All posts by Anna Olson

Professionally trained pastry chef Anna Olson is the host of Food Network's Bake with Anna Olson. Anna’s culinary philosophy is based on a common-sense approach of cooking and baking with the seasons, as well as respecting the ingredients, the technique and the process of sharing with others through food. Most of all, cooking and baking should be fun!
anna-olson-icing-a-cake

Anna Olson’s Best Fixes for Your Biggest Baking Fails

When it comes to baking, nobody is perfect. Even expert bakers like the talented teams on The Big Bake have bad days in the kitchen, but the best part about messing up is learning from those mistakes.

Whether you’re baking a cake, whipping up a batch of cookies, or trying your hand at homemade pie dough, the next time you head into the kitchen, let Anna Olson show you how to fix your biggest baking fails.

Why do my chocolate chip cookies spread too much when baking?

There are two main reasons why your chocolate chip cookies are too soft and meld together into one giant sheet while baking. The first is that your butter could be too soft. An easy fix for that is to scoop the dough onto a pan, and then chill it for an hour before baking.

Your cookies could also fall flat if you use too much sugar or not enough flour. Even a seemingly harmless extra tablespoon of sugar could cause the cookies to spread because sugar liquefies as it bakes. Be sure to use measuring spoons and cups and follow the instructions for the best results.

How do I stop my cake from sinking in the centre?

A common culprit for why your cake is too wet (AKA raw in the middle) or sinking is an incorrect oven temperature. Just because your oven beeps and the display indicates that it’s 350ºF doesn’t mean that the temperature is accurate. An oven that runs too hot may make your cake look done when it really isn’t, or if the temperature oscillates, your ingredients can’t set at the right time and the cake sinks. The best solution is to purchase an oven thermometer and manually adjust how you set your oven.

Another cause is inactive baking powder or baking soda. If you don’t bake on a regular basis, always be sure to check the expiry date on your baking powder. For baking soda, replace it every three to four months and use the older box in the fridge as a deodorizer.

Anna Olson's lemon cake with coconut frosting and shaved coconut, a slice cut out and plated

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Luscious Lemon Coconut Cake

What causes my cheesecake to crack in the centre?

There are a few key steps to remember when baking a cheesecake. First, when adding eggs to your batter, mix them in on a low speed to prevent air working into the batter. Second, run a palette knife around the inside edge of the pan within 15 minutes of the cheesecake coming out of the oven. That way, if the cheesecake contracts, it will easily pull away from the sides without causing it to crack or tear in the centre. Finally, be sure to cool the cheesecake completely to room temperature before chilling. Your cheesecake can be refrigerated when the bottom of the pan is cool to the touch, not the sides.

See More: Watch Baking 101 With Anna Olson

How do I prevent peaked tops on muffins?

When your muffins come out of the oven with peaked tops, this is a sign of overmixing. To get those perfect muffin tops, mix your batter by hand instead of using electric beaters. When hand mixing, use a gentle stirring motion until the point where flour is no longer visible.

Anna Olson's chocolate banana muffins on a plate

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Chocolate Banana Muffins

Can I still use curdled custard?

Curdled custard means that the eggs in the custard have overcooked, but don’t throw it away and start over. While still hot, put the custard into a food processor or blender, and puree on high speed. Strain the custard into a dish, cool and chill as usual, and no one will even know – it’ll be smooth and perfect!

Ready to get even more advanced? See more baking tips from Anna Olson.

What is seized chocolate, and how do I avoid it?

If your chocolate has seized, it will take on a dull, curdled look, it will not be smooth, and some oil (which is actually cocoa butter) will be floating. To prevent seizing, melt your chocolate in a metal bowl placed over a pot filled with an inch of barely simmering water while slowly stirring. The steam from the water gently melts the chocolate. Try and avoid using the microwave to melt your chocolate, but if you must, use a lower heat setting.

If your chocolate seizes, remove it from the heat and add a few drops of tepid water. Stir slowly and gently with a spatula where the water was added, then increase the radius of your stirring motion to return the chocolate to its smooth state.

Craving a chocolate dessert? Try Anna Olson’s chocolate recipes for every skill level.

Why does my pie dough crack when rolled or shrink when baked?

Dough cracking while rolling may not be a sign of anything wrong with the dough itself. It is often that the butter within the dough is too cold, causing cracking. To prevent this, try pulling out the dough 30 minutes before rolling. It will roll out with less cracking (and far less effort).

If your dough shrinks when rolled or after baking, it’s a sign that it needed “relaxing.” The proteins (gluten) in flour become elastic when “exercised,” i.e. making and rolling the dough, and time is the only fix. If your dough springs back when rolling, pop it back into the fridge to rest for 20 to 45 minutes. To avoid a crust that shrinks when baking, chill the lined pie shell for 30 minutes before baking.

Anna Olson's flaky savoury pie crust

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Savoury Pie Crust

Is there a way to prevent a cake from breaking when it’s turned out of the pan?

All baked goods, including cakes, tarts, cookies and muffins, are fragile directly out of the oven. Be sure to wait 15 to 20 minutes before turning them out to cool.

If you suspect that the problem may be caused by the pan (cake will stick to a scratched pan even if it’s greased), then line the pan with parchment paper. Have the parchment hang just above the edges of the pan so you can use it to easily lift out the cake.

Is there a secret to preventing butter tart filling from bubbling over or sinking in the centre?

Butter tart filling bubbles over or sinks in the centre due to over-mixed filling. The eggs hold in the air which rises in the oven, causing the filling to overflow while baking and then sink immediately when taken out of the oven. The secret is to whisk the filling by hand until it’s evenly blended.

Sugar crystals in the bottom of the tarts are also caused by over-mixing, causing the sugar to separate from the eggs as the filling bakes. Adding a teaspoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to the filling ensures the sugar will completely dissolve as the filling bakes.

How can I avoid lemon square filling from seeping under the crust base?

The key to making squares with a fluid filling poured over a base, such as lemon squares, is how you mix the base. It should feel crumbly, so don’t over-mix it. Gently press the base into the pan, and make sure a bit of it comes up the edges and goes into the corners. Do not pack it in firmly or it will pull away from the edges while it bakes, leaving a gap for the fluid lemon filling to seep underneath.

Anna Olson's lemon meringue squares with graham cracker base, lemon curd and toasted meringue top

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Lemon Meringue Squares 

For more with Anna Olson, watch The Big Bake and Junior Chef Showdown. Watch and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription

Anna Olson with Her Mirror Glaze Cake

Anna Olson’s Perfect Mirror Glaze Technique (Plus Tips!)

I love a mirror glaze cake and to be honest, while I find that entremet style of cake, mousse and fruit filling delightful to eat, it’s the making, assembling and glazing of the dessert that I love the most. Here are some tips so that you can dive right into this fun, reflective world of mirror glazing.

What to Glaze

Anna Olson mirror glaze
Photo courtesy of Janis Nicolay

Pick a dessert that has a smooth outside finish and a pleasing shape. Most mirror-glazed desserts are mousse based and are assembled in individual or full-size molds and then frozen to set them.  Silicone molds come in countless shapes and they are flexible and peel away from the mousse easily. You can also assemble a mousse cake in a regular metal springform pan.  You can use a heat gun on a low setting to gently warm the metal a little so that it lifts away from the cake easily.

Related: Anna Olson’s Chocolate Recipes for Every Skill Level

Mixing Your Mirror Glaze Colours

Anna Olson mixing mirror glaze colours
Photo courtesy of Janis Nicolay

A mirror glaze is composed of white chocolate, condensed milk, sugar, water and gelatine. When mixing, blend your glaze on low speed to avoid air bubbles and strain the glaze before tinting it.   Because white chocolate has a natural yellow hue to it, you will want to neutralize that by adding white food colouring to the glaze.  Then you can divide the glaze into separate pitchers to be tinted as you wish. Once made, the glaze can take 20 minutes or so to cool to the ideal pouring temperature, between 80-86°F (27-30°C), so be patient.

See More: Chocolate Animals DIY

How to Pour a Mirror Glaze

You have a few choices here. You can pour each colour onto your cake separately, making sure to cover the cake completely.  Drawing an offset palette knife over the top of the cake will blend the colours a little and can give you that “galaxy” look.  Or, if you’re feeling daring, you can go for the “tie-dye” effect and layer the colours before you pour.  Select your base colour and slowly pour in all of the other colours, one at a time, into the base, pouring carefully in a thin stream.  These colours will remain distinct in the pitcher (do not stir!) so that when you pour the glaze over the cake, the colours will create ripples and ribbons of colours that look like they are moving, even once set.

Remember that no two mirror glaze cakes look exactly the same, so just go for it. Before you pour, elevate the cake on a dish or stand that is smaller than the width of the cake, so that the excess glaze can run off easily and place a baking tray and rack underneath to catch that glaze.  The extra glaze can be reheated and reused again, but the colours will blend.

