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Sunday, 14 August 2011

Duchess Bake Shop - Macaronology

The overlap of population ecology and gastronomy is, upon first consideration, rather spurious. These two fields, however, share some striking commonalities, not the least of which is the logistic growth curve. Bear with me for a moment.

A typical population growth curve demonstrating logistic growth and overshooting of carrying capacity. Source:

When a population of organisms grows, it tends to follow a logistic (S-shaped or sigmoid) growth curve. Growth is slow at first, but as the population increases in size, it grows at an increasingly rapid rate. Any given habitat, however, can not support an infinite number of organisms. The maximum number it can support is dubbed the "carrying capacity" and if the population overshoots this carrying capacity, the population will decrease due to competition for resources/disease/etc. Think now of a food trend - cupcakes are an ideal case study. Said food entity is relatively unknown at first, grows slowly in popularity, then takes off. But, popularity is a cruel master and, as the popularity of this food item increases, the relative quality of it tends to decrease because the focus is on quantity, rather than quality.

And that's not even the half of it...a baked bounty at Duchess

Population ecology and gastronomy are not so different after all, which leads me to a venerable Edmonton bakery, the Duchess Bake Shop. Duchess holds a treasured spot among the sweet tooths of many and purveys an enviable selection of French baked goods, all served in a open-concept nouveau-Victorian space.

Foreground: brioche pepin. Background: a trifecta of macarons.

We gravitate instantly to the prismatic assortment of macarons; it's inordinately difficult to choose flavours but we end up with ginger-pear, salted caramel and passionfruit-chocolate. Ginger-pear is a sultry suggestion of tropical forests, salted caramel is an explosive and well-crafted collision of sticky salty-sweet caramel, and passionfruit-chocolate is a demure pairing of seductive fruit and heady cocoa. We progress from the macaron trifecta to an auburn fold of brioche pepin. Here, a flaky leaf of brioche bread hugs a creamy custard filling studded with assertive chocolate. It handily pairs with a whisper-smooth cup of espresso and makes one wish for a shady patio on the other side of the Atlantic.

Return now to the earlier concept of population growth. Macarons have been touted by some as the next "cupcake," the next hand-held baked good obsession. I can only hope that this is not the case, because the level of artistry present in Duchess's macarons is not easily replicated. My fear would be that the macaron would grow in popularity so quickly that substandard ones would proliferate. Then again, a superior competitor easily ousts its competition. Competition theory (in ecology) is another discussion for another time.

Duchess Bake Shop on Urbanspoon


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