What began as an effort to brighten the locked-down lives of a handful of friends and family became an opportunity for one passionate baker-turned-entrepreneur.
Canada’s Baking Box is a monthly subscription service that delivers baking kits with pre-measured, shelf-stable ingredients and a recipe card, right to your doorstep.
Founded by Stephanie Duffy — known in Toronto as the Baker of Bathurst — the subscription service started as a way for Duffy to stay connected with loved ones during the first wave and stay-at-home orders caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baking was dominating many people’s lockdown lives in early 2020. Whether improving existing talents or making a first foray into the kitchen, amateur bakers across the country took to social media to showcase their creations (or failed attempts). And Duffy noticed.
“Baking can be a great way to show you care, but as I was vulnerable to COVID-19 myself, I wanted to be sure that in sharing the love, I was keeping my community as safe as possible,” said Duffy. “Leaving cookies on the doorstep wasn’t cutting it.”
Baking has always been a safe haven to Duffy — beginning with an Easy Bake Oven when she was a child — but it was especially soothing during lockdown, and she wanted to provide her loved ones with the same opportunity.
Though Toronto is her permanent home, Duffy spends about half her time in Collingwood. Her sister lives in Collingwood full-time.
Now a baker by trade, Duffy always keeps an abundance of baking ingredients in her personal pantry. When she noticed the stores started selling out of supplies last spring, she decided to make little baking kits to send to her friends and family.
It didn’t take long before the phone started to ring.
Duffy got an influx of grateful, but slightly panicked, messages as many ran into common kitchen mishaps. So she decided to host a live demo over Zoom; an informal baking party of sorts.
She curated kits with the correct ingredients for brownies and walked them through the process of making them, start to finish. Everyone was ecstatic by how they turned out.
“You’d be surprised how quickly people can go from novice to star with the right instructions, and even seasoned bakers can level up with a few tips,” said Duffy.
Word got out and interest grew, and Duffy realized that the gap in the market didn’t just reflect a sales opportunity, but the necessity to keep Canada’s amateur bakers cooking safely.
“I like to think that my subscribers aren’t just learning how to make one particular treat, but are building their overall confidence in the kitchen safely, and learning how to work with the very best ingredients, for delicious outcomes they can replicate for years to come,” Duffy said.
Duffy noticed that what was holding most people back from baking wasn’t a lack of interest, but more often a lack of knowledge or access to certain tools or ingredients. So along with pre-measured ingredients, Duffy decided to include a specialty, pastry-chef approved tool that is tailored to that particular recipe.
In May 2020, she launched her first official box: Baked Chocolate-Glazed Doughnuts with a silicone donut mold.
She started with 16 subscribers, most of them friends and family. The subscription included pre-measured premium ingredients, a shopping list for perishable items, a recipe card, a professional tool and a link to her live demonstration — which she would host on the fourth Saturday of every month.
Canada’s Baking Box is available on a one-off or monthly subscription basis, and now has over 150 subscribers nationwide.
“I’ve always loved baking,” said Duffy. “But now it’s something that I get to share with people across the country.”
So far, the recipes have ranged from French Madeleines and Cream Puff Pastries to Apple, Cheese and Sage Scones, Garlic Parmesan Soft Pretzels, and even Ice Cream Sandwiches with homemade ice cream.
“I try to keep the recipes really fresh,” said Duffy. “And it’s cool, because a lot of the things I’ve chosen… people think are too tedious or difficult to make. But they always get so excited. And honestly, the results are pretty good for most people across the board.”
Duffy went to school for Baking and Pastry Arts Management at George Brown College and has an affinity for intricate French baking, but she is also inspired by the seasons — and particularly the holidays that come with them.
For special occasions, such as Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s Day, Duffy sometimes creates a few boxes that can be purchased as a one-off or added to a member’s subscription.
This Halloween, she has a Halloween Sugar Cookie Kit and a Halloween Cupcake Kit available for purchase. With icing to decorate the final goodies and all.
All of the monthly subscriptions are available vegan as well.
To coincide with the boxes, Duffy recently launched Baking Party — her solution to distanced gatherings. Available with a purchase of at least six cupcake boxes, people can host their own baking party for birthdays, bachelorette, baby showers or even corporate team building activities.
“I feel like anyone can be a good baker if they have a good teacher,” said Duffy. “I want to make it more accessible and less intimidating. The recipes that we’re making, some of them can be more complicated, but if you break them down step by step, you realize how manageable they really are.”
At the end of the day, Duffy just wants everyone to get the same feeling from baking as she does.
“Because it’s science, it’s a sense of accomplishment,” she said. “When my subscribers have good results, and I can see how excited they get, it is the best feeling.”