Tag Archives: Bake with Anna Olson

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Anna Olson’s Best Fixes for Your Biggest Baking Fails

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What causes my cheesecake to crack in the centre?

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

See More: Watch Baking 101 With Anna Olson

How do I prevent peaked tops on muffins?

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

Anna Olson's chocolate banana muffins on a plate

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Chocolate Banana Muffins

Can I still use curdled custard?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Olson's flaky savoury pie crust

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Savoury Pie Crust

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Lemon Meringue Squares 

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

Anna Olson holds up a ceramic ramekin dessert

Anna Olson’s Genius Way to Use Up Leftover Holiday Cookies

They say one person’s trash is another person’s treasure – and this rule certainly applies in the kitchen! From pie crusts to trifles, there are dozens of creative ways to use stale cookies in sweet repurposed recipes. Use Anna Olson’s tip below for any type of cookies you have on hand, or try your hand at one of our other great recipes that make use of your sweet holiday leftovers.

Related: Shop Anna Olson’s Top 10 Baking Gadgets

Sugar Cookies


To use as a crumble topping, break up leftover sugar cookies into little pieces in a bowl. For every one cup of crumbled up cookies, add two tablespoons of melted butter and half a teaspoon of cinnamon. It’s that easy! After cooling, serve this delicious dessert as you like it – drizzled with caramel sauce, with a scoop of ice cream, or a dash of icing sugar.

Chocolate Sandwich Cookies

Wooden charcuterie board with a chocolate dessert salami cut into small coins

Take leftover store-bought or homemade chocolate sandwich cookies and make a rich, chocolate-y no-bake dessert (that makes a great late holiday gift!). Chocolate sandwich cookies, graham crackers and pretzels stud this dessert salami, making it the perfect recipe to use up all your leftover snacks.

Get the recipe for No-Bake Oreo Salami

Gingerbread Cookies

Milk chocolate bark studded with ginger snap cookies, cranberries and pistachios and drizzled with white chocolate

Got surplus gingerbread cookies or a smashed gingerbread house? Crushed up gingerbread cookies work perfectly in place of ginger snaps in this milk chocolate holiday bark.

Get the recipe for Gingerbread Holiday Bark

Shortbread Cookies

Vanilla ice ccream swirled with strawberries and topped with a cookie crumble

For a sweet, buttery topping, crumble leftover shortbread cookies on top of ice cream drizzled in homemade strawberry rhubarb syrup. It’ll add a little crunchy texture to your sundae.

Get the recipe for Strawberry Rhubarb & Shortbread Cookie Crumble

Anything Else!

Grasshopper pie with chocolate crust and mint cream filling and a sprinkling of chocolate cookie crumble

Instead of graham crackers, use a cookie of your choice to make a delicious pie crust. For this traditional grasshopper pie recipe, crush chocolate cookies and mix with melted butter. Press into a pan and then fill with marshmallow fluff. Delish!

Looking for more ways to use up leftovers? Check out these tasty ways to use all that leftover turkey, plus these sweet & savoury ways to repurpose pie dough.

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

Anna Olson’s Top 10 Baking Tools for the Holidays

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

Related: Anna Olson’s 50 Ultimate Holiday Desserts

1. Offset spatula

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

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

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

2. Silicone spatula

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

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

3. Oven thermometer

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

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

Related: Anna Olson’s Top 5 Vegan Baking Substitutes

Anna Olson poses in her kitchen while icing a cupcake

4. Disposable piping bags

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

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

5. Ice cream scoops

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

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

6. Candy thermometer

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

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

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

7. Fine rasp

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

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

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

 

8. Bar citrus juicer

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

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

9. Measuring tape

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

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

10. Cake wheel

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

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

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

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

Triple Gingerbread Bundt Cake on dark blue cake platter drizzled with brown butter glaze

Anna Olson’s Triple Gingerbread Bundt Cake Will Give You All the Holiday Feels

Gingerbread comes in more forms than just cookies! With a triple dose of ginger, this bundt cake recipe from Anna Olson will fill your house with a sweet and warming scent that screams holiday-time. Enjoy the recipe from Anna’s newest cookbook, Baking Day With Anna Olson.