Anna Olson pouring a mirror glaze
Photo courtesy of Janis Nicolay

You can pour onto the centre of the cake and let gravity do its bit, or if the cake is on a wheel, you can spin the cake as you pour in the centre, creating a spiral effect.  You can also pour back-&-forth.  Regardless of the pouring technique, try to pour evenly and steadily and without disruption.  Take a moment to look at all sides of the cake to make sure it is completely covered.

See More: Anna Olson’s Best Chocolate Recipes

The glaze sets quickly, so after you see that the glaze pattern stops moving and dripping, use a palette knife to scrape away excess glaze from the base of the cake (or if you miss that window of time, use scissors or a paring knife to trim it away).  Resist the temptation to touch or move the glaze after the first minute or so – every mark will show.  But now you can add extra garnish – splatters of edible sparkle dust or top with piping detail, fruit or other chocolate decor. Remove the cake to a plate and chill until ready to serve.

Be prepared for “ooh’s” and “aaah’s” as you amaze your family or friends and impress yourself.

Watch Great Chocolate Showdown Mondays at 9 p.m. ET/PT. Watch and stream all your favourite Food Network Canada shows through STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels, or with the new Global TV app, live and on-demand when you sign-in with your cable subscription.

Anna Olson smiles while icing a cupcake with her Anna Olson Kitchen Disposable Icing Bags

Anna Olson’s Top 10 Baking Tools for the Holidays

Holiday baking season is here and having the right tools on hand will help lead you to success. These are my top gadgets to make this holiday season less stressful. Remember, “stressed” spelled backwards is “desserts!”

Related: Anna Olson’s 50 Ultimate Holiday Desserts

1. Offset spatula

This tool becomes an extension of your hand as you use it to lift cookies off of hot trays, loosen cakes delicately from their pans and frost cakes with precision and panache. The spatula I use in Bake is my own. I’ve had it for about 10 years and I’d be lost without it!

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Anna Olson Kitchen Long Offset Spatula,  HBC, $10.

Hands mixing a batter with a black silicone spatula with various baking tools and ingredients laid on the table around the bowl

2. Silicone spatula

I prefer the curved spatulas for effective folding and stirring and for getting every last bit of batter out of a bowl. Silicone is heatproof so it can be used to stir pastry creams and sauces on the stove.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Allwin Housewares Silicone Spatula 3-Piece Set, Amazon, $12.

3. Oven thermometer

This may sound trivial but a thermometer placed inside your oven is a valuable and inexpensive tool that can save you frustration and prevent spoiled baked treats. You’d be amazed how many ovens don’t sit at the correct temperature the entire time your goods bake. Just because your oven “dings” or displays the temperature doesn’t necessarily mean it is accurate. If you discover your oven temperature is far out of range by 10 °C or more, a repair person can recalibrate it.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Pecula Oven Thermometre, Amazon, $12.

Related: Anna Olson’s Top 5 Vegan Baking Substitutes

Anna Olson poses in her kitchen while icing a cupcake

4. Disposable piping bags

Gone are the days of fabric piping bags that never quite come clean or that only fit your largest piping tip. Most cake supply and even craft shops will carry disposable piping bags in an assortment of sizes. They can be reused if you wish and are fully recyclable. You can even buy really small ones, which are perfect if you’re hosting a cookie decorating party.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Anna Olson Kitchen 100-Pack Disposable Icing Bags, HBC, $18.

5. Ice cream scoops

I rely on an assortment of sizes, not just for scooping ice cream. They are great for portioning perfectly consistent cookies and dropping muffin or cupcake batter into tins with less mess.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Chee Mong Ice Cream Scooper Set, Amazon, $29.

6. Candy thermometer

The world of confectionery and chocolate work requires a precision that only a candy thermometer can offer. The difference between the thread stage and the soft ball stage of boiling sugar is only a few degrees and a candy thermometer takes the guesswork out of it. There are traditional models and also digital probe thermometers – both work equally well. If you have an induction cooktop I recommend the traditional model because the magnetic energy of the induction can interfere with the digital reads.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Taylor Classic Candy Thermometer, Amazon, $17.

Related: From Easy to Advanced: Anna Olson’s Chocolate Recipes For Every Skill Level

7. Fine rasp

Savoury kitchens use this fine grater for garlic and Parmesan but I value it for finely grated citrus zest, mincing ginger without any fibres, grating nutmeg and for chocolate. Now there are models with larger grates, so you get chocolate curls, not just shavings.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Starfrit Zester/Grater with Protective Cover, Amazon, $10.

Yellow Citrus Juicer on a marble table with freshly squeezed juice and lemons

 

8. Bar citrus juicer

Lemon, lime and orange juice figure prominently in desserts and I always use freshly squeezed juice. A bar juicer is and fast and convenient way to extract the most juice and it’s easy to clean.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Chef’n FreshForce Citrus Juicer, Amazon, $33.

9. Measuring tape

This may seem trivial but a fabric measuring tape is immensely handy in a baker’s kitchen. I can verify how thick my dough is as I roll it and I can measure the circumference of a piece of fondant before I lift it to cover a cake. Plus, I can ensure that my squares are all cut to the same size.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Edtape Measuring Tape, Amazon, $6.

10. Cake wheel

If you are getting serious about baking this will be a tool you’ll want to invest in. A cake wheel spins on its base, making seamless frosting simple and detailed piping less. Professional cast-iron cake wheels can be pricey but there are other more affordable options. You can even purchase a lazy Susan that can function as a cake wheel.

Food Network Canada Editor Pick: Anna Olson Kitchen Glass Top Cake Turntable, HBC, $44.

For more festive recipes from Anna Olson, try her Triple Gingerbread Bundt Cake and Hot Chocolate Nanaimo Bars.

All products featured on Food Network Canada are independently selected by our editors. For more products handpicked by our editorial team, visit Food Network Canada’s Amazon storefront. However, when you buy through links in this article or on our storefront, we earn an affiliate commission.

Anna Olson Buttercream Decorating Tips

Anna Olson’s Cake Decorating Ideas for Swiss, Italian and French Buttercream

If you are a fan of cake, then you must be in-the-know when it comes to buttercream since it is the most common frosting. But have you fully immersed yourself into all of the many styles of buttercream, and how to use them?

Cupcake buttercream (also known as American butterceam) is the simplest to make, and is best used to top its namesake: cupcakes. I’ve written a piece on cupcake fun – check it out here.

Swiss Buttercream

Swiss buttercream is the next level – it’s fluffy, yet satin texture balances butter and sugar wonderfully, and it is my all-time favourite buttercream for decorating cakes. It’s easy to make, it takes food colouring well, holds piping detail, and can sit out at room temperature for presentation. Essentially, egg whites and sugar are warmed together and then whipped (a Swiss meringue) and once cooled, butter is whipped in along with flavours and/or colours.

Check out this video as I make it step by step.

Italian Buttercream

Next is Italian buttercream, for the frosting fancier. If you are covering a cake that has a mousse or curd filling, or if you are assembling a tiered cake such as a wedding cake, then you will want this most stable (yet still fluffy and tasty) buttercream. Boiled sugar is poured into egg whites while they whip (an Italian meringue) and once cooled, the butter is worked in. Italian buttercream has all of the virtues of Swiss buttercream, but it sets up more firmly when refrigerated, and is very stable at room temperature, which is why it is ideal for wedding cakes.

French Buttercream

The last buttercream to mention is the least known: French Buttercream. Instead of being made with meringue, egg yolks are the base, making this buttercream rich and custard-like. It tends to have a softer set than Swiss and Italian buttercreams, so I like to keep my décor simpler, with less piping detail.

Pecan Torte with French Buttercream

Get the recipe for Pecan Torte with French Buttercream

Getting Creative with Buttercream

Using Swiss or Italian buttercream, décor is unlimited! Here are some ideas to get you started:

Rustic – Not into piping, but still want a polished look? You can mask (cover completely with frosting) your cake fully and then use the tip of your palette knife to “rough up” the sides as you spin the cake around on a wheel – just treat your palette knife like it’s a needle on a record and start at the base of the cake, moving your way up.

Anna Olson Rustic Buttercream

Ombré – By tinting buttercream in varied shades of the same colour, you can gradiate the colour from dark to light or vice versa as you pipe.

Chocolate Berry Cake with Italian Buttercream

Get the recipe for Chocolate Berry Cake with Ombre Italian Buttercream

Sheer – While a “naked” cake fully exposes the sides, the “half-naked” or sheer style of décor adds a little buttercream to add finesse but the layers can still be seen.

This sheet cake is actually inspired by my own wedding cake, which I made 20 years ago this month. Amazing how what is old becomes new again, even with cake décor trends!

