The genesis of the name is unclear, to me, anyway. I seem to recall seeing a cute logo involving some sort of little robot with a cake, possibly drawn by the proprietress who is a graduate of OCAD. For a place with such a cold, technically inspired name, suggesting an evil universe of baking drones churning out miles of identical and perfect cupcakes, Bakerbots (at 205 Delaware Avenue) itself is surprisingly cute and home spun:
It’s a tiny place, tucked away a very short (i.e., you could do it on your hands and knees) distance from the western entrance to Ossington subway station. At first blush, it looks like the kind of bakery that makes stunt cakes, towering and assymetrical confections of tasteless, pastel tinted and airbrushed fondant. I can’t speak for the cakes, at least, not yet, but after trying my first ice cream sandwich there late last summer, I was hooked and preaching the Good News of Bakerbots to anyone who would listen and many who wouldn’t. I was amazed that I hadn’t heard about it before then, but Bakerbots being more within the preserve of the twitterati than a print media dinosaur like myself, that wasn’t so strange. While deciding where to go on our most recent Vicarious Travel Society outing, the swing vote went to La Bella Managua, because, of course, Nicaraguan food! Obscure! Exotic! But also….just around the corner from Bakerbots!
They make many things, but here’s what you really need to know. Three words: Ice Cream Sandwiches. This is the drill: you pick out a cookie:
Then you pick out an ice cream:
For the indecisive or those in need of expert guidance (and to speed up the lengthy lines in summer) they have a number of expert-designed combinations that are guaranteed to give you a good time. The sandwiches are almost endlessly recombinant, and it is possible to go wrong. Difficult, but not impossible, and there can be a certain amount of suspense while waiting for the outcome. You can ask for a whole sandwich (two complete cookies, with ice cream between) or a half (one cookie cut in half with ice cream between). It’s better to go with the half, because if you eat a whole one, you may die of pleasure and/or rupture as they are a very healthy size. You put in your order, and they make you one of these:
Oh baby. This one was the ginger molasses cookie, with house made lemon meringue ice cream. Superb. There is something very special about the spicy fire of the cookie, the heat of the black pepper sprinkled boldly on top of it, and the way it all combines with cool, creamy, but slightly tart and well balanced lemon. Beautiful combination. I once lived with an aged bachelor for a short period of time, and his kitchen contained a spice rack with four bottles of lemon pepper in it and nothing else. Maybe he was on to something.
Next up was the Birthday Cookie, with Chocolate ice cream:
This was counterintuitive, but still amazingly good. The Birthday cookie is basically a plain sugar cookie spiked with a noticeable trace of lemon, with coloured sprinkles. The chocolate ice cream is exactly what you might think it would be, if you were trying to imagine a creamy paradise of rich chocolate flavour. Together it was indeed reminiscent of birthday cake, or maybe after school sugar cookies with a glass of chocolate milk. The very subtle bitterness of the chocolate stopped the cookie from plunging into the abyss of sweet, and the little bit of lemon provided some nice ballast. Not a completely brilliant combination, but definitely good.
Then there was ginger cookie with cinnamon toast ice cream:
Spicy, creamy, very complementary but perhaps too close for comfort. Perfectly satisfactory to the 11 year old, however. And mine was Rococoa (double chocolate) cookie with strawberry ice cream (no picture, I think my hands were shaking too much by that point). The chocolate chips in the cookie were still molten, that’s how fresh it was. The ice cream was bursting with fresh frozen fruit and while strawberries and chocolate are usually perfect together, somehow this didn’t quite work out. I’m not saying that this ice cream sandwich ruined my life, but it did fill me with mild regret as I stared at the ice cream selection board, wiped ice cream off my chin and mused over what could have been. Fortunately at Bakerbots, you can go home again….tomorrow is another day and you can have as many ice cream sandwiches and cinematic cliches as you want. Especially when they clock in at less than five dollars apiece.
There is a little bit of rotation in the ice cream selection, a seasonal nod (“pumpkin”) or a local homage (“SJCB espresso” for Sam James Coffee Bar) here and there. What pushes these sandwiches up to greatness, though, is not just the ice cream but the degree of care in the cookies.
The cookies are institutional, the same half dozen or so are always available, but the best things about them are that they are (a) impeccably fresh, and (b) exactly the right texture, at least most of the time which is all you can expect from cookies not actually produced by robots. They are just crisp enough to not turn into a sodden, tacky mess as soon as the ice cream begins to melt into them (and this is key on those sultry August evenings when around 25 people are sitting in front of Bakerbots on vintage wooden gym benches apparently stolen from my elementary school in Calgary), but just soft enough that you can bite through them without squirting all that gorgeous ice cream out the other side.
This takes some thinking, some experimenting, some technical skill, some careful calculation of the ratio of butter to shortening. The ice cream tastes like the same dedication: nothing cheap, no fillers or binders or cheating with excessive overfill. It’s what you’d make for yourself at home if you had time, money, a $2,000.00 ice cream machine, a lot of skill and experience, great ingredients and an obsession with getting it right. If we’re going to be enslaved by Bakerbots, I for one welcome our new mechanical overlords.
Bakerbots, 205 Delaware Avenue (at Ossington Subway Station)