Category Archives: The Big Bake

Harry Eastwood headshot overlaid on a food beauty of a tahini, lemon and berry pound cake

Gorgeous Edible Cake Decorations to Elevate Any Dessert

I’ve always been a big fan of using natural flowers to decorate celebration cakes, not only because they look spectacular, but also because you can then clean the stems and re-use them as cut flowers afterward. Fresh flowers are low maintenance and will immediately turn your cake into a glamorous thing of beauty.

Tahini pound cake with a lemon drizzle and fresh edible flowers

Get the recipe: Dairy-Free Tahini, Lemon and Berry Pound Cake

The things to bear in mind when choosing your fresh flowers are the following:

-Only use flowers that are edible, such as roses, calendula, borage, lavender, fennel, violas, nasturtiums, pansies, cornflowers and dahlias – as well as herbs we already commonly use in cooking.

-If you’re picking them yourself, rather than ordering them through a producer, make sure to wash the stems before use. Avoid flowers from the side of the road or in areas where pesticides are widely used.

Related: These One-Bowl Flowerpot Cupcakes Are the Cutest Thing We’ve Ever Seen

-Decorate with flowers at the last minute and keep in the fridge until needed.

-Just to be on the safe side, I prefer using decoration flowers only on cakes that are iced with a barrier between the flowers and the cake itself, such as fondant or royal icing – avoiding naked cakes. Even edible flowers may cause allergic reactions in some people so remember to remove them before handing the cake out to be eaten.

-Always tape the flower stems with floral tape to ensure that none of the liquid from the flower stems transfers to the cake itself

Can’t get your hand on edible flowers? Why not try Harry’s recipe for creating beautiful stained glass fruit to decorate cakes?

Watch the how-to video below:

Watch and stream The Big Bake and 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
Eddie Jackson's upcycled cake sundae recipe

Eddie Jackson’s Tips for What to Do With Leftover Cake

Maybe you had a celebration and everyone was a bit too full for dessert (unthinkable!) or maybe you just got the baking bug and couldn’t help making that cake just because. Whatever the reason, if you find yourself with a lot of leftover cake, have no fear! My easy ideas will help you repurpose that cake into entirely new dishes that are just as delicious.

Add Leftover Cake to a Smoothie for a Delicious Dessert Mash-up


Use dry leftover cake as a base for an epic ice cream sundae as seen in my recipe above.

Make Leftover Cake Into a Frozen Treat

Use a round cookie cutter to cut your leftover cake into ice cream sandwich size portions. Dip in melted chocolate and garnish with sprinkles, nuts or chocolate chips. These freeze really well so go ahead and make a large batch!

Related: Ice Cream Sandwiches for a Sweet Summer Treat

Toast Leftover Cake to Add Texture to Parfaits

Cut up leftover cake and toast it on low in the oven until crisp. Top your yogurt and granola with it for an extra punch of flavour and texture. Try it with a fig compote for a delicious sweet parfait.

Breakfast Parfait with Fig Compote as seen on Valerie's Home Cooking On the Road Again episode, season 7.

 

Use Leftover Cake to Make Multi-Use Cake Crumbs

Make multipurpose cake crumbs from your leftover cake and to a frosted cake for texture or find a great cake crumb cookie recipe and add them.

See More: Classic Cake Recipes and Expert Advice for a Perfect Bake

Make a Carnival-Worthy Treat

Cut up chunks of cake and add them to pancake batter before frying or deep-frying in oil for a treat that will transport you straight to a summer carnival.

Watch The Big Bake Tuesdays 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's vanilla and caramel birthday cake on a display

5 Classic Cake Recipes & Expert Advice for a Perfect Bake Every Time

Baking a cake from scratch can be easier than you think, especially when armed with professional tips and tricks. Veer too far from a few established rules, however, and you can end up with a cake catastrophe on your hands. Never fear, we’ve got you covered: with these five foolproof tips, we can help you ensure baking success and turn out a perfect, professional-tasting cake every time.

Let’s take a look at five favourites: classic cakes that you can make again and again, from anything-but-basic vanilla to next-level carrot cakes.

Vanilla Cake

Anna Olson's vanilla and caramel birthday cake

This delightfully moist cake is a stellar example of vanilla-flavoured deliciousness that can be used as a base for your favourite frosting. Sifting the flour mixture serves two purposes: it disperses small amounts of crucial ingredients, such as leaveners or salt, throughout the cake and also aerates the flour to make it easier to combine. Two types of pastry cream — vanilla and caramel — are used in different ways to create a multi-layered and hued cake with impressive height and fantastic flavour.