Get the recipe for Chai Layer Cake with Maple Meringue Frosting

Buttercream Tips

A few final buttercream tips to get you on your way:

  •  All buttercreams should be used at room temperature, freshly whipped.
  • That said, you can make any buttercream ahead of time and chill or freeze it. Before using, let it come fully to room temperature and re-whip it to fluff it up.
  • Gel food colouring is best for buttercreams – a dab of colour on the end of a toothpick goes a long way, but remember that the colour intensifies as the frosting sits, so keep that in mind before you add more.

So jump into the kitchen and start playing…today is a perfect day to make and decorate a cake!

For even more baking tips, see her top tips for assembling and icing cakes and get inspired with 67 of Anna Olson’s best-ever cake recipes.

Anna Olson standing in front of a tray of cupcakes

Anna Olson’s Easy Cupcake Decorating Guide for Beginners

Cupcakes are the ideal way to jump into the world of baking, or to make a fun afternoon activity with kids… after all, who can resist a cupcake? So let’s keep things really simple, and get you started:

Tools

– Only a muffin tin, paper liners, basic mixing bowls and electric beaters are needed to make delicious cupcakes
– Foil-lined cupcake liners retain their colour, where the pattern on a regular paper one can disappear once the cupcake is baked (especially if you’re baking chocolate cupcakes)
– If you think you are going to get serious about cupcake baking, then invest in a mechanical ice cream scoop – this is the best tool for precise and tidy portioning

Ingredients

– Butter, sugar, flour, eggs, baking powder and milk or buttermilk are the basics needed
– For the frosting, you just need butter, icing sugar and a little milk
– Keep in mind that cupcake recipes are designed to be baked as cupcakes

Tip: Not all cake recipes can bake into a cupcake and may frustrate you because the wet batter spills over the edge of the paper liner or when you peel the paper liner, half of the cake comes away with it.

Related: Anna Olson’s Very Best Cupcake Recipes

Now let’s get to the real reason we love cupcakes: frosting! Buttercream cupcake frosting is the easiest style to make — you simply whip butter and icing sugar together with a touch of milk until it is light and fluffy.  Then you are ready to dollop, pipe or get fancy with you cupcake decor.


Whether kids are involved in this process or not, I usually make sure there are plenty of sprinkles around. With such a selection of colourful sprinkle now available, you can really express your sweet side when decorating cupcakes, no matter your skill level. Cupcakes are a universal, year-round treat and your decor can suit any occasion. I hope I’ve inspired you to jump into the kitchen and play!

For more sweet tips, watch Anna Olson guest judge on The Big Bake.

Anna Olson’s Best Recipes for a Successful Bake Sale

Making treats for a school bake sale (or an office bake sale, for that matter) can end up feeling like dreaded homework. But with a little planning and some good ideas, you’ll be all set for an A+ when it comes to Bake Sale 101.

First rule of thumb: make sure you’re mindful of food allergies. If you can, try to display the ingredient list of each of your goodies — it will definitely be appreciated! Here are some tips and recipes to ensure your treats will be a hit!

Try Anna Olson’s School-Safe Granola Bars

 1. Steer clear of all nuts, not just peanuts, with school-safe recipes

Anna’s Granola bar recipe uses seeds to add that expected crunch. You can always personalize your granola bars by swapping out the dried fruits or seeds, depending on your preference, and adding little extras like chocolate chips or mini marshmallows.

Get the recipe for Raspberry Peach Fruit Leather.

2. Make homemade versions of sugary snacks

Turn addictive snacks like fruit leather into a healthy treat by making them at home. Then package up your homemade fruit roll-ups in little bags with ribbons and tags for an office bake sale. Bonus: they’re super easy to make! And make sure to save some for yourself — I like to keep some in a jar at my desk for that mid-afternoon craving.

3. Try quick alternatives to bake sale favourite recipes

Want to make a cupcake, but not actually bother with a cupcake? These Pumpkin Spice Cake Cookies are portioned on to a regular cookie tray using an ice cream scoop. Then they are topped with a slather of cream cheese frosting taking them over the top. Take it to the next level á la pumpkin spice latte, and stir in a teaspoon of espresso powder into the frosting.

4. Make sure there are alternatives for those on special diets

There are also those occasions when a cupcake is exactly what is needed (no matter your dietary restrictions). These pretty cupcakes are gluten-free, substituting in coconut flour. And they are absolutely delightful! While I decorate each with a buttercream rosette, you can top your cupcakes however you choose. Get the recipe for Flourless Mini Cupcakes.

Looking for more baked goods from the Queen of Baking? Find a little inspiration with Anna Olson’s Very Best Cupcake Recipes and Anna Olson’s Best New Dessert Recipes.

Anna Olson’s Quick Guide to Ingredient Substitutions

You’re all set to make your favourite cake recipe and you suddenly realize you’re out of a key ingredient. Don’t fret; there are many quick-fix replacements or substitutions (and even a few vegan baking hacks!) that will save you from running out to the grocery store for just one thing.

Please note that this list is not for those ingredients when adapting to allergy sensitivities to wheat, dairy and egg or those following a gluten-free, dairy-free or vegan diet. Check out these videos on replacing dairy and baking without wheat flour or this video with tips for making flourless pies and tarts.

888_red-velvet-cake

1. Cake and Pastry Flour
Not everyone has this in their pantry, but don’t let that stop you. For every 1 cup of cake or pastry flour, measure out 1 cup of all-purpose flour, spoon out 2 Tbsp of that flour, replace it with 2 Tbsp of cornstarch and then sift. Your cakes and cookies will be just as tender and delicate as if you used the real thing.

Alternatively, try Anna Olson’s recipe for Red Velvet Cake where she uses all-purpose flour instead of cake or pastry flour.

2. Unsweetened Chocolate
Most bakers have a stash of good semisweet chocolate in the cupboard, but not always unsweetened. To replace 1 oz (1 square) of unsweetened chocolate, stir 3 Tbsp of cocoa powder with 1 Tbsp of vegetable oil.

No unsweetened chocolate, no problem. Try Anna Olson’s recipe for Classic Devil’s Food Cake where she uses cocoa powder and brewed coffee to replace the rich flavour of unsweetened chocolate.

3. Buttermilk
This has to be the most common substitution considering most people probably wouldn’t buy a litre of buttermilk for a recipe that calls for just ½ cup. Though real buttermilk is preferred, you can replace every 1 cup called for in a recipe with 1 cup of 1% or 2% milk mixed with 2 tsp of lemon juice or vinegar.

Since I do prefer using real buttermilk in baking, I use any leftovers to make low-fat ranch dressing, in pancake or crêpe batter, or use it to marinate pork chops or chicken, before coating in the meat in breadcrumbs and baking.

Try Anna Olson’s recipe for Chilled Corn, Peach and Basil Buttermilk Soup

4. Egg Whites
Using the liquid from a tin of chickpeas can replace egg whites when whipped for a muffin, waffle or another quick bread recipe. I recommend using low-sodium chickpeas. On the flavour side, I do find this an ideal option in recipes with a robust flavour profile: anything with spices, or fruit as lead tastes, otherwise you might notice the hint of chickpea flavour of this add-in.

Try Anna Olson’s recipe for White Chocolate Cranberry Mousse Tart

5. Brown Sugar
It’s time to make oatmeal cookies and you open your brown sugar container only to find the sugar is a solid rock. No fear, you can replace 1 cup of brown sugar with 1 cup of granulated sugar plus 1 Tbsp of molasses.

Try Anna Olson’s recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Sandwich Cookies

6. Nuts
If you’re baking without using nuts, there are some substitutes you can try. Whether you’re baking for someone with an allergy, or just don’t have them on hand, don’t fret about replacing nuts with these tips.

See more: Anna Olson’s Best Tips for Assembling and Icing Cakes

Anna Olson Dessert Station

Anna Olson’s Best Dessert Station Recipes for a Picture-Perfect Party

It’s time to party!  We as Canadians know how to appreciate every bit of sweetness that our summer season gives to us and that includes entertaining guests for birthdays, bridal and baby showers, graduations and family reunions, and even better if we can host outdoors. Maybe you’ve figured out the snacks and nibbles, and you know that the grill will be fired up to take care of the main part of the meal, but what to do about dessert?

Dessert stations are the hot ticket at professionally catered events, but you don’t have to be a caterer to create a beautiful, themed dessert bar.  Having such a set up is ideal for a large group because there are some guests who will make one visit to grab a sweet plate, some may take a pass altogether, and there are others who may sneak in multiple trips.

Anna Olson Party Desserts

A dessert station also allows you to use time before the party starts to set up the table nicely, leaving space for your bowls and platters that need to be refrigerated to be added last minute, and all of the work is done ahead of time — anything that allows you to be more of a guest at your own party gets a checkmark in my book.

Here are a few fun ideas for summery desserts that suit a party:

Waffle Dessert Station

Hosting a brunch party or shower? Waffles don’t have to be a part of the breakfast portion… make them dessert! If you have space and the inclination, you could set up an “action station” and let people make their own waffles, or you (or a “voluntold” family member) could make them.  As your guests take their waffles, have an assortment of sauces and toppings ready for dressing. There are two main types of waffles you can make:

1. Classic buttermilk waffles are made from a batter similar to pancakes, but have whipped egg whites folded in right before making.