Anna Olson's triple gingerbread bundt cake on a blue cake stand with a brown butter glaze dripping temptingly down

Buy Baking Day with Anna Olson, Amazon, $31

Triple Gingerbread Bundt Cake With Brown Butter Glaze

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes
Total Time: 1 hour and 40 minutes
Yields: 16 to 20 (Makes one 10 cup/2.5 L Bundt cake)

This decadent cake is meant to feed a crowd, and it is perfect for autumn baking when you want to fill the house with the smell of wonderful spices. The “triple” in the title refers to fresh, ground and candied ginger, which means the ginger flavour is woven throughout the cake.

Related: Anna Olson’s Best Cookie Recipes

Ingredients:

Cake
1 ½ cups (300 g) packed dark brown sugar
1 cup (250 ml) buttermilk
½ cup (130 g) fancy molasses
4 large eggs
2 Tbsp (12 g) finely grated fresh ginger
2 ½ cups (375 g)  all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp (6 g) ground ginger
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
½ tsp ground nutmeg
½ tsp fine salt
1  cup (225 g) unsalted butter, melted (still warm is OK)
¼ cup (40 g) chopped candied ginger

Brown Butter Glaze
6 Tbsp (90 g) unsalted butter
1 cup (130 g) icing sugar
2 Tbsp (30 ml) 1% or 2% milk

Directions:

1. For the cake, preheat the oven to 325°F (160°C). Grease a  10-cup (2.5 L) Bundt pan and dust it with flour, tapping out any excess.

2. In a large bowl, whisk the brown sugar, buttermilk, molasses, eggs and fresh ginger until smooth. In a separate bowl, sift the flour, ground ginger, cinnamon, baking powder, baking soda, nutmeg and salt. Add the dry ingredients all at once to the batter and whisk until smooth. Whisk in the melted butter and then the candied ginger. Pour the batter into the pan and bake for about 75 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the centre of the cake comes out clean.

Anna Olson in a light blue and white striped shirt and light blue apron smiling on the cover of Baking Day With Anna Olson

Related: Anna Olson’s Best Gingerbread Recipes to Bake This Winter

3. Cool the cake in its pan on a cooling rack for about 20 minutes and then turn it out onto the rack to cool completely before glazing.

4. For the glaze, melt the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until it froths and then subsides and the liquid turns a golden brown, about 4 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and strain the butter through a fine-mesh sieve. Let it cool for 5 minutes and then whisk in the icing sugar and milk until smooth. Pour over the cake, letting the glaze slowly drip down.

5. Let the glaze set for an hour before serving or for 3 hours before covering to serve later. The cake will keep, well wrapped, at room temperature for up to 3 days.

For more of Anna Olson’s delicious dessert recipes, check out her ultimate holiday desserts or Anna Olson’s best-ever cake recipes.

Plate of Anna Olson's Hot Chocolate Nanaimo bars topped with mini marshmallows from her new cookbook Baking Day with Anna Olson

Anna Olson Remixes a Classic With Her Hot Chocolate Nanaimo Bar Recipe

As the weather turns crisp and we’re spending more time at home, baking becomes one of our favourite pastimes. Not only can the act be soothing itself, but it’s rewarding to create delicious treats to share with loved ones (we firmly believe that baking is a love language). And what better to cozy up with than Canadian treasure Anna Olson’s new cookbook, Baking Day with Anna Olson?

Anna Olson on the cover of Baking Day with Anna Olson

Pre-order Baking Day with Anna Olson, Amazon, $31

To celebrate the October 27th release of Anna’s new cookbook, we’re sharing a sneak peek at one of her delectable new dessert recipes. Classic Nanaimo bars are remixed with the cozy addition of hot chocolate and marshmallows for a truly delightