LAKE FOREST — A French-born customer once told Mary Greub that her pastry shop’s croissants were the best this side of Paris.
“For someone from France to say that you know it’s a big deal,” said Greub, owner of Gerhard’s Elegant European Desserts in Lake Forest.
The adjective European in the name of the business is a big deal to Greub. She makes a point of using ingredients from the Continent, and following that style in many of the shop’s recipes.
Just don’t call the business a bakery.
“We’re more of a European pastry shop,” said Greub, who lives in Lake Forest. “We take pride in our European ingredients. We use natural ingredients and no preservatives. There is less sugar. Americans put so much sugar in the stuff. We use natural sweeteners from berries and confectioners’ sugar.”
Gerhard’s has offered customers from the North Shore single portion desserts and other treats along with cakes, pies and special-order items with a European bent for 23 years.
The croissants are an example of the care and patience that goes into putting a taste of Europe in Lake Forest. All the baked goods and other treats are prepared daily in the kitchen under the direction of Chef José Silva.
“It’s very buttery,” said Chef Silva. They come in butter, chocolate and almond. “We put butter between each layer and fold it over. We roll it and roll it. The more butter the better.”
Everything in the shop is fresh and less than 12 hours old. Silva arrives at 4 a.m. Tuesday through Saturday—Gerhard’s is closed Sunday and Monday—to start preparing the day’s treats.
There will be no happy hour toward the end of the day or a discounted price on day-old goods. The Church of St. Mary sends someone around to pick up the unsold items to feed those in need.
“They’ve picked up our leftovers for 23 years,” Greub said.
Some of her favorite desserts are dark chocolate mousse, passion fruit, tiramisu and cheese cake. They come in individual portions and in larger sizes for customers to take home. Though she admits cheesecake is particularly American, she touts the European qualities of the other pastries. It comes out when she recites the recipe.
“It has two layers of genoise, that’s the French translation of cake,” said Greub of the mousse. “Then there are two layers of Swiss chocolate mousse and a thin layer of raspberry jam added for a little sweetness.”
The passion fruit dessert features vanilla genoise with passion fruit mousse and a crunchy fouilletine bottom. The tiramisu has Galbani mascarpone cheese along with the other ingredients.
“Galbani is the brand name,” said Greub. “It’s an Italian cheese.”
Greub got her European schooling from her former husband, Gerhard Greub. They started the shop together 23 years ago and were business partners for 15 years. He was born in Switzerland and trained there.
“He worked in some of the finest restaurants and hotels in the world,” she said.
Along with their dessert or treat, customers often have coffee, tea or a cold drink and sit at one of the tables in the shop or, in warm weather, at one of the outdoor tables. The shop services everything from a basic American cup of coffee to cappuccino and espresso.
One of Greub’s favorite larger desserts is the plum franchipan. Depending on the season, it can come in cherry or apricot. It has moist layers of almond cake with the fruit baked on the top.
Among the more unusual items are sliced cake donuts with a layer of seedless, Swiss raspberry jam between the slices. Greub said she has not seen it anywhere else and Silva agrees.
“In my 40 years experience I’ve never seen it except here,” said Silva.
Along with catering to daily customers, Gerhard’s sells special-occasion cakes for weddings, birthdays and other celebrations. Greub said customers seeking a wedding cake starts with a complimentary tasting. Once they select a flavor, they decide what it will look like.
“We show them pictures or they bring us pictures,” said Greub. “Sometimes they decide quickly and other times they want to check with their florist or consultant.”