2. Liege waffles are a yeast-raised waffle dough, that has crushed sugar cubes added before portioning.  This dough can be made ahead and chilled (which might be handy before a busy party day).

Cupcake Garden Dessert Station

Cupcakes are the perfect summer party dessert.  They are easy to pick up and eat with your fingers, the perfect single portion and as pretty as can be!  You may have thought that cupcakes were just a dessert “phase” we were going through, but they have stood the test of time and are still a popular choice at weddings, showers and other garden parties.

Of course, you can decorate your cupcakes as simple or as elaborate as you wish, but if hosting your party outside, why not make a flower garden of your cupcake display?

Anna-Olson-Cupcake-Garden

Get the recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes With Floral Frosting

All Things Sprinkles!

Anything with sprinkles is hot right now, so make a colourful dessert station out of just about any assortment of desserts, so long as sprinkles abound on top and/or within them! Tarts, cakes, cupcakes, ice cream, cookies, squares — just about any sweet treat takes on a playful tone when sprinkles are added.

Confetti-Frosted-Sugar-Cookie-Squares

Get the recipe for Confetti Frosted Sugar Cookie Squares

You can use bowls and jars of sprinkles as part of the table decor or just provide spoons so people can add sprinkles as they wish.

Party Table Tips

Now that you’ve picked your dessert table theme, here are a few tips for success as you plan and assemble:

1. Location

If setting up your dessert table outdoors, be sure that it is shaded, so that desserts don’t melt in direct sunlight. This also applies to indoors — avoid setting a dessert table near a window with direct sunlight, which can magnify the heat and melt the icing off a cake!

2. Labels 

Place tags next to each dessert item, so that if unattended, guests know what the desserts are. Include potential allergens, or note if items are “free” from gluten, eggs, dairy, etc.

3. Serving Tools 

Place serving tools on each platter or plate, but have a few spares on hand, just in case a spoon slips into the whipped cream bowl.

4. Use Battery Twinkle Lights 

Tea lights are pretty, but can be dangerous on a dessert table if an arm with a sleeve reaches over an open flame. Strings of battery-operated twinkle lights are easy to arrange and add the perfect sparkle.

5. Takeaway Boxes 

Want guests to take treats home with them? Bakery boxes or more decorative boxes can be purchased affordably at craft stores. I hope you are as excited as I am for the summer hosting season… I’ll see you on the back deck!

Anna-Olson-Birthday-Cake-tile

Here’s the Cake Anna Olson Bakes for Her Birthday – and Why You Should, Too!

Everybody loves birthday cake! And why not? A birthday cake means there is a celebration, and someone is being honoured, and best of all if that person is YOU!

My birthday is May 8th, falling very near or sometimes right on Mother’s Day, so there are now two reasons to bake a cake.  The question is: what type of cake to make?  You’ve seen me make every possible type of cake, but are you curious which are my favourites?  Here are a few things about me and my love of cake, and some guiding tips that I follow:

Cake vs. Cupcake

Cupcakes were always my choice growing up, and ballerinas were my “thing”. My Mom had a set of plastic ballerina figurines that she would top each cupcake with for years.

Remember regular layer cake batters don’t always adapt well to cupcakes.  Often wet batters will stick to the paper liners on cupcakes instead of peeling away easily.  If you want a cupcake, choose a cupcake recipe.

Chocolate-Spice-Cupcakes
Chocolate Spice Cupcake with Chocolate “Swirl” Frosting

Tip: When baking cake layers, whether round or square, use cake pans with sides that are a straight 90° from the bottom.  Some cake pans have angled sides (for the only reason that they nest well for shipping) but when layers are assembled, the cake won’t have straight sides, and the angle is noticeable when the cake is sliced. I’ve designed my Anna Olson Kitchen cake pans specifically with this in mind.

Choosing Your Cake Flavour

I love the classically named cakes, with their defined flavour & filling combinations:


Black Forest Cake – chocolate cake, cherry filling and whipped cream frosting

Dobos-TorteDobos Torte – thin layers of nut sponge with chocolate buttercream and a caramelized sugar “fan” on top

Opera-TorteOpera Torte – sponge, ganache and mocha buttercream

I also like watching cake flavour and decor trends, including “naked” cakes, confetti cakes, and I am going through a serious waffle cake phase right now.

I don’t repeat birthday cakes – I change it up every year, and I rarely choose a chocolate cake.

When to Bake Your Cake

Because I’d like to be a guest at my own birthday party, I plan on baking the cake layers two days ahead (or baking and freezing further ahead) and making the fillings and frosting the day before, and assembling then.

Tip: Cake layers are less crumbly and easier to slice when baked a day before frosting them.

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Tip: Unfrosted cake layers should not be refrigerated (it would dry the cake out. If baking a day ahead, wrap them well and leave them on the counter.  Once assembled, the frosting seals in the moisture, so it can be chilled and stay fresh.

How Long Will Your Cake Sit Out?

If the weather is nice (and you went to a deal of effort), you’ll want to show off the cake and let it sit out at room temperature (out of direct sunlight).

Tip: Frosting and fondants that have food colouring added fade when exposed to direct sunlight. Take care where the cake is placed for display, and adding a little glycerin (available where you buy cake decorating supplies) to your frosting or fondant will help preserve the colour.

So you need to choose fillings and frosting that suit:

Out for under 30 minutes: mousse fillings and whipped cream frostings are fine.

Out for 30-90 minutes: Curd fillings, fruit fillings, cream cheese frostings and chocolate ganache can handle sitting out for longer.

Out for 90+ minutes: Swiss buttercream cakes, fondant covered cakes, and cupcakes can sit out longer.  Italian buttercream is the most stable frosting, which is why it is a favourite choice of pastry chefs for wedding cakes.

Anna’s Birthday Cake

So now that we’ve talked about all types of cakes, what is my choice for a birthday cake?  And the winner is:

Lemon-Swiss-Buttercream-Hatbox-Cake
Lemon Swiss Buttercream Hatbox Cake

Lemon cakes are ideal in spring, and I’m also thinking about Mother’s Day – I’ll be celebrating with my Mom then, and she loves a good lemon cake as well.  The silkiness of the Swiss buttercream is sweet, smooth and stable, but is not overly rich or cloying.  I’m not certain that I’ll replicate this hatbox style – I may go for piping spring flowers on top to suit the season.  Now that the Anna Olson Kitchen line carries a box of 100 reusable & recyclable disposable piping bags, and a piping tip set, there are no limits to my decor stylings.

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And if you are baking a birthday cake for yourself or someone else, remember that delicious memories are made in the kitchen – enjoy the time spent baking as much as the time spent eating!

 

The Anna Olson Kitchen collection of 48 items of bakeware, baking tools and décor tools are available exclusively at The Hudson’s Bay Company and  www.thebay.com

anna-chocolate-cake

4 Must-Know Chocolate Rules for Better Baking

A chocolate dessert is a welcome sight at any time of the year, no special occasion required. While there’s a certain set of rules for making chocolate truffles and other candy, chocolate desserts like cakes, tarts, mousses and more requires some specific know-how. From knowing when to use baking chocolate vs. chocolate chips to decoding chocolate percentages, this information will help you deliver desserts that are as decadent as they deserve to be.

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Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Rich Chocolate Mousse Cake

1. The Difference Between Chocolate Chips and Baking Chocolate

There are two types of chocolate used in baking recipes and they have distinct characteristics and functions.

Chocolate Chips

Sold in a bag and measured by volume (i.e. 1 cup/250 mL), chocolate chips are designed to hold their shape when stirred into a batter or dough, like in Chocolate Chip Cookies. They often contain ingredients like soy lecithin that helps the chip hold its shape and stay in place within the recipe. That is why chocolate chips are not meant to be melted and folded into recipes like chocolate cake, frosting or brownies. You will find that when melted, the chocolate is thick and even grainy since the chips weren’t designed for this function.

Baking Chocolate

Sold in squares, bars or large chips called “callets,” baking chocolate is also called couverture chocolate. It is made to be chopped and melted to be used in baking. It is important to weigh your baking chocolate for recipes, and not measure it by volume. When melted, baking chocolate is smooth and glossy, making it easy to stir into your recipes. Chocolate sold in bars labelled as “chocolate” can be used in baking, but if the bar is labelled as a “candy bar”, then that is eating chocolate, not baking chocolate.

2. The Difference Between Dark, Milk and White Chocolates

Dark and milk chocolates are made up of cocoa solids (also called cocoa liquor), cocoa butter, sugar, flavouring such as vanilla, and sometimes emulsifiers like lecithin. Milk chocolate is milder than dark chocolate because it has fewer cocoa solids and more sugar and cocoa butter, making it melt more easily and taste a little sweeter.