Chef’s Tip: Sift dry ingredients together onto a large piece of parchment paper before adding it to your stand mixer to keep things nice and neat. You can also grab the paper by the corners and use it as a foldable slide to help transfer your dry ingredients around your kitchen and pour into your mixing bowl.

Get the recipe for  Anna Olson’s Classic Vanilla Birthday Cake With Caramel Pastry Cream

Not sure which flour to use for your next big bake? Check out Flour 101: Your Guide to Mastering Holiday Baking and Ardent Mills’ complete flour portfolio including definitions and best-used-for applications.

Chocolate Cake

Six-layer chocolate fudge cake with slice cut out

This tall tower of cake perfection from pastry chef Anna Olson is a spectacular showstopper for any celebration for chocolate lovers. Four layers of fluffy cake (made with cake and pastry flour leavened with baking soda for extra rise) are sandwiched together with creamy, fudge frosting for a confection that’s decadent without being heavy. Using brewed coffee adds balance and depth to the chocolate notes in the cake, while a combination of bittersweet chocolate and cocoa powder adds plenty of chocolate-forward flavour to the fudge frosting.

Chef’s Tip: Chocolate flavour intensifies and improves with time. If you can resist the temptation, wrap your cake layers well in plastic wrap and aluminum foil and place in the freezer for a few days before thawing and icing them. Plan ahead for future chocolate cravings and make a double batch to freeze for up to 30 days.

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Chocolate Fudge Cake

Sponge Cake

Strawberry sponge cake with whipped cream and fresh fruit

Although all-purpose flour works well for cakes that require some structural integrity for heavier fillings, a soft wheat or cake and pastry flour (can lend the tender yielding quality needed to roll this sponge cake around a simple raspberry jam filling. Vary the filling based on your preference, and use homemade jam for an extra special touch.

Chef’s Tip: When whipping egg whites, your bowl needs to be perfectly clean. Any fat or oil residue in the bowl will keep your egg whites from whipping up and holding a structure no matter how long you beat them. A pinch of cream of tartar can also help to strengthen your whipped egg whites.

Get the recipe for Classic Raspberry Jelly Roll

Carrot Cake

Cream cheese iced carrot cake with heirloom carrot flowers

Keeping carrot cake from being too heavy, while still incorporating plenty of carroty goodness throughout, can be a bit of a challenge. Attempting to get the shredded carrots evenly dispersed in the batter causes some home bakers to over mix and overwork the gluten in the sturdy all-purpose flour, causing a tougher cake. This recipe from Molly Yeh provides some guidance to help counter this common error, including mixing the batter to 90 per cent before incorporating the carrots.

Chef’s Tip: To help your cake bake evenly, rotate the pan in the oven halfway through baking, helping ensure even temperature no matter the placement in the oven. Also, begin checking the cake for doneness about 20 minutes into your bake time to ensure the cake is not overbaked.

Get the recipe for Molly Yeh’s Carrot Cake With Spiced Cream Cheese Frosting

Coffee Cake

Ree Drummond's blueberry crumb coffee cake on a plate

An easy coffee cake is a secret weapon for any baker: ready in under an hour with no frosting or decorations necessary, since it comes with its own crunchy and golden topping fortified with all-purpose flour such as Ardent Mills Bakers Hand®. With a cake this simple, the ratio of the ingredients plays a big part in a successful bake. The commonly used scoop and flatten method may unnecessarily compact flour into the measuring cup, adding more than intended to your recipe. A better technique is to simply spoon flour into the cup lightly and level off with a knife.

Chef’s Tip: For a consistent creaming cake batter, take all ingredients out of the fridge ahead of time to ensure they are all at room temperature. Softened butter creams easier and builds more volume. Also, eggs and milk that are at the same temperature ensure a more consistent creaming, and prevents the butter from clumping again.

Get the recipe for Ree Drummond’s Blueberry Coffee Cake

Looking for more classic cake inspirations? Try these birthday cake recipes that are sure to make you a dessert person.

Sponge cake photo courtesy of Ardent Mills

Flat lay of baking ingredients including sugar, butter

The Perfect Pastry Butter Hack, Plus 9 Golden Baking Rules to Always Follow

The weather is turning, the days are growing longer, and creativity is at an all-time high. And with so many fresh springtime ingredients ready to be transformed, who wouldn’t want to hop in the kitchen and put that extra creativity to good use? Whether you’re baking up some fresh cookies or homemade butter tarts to cheer up friends, following an easy chocolate cake recipe for a special occasion, or kneading a loaf of crusty bread to go with that seasonal salad for dinner, there are a few golden baking rules you’ll want to follow the next time you’re getting your batter on.

But First—The Perfect Pastry Butter Hack

Cubed butter in a bowl

Whether you’re a seasoned baker like those on The Big Bake or someone who’s just beginning to dabble in the world of all-butter pie crusts, short crust pastry, puff pastry and other offerings, getting your butter to that perfect consistency and temperature can make or break your bake. If you’re working on a pastry in which you need air pockets between the layers to rise up in order to create those fabulous flakes, freeze the amount of butter you need for your recipe beforehand. Then, rather than cubing or cutting it and pinching it into your flour, use your cheese grater to grate the butter directly in. The result is an easier dough to work with, since the grated butter is much more forgiving.

But wait—what if you actually need room temperature butter for your recipe, and your butter is in the fridge or freezer? You should still grate it. Doing so increases the surface area, allowing your beurre to warm up and soften quickly. In other words, a grater is the perfect tool to hack all kinds of buttery bakes. And now onto the other golden rules of baking…

Related: Brown Butter Recipes You Won’t Be Able to Resist

Always Read Over Your Entire Recipe Before You Start

Flat lay of cookbook and coffee

This rule applies to all kinds of cooking and baking, but to baking in particular where exact measurements are required and substitutions can throw off your whole game. Read over your recipe from start to finish so that you know exactly how much of each ingredient you need. But don’t just read over the ingredient list—have a good look at the method too. It can be easy to miss simple steps like resting time, sifted flour versus poured flour, or creaming your butter and sugar before mixing. With that last step for example, creaming your butter and sugar together beats air into the butter and helps the sugar to hold that air, giving your baked goods structure. If you just mix or pour butter and sugar in without adding that vital step, you could end up with a dense, flat product.

See More: Flour 101 – Your Guide to Baking

Remember the Quality of Your Ingredients Matters

Flat lay of baking ingredients including nuts, sugars and butter

When you’re shopping for a special recipe, the quality of ingredients will help dictate the quality of your final product. Sure, you can grab artificial vanilla extract, but will it taste the same as the real stuff? Of course not. The same can be said for the type of chocolate, nuts, maple syrup and honey you use—fresh, good quality ingredients will always transform your bake. Butter is another big one. In France, some of the world’s top pastry chefs only use butter that’s high in milk fat—at least 82 per cent. In Canada, our butter is typically only churned to 80 per cent milk fat, and that two per cent drop makes a world of difference. If you really want to create the flakiest of pastries and crispiest of cookies, grab Gay Lea’s new Bakers Gold butter, which is churned to an impressive, chef-grade, 84 per cent milk fat.

Never Overbeat Batter

A stand mixer or even the handheld variety can be a wrist saver for sure, but when you’re talking about mixing together ingredients for a bake there’s a slippery slope. More often than not recipes for baked goods always come with the disclaimer, “don’t overmix.” And for good reason. When you overmix cakes, cookies, muffins, bread or even pancakes you run the risk of injecting too much air into the batter and developing extra gluten. While some gluten is key when it comes to chewy baked goods, too much of it will just make your offerings gummy and dense. In other words, when a recipe says “mix until just combined,” take the step seriously and don’t walk away from a mixer that’s having a party in the mixing bowl.

Related: Harry Eastwood’s Healthy Baking Substitutes

Stop Confusing Wax Paper and Parchment Paper

Blueberry cookies on way paper with fresh flowers and ingredients

Hands up if you’ve charred a recipe or two by accidentally putting wax paper instead of parchment paper in the oven. Baking with wax paper is never really advisable. The stuff is water-resistant, which means it’s great to lay down for cool things when you don’t want them to stick, but it’s definitely not heat-resistant. A good rule of thumb is to remember that for anything cold, you want wax paper. And for anything hot you want parchment paper, which is typically safe in the oven up to 450°F. (But check your packaging.) If you have both and you keep confusing them however, maybe consider investing in a silicon mat or liners. Depending on the brand they’re great for all things hot and cold, and they wash up easily in your sink to cut down on waste, too.

Always Blind-Bake Pie Crusts

Blind baked pie crust with raw ingredients nearby on the table

No, you don’t need a blindfold to pull off the best pie crust of your life. Instead, all you need is a blind bake and some high quality butter, like the aforementioned high milk-fat butter that is Gay Lea’s new Bakers Gold butter. Blind baking means that you bake the crust in full before putting in any kind of filling, so that you know the crust is cooked all the way through. Otherwise you run the risk of adding filling to an uncooked crust and creating a soggy mess. What’s the other benefit of blind baking a pie crust with a butter that’s high in milk fat? Higher butterfat means less water and a softer texture, resulting in butter that easily melts into those pastry layers. There’s nothing like the flavourful, flaky crust that you get as a result. One bite can basically transport you back into your grandmother’s kitchen, where your mouth waters in anticipation of that freshly baked pie sitting in the windowsill.

See More: The Best Summer Pies and Tarts

Don’t Substitute Baking Powder for Baking Soda

…and vice versa. Although it’s easy to confuse baking powder with baking soda, they each do different things in the chemistry that is baking. Baking soda, AKA the one some people keep in the fridge to help deodorize all of those food smells, is sodium bicarbonate. In order for sodium bicarbonate to activate and help your baked goods rise, it needs an acid (brown sugar, lemon, vinegar, chocolate etc.) and a liquid. Baking powder, however, is baking soda that already has an acid (cream of tartar), and sometimes a bit of corn starch. In order to activate its equally awesome rising properties, all you need is a liquid.

Browning Butter is a Baking Superpower

Would you consider this one a rule, or a hack? Either way, nothing beats the deep, rich flavour of browned butter—especially in baking. Brown butter cookies, brown butter brownies… even a cake with brown butter frosting is enough to make you hungry. If you want to execute perfectly browned butter for use in your baked goods, slowly melt it in a pan over medium heat. You want even heat distribution so that the butter cooks evenly, but be sure to constantly stir it so that it doesn’t burn (brown butter can turn to burnt butter before you can say “browning burnt butter” three times fast). When the butter is a nice brown hue and the edges begin to sizzle and foam, you’re ready to remove it from the heat. All in all, the entire process should only take about 5-8 minutes, but it makes a huge difference in your final flavour profile.

Related: Anna Olson’s Guide to Buttercream Icing

Chill Your Cookie Dough Before Baking

Chocolate chip cookies baking on a baking sheet

If you’re going through all of that effort to make cookies from scratch, don’t you want to make the best possible batch? Of course you do! So if you aren’t already chilling your cookie dough before baking it, we have to ask, why not? As a general rule of thumb, once your dough has come together you should chill it in the fridge for at least 30 minutes so that the butter can harden again. That way the butter doesn’t disperse too quickly and flatten out the cookie. If you find it tough to work with chilled dough, scoop out your balls beforehand and then chill them on a baking sheet in the fridge. Or, flash-freeze them in the freezer, throw them into a freezer-friendly bag, and bake them up anytime you want fresh cookies.

Chilling cookie dough is a golden rule to be sure, but there are exceptions. If you’re going for a thin cookie that spreads out or you have a delicate dough like macron or madeleine, those are the instances where you’ll want to bake your cookies at room temperature instead.

Weigh Your Ingredients Whenever You Can

Recipes come in all kinds of measurements, but when it comes to baking, many of the pros prefer weighing their ingredients as opposed to counting cups and tablespoons. One reason is that a recipe is easier to half or double when you’re talking about weight over volume. But more importantly, there is less room for error when you’re using a kitchen scale versus the human eye. Baking is an exact science. And while there’s tons of room for creativity and innovation, the science at the base of those recipes remains the same. Whenever you have the opportunity to weigh your ingredients definitely do so, because the better you can get at precise ingredient measurements, the better those buttery baked goods will wind up tasting.

Watch The Big Bake Tuesdays 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.

Photos courtesy of Unsplash.

The Price of A Slice: Breaking Down the Costs of Cake

Have you ever bitten into that perfect, ornately decorated slice of cake and wondered why it costs so much more than the one that you bake at home? After all, you’re a pro baker, with a killer carrot cake recipe and decorating chops to avoid #cakefails. You’ve watched all the baking competitions and thought: well, that doesn’t look too hard.

The thing is, you’re paying for not only the baker’s time but their expertise when you buy those custom creations in the bakery. And those prices can vary greatly due to a wide array of factors.


Cakes can be priced per slice or as a whole, and sometimes include consultation and cake tasting sessions with the customer. Frosting a cake with fondant (which tends to lend itself to elaborate preparations due to its pliability) tends to be more expensive than just buttercream, since most fondant cakes require a buttercream layer underneath anyway. Fondant can also sit for longer with less depreciation in quality since it creates a seal around the cake layer — a big bonus for busy bakeries around wedding season, which tends to fall within certain time periods of the year.

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

Fondant isn’t just restricted to nuptial bliss, however. Although wedding cakes used to be the big showpieces for ornate design, today, people are splashing out for custom cakes for all sorts of occasions, from birthdays to other milestone events, such as awards, albums or even retirements from pro baseball (hey, athletes like cake, too, as evidenced by these creations from Buddy vs. Duff‘s Buddy Valastro.)

Let’s take a look at a few more elements that rack up those cake costs.

Time Is Money

Duff Goldman, pro baker and Food Network baking judge (he’s also set to go up against Valastro in the new season of Buddy Vs. Duff), sets prices for cakes according to difficulty and labour at his bakery Charm City Cakes. It takes a lot of time and training to properly spin sugar, work with isomalt and execute elaborate technique-driven decorating styles (such as macramé and crochet textures, a big trend for 2020, according to Harper’s Bazaar), and the price you pay reflects that level of expertise and experience. A study by The Knot in 2017 estimated that wedding cake makers spend an average of 15.4 hours per cake, with each ornate floral decoration taking about 26.8 minutes.

Related: 50 Wonderful Wedding Cake Recipes to Celebrate Your Big Day

Ingredients Add Up

Both quantity and quality of ingredients also factor into the final price. Even though professional bakers often pay wholesale prices, the cost of that single bean chocolate or gold leaf adds up. Smaller bakeries also aren’t getting the same bulk discounts on flour, butter and sugar as those large scale facilities churning out cakes on conveyor belts, so they are paying a premium (and those costs add up fast: the Knot study estimated that the average wedding cake uses a whopping 13.5 cups of sugar).

Get the Recipe: Naked Wedding Cake

Convenience Is Key

Like most things in life, you’re also paying for convenience. Although the bragging rights for successful checkerboard cakes or other elaborate designs are high, consider what you’d have to stock at home in order to make that creation. Commercial ovens suitable for large scale cakes, scales and piping equipment all cost money (not to mention available storage space), and you’re forking over the cash to avoid storing your own forks. The ability to have someone else take care of the details on your big day, whether it’s a wedding, birthday or other celebration, is often priceless—among other things, cake bakers are often pros at moving sky-high creations, which is a task that’s not for the faint of heart.

So the next time you wonder why that elaborate bakery cake costs what it does, consider the time, labour and love behind each forkful.

Watch The Big Bake: Spring Tuesdays at 9PM ep 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.

 

 

Harry Eastwood’s Quick and Healthy Substitutes for Baking

Spring has sprung, and with it comes a plethora of bold and beautiful baked goods, recipes and seasonal veggies that brighten our spirits after a long, dreary winter. And, like many of us, The Big Bake judge Harry Eastwood is excited to change things up in the kitchen — and incorporate more healthy substitutes into her baking.

“Most of my favourite seasonal ingredients are linked to what’s out in the garden,” she says. “I get quite strong urges for things that are bright and fresh, like lemons.”

Watch: Sweet Substitutes from Joy Wilson

The British-born, Paris-based chef and cookbook author knows more than her fair share about baking hacks and substitutions — not to mention how to seamlessly weave together healthy substitutes and seasonal ingredients. “I’m done with [recipes] that are long and slow,” she says. “I crave foods that are a certain colour more than a certain flavour this time of year.”

Related: 20 Comforting Baking Projects That Deserve a Pat on the Back

So, as the talented teams on The Big Bake continue to wow us with their spring-inspired cake creations, we look to Harry for her easiest healthy baking substitutions for when you’re in a pinch.

Farewell to a Baking Staple

One of the easiest baking ingredients to swap out? Butter. Although that might be a little difficult to hear for those with a serious sweet tooth, the truth is that you won’t actually miss it all that much in your favourite baked goods. (We promise!) “You definitely don’t taste the butter in a sponge cake,” Harry points out as an example. “You taste the buttercream icing. [Butter is] the easiest thing you can lose without noticing so long as you replace it with a healthy fat, like ground nuts, because there needs to be a balancing act with what you put in.” If you’re doing some spring baking, consider replacing butter in our most crave-worthy carrot cake recipes in every form. Other healthy butter substitutes include applesauce, Greek yogurt, buttermilk and avocado.

Related: Anna Olson’s Quick Guide to Ingredient Substitutions

Make it Moist

If you’ve got a variety of veggies on hand and you’re looking to make an epic cake that has some real moisture to it, Harry suggests adding in some of those sweet seasonal veggies. Not only will your cake come out soft and spongy, but it’ll be a whole lot healthier to boot. “I think vegetable cake is so underrated just because it’s healthier,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good! If you have a vegetable cake with buttercream icing on top, I defy you to tell the difference. The point of a vegetable cake is that people don’t know it’s a vegetable cake.” Psst, it also comes in handy if you’ve got a few picky eaters on your hands and are looking for novel ways to get them to eat their greens.

