I'm pretty sure that a few years ago, there was a crystal ball in the window of 182 Avenue Road. Snuggled in between Dupont and Davenport, the spot advertised fortune-telling and other mystical services for years before gently fading out of existence like the face of an over-used tarot card. The vacant store-front caught the eye of Micol Corno, a local pastry chef with an online business called the Chocolate Brunette Pastry Company, and an ambition of running her own store.
The physical Chocolate Brunette opened a little over a year ago, and when it started, it ran full-bore with a crew of one.
"I did it for almost a year. It was a lot of work. But I want the products to be made fresh daily. I wanted to keep the freshness — it's extremely important to me,"
Corno said of her exhausting one-woman baking act.
Now, she has another full-time worker who can mind the shop while she's "in the back concentrating on the baking." Everything on display is made onsite.
And what is it, exactly, that is on display here? Corno gave me a fairly vague but tantalizing list;
"We have cupcakes, truffles, cookies, individual portion-sized sweets, and then we also offer salads and sandwiches for the businesses in the area."
Unlike Nadage Patisserie (and a few other Yonge Street bakeries), nothing about Chocolate Brunette is even thinking of being French. The desserts are "Italian-infused," to use Corno's words.
"So for example, we have cookies with Nutella, which is Italian. We have crostata di frutta, which is an Italian fruit tart, and profiterole, which is a well-known cake in Italy. But we put our own twist on them."
I didn't realize all of this and assumed — even after looking at the website — that this was primarily a fancy cupcake store with some cookies on the side. Apparently, I'm not the only one:
"A lot of people mistake it for a cupcake place."
Cupcakes are a pretty big deal here, it's true, but Corno told me she hopes to expand into soups for the cold weather, as well as pasta, and of course, hot chocolate ("with whipped cream on top"). She is also considering a more health-conscious — and, for a pastry chef, much more radical — line as well:
"A lot of people do ask me for gluten-free. The truffles are gluten-free, but I want to introduce, maybe a gluten-free cupcake if possible."
I expressed doubt about such an endeavour, but was assured that "it is possible, and they can taste quite good, without the gluten."
It seemed silly not to ask about the recipes and ingredients involved in the Chocolate Brunette. Name aside, there are lots of things here that don't involve chocolate.
"I try to keep it as simple as possible. I don't want to use too much butter, too much sugar. I try to use high-quality ingredients,"
I, on the other hand, tend to work on the assumption that more butter is better, but Corno seems to consider it too heavy, and said that she limits it because
"I don't want a customer eating a dessert and then they feel like they just eat a piece of brick."
There wasn't a crumb of brick in the nutella cookie and "molten lava" cupcake Corno was kind enough to send home with me (but for a baker's beneficence, $1.50 and $3.00, respectively). The cookie's texture was unusual but not unpleasant, and its flavour a fine mix of both chocolate and hazelnuts. Oddly enough — given Corno's care with sugar — it was too sweet for my taste, but the cupcake was just right; moist and fluffy with a blob of rich chocolate "lava" embedded in the bottom.
I asked Corno what the worst part of her business was. Her answer was instant;
"The long hours. No sleeping. I haven't slept in a very long time."
From our conversation, I'm guessing that — along with sleep deprivation — another hazard of the baking business is chronic sampling syndrome. When I asked Corno if she tried a bit of each batch just to make sure it was up to snuff, she gave me an adamant
"No, no, no. I wish. No. It's quite hard to stay away from the chocolate."
Despite all the trials and temptations, Corno seemed quite happy with her work. If failing to get any sleep is the worst part of it all, then the actual food creation is the high point.
"I love being in the kitchen and baking. That's the best part,"
she assured me.
Looking at her welcoming but tiny venue, I asked Corno if she had any plans to expand in the future.
"If possible, I'd definitely like to expand and have another Chocolate Brunette in the city. But we'll work on this location first. One thing at a time."
Not having a crystal ball or tarot cards on hand I can't be sure what the next few years will bring to Ms. Cormo's enterprise, but the present certainly looks bright - especially the parts of it involving double chocolate lava cupcakes.