White chocolate has all of the above ingredients except for the cocoa solids, so the absence of that bitter character makes it taste so mild and sweet. On the opposite end of the spectrum, unsweetened chocolate has no sugar and very little cocoa butter, so it is strong and very bitter.

Because these differences in cocoa contents, dark milk and white chocolates melt and re-set differently from each other. Because of this difference, they’re not interchangeable in recipes. Other ingredients such as the sugar, cream and butter would need to be adjusted if you planned on changing chocolates.

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Classic Dark Chocolate Mousse

3. Chocolate Percentage Explained

In the world of dark chocolate, you may notice that it is called semisweet or bittersweet, or the package has a percentage on it. This percentage indicates the cocoa liquor content. The higher the percentage, the more intense the chocolate.

Semisweet needs a minimum of 35% cocoa liquor but typically falls between 40 and 65%. Bittersweet chocolate falls between 66% and 99%, but 70% is my preferred number for desserts that have a chocolate intensity and balance.

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s White Chocolate Mousse Cups

4. Baking Chocolate Storing Tips

Be sure to store chocolate, well-wrapped in a cool, dark place, but be sure not to refrigerate or freeze chocolate. If you see a white “dust” on the surface of your chocolate, it is not mould. It is called bloom, and is simply a little cocoa butter rising to the surface of the chocolate, and is a sign of a temperature change at some point. It is perfectly fine to use.

Are you a chocoholic? Try Anna Olson’s best chocolate recipes.

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How to Make the Best Birthday Cake

Birthday cakes carry some of the fondest memories. Sweet, colourful frosting,  the warm glow of birthday candles and making a wish when you blow them out. What’s most important when baking a birthday cake from scratch is to feel the spirit of the occasion. You’re baking this cake for someone you care about, to celebrate them and mark their special day with a shared sweet treat. From choosing the perfect birthday cake recipe to icing tips and tricks, this guide will help you make a memorable and yummy birthday cake.

How to Select a Birthday Cake Recipe

Which Flavour of Cake to Make?

Chocolate and vanilla cake are the most common types of birthdays because they tend to be crowd pleasers. Birthday cakes are for sharing, after all! Lemon and carrot cake follow close behind these top two cake flavours. And if you happen to be baking a cake for my birthday, then consider this Luscious Lemon Coconut Cake, it’s my all-time favourite!

Here are my favourite recipes for the most popular birthday cake flavours.

Chocolate Cake:  Anna Olson’s Classic Devil’s Food Cake


Vanilla Cake: Anna Olson’s Classic Vanilla Birthday Cake With Caramel Pastry Cream

Lemon Cake: Anna Olson’s Lemon Swiss Buttercream Hatbox Cake

Carrot Cake: Anna Olson’s Carrot Cake With Cream Cheese Frosting

How Big of a Cake to Make

While an 8-inch or 9-inch round cake might be typical, it’s popular right now to make cakes that are taller with a smaller diameter. You can take a recipe for a two-layer, 8 or 9-inch cake and spread the batter evenly in an 11-x-17-inch sheet pan. This will likely take less time to bake, so set the timer 10-15 minutes sooner, but check the doneness the same way. Then use a large round cutter or a template you can trace to cut smaller rounds and make a 4 or 5-layer cake that will sit wonderfully tall.

The Right Ingredients

Stick to the ingredients called for to make the cake. If the recipe calls for cake and pastry flour, it is because using it will result in a tender cake with a fine and delicate crumb structure, because the flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose. Dutch process cocoa powder has some acidity removed so it will react to the baking powder or soda differently than regular cocoa. Buttermilk really makes a cake moist and nicely balanced.

Make-Ahead Cake Tip

Cake layers can be baked well ahead of time and frozen and then thawed on the counter when ready to assemble. Do not refrigerate unfrosted cake or it will dry out.

Related: Birthday Cake Recipes That Will Make You a Dessert Person

Birthday Cake Frosting Tips

There are countless types of frostings to choose from, and my above recipes feature common types: chocolate, basic buttercream, Swiss buttercream and cream cheese. Here are a few quick tips that apply to all  frostings:

1. Work with frosting at room temperature. To be smooth and spreadable, frosting needs to be at room temperature. If it’s a warm day, your butter may be softer than room temperature, so pop the frosting in the fridge until it holds it’s shape when you spoon or spread it.

2. Food colouring gel works easily and smoothly into frostings. Just add a little at a time with a toothpick, mixing well before adding more. The colour will intensify the longer it sits, so favour less at first. Also, the colour will fade if exposed to sunlight, so keep that in mind when you display your cake.

Related: Expert Food Photography Tips to Show Off Your Baked Goods

3. Buttercream or cream cheese frosting benefits from whipping on high speed to build in structure and a fluffy texture. If you want a fudgy frosting for your chocolate cake, like Devil’s Food Cake, then avoid whipping the frosting.

Make-Ahead Frosting Tip

All of the above frostings can be made ahead and then chilled or frozen to be used later. Thaw the frostings on the counter (do not microwave) and then re-whip them to fluff them up before using.

How to Fill a Layer Cake

If adding a pastry cream or a fruit filling to your birthday cake, you need to prevent it from seeping out the sides.  To do this, spoon some of the frosting into a piping bag and pipe a “dam” around the outside edge of the cake, then spoon and spread the filling before topping with the next cake layer.

How to Mask a Cake

Covering the cake smoothly takes a little patience and practice. A fully masked cake has the frosting on the top and sides while a “naked” cake has the sides exposed (no frosting or just a sheer layer). A few hints on masking:

1. More is More! Dollop or spread generous amounts of frosting when first applying. It is easier to scrape away excess frosting than to add more (at the risks of pulling up crumbs).

2. Top, Then Sides: Spread a level layer of frosting onto the top of the filled cake, pushing it right over the edges. This makes it easier to frost the sides and have the edges meet easily and straight.

3. Smooth, Smooth, Smooth! Use an offset palette knife to keep smoothing the top and sides of the cake until it is smooth and seamless.

Birthday Cake Decorating Ideas

– Any sprinkles, cookies or candies should be applied before chilling the cake
– Ribbon can be used, but place a strip of parchment under the actual ribbon, so that grease marks from the buttercream do not appear.
– Practice any piping detail on a plate or sheet of parchment before starting on your cake, but …
– Remember that all piping mistakes are erasable.  Simply scrape off and start again.
– The same goes for writing “Happy Birthday” in chocolate. Practice on a plate first.
– Fresh fruits and flowers are a lovely way to finish a cake. Be sure that flowers are non-toxic and that fruits are washed and air-dried before applying.

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Anna Olson’s Guide to Making Bread at Home

Comforting, filling and satisfying, bread is the cornerstone of western food culture. And making your own bread is one of the gratifying baking projects. There’s a sense of power and confidence that comes from coaxing four simple ingredients into a dough that grows and then bakes into something so fulfilling.

There is such satisfaction to rip into that loaf of freshly baked bread, a whisper of steam emanating from it, and letting the butter wind in little rivulets as it melts on your first bite. If you’ve always wanted to try making your own loaf, this guide will give you the knowledge and confidence to bake bread at home.

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Rustic Ciabatta.

The Four Magic Ingredients

Flour

Bread flour has a higher protein (gluten) content than all-purpose, so when kneaded, the proteins bond, giving the dough strength so it can hold in the air the yeast produces. Many types of bread can be made with all-purpose flour, but if you are getting serious about bread baking, then bread flour is best.

Water

Tap or spring water is a personal choice, but no matter your choice, the temperature is key. Yeast ferments at around 115ºF (46ºC), so your water should be that or a touch warmer. A thermometer isn’t necessary – I just test the water on my wrist – it should feel slightly warmer than body temperature.

Yeast

Yeast is key to fermentation. Yeast feeds on the natural sugars within the flour and generates alcohol and carbon dioxide, which causes your dough to rise. As the bread bakes the alcohol cooks off, while the air bubbles produced by the CO2 stay in place, making the bread airy, fluffy and light.

Leavening Agents

Most bread recipes call for commercial yeast, but there’s more than one way to leaven your bread.

Commercial Yeast

The simplest ways to start fermentation is to add a few teaspoons of dry active or instant yeast. Dry active yeast needs to be dissolved into water, while instant yeast can be added at any time, no dissolving needed.

Starters

A yeast starter is a natural and flavourful way to start fermentation, most commonly used for sourdough bread. To make your own starter, combine equal parts by weight of flour and water. Then add a touch of honey. You could also add a pinch of commercial yeast, which is optional. Place the mixture in a loosely-covered jar on your countertop and let sit for 24-36 hours. The natural yeast in the air will start a fermentation. After using, remaining starter can be re-fed and stored in the fridge, feeding it every two days with the same proportions of flour and water. The longer it ages, the more flavour it develops.