Harry’s Go-To Secret Ingredient

As for Harry’s all-time favourite healthy baking substitute, one need look no further than the nearest produce aisle. Surprisingly, it’s not avocado. “Zucchini is probably my favourite ingredient to add into cakes because it’s very easy to introduce without anybody having a clue,” she laughs. “If you’ve succeeded at [sneaking it in], then you’ve done a good job. You’ve nailed it.”

For more inspiration, try these Common Ingredient Substitutions That Will Bring Your Recipes to Life or enjoy these Underrated Spring Vegetables That Belong in Your Meal Rotation.

Flour 101 holiday cookies

Flour 101: Your Guide to Mastering Holiday Baking

Although most home bakers are working on a smaller scale than the sky-high creations seen on The Big Bake, there’s still a lot of pressure around the holidays, especially when it comes to baking family favourites and traditional holiday treats. Set yourself up for baking success by choosing the right type of flour for a number of applications, from homemade cookies to gingerbread houses. This expert advice will cover some helpful tricks and recipes to help take the stress out of holiday baking. Please remember to have fun and make holiday baking a family event. Also, always ensure that safe food handling of flour is followed. Enjoy!

The Basics

In general, paying attention to the protein level in flour and applying it accordingly will give you the best results, as the higher the protein content, the more structure the final product will have. Hard winter wheat and hard spring wheat flour are primarily used for yeast leavened products like breads, pizzas and tortillas. You may see this flour called All-purpose, bread, pizza or no-time dough. Soft wheat flour is primarily used for sweet baked goods like cakes, cookies, muffins, cake donuts and biscuits and is often called pastry flour, cake flour or hi-ratio cake flour.

See more: Ardent Mills’ complete flour portfolio including definitions and best-used-for applications.

Cookies

A large batch of cookies is the perfect plan-ahead project to have stashed away for unexpected company, gifts, office cookie exchanges, or just enjoying in front of the fire (don’t forget to save some for Santa!). Typically for cookies where a tender touch is required such as the traditional Linzer cookie, softer varieties such as a cake or pastry flour are used to give a lighter, melt-in-your-mouth tender texture that still has enough structure to hold a filling like jam or icing.

For sturdier cookies,  like those used for constructing gingerbread houses (like this very Canadian gingerbread cabin) a lower protein hard wheat flour, like  All-purpose flour can be helpful.

Tip: Most cookies will freeze well, making them a true timesaver for the busy holidays. Make large batches early and freeze them in airtight containers to ice or decorate later. You can also prepare the cookie dough ahead of time and freeze, to quickly bake fresh, as needed.

Cakes

Both all-purpose flour and cake flour play a part in cake baking. To get Bundt cakes (such as this festive orange-cranberry version) to stand tall and withstand a filling of vibrant berries, all-purpose flour helps add heft. A bûche de noël (yule log), on the other hand, requires that the cake be soft enough to roll around a creamy filling without cracking, which is where cake flour shines.

When baking gluten-free cakes (like this gluten-free marble pound cake) there are many options in terms of gluten-free flour, including naturally gluten-free ancient-grains such as amaranth, millet, quinoa, sorghum and teff available from The Annex by Ardent Mills. Or you may consider using an organic flour to replace the conventional flour in the recipe. Ardent Mills has organic offerings under the brand Simply Milled by Ardent Mills™ in both all-purpose or pastry flour that are suitable for cakes. This will certainly appeal to the health-conscious members of your family to bake cakes made with organic flour, without having to adjust the entire recipe.

Tip: Be sure to cool cakes completely before adding frosting to avoid runny icing and peeling tops. Chill cakes and ensure frosting is firm before wrapping and freezing to avoid ruining decorations.

Holiday Pudding

Depending on which side of the pond you hail from, pudding can mean either a post-meal sweet, a cake-like sponge or a custardy creation. Steamed British-style puddings — such as the plum and figgy pudding made famous through Christmas carols — use trusty all-purpose flour and a bain-marie (water bath) to keep them moist throughout baking. Often referred to as “instant-blending” flour, granular flour can be used to thicken custards and other pudding-style confections, without creating lumps or the need for a roux.

Tip: Puddings are perfect to make ahead for the holidays. Try this luscious caramel and salted butter pudding, which uses a boil and chill setting method,  as an easy plating or topping option.

