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!
This is my new favourite chocolate chip cookie recipe…seriously! (And you know that I take chocolate chip cookies very seriously.) That little addition of caramel sauce and the touch of oats gives these cookies a crispier outside and chewier centre that I’ve been searching for.
¾ cup unsalted butter 1 cup packed light brown sugar ¼ cup granulated sugar 2 Tbsp caramel sauce or dulce de leche 1 large egg, at room temperature 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour ¼ cup regular rolled oats 1 Tbsp cornstarch ½ tsp baking soda ½ tsp flaked sea salt, plus extra for sprinkling 1 cup semisweet chocolate chips ½ cup salted caramel chips**
1. Preheat the oven to 375°F and line 2 baking trays with parchment paper.
2. Melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat until the foaming subsides and you see brown bits form at the bottom, 3 to 4 minutes. Measure the brown and granulated sugars into a large mixing bowl and pour the butter (including the brown bits) and whisk to combine. Whisk in the caramel sauce (or dulce de leche). The mixture may not look smooth, but it will once the dry ingredients are added.
3. Switch to a spatula and stir in the egg and vanilla. Stir in the flour, oats, cornstarch, baking soda and ½ tsp salt until well-combined and then stir in the chocolate and salted caramel chips. Scoop the cookies onto the baking trays, leaving 2-inches) between them. Flatten them with your palm and sprinkle lightly with sea salt. Bake for 8 to 10 minutes and give the trays a good smack on the oven door or counter before setting them on racks to cool. The cookies will keep up to 4 days in an airtight container.
**If not available, you can replace the salted caramel chips with regular chips or another flavour.
Tune into Anna’s Occasions to see new episodes. 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.
I love a good pumpkin pie when the cold-weather entertaining season hits, and these individual pies are adorable and fulfilling. This recipe can be baked as a traditional 9-inch pie. Prepare the dough and filling as per the recipe, line a glass pie plate with the pastry and chill while making the filling. Bake the pie for about 50 minutes at 375°F.
Prep Time: 20 minutes Total Time: 30 minutes Yields: 6 individual pies (Or enough for one 9-inch pie)
Ingredients For the pie dough: 2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp fine salt
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup cool unsalted butter, cut into pieces (does not have to be ice cold)
¼ cup cool water
2 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice
For the filling: 2 cups pure pumpkin puree
¾ cup packed light brown sugar
3 Tbsp fancy molasses
¾ tsp ground cinnamon
¾ tsp ground ginger
½ tsp ground nutmeg
¼ tsp ground allspice
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp fine salt
3 large eggs
1 ⅓ cups whipping cream
For the topping: 1 ½ cups whipping cream
1 ½ Tbsp instant skim milk powder
2 Tbsp icing sugar
Directions: 1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt together. Add the oil and blend in using a pastry cutter, electric beaters or a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until the flour looks evenly crumbly in texture.
2. Add the butter and cut in until rough and crumbly but small pieces of butter are still visible. Stir the water and vinegar (or lemon juice, if using) together and add all at once to the flour mixture, mixing just until the dough comes together. Shape the dough into 2 logs, wrap and chill until firm, at least an hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking tray with parchment paper. Pull the pie dough from the fridge 30 minutes before you wish to roll it out.
4. Divide the dough into 6 pieces. On a lightly floured surface, roll out a piece of dough to just under ¼-inch thick. Dust each of your 6 pie shells with flour and line the tart shell with the pastry, trimming away any excess. Place on the prepared baking tray. Repeat with the remaining pastry portions and tart shells, and chill the shells while you prepare the filling.
5. Whisk the pumpkin puree with the brown sugar, molasses, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, allspice, cloves and salt until evenly blended. Whisk in the eggs followed by the cream. Pour this carefully into each of the tart shells and bake for about 30 minutes, until all but an inch at the centre of each tart jiggle when the shell is moved. Allow the tarts to cool on the tray on a cooling rack to room temperature and then chill for at least 90 minutes before serving.
6. To garnish the tarts, whip the cream and skim milk powder until it holds a soft peak when the beaters are lifted. Whisk in the icing sugar. Remove each tart from its metal shell. Dollop each tart with a bit of cream and serve.
Tune into Anna’s Occasions to see new episodes. 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.
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:
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.
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 Birthday Cake Flavour
I love the classically named cakes, with their defined flavour & filling combinations:
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.
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.
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 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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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:
– 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
– 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.
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.
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!
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.
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 lapumpkin 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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:
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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
Most bread recipes call for commercial yeast, but there’s more than one way to leaven your bread.
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.
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 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).
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!
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.
Summer Fruit Flan
Servings: 8 to 10
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
4 cups seasonal summer fruits such as strawberries, raspberries, Blueberries, apricots or peaches, in any combination
3 Tbsp apple jelly
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.
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.
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!
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.
1 cup (225 g) graham cracker crumbs
2 Tbsp (25 g) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (60 g) unsalted butter, melted
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
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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!)
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.