Salt

Salt does more than flavor bread. It also slows fermentation, which is a good thing. The longer a bread is left to rise the better flavour you get and the interior texture becomes stretchy when you tear into it. Commercial breads than have a fluffy cotton-like texture are quickly fermented, where homemade or artisan breads have a chewier texture and more character.

 

4 Easy Steps to Making Bread

How to Knead Bread

Kneading is the important step of working the dough to develop the proteins in the flour. You can do this by hand or with a mixer equally well, and it is a gratifying step – that feeling of pushing, stretching and pulling the dough is so soothing, and as the dough becomes developed, you will feel it get elastic under your hands.

Don’t be tempted to add too much flour to your dough as you knead it. I like to hold back 1/2 cup of flour from the recipe to use for kneading. Bread dough should still be a little tacky in most cases and barely come away from your hands after kneading.

How to Proof Bread

This is the most important part of bread making, and where you do nothing! Time is key here – the first proof (also called rise) is where the yeast really gets to work, developing flavor and texture. The first proof is usually at room temperature and some recipe call for you to punch down the dough, to challenge the yeast to get to work again.

The second proof happens after shaping, and you can control the timing of this by popping the bread into the fridge (this way you can make, proof and shape your bread dough the evening before, chill it overnight and then proof it in the morning to start the day with freshly baked bread).

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Seeded Rye Bread.

How to Shape Bread

Every culture with bread has a style for shaping it. Regions in France and Italy have very specific shapes to their bread, or consider flatbreads and other styles such as naan.

Shaping isn’t just for aesthetics – as the baker, you are knocking out the air from the dough one last time, coaxing that yeast back to work, and this helps develop the crust.

How to Bake Bread

Most bread cooks best in a high temperature oven, to set the crust and get that final burst of leavening. Adding steam, by spraying the inside of the oven with a misting bottle, or placing a tray filled with 2 cups of boiling water helps develop a good crust and a shine to the crust.

You can tell when your bread is baked by lifting it up with a tea towel and tapping the bottom – if it sounds hollow, then it’s done.

If you are baking bread in tins, turn the bread out of the tins immediately from the oven.

The most challenging step when baking bread? Letting it cool at least 20 minutes before slicing or tearing into it!

Can’t wait to get baking? Try Anna Olson’s Best Classic Baking Recipes.

Anna Olson’s Summer Fruit Flan

The minute the weather starts warming up, I start dreaming about the fresh fruits to come: First rhubarb, then strawberries, then cherries — and finally, apricots, raspberries, blueberries and peaches all at once. To get you ready for summer baking, I thought an elegant, classic fruit tart would be ideal. This fruit flan uses a cookie-like tart base with a sweet vanilla pastry cream filling and you get to be creative with the fruit on top — any summer fruit would make this a truly show-stopping dessert.

Anna Olson's summer fruit flan

Summer Fruit Flan

Servings: 8 to 10

Ingredients:

Pastry
½ cup unsalted butter at room temperature
¼ cup sugar
2 egg yolks
½ tsp vanilla extract
1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ tsp salt
2 oz white chocolate, chopped

Pastry Cream
1 cup milk
2 eggs
¼ cup sugar
2 1/2 Tbsp cornstarch
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 Tbsp unsalted butter

Assembly
4 cups seasonal summer fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, Blueberries, apricots or peaches, in any combination
3 Tbsp apple jelly

Directions:

1. Beat the butter and sugar together until fluffy. Stir in the egg yolks and vanilla. Stir in the flour and salt until the dough comes together. Shape the dough into a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and chill for at least 2 hours, until firm.

2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Knead the pastry dough on a lightly floured surface to soften enough that it can be easily rolled. Dust the pastry a little and roll it out to just over 11-inches in diameter and just under a ¼-inch thick. Line a 9-inch removable-bottom fluted tart pan and trim the edges. Chill the pastry for 20 minutes in the fridge or 10 minutes in the freezer.

3. Dock the bottom of the pastry shell with a fork and bake it for 16 to 20 minutes, until just the edges are golden brown and the centre of the shell is dry looking. Cool completely before filling.

4. Keep the baked tart shell in its pan. Melt the white chocolate in a bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring until melted. Brush the bottom and sides of the cooled tart shell to coat and chill the shell while preparing the pastry cream.

Related: Anna Olson’s Best New Dessert Recipes

5. Heat the milk in a heavy-bottomed saucepot until just below a simmer. Whisk the eggs, sugar and cornstarch in a small bowl. Whisk half of the hot milk into the egg mixture, then pour this entire mixture back into the pot with the remaining milk. Whisk the custard constantly over medium heat until it thickens and just begins to bubble, about 3 to 4 minutes. Strain the custard into a bowl, stir in the vanilla and butter until melted and cover the bowl with plastic wrap so the wrap directly covers the surface of the custard. Cool the custard to room temperature, then chill for at least 2 hours.

6. To assemble the tart, spoon the custard into the tart shell and spread it evenly. Top the custard with the fresh fruit, creating an appealing design.  Melt the apple jelly over low heat, and then brush it over the fruit.  Chill the tart until you are ready to serve.

Note: The tart can be stored chilled for up to a day.

lemon-cheesecake

Anna Olson’s Guide to Making the Perfect Cheesecake

If you’re in charge of hosting the family for Easter brunch or planning a springtime get together, cheesecake is ideal for serving a group. This rich, velvety cake not only makes you look like a hero, it can also be prepared ahead of time. That’s one thing off of your to-do list right before the doorbell rings!

From trying to avoid the dreaded crack in the centre to impressing guests with a stunning homemade dessert, these insider tips and tricks will ensure cheesecake success. Plus, they’ll give you the confidence to jump right into this brand new recipe I’ve got for you!

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Here are 5 essential tips for the perfect cheesecake.

1. Ingredient Temperature
Ingredients of a like temperature combine easily and smoothly, so:

a) Pull your cream cheese out an hour before using (cut it into pieces while still cold, spread onto a plate and cover it with plastic.) Do NOT microwave your cream cheese — if it’s too soft on the outside and still cool in the middle, you’ll get lumps in your cheesecake.

b) Warm your eggs up by placing them in a bowl and covering them completely with hot tap water. In 3-4 minutes, those right-from-the-fridge eggs will have warmed up to room temperature without you having to pull them out hours ahead.

2. Scrape Your Bowl!
For a smooth and creamy cheesecake, you need to scrape your bowl often, and after each addition. It might feel tedious to stop the mixer or beaters every minute or two, but it’s a simple task that will result in a velvety and smooth texture.

3. Watch Your Mixing Speed
When beating cream cheese and adding sugar, you can beat on a higher speed. Once you start adding the eggs, reduce the speed to low, so you don’t add too much air. Whipped eggs will soufflé in the oven, and, once the cheesecake starts cooling, those souffleed eggs will fall. This is when a crack can develop, even hours after the cheesecake is out of the oven.

4. Gradual Cooling
Allowing the cheesecake to cool completely to room temperature before chilling is a simple and important step. Accelerating the cooling time by rushing it to the fridge can cause the cheesecake to contract, creating a crack. To check if the cheesecake is cool, touch the bottom of the pan, not the sides.

5. Loosen the Sides of the Cheesecake
By running a palette knife around the inside edge of the springform pan soon after the cheesecake comes out of the oven, you separate the cake from the pan. This way, if the cheesecake does want to contract, it can pull away from the sides of the pan, making it less likely to crack in the middle.

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Meyer Lemon Meringue Cheesecake Recipe

Prep Time: 75 minutes
Cook Time: 90 minutes (plus chilling time)
Makes: 1, 9-inch cheesecake
Serves: 12-16

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Ingredients:

Graham Crust:
1 cup (225 g) graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp (25 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 g) unsalted butter, melted

Cheesecake:
3 pkg (750 g) cream cheese, at room temperature
1 tin (300 mL) sweetened condensed milk
1 Tbsp (15 mL) finely grated lemon zest
2 tsp (10 mL) vanilla extract
2 large whole eggs, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh lemon juice

Lemon Curd:
2 large whole eggs
3 large egg yolks (reserve whites for meringue)
1/2 cup (125 mL) granulated sugar
1 Tbsp (15 mL) finely grated lemon zest
1/2 cup (125 mL) fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup (115 g) unsalted butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup (60 g) sour cream

Meringue Topping:
3 large egg whites
9 Tbsp (110 g) granulated sugar

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Directions:

Graham Crust:
1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Lightly grease a 9-inch (23 cm) springform pan.
2. For the crust, stir the graham crumbs, sugar and melted butter together in a bowl until combined and press this into the bottom of the prepared pan. Bake for 10 minutes (no change in colour to note) and cool completely on a rack before filling.