Breads

The smell of freshly baked bread wafting through the air makes any home feel cozy for the holidays. Bread flour packs a powerhouse of protein and plenty of stretchy gluten, making sure your loaf has a firm interior and crispy brown crust. Ciabatta bread takes advantage of this stickiness to produce an artisan bread with a chewy texture. Whole wheat, whole grain, rye and barley flours can also be used in bread baking, producing a loaf with a deep flavour and dense crumb.

For sweet breads, such as the perennial holiday favourite panettone, a lighter texture is preferred. All-purpose flour can be used to help the dough create the distinctive and desired dome-shaped structure.

Tip: Bake your festive creations ahead of time (be sure that you have a lot of room in the freezer) and defrost the bread in a low temperature oven for an easy savoury or sweet fruit-studded snack.

Pies

Perfect pie crust is an obsession for many bakers and with good reason — it is often viewed as both a science and an art. Although one of the many debates tends to be about whether to use lard, butter or shortening for the crust, the type of flour can also make a difference. Some recipes, such as this sugar pie, call for unbleached flour, according to the taste preferences of the baker. Pastry flour, which is often confused with cake flour, differs due to its slightly higher protein content. The added protein in this flour lends a bit more support for baked goods that need to have some structure while keeping the flaky texture, making it perfect for filled pies such as this mincemeat pie.

Tip: Prepare pie dough ahead of time and freeze in pre-portioned containers ready to thaw and roll out. The filling can also be prepared ahead of time to use later, or, depending on the pie, the crust can be blind baked, filled and frozen.

Safe food handling of flour

For safe food handling of flour, please make sure to follow these safety tips.

  • Do not eat any raw cookie dough, cake mix, batter, or any other raw dough or batter product that is supposed to be cooked or baked.
  • Bake products containing flour at proper temperatures and for specified times.
  • Wash hands, work surfaces, and utensils thoroughly after contact with flour and raw dough products.

Looking for more holiday baking ideas? Check out full episodes of The Big Bake.

Harry Eastwood’s Top 7 Baking Tips for a Marvelous Holiday

There are few things in this world that excite The Big Bake: Holiday judge Harry Eastwood more than baking during the holidays.

“I am an absolute, unabashed Christmas junkie all the way,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve even already started wrapping up some presents and putting them on the top shelf in my office.”

Famous for her unique approach to vegetable cakes (more on that in a minute), the British-born, Paris-based chef and cookbook author knows more than her fair share about holiday baking.

So, as the talented teams on The Big Bake: Holiday continue to wow us with their festive cake creations, we took the opportunity to catch up with Harry to learn more about her top tips for healthy holiday desserts – including cake baking tips for beginners.

Related: Our Top 100 Holiday Cookie and Square Recipes


Harry on the set of The Big Bake: Holiday episode Santa on Cakecation

Plan Ahead

Although it may seem fairly obvious to prep in advance, Harry points out that it’s often one of the easiest mistakes home bakers make – and one that can result in high levels of stress and burnt baked goods. “I’m a big proponent of planning,” she says, “and by planning what I really mean, if I’m cooking a cake on Friday my list of ingredients would be done at least a day or two beforehand so I have time to make sure that I have everything I need. It’s very depressing to start a cake and discover that you’ve got only half the amount of sugar you needed.” So, forget that Santa wishlist: the most important list you’ll need this holiday season is the one organizing all your must-have ingredients. Check!

Budget Your Time

Another cake baking tip for beginners is something that comes with practice – and a whole lot of patience. “Don’t hurry it,” Harry says about getting your bake on. “The thing about cakes, above anything else, is [the realization] that you’re not in charge. The ingredients and the cake are in charge and that won’t bend just because you have a dentist’s appointment. So, budget the time for it.”

Related: Harry Eastwood Takes You Through the History of Cakes

Divide and Conquer

There are two stages of baking, according to Harry: one is the actual baking of the cake and the other is the icing and adding any additional decorations. Remember: there’s no reason why you can’t ice and decorate your masterpiece the next day, so there’s no need to rush through the entire process in a couple hours. “It’s like writing a letter by hand, the joy is always in doing,” she says. “Racing to finish it is dangerous and it would be such a shame to lose the joy of [baking].”

Kitsch for the Holidays

It’s the most wonderful time of the year, so don’t be afraid to have a little fun and infuse some of your own personality into your creation. Adding a little colour and texture can easily elevate your cake to the next level, so embrace it! “I’m not afraid of kitsch,” Harry says. “I love making my own [cake] toppers. I love that candy cane stripe; it’s so easy to mix into cakes. You can smash them up and make patterns on top. Everything is an excuse for a story at this time of year, so go nuts on the decorations because it’s such a joyful wow-factor.”

