Category Archives: The Big Bake

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's Easy Cupcake Decorating Guide for Beginners

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.  For a tasty classic cupcake, try my recipe for Lemon Coconut Cupcakes.

For even more delicious options, check out 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 décor like with this rainbow cupcake frosting.

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 décor can suit any occasion.  I love to make these “I Want my Mummy” ghoulish little cupcakes for Halloween, Mummy Mini Chocolate Cupcakes.

I hope I’ve inspired you to jump into the kitchen and play!

For more sweet tips, check out Anna Olson’s Top Tips for Icing and Assembling Cakes and watch Anna Olson guest judge on The Big Bake: Halloween.

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.