Cheesecake:
1. For the cheesecake, lower the oven temperature to 300ºF (150ºC).
2. Beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy. Beat in the condensed milk, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl well. Beat in the zest and vanilla, then on a lower speed; beat in each egg and the yolk one at a time. Still on low speed, beat in the lemon juice.
3. Pour mixture over the cooled crust and bake for about 45 minutes, until the outside of the cheesecake is set, but the centre still has a little jiggle to it.
4. Prepare the lemon curd as the cheesecake cools.

anna-olson-cheesecake-directions-1

Lemon Curd:
1. For the curd, whisk the whole eggs, egg yolks, sugar, lemon zest and juice in a metal bowl. Whisk in the butter and sour cream and place the bowl over a pot of gently simmering water, whisking often, until the lemon curd has thickened (but it will still be fluid), about 10 minutes.
2. Strain the curd and spread this gently over the cheesecake.
3. Once fully cooled to room temperature, chill the cheesecake for at least 6 hours (do not cover with plastic wrap).

Meringue Topping:
1. For the topping, whisk the egg whites and sugar in a metal bowl placed over a pot of gently simmering water until frothy and very warm to touch (165ºF if using a thermometer).
2. Use electric beaters or transfer to the bowl of a stand mixer and whip until the meringue has cooled and holds a stiff peak when the beaters are lifted.
3. Use a butane kitchen torch to brown the meringue or pop it into a 400ºF (200ºC) oven for 3-4 minutes to brown and then cool before refrigerating.

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Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Meyer Lemon Meringue Cheesecake here.

Anna Olson’s Tips for Hosting the Ultimate Cookie Exchange

Everyone wants a holiday cookie tin brimming with an assortment of styles but often there just isn’t enough time to get all that baking done, even if your intentions are true.

Hosting a cookie exchange with friends is the best way to get a great variety and also make an occasion out of getting together to swap.

Get the hot chocolate (or mulled wine) warming…it’s time for cookies (and I hear there is a certain North Pole resident who is rather fond of cookies!)

Get the hot chocolate (or mulled wine) warming…it’s time for cookies (and I hear there is a certain North Pole resident who is rather fond of cookies!)

Here are three key tips to hosting a successful cookie exchange this holiday season.

1. Make a Cookie Wish List
If you are initiating the exchange, create a list of cookies that people can sign up for. That way you know you’re getting a balanced mix of colour, size, shape, flavour and texture. Of course, invite your guests to offer their own favourites before confirming the list. They may have a fantastic family recipe you wouldn’t know about! Also inquire into any allergies, so guests can steer clear.

Specify how many cookies each should bring. If a group of ten people are asked to bring a dozen cookies for each person, then everyone goes home with ten dozen cookies – perfect!

2. Consider Exchanging Dough
If you are meeting weeks before the holidays, your cookies might be stale (or eaten!) before you even get to your own festivities.

Exchanging cookie dough to be frozen and baked later is another great option.  The dough should be shaped as they should be baked. Icebox cookies can be shaped into logs to be sliced and baked and chocolate chip cookies can be scooped and then frozen.  Each guest needs to include a little card with the name of the cookie with the portioning and baking instructions. This way each guest can bake the cookies as they need them.

3. Have a Decorating Party
When gathering your cookie group together, have a little fun by including a decorating session. Have gingerbread or sugar cookies ready with frosting and decor in ample supply. Let everyone dress up a few cookies to eat then or take home.  My theme last year was Christmas sweater cookies!

Looking for more holiday cookie inspiration? Check out our collection of 50 Classic Christmas Cookie Recipes.

Anna Olson’s Guide to Baking Ingredient Expiry Dates

Expiry dates and best before dates are placed on products to protect us, but logic tells us that our sliced almonds can’t transform from edible one day to toxic the next simply because of a date stamp on the package.

So here are a few categories where these dates are critical, simply a guideline or can be ignored.

baking-ingredient-expiry-dates

 

CRITICAL

Fresh Dairy: Fat lengthens the shelf life of milk ingredients, so skim milk has a closer expiry date than whole milk or whipping cream. Once opened, these ingredients are best consumed or used by the date listed.

Soured Dairy: Sour cream, buttermilk and yogurts have been soured, which thickens them but also makes them last longer in your fridge. While best used by the date stamped, I find these products can still be enjoyed for a few days following, especially when used in baking.

Eggs: Eggs are amazing — their shell is nature’s best sealed container, but the contents within it are fragile. Eggs can remain fresh and safe to use for weeks, but once the best before date is reached, it’s best to add them to your organics bin. If you have separated egg whites left from a recipe, they can be frozen indefinitely.

Leaveners: Yeast, baking powder and baking soda do not spoil, but once the expiry date approaches you may find that the activating power of these products has faded. Baking powder and baking soda can be stored in sealed containers at room temperature but if you’ve purchased yeast in a jar (not the little paper packets), it should be refrigerated once opened.

That said, I find that baking soda, while date stamped up to a year out, starts losing it’s oomph within three months of opening a box. What I prefer to do is replace my baking soda every three months (it’s only $1.69 a box) and move the previous box to my fridge as a deodorizer.

GUIDELINE

The following ingredients will not necessarily spoil by the expiry date, but are best consumed around that time, for optimal freshness and flavour.

Oils: Some oils will turn rancid after a spell, so while the date on the bottle may be far ahead, by that date they might pick up a musty aroma indicating that it’s turning. This won’t hurt you, but the flavour is certainly off-putting and can ruin a dish. While it may be handy, it’s best not to store your bottle of olive oil by the stove – the regular heat exposure can turn it faster.

Nuts and Seeds: It is the oil within nuts and seeds that make them sensitive to spoiling. The oilier a nut (think pine nuts, pecans, walnuts) the shorter the shelf life, where nuts such as almonds or hazelnuts last longer. Storing nuts in an airtight container in a cool, dark place is best, or freeze them indefinitely.

Chocolate: Chocolate really doesn’t spoil, so it is safe to consume it weeks, even months after the expiry, assuming it’s been properly stored in a cool but not cold, dark place. If you see a white dust form on the surface of the chocolate, it’s not mold. This is called “bloom” and is some of the cocoa butter within the chocolate rising to the surface, and is simply a sign that at some point the chocolate changed temperature quickly.

Spices: Your cinnamon won’t spoil, but you may find that it loses its strength after the expiry date approaches, or if you store all of your spices together, they may absorb each other odours after a prolonged time. If you buy your spices in bulk, get them out of their little baggies and into sealed jars — mason or jam jars work well — to keep their flavours pure.

Flours and Grains: Flours will go stale after a while, and while still safe to eat, you may notice that your baked goods aren’t stupendous if made with them. When I purchase a whole grain product (like spelt kernels or bulgur wheat) I transfer the grains to a sealed jar, but I cut out the expiry date from the package and drop it into the jar.

IGNORED

There are some expiry dates that are less worrisome, and typically don’t need to be followed.

Honey: If stored in a cool dark place, honey keeps forever. After all, honey was used to preserve the mummies in ancient Egypt! After a time, you may notice that honey crystallizes, but all you have to do is heat it up and it liquefies again.

Vanilla Extract: Pure vanilla extract has an alcohol base, so it will keep forever. Keep the lid on tight and if it’s already contained in a dark, glass bottle, store your vanilla in a dark place and it’ll keep for ages.

Salt and Sugar: I’ve seen salt labeled with a best before date but so long as they don’t have added ingredients, such as spices and flavours, salt and sugar do not spoil!!

I hope this guide helps, after all, being aware of best before dates means you’re less likely to waste food and enjoy baked goods that are fresh-tasting and fulfilling. Happy baking!

Anna Olson’s Tips on How to Make Perfect Challah

Challah bread is a delicious dish that can be enjoyed year round, and is as much a pleasure to look at as it is to eat. Making it from scratch is satisfying and delicious — bread is a fundamental part of our food world and when you make it with your own two hands, you won’t take it for granted.

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Here are some helpful tips for making the perfect egg braid:

Don’t rush the rise.
Patience is the key to making any bread. It takes time to let the dough rise (also called proofing), develop flavours and texture, and to allow the yeast to produce carbon dioxide, which gives the bread its airy texture.

Braid with two, not three pieces of dough.
Braiding with 3 “ropes” of dough may seem to make sense, but you will find that your bread or buns may appear flat when baked. To make a braided bread that has height (and hence more surface area for butter once sliced), braid using 2 “ropes” of the dough. Lay the 2 ropes across each other like an “X” and then cross over the ends of one rope completely to their opposing side, maintaining that “X” shape. Repeat with the second rope until you reach the ends (which can then be tucked underneath).

Don’t fear a do-over.
Not happy with your braid? Because this egg dough isn’t sticky, you can always undo your braid and start again. Try to avoid using too much flour when rolling out your “ropes” and braiding, as this might make a matte finish on the bread.

To build up your confidence, check out my technique to get a beautiful braid: Rolls & Buns.

