The Great Torontoist Challenge: Pumpkin Tart Edition
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The Great Torontoist Challenge: Pumpkin Tart Edition

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Photo by dviousto from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
Ah, autumn. While the weather hasn’t quite hit the pinnacle of crisp suniness, the leaves are turning colour and walking the dog through Trinity-Bellwoods has gotten decidedly crunchier. Another key aspect of the fall season is the food—Thanksgiving dinner and all the sleepy joy it brings. So while the long weekend may be over, the remnants are probably still biding their time in your fridge. We know you have leftover turkey—or torfuky for that matter—hiding somewhere, and nothing tastes better after a shot of tryptophan than a nice pumpkin treat. Torontoist couldn’t consume five entire pies without the risk of becoming gourd-phobic, so we settled on individual tarts from local Toronto bakeries. Vive la citrouille!

The Contestants

It must be noted that the entrants for this particular challenge were not only chosen for their tart-centric reputations. Due to time constraints (read “working for The Man”), Torontoist was unable to set about procuring tarts until later in the day. At this stage many fine possible contenders were ruled out due to lack of tart-supply or because they deemed being open past 5:00 p.m. too strenuous. As such, some alternative purveyors of tart were sought out and foodstuffs were obtained. That having been said, we are more than pleased with our selections, though not all the challengers are as we originally intended.
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Photo by Julie Reitsma.

  • The Cheese Boutique. With roots dating back to 1969, The Cheese Boutique, operating out of its location off of the South Kingsway, is a true Toronto institution. Don’t let the cheese in the name scare you; this emporium boasts a fancy deli, green grocer, wine merchant and bakery all in one.
  • The Queen of Tarts. Located in Roncesvalles Village, The Queen of Tarts has been offering preservative and emulsifier-free deliciousness since 1988. To add to its street cred, The Queen of Tarts has received big-ups from none other than Martha Stewart.
  • Bread & Roses Bakery Café. Bread & Roses is a favourite of Bloor West Village and serves up, in addition to their tarts, some hard to find bakery goodies such as sausage rolls. Torontoist is, however, uncertain of the correlation between this fine establishment and the Oppenheim poem of the same name. From where we stood, granted with an obstructed view of the back room, the bakery was drudge and toil free. On the flip side there was, admittedly, a lot of bread.
  • Sunglow Bakery & Delicatessen. Located only a few doors down from our last contestant, Sunglow remains to some extent a mystery to Torontoist. A google did come up with one fun fact we’d like to share—Ed, the owner of Sunglow, was on the 2005 Board of Directors of the Canadian Pastry Chefs Guild. *Applause* .
  • Future Bakery & Café. Located in the South building of St. Lawrence Market, Future is a family-run bakery that serves up 40 different types of breads. Luckily for us, they also serve up pumpkin tarts. Coincidence? Undoubtedly, no.

The Criteria

  • Appearance. Desserts should look mouth watering—does it?
  • Pumpkiness. Does it have a fall feel to it when you eat it? Does it have that certain pumpkin pie spiceyness? Does it seem perfect for after some turkey? Does it smell pumpkin-y?
  • Overall Flavour. Regardless of the pumpkin specifics, does it taste great?
  • Ingredient Quality. Actual pumpkin, real cream, homemade pastry, and so on.
  • Ease of Ingestion. Leakage, messiness, squishiness, forkability, etc.

Additional Criteria

As per usual, we have ranked our tarts in terms of cost. Make what you will of it—we don’t think it always adds up.
Bread & Roses ($2.10); Sunglow ($2.10); Future ($2.50); Queen of Tarts ($4.50); Cheese Boutique ($4.99).

Results

  • Appearance. Future—21/25. Of our five judges, four selected Future’s offering as the best in the appearance department. A free-form construction, with a “made in France” sort of look to it, Future’s tart also featured a pleasant cream dollop in its centre.
  • Pumpkiness. Bread & Roses—19/25. This tart actually smelled pumpkiny and had a nice spice level.
  • Overall Flavour. Bread & Roses—18.5/25. As one judge said, this contestant tastes the way pumpkin pie tasted when you were a kid. It may look plain, but it is delicious.
  • Ingredient Quality. Queen of Tarts—22/25. This tart was clearly made from scratch and had the best—crumbly and buttery—crust of any of the contestants. While the filling may not have been uber flavourful, it did taste like what it was—real pumpkin.
  • Ease of Ingestion. Future—20.5/25. This tart held together well when cut into portions and when speared with a fork. Its fancy paper “holder” offered the right amount of protection without necessitating peeling .

