “They were really good, but really simple,” she says, referring to British classics like scones, lemon posset that sticky toffee pudding. At the same time, she wanted to move forward in the fine-dining industry, so she got a job at the Berkeley Hotel’s Marcus Restaurant, in London, England, and fell in love with the Michelin kitchen. Not long after moving back home to Toronto, she opened up Castle and Coal with her husband, Aaron Colbert. “I wanted to showcase what I learned from my time in the fine-dining industry, but I also just wanted to make really good, simple desserts.”

A pastry chef grates parmesan cheese over top bags filled with choux puffs at Castle and Coal, a Toronto bakery
Junelle Casalan, co-owner and pastry chef of Castle and Coal, a Toronto bakery, interacts with guests at one of her all-dessert tasting menu nights

Customer favourites include her carrot cake, Ontario blueberry custard almond-streusel brioche, a Valrhona dark-chocolate cookie finished with Maldon sea salt and kouign-amann with seasonal fillings (a recent one featured a cream made with roasted Ontario corn). The French cannelés, with their melt-in-your-mouth centres and crackly caramelized crusts, sell out every single weekend. For hard-core fans, the bakery offers a monthly delivery menu, where the goods come right to your door.

Casalan’s latest idea was to do an all-dessert tasting menu. “We don’t do a lot of plated desserts at the shop, even though I sometimes try to push one out for dine-in customers,” she says. Apprehensive, Casalan floated the idea on Instagram, asking if her followers would be willing to sit down for two hours and eat nothing but sweets. The answer: yes, yes, a thousand times yes. So, on August 14, she held her first reservation-only dessert tasting at the bakery—it was sold out.

Bakers at Castle and Coal, a Toronto patisserie, plate desserts for a tasting menu
A spongecake dessert at Castle and Coal, a patisserie on Dovercourt Road in Toronto, Ontario
Castle and Coal co-owner and pastry chef Junelle Casalan guides guests through one of the bakery's dessert tasting menus

The most recent event, A Midsummer Night’s Dessert Tasting, focused on fresh seasonal ingredients with big flavours. The caramelized brioche and Ontario strawberries course was topped with a steamed meringue buttermilk sorbet and tangy lemon balm. Another standout plate featured pistachio sponge, pistachio tuile, Valrhona Opalys ice cream, micro-cilantro and a zingy passion fruit mousse encased in a white-chocolate shell. Another course consisted of lavender buttermilk panna cotta topped with blueberry compote, roasted Ontario peaches, corn ice cream and granola. The star of the show was a baked Alaska set ablaze to a chorus of phone cameras.

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Sort-of Secret: Castle and Coal, a petite patisserie with all-dessert tasting menus
Sort-of Secret: Castle and Coal, a petite patisserie with all-dessert tasting menus
A chocolate dessert is plated for a dessert tasting menu at Castle and Coal, a bakery in Toronto's west end
An attendee of Castle and Coal's most recent all-dessert tasting menu takes a picture of one of the courses

The crowd consists mainly of foodie friends and people on dates. On the night we visited, one couple was celebrating an anniversary while someone else was celebrating another spin around the sun—they were treated to a special-occasion course of cannelés. Even if you’re a solo sweet tooth, the team is always busy plating the next dessert, so there’s constantly something to watch: the scooping out of perfect ice cream spheres, the piping of sauces or the torching of meringue. Chef Casalan walks around to all the guests, explaining each dessert: what their components are, where their ingredients come from and how they were made. Sometimes there’s a lot of science involved, and sometimes it’s as simple as microwaving batter to make a really airy sponge cake.

Dessert tastings are reservation only (they sell out fast; it’s a small space) and feature five courses for $100 per person. Guests are allowed to bring a bottle of wine, and Casalan recommends a late-harvest or dessert wine—something on the sweeter side, naturally—like a Moscato.

Castle and Coal, 108 Dovercourt Rd., 647-215-2411, castleandcoal.ca, @castleancoal_

Attendees of one of Castle and Coal's all-dessert tasting menus watch as the pastry chefs plate the next course
People take photos of the Baked Alaska at Castle and Coal, a pastisserie in the west end of Toronto
Junelle Casalan, co-owner of Toronto's Castle and Coal bakery, pours batter into canele molds
A board of baked goods at Castle and Coal, a bakery and café in Toronto, Ontario

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