Anna Olson: 1 Simple Dessert, 4 Seasonal Decorations

There are certain desserts that suit any season: chocolate or vanilla layer cake, cheesecake, lemon or chocolate tarts, to name a few. Almost any neutral dessert can be the foundation for a gorgeous plate, and playing with seasonal accents gives you countless options. You could serve the same dessert to the same guests on separate occasions, and they likely wouldn’t notice because you’ve changed the toppers (or maybe they just had a little too much wine with dinner!).

Seasonal plating gives any dessert a distinctly Canadian feel; very few countries have four distinct seasons the way we do, and with that comes not only a variation of ingredients, but preparation variations as well.

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For my Maple Chiffon Cakes (which happen to be gluten-free), I have four plating styles to show you, to give you a sense of how to change up your accents for each season.

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1. Fall
Now that we’re into cozy sweater season, treat your desserts with the same sense of warmth. Try a warm caramel sauce drizzled over the cake with a crispy topper of maple toasted almonds, and you’ve got a perfect plate for this time of year.

2. Winter
Winter gives us the greatest plating flexibility since we have fewer local ingredients to access, and using tropical fruits or citrus can really brighten up any dessert on a frosty day. Here, I’ve gone with one of my favourite flavour combinations: chocolate and orange. The addition of a warm chocolate sauce and candied orange zest gives you gloss and vibrancy in a plated dessert.

3. Spring
When plating desserts in spring, you should try to lighten things up a little. A nice rhubarb or strawberry sauce would be perfect, or even a simple lemon glaze with edible flowers makes for a fresh arrangement on your plate.

4. Summer
Fruits flourish in summer, so take advantage of the brief warm season. A cream cheese frosting adds richness to any dessert, and would contrast well with a mix of berries or even berry preserves. If it’s really hot outside, you can’t go wrong with a scoop of ice cream to cool things down a bit.

Get the recipe for my Seasonal Garnishes.

9 Simple Ways to Use Leftover Canned Pumpkin

You’ve made your pumpkin pie, but you’re left with a cup or so of pumpkin purée at the bottom of the can. So what can you do with it? Check out these easy and delicious ways to use this nutritious and versatile ingredient.

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1. Waffles or Pancakes
Add the purée to your pancake or waffle batter along with a pinch of cinnamon for a delicious autumn breakfast treat. Try this recipe for Sweet Potato Waffles and simply swap the sweet potato for pumpkin.

2. Pumpkin Pasta
If you enjoy making pasta from scratch, pumpkin purée can replace some of the liquid in your recipe. Toss it in with the pasta after cooking with butter or olive oil, caramelized onion, sage and Parmesan.

3. “Pupcakes”
When you need to show your dogs some love, try making them some  pumpkin “pupcakes” — just add some pumpkin purée to your favourite “pupcakes” or even puppy dog biscuits.

4. Pumpkin Soup
This is an easy one! This beautiful soup is hearty and comforting — with just a touch of spice. It’s the perfect anecdote to over eating during the holidays.

5. Pumpkin Swirl Cheesecake Squares
These beautiful, tasty treats are easier to make than a full cheesecake, but just as satisfying! They’re full of colour, flavour and would be a great addition to any holiday dinner table.

6. Pumpkin BBQ Sauce
Pumpkin is a perfect consistency for sauces, and adds depth of flavour and sweetness without having to use sugar.

7. Pumpkin Maple “Butter”
Looking for an alternative to jam? Simmer pumpkin purée with a hint of maple syrup and cinnamon until it’s a spreadable consistency. It tastes great on a toasted cinnamon bagel!

8. Pumpkin Onion Dip
All you need to do is add the purée with some caramelized onions and a pinch of chili powder for a healthy, colourful dip.

9. Sugar Free Pumpkin Spice Doughnuts
Need I say more? These fragrant, spiced doughnuts are sure to hit the spot, and they’re super easy to make. Agave is used in place of sugar, making for a beautiful shiny glaze.

Anna Olson

Anna Olson’s Top 10 Baking Questions Answered

From correct cooking times to over-whipped egg whites, culinary expert Anna Olson answers the most asked-about questions about baking.

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1. What size eggs do I use when baking?
Most baking recipes, if not stated outright, want you to bake using large eggs. What bakers like about large size eggs is that they have an easy standard measure by weight. A large egg is 2 oz – the yolk is an ounce and the white is an ounce.

2. Why do baking recipes call for unsalted butter?
Using unsalted butter means YOU are in charge of the salt, especially because salt requirements vary depending on the recipe and, when using salted butter, you really don’t know how much salt you are adding. Also unsalted butter is sweeter and fresher tasting.

3. Why do dessert recipes call for salt? Do I really need to add it?
Salt is used in baking for the same reason we use it in cooking: to season. Salt tempers sweetness and elevates other flavours, like chocolate, balancing the tastes on our palate. You can omit salt in baking without compromising the chemistry in baking, except for yeast doughs. Salt slows fermentation, which is a good thing, since it allows flavour and texture to develop gradually.

4. What’s the difference between Dutch process and regular cocoa powder?
Dutch process cocoa undergoes an alkalizing treatment that removes some of the acidity, resulting in a cocoa powder that has a rich, dark colour and deep chocolate flavour. The reason some recipes specify one or the other is because of how the cocoa interacts with the leaveners (baking powder/baking soda). If a recipe doesn’t specify, then you can presume it’s fine to use either type.

5. What’s the secret to a good meringue?
Egg whites whip to a fuller volume at room temperature, and the addition of acidity (a little lemon juice or vinegar) allows the proteins in meringue to stretch, again promoting a greater volume. And guess what? You don’t need to whip your egg whites on high speed. One speed slower buys you time, so you can reach that soft, medium or stiff peak perfectly with time to judge that you got it right (lift your beaters – a big curl = soft peak, a gentle curl = medium peaks, and upright = stiff peaks)

6. What can I do if I’ve over-whipped my egg whites? Can I still use them?
You don’t want to use over-whipped egg whites because they have been stretched to their biggest volume, so when they hit the heat of the oven they will expand further and the bubbles will burst, collapsing your cake, or if in a mousse, they will collapse under the weight of the ingredients.

But you don’t have to throw away your whites and start again. Give the over-whipped whites a good 15 minutes (about the time it takes to have a cup of tea….ahhh). In that time the meringue will start to collapse and a pool of liquid will form at the bottom. Now you can re-whip the whites on MEDIUM speed (even if you’ve added sugar) to the point you missed the first time around.

7. When I whip cream and then store it, it collapses after an hour. How can I prevent this?
To stabilize whipped cream, so that it doesn’t liquefy (and so you can use it on cakes and other desserts), stir in 1 Tbsp (15 ml) of instant skim milk powder into the liquid cream when you start to whip it. It won’t change the taste or texture, but will hold every swirl and swish in place.

8. When a recipe calls for couverture or baking chocolate, can I use chocolate chips?
Unfortunately not. Chocolate chips are meant to be stirred into cookies, brownies and cakes as the last step, and are manufactured so that they hold their “chip” shape. They are not meant to be melted and then folded into cake batters, mousses or frostings. Couverture or baking chocolate is designed just for that purpose. You can find baking squares in grocery stores, but if you have a chance to buy good quality chocolate (it will specify it’s percentage of cocoa on its label), do so.

9. I have a convection oven – should I bake using the convection fan?
The function of a convection fan is to move around hot air, so that things brown evenly. This is great when you are roasting a chicken or potatoes, but not always the case with baking.

Generally I prefer to bake with the fan off, for consistent results. If you want to run the fan for things like crisps, pies and cookies, turn the thermostat 15-25°F lower to compensate. For delicate recipes like cakes, cheesecakes and custards, I always bake with the fan off.

10. When I bake, sometimes my items take longer/less time than the recipe states. Why is that?
While baking is certainly seen as a precise area of the cooking world, baking times are a bit of a variable. Ovens themselves vary dramatically, and the size of your oven, how it heats and how well it holds the temperature can greatly impact a recipe. Small ovens lose heat quickly once the oven door has opened, and other ovens can have an erratic airflow when more than one pan or tray is baking. Even my oven has “hot spots” that I have come to know over time. If baking with a convection oven, set the temperature to about 25°F cooler than the called-for temperature.

I recommend keeping a thermometer inside your oven and monitor it. Setting the oven to 350°F does not always mean it stays or reaches 350°F (or it can go above). Any wide temperature fluctuations (25°F or more) can often be fixed by calling for a service person to calibrate it. If you find that your cakes sink in the middle on a regular basis, this could be a sign that your oven temperature is fluctuating as your cakes bake – this often can be fixed with a calibration.

Many recipes, mine included, call for a temperature range because of this variability of ovens. When baking cakes, do follow the timing guidelines but also use a tester inserted into the centre of the cake to check for doneness, use colour/browning as your guide with cookies and squares and use the “jiggle” test to check cheesecakes and custards (they should still jiggle in the centre when gently moved).

Watch all new episodes of Bake with Anna Olson Sundays at 12 E/P. Click here for full schedule.

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