Related: The Perfect Holiday Cookie, According to Your Zodiac Sign


Harry Eastwood on set with host Brad Smith and judge Eddie Jackson

Swap in Some Veggies

If you’ve got root vegetables on hand and you’re looking to make an epic sponge cake that has some real moisture to it, Harry suggests swapping out some of the more common ingredients for some of those sweet veggies. “I think vegetable cake is so underrated just because it’s healthier,” she says. “But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t taste good! If you have a vegetable cake with buttercream icing on top, I defy you to tell the difference.” Bonus: since the holidays are all about indulging in your favourite treats, you’ll appreciate having at least one healthy(ish) dessert. It also comes in handy if you’ve got a few picky eaters on your hands. “Zucchini is probably my favourite ingredient to add into cakes because it’s very easy to introduce without anybody having a clue,” Harry says with a laugh. “The point of a vegetable cake is that people don’t know it’s a vegetable cake so you need to do something which just effortlessly swaps it in. If you’ve succeeded at that, then you’ve done a good job. You’ve nailed it.”

Simple Substitutes

Bid adieu to butter this holiday season. “You definitely don’t taste the butter in a sponge cake, you taste the buttercream [icing],” Harry points out. “It’s the easiest ingredient you can lose without noticing so long as you replace it with a healthy fat, like ground nuts, because there needs to be a balancing act with what you put in.”

Related: Anna Olson’s Quick Guide to Ingredient Substitutions

Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

You don’t have to wait until you’re a seasoned pro before you can start experimenting in the kitchen. “I’m a big fan of a recipe I wrote a little while ago which is for a sesame tahini white chocolate blondie,” Harry says. “That in itself is a show-stopper. I love offering something unusual around Christmastime.”

For more holiday fare, you can get your bake on with these 20 easy make-ahead Christmas cookies for your holiday bash and Anna Olson’s Ultimate Holiday Cookie Hacks.

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.

The Big Bake Halloween judges reveal their favourite Halloween memories

The Big Bake Stars Reveal Their Favourite Halloween Memories

There’s no denying that the talented competitors on The Big Bake: Halloween have been simultaneously wowing us with their masterful creations while also putting us in a spooky state of mind with their ghoulish cakes. So, while the bakers continue to think outside the box when it comes to concocting jaw-dropping and scrumptious cakes as they vie for the $10,000 prize, we took the opportunity to catch up with host Brad Smith and resident judges Harry Eastwood and Eddie Jackson to ask them about their favourite childhood Halloween experiences.

Related: 50 Killer Recipes for Your Halloween Party

What are your favourite food memories around Halloween?

Brad Smith: “I’m a candy-holic. It was all about going out and getting as much candy as I could. But my mom, who is [usually] one of the worst cooks ever, used to do this pumpkin cheesecake for Halloween every year and it was just the best thing ever.”

Harry Eastwood: “I have a really great story! I grew up in France and we definitely didn’t have Halloween. England barely has it, but France absolutely did not have it in the 1990s, which is when I was a kid growing up there. But my grandmother, who was a very old-fashioned English woman, loved ghost stories. So she used to throw her own Halloween parties for just my sister and me and a couple of our school friends. Basically, she would do things like peel grapes and put them in buckets and turn the lights off so we’d dive in with our hands. She’d say, ‘Oh, those are eyeballs!’ She also used to make cookies with ketchup on them [for blood]. It was fairly basic and definitely not sophisticated but it was a lot of fun.”

Eddie Jackson: “First and foremost, I think pumpkin. Any type of pumpkin reminds me of Halloween because me and my dad would carve [them together]. I remember growing up, we used to do a lot of old school treats, like candy apples and things like that.”

Related: 45 Perfect Pumpkin Desserts to Make Your Fall Menu Sweeter

Growing up, what was your favourite Halloween costume? 

Brad Smith: “You know what’s funny? I’m allergic to cats but my mom used to dress me up in the family’s go-to hand-me-down cat costume. I wore that for four straight years, even when I outgrew it. It was a black leotard with a tail.”

Harry Eastwood: “I was never keen on anything ghoulish or zombie-like. I actually get really creeped out by those things, Any excuse I got, I would turn up at parties in a Tinkerbell outfit – basically [I loved] anything that involved pink and bells that jangled when I walked. I was all up in that.”

Eddie Jackson: “Growing up, I would throw a bedsheet over my head and call myself Casper the ghost. That costume is probably the one that stands out.”

Eddie isn’t the only one who loves a good DIY Halloween costume. If your kids are stuck on ideas this year, try one of these last-minute budget-friendly Halloween costumes using everyday household items.

Just another msblogs site