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Foodie Friday: 6 things you need to know about Holland’s Cake and Shake (and its instigator)

By Pam Kapoor on September 5, 2014


Chef Holland pipes his signature icing design onto fresh cakes.

Chef Holland pipes his signature icing design onto fresh cakes.

#1 Inventive dessert ideas? He’s always had ‘em.

In his previous gig at Chef Marc Lepine’s famed Atelier, pastry chef Michael Holland had carte blanche to make whatever he wanted: “I was able to do my ideas, but in a different way” (because they were composed, plated dishes).

Now, his own platform at Cake and Shake allows Chef Holland to unleash years of concepts that have been proofing patiently in his culinary mind.

This guy takes dessert-making very seriously, but his reputation for whimsical creations suggests a guy who loves playing with his food. Visitors to Cake and Shake will see and taste fun infused into any given week’s line-up.

Holland says it’s not just about fun flavours – it’s also about concepts.

“The way I think – and this is why the flavours are different than what normal pastry chefs would do – is I’m more influenced by pop culture and plays on words.”

Take, for example, an idea he’s working on for an upcoming menu. When Chef Holland got to thinking about the iconic pop tart, he imagined a tart shell made out of them, a filling based on some type of (soda) pop, and a topping of pop rocks candy.

“No one has ever broken down the term ‘pop tart’ in that way. I like taking ingredients everyone knows and doing them in a different way.”

Watch for Holland’s occasional “limited editions” – wilder cakes that push boundaries even further than the menu already does, like his recent Orange Kool-Aid Cake with Red Bull pastry cream.

“It’s all meant to be fun. I get enjoyment out of doing crazy flavours and making people happy.”

Chef Holland chooses to serve 3-inch versions of the classic 12-inch cake because “I want people to look at it and recognize a mini-cake.” That’s why he follows the standard layer-filling-layer-icing format, but deliberately limits the icing to just the top: “I spend all this time making a perfect cake, I want you to see what’s in it.”

Holland is exacting about the ratio of baking to icing, wanting the topping to complement – not overpower – the cake.

Could one eat a Holland cake by oneself? Hell yes. And I have. But Chef Holland designed his treats with a little more socialism in mind.

“Everyone I know cuts the cake into four pieces and shares it. The whole idea of doing different kinds is that people can get an assortment to share.”

Apple cake w/ Apple Jacks brittle & Very Berry cherry cake w/ blueberry icing

Apple cake w/ Apple Jacks brittle & Very Berry cherry cake w/ blueberry icing

#2 Chef Holland doesn’t particularly like candy. Or chocolate.

His creations highlight the likes of hot lips, fuzzy peaches, licorice, and gummy cola bottles, but Chef Holland isn’t actually a fan of the stuff. He offered this fun fact after I excitedly asked what his favourite penny candies were as a kid; when I said mine was always the blue whale, he didn’t know what that is.

“I don’t know why. I didn’t really eat candy when I was a kid. The only thing I loved are jujubes. I more often went for potato chips.”

I pretty much fell off my chair when Holland went on to reveal he doesn’t even like chocolate: “I like a simple chocolate cake. And brownies. But I don’t get cravings for chocolate bars.”

Huh. Proof you don’t have to love it to master it. (Chocolate cake aficionados have called his perfection.)

#3 The soft serve is scratch-made, people.

To his knowledge, Holland is the only one making his own soft serve base in town. Doing so was always part of the plan for his new project, even as the overall concept bobbed and weaved over the years. That it now plays the starring role for his shakes is a delicious bonus.

“Ice cream is one of my specialties, but I’d never done soft serve. So I tested a bunch of different recipes before I figured out the right formula.”

Visitors will frequently find good old chocolate and vanilla soft serve here, though it wouldn’t be Cake and Shake without a fun flavour now and then (the korintje cinnamon option was to die for). Chef Holland says he’s nailed the base for fruit flavours, so expect to see his soft serve reflect what’s in season (the peach selection this summer was a huge hit). He’s still perfecting the formulation for liquid flavourings (think beer from Hintonburg neighbour, Beyond the Pale Brewery).

The shop serves this stuff straight up, in a featured sundae (often with a complementing jam by Michaelsdolce and confections on hand from a cake), or blended into a luscious shake.

And if you’re in the mood for a serious sugar rush, they will blend a cake into a milkshake. That’s right, cake IN shake. But why?! “I’m trying to make something original. And fun.”

Turkey w/ sundried tomato goat cheese, avocado puree, carrots, cucumber & chips on housemade milk bread

Turkey w/ sundried tomato goat cheese, avocado puree, carrots, cucumber & chips on housemade milk bread

#4 The mastermind behind (most of) the sensational sandwiches is Mrs. Holland.

Hearty sandwiches on each week’s menu are wildly popular with the lunch crowd. When I asked Chef Holland where the delicious sandwich ideas come from, he unflinchingly gave up his wife, Sara Mitchell.

“She’s really good with combinations – like a genius.”

I suspect Holland’s sandwich devotees are lured in large part by the delectable milk bread – house made from Chef Holland’s grandfather’s recipe: “For a sandwich, I wanted a really nice, soft, white bread.”

“You want to have the proper amount of bread to what’s inside. That’s why the bread is not that high.”

Folks are abuzz about the chips on Cake and Shake sammies, something Chef Holland says he’s always wanted to do. Many customers have told him it’s something they thought only their family does.

Sandwiches on offer include roast beef, roast chicken, porchetta, even a muffuletta.

Holland said the vegetarian options he launched with simply didn’t sell. In related news, the Cake and Shake chalkboard is void of items catering to dietary restrictions.

#5 Fellow local purveyors/artisans are loved.

It was mentioned under #4 that sundaes at Cake and Shake are sometimes topped with jams by Michaelsdolce. Chef Holland also sources product from Brian’s Butchery, Seed to Sausage, and Top Shelf Preserves. Harvey and Vern’s product is the house bevvy (included as floats with that soft serve).

“I want to support local whenever I can. It’s not always easy, but at the end of the day, I want to make the best product I can, so if someone local has something I need, I’ll spend the money.”

It’s thanks to this commitment that The Ministry of Coffee has a branded counter inside Cake and Shake. Adam the evangelist represents the Ministry on site with zeal, charm, and incredibly helpful knowledge of all things java.

#6 Fresh is the word.

There’s barely a freezer in the joint. Holland’s insistence on using the freshest possible ingredients in quick time is a major rationale behind the composition of his weekly menu:

5 mini-cakes, 2 tarts, 2 flavours of soft serve, 2 muffins, 1 or 2 cookies, 2 sandwiches

(brownies + Chef Holland’s legendary ‘Elvis’ truffles are always on hand)

On one of my visits, I witnessed the Chef himself dart across the street to the Parkdale Market to grab fresh raspberries for more inventory. Gotta love an artisanal kitchen setting up mere steps from a busy farmers’ market.

Holland’s Cake and Shake is located at 229 Armstrong Street (beside Carleton Tavern), open from Tues-Fri 8:00 am – 6:00 pm; Sat 9:00 am – 6:00 pm; and Sun 10:00 am – 5:00 pm. You can follow them on Facebook and Twitter.

Prices: cakes range from $4-4.50; other sweets from $1.50-4; soft serve from $3.50-4.50; sundaes & shakes from $4-5; the “cake shake” $6; brown bag lunch $8.50