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Clockwise from top left: Bread & Roses tart photo by Julie Reitsma; Cheese Boutique exterior photo by Jen Chan; Sunglow tart photo by Julie Reitsma; Bloor West Village sign photo by jbcurio; Cheese Boutique tart photo by Julie Reitsma.

Conclusions

The results of this challenge threw Torontoist for a bit of a spin, as they don’t necessarily agree with our pre-conceived expectations. We made a bit of a squishy face and took our calculators out, but the numbers don’t lie. Here’s how it all went down.
The real bottom of the heap, having won in none of the categories, was Sunglow. This tart had a nice smell, was easy to divy up for our judges and was a good price. Unfortunately, the pluses peter out there. Sunglow’s pumpkin tart comes wrapped in not-so earth-friendly plastic and is then encased in an awkward foil tray that needs to be peeled off. Once exposed the judges were shocked to note the distinctly “jamaican patty” yellowness of the tart’s crust. The taste was described as medicinal, artificial, potpourri and even insecticide-like. Add a consistency of baby food, and Torontoist would not buy this tart again, nor accept it as a gift.
There was a tie for the second-to-last ranked entrants, one of which caused us much befuddlement—Bread & Roses. Though having won out in two of five categories, when Bread & Roses didn’t win, it really didn’t win. The most important thing to note is that this tart was wet. Sweaty. Shiny. We’re talking pooling here. Along with this, the tart had a mass-produced feel to it, despite the tastiness. The tin foil wrapper and distinctly Stokely-Van Camp filling contrived to exude, as one judge said, a “I forgot to get the pie” panic attack grocery store pick-up vibe.
Next up on our list, tied with Bread & Roses, is The Cheese Boutique. This was our most expensive entrant which to be honest was no big shocker. What was a shocker, however, were the results. Torontoist loves to spend an hour wandering through the Boutique—it has, without question, some of the most beautiful food available in this city, and the desserts, protected in their glass cases, appear to be no different. The pumpkin tart, however, disappointed in a few key areas. On the positive end, this tart held together well, had a nice crust, some decorative chocolate piping and a lovely cream topping. That being said, as one of our judges put it, “this is all cream—no dream.” This tart was very busy appearance-wise. What with the chocolate and the cream you couldn’t really see what was happening with the pumpkin. This carried over into flavour—we had a difficult time differentiating the flavour of the crust, the pumpkin and the chocolate and the texture was notably waxy. While the tart was made of clearly quality ingredients, the above listed issues in additon to cost and size (it was by far the smallest on offer) make it impossible for it to be a winner.
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Clockwise from left: Queen of Tarts exterior photo by photopia / HiMY SYeD; Queen of Tarts tart photo by Julie Reitsma; St. Lawrence Market photo by Ian Muttoo; Photo of Future tart by Julie Reitsma.
Our runner-up, losing out by less than one percent, was The Queen of Tarts. From the get-go, this tart was a fan favourite. In fact, one panel member’s offspring immediately pointed it out and requested some, even though it was decidedly chocolate-free. This tart looked really nice—the crust, which ended up being fantabulous, was very appealing visually. This contestant was also not bright orange, had a deep-dishness to it, and was decorated with two simple, yet pretty, cookie bells, which though not necessarily relevant to autumn or pumpkins, was a nice touch. What was missing, unfortunately, was enough flavour. It lacked sugar and spice, and therefore the filling, though obviously real pumpkin, was somehow vacuous. Unlike a Sunglow tart, however, Torontoist would gladly accept this tart as a gift and may, next time we venture onto Ronces, go and grab one ourselves.
The champion du jour was Future. As stated previously, our judging panel felt that this tart had the most “French bakery-ness” to it. The presentation and flavours were dandy, with real whipping cream and the right ratios of spice and pumpkin. While some of the panel felt that there was a certain unnameable quality missing, and others mentioned that perhaps there was too much crust or that the spice “blob” on the cream was slightly disconcerting, on a whole this is a great tart. It tasted and looked home-made and, unlike some entries, there was bona fide quality across the board. As they say in France, “cette tartelette à la citrouille est belle et exemplifie l’esprit de la saison.” And so, mes amis, tartons-nous!

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