Mary Macleod’s shortbread

Mary Macleod herself

File this one under Treats and Goodness and Shameless Self-indulgence. Toronto Life’s former food editor, my friend Joseph Hoare, first directed me to Mary Macleod’s tiny shop cum tea room on Yonge Street, north of Eglinton. There were a couple of specialist food stores in the neighbourhood at the time, each one a pioneer of quality – C’est Cheese, the Belgian Chocolate Shop and Mary Macleod’s. Mary immediately made me feel right at home with her friendly smile, beautiful manners, soft Scottish accent and a welcome cup of tea. Her speciality – indeed, the only thing she sold, then as now – was fabulous shortbread, made to the recipe her grandmother taught her when she was a girl in Scotland and, in her own words, “as pure as this world will allow.”

It was gorgeous stuff, handmade with only natural ingredients, rich with butter and perfectly textured so that each cookie broke perfectly between your teeth, dropping only two or three tiny crumbs. My children adored it – especially the Chocolate Crunch variety, with big chunks of chocolate embedded in the shortbread. It took Mary 18 months to figure out how to bake them without the chocolate melting (magic is involved, presumably).

A chock-full tin of assorted shortbread

Today, 30 years after she opened her store, Mary Macleod is still going strong. She moved a long time ago to 639 Queen Street East – just East of the Don Valley – and she continues to innovate and develop new recipes. Tins and boxes of her shortbread go out all over the world to devoted connoisseurs. Mary is in her 70s now but is clearly still very much on her game. Her latest creation, butterscotch shortbread, is like nothing I’ve ever tasted, a uniquely textured treat like the love-child of shortbread and vanilla fudge. It’s so rich that a small bite should satisfy anyone’s craving – except that it’s so delicious the craving comes back in a flash, and stronger than ever. If, like me, you have been a Mary Macleod fan since the last century, you will also be delighted to learn that her hand-rolled Selection Shortbread is back on the retail counter after an absence of 15 years – perfect little bite-sized shortbreads in a variety of flavours, each in a little paper bonbon cup. All Mary’s cookies are made without additives or preservatives, so you have to eat them quickly. Not a problem.

Mary Macleod’s Shortbread store is at 639 Queen Street East (at Broadview). 416 461 4576.

  1. I worked for Mary back in the tiny shop days as a high school job. She was a wonderful boss and I’m happy to hear that her selections have made a comeback. Happy memories of placing the ginger into the lemon-ginger cookies “just so”. And to this day I can still tie a perfect “Mary” bow as I did on hundreds of packages. Her attention to detail (and secrecy about her recipe) seems to remain to this day. Hopefully more will discover the delight of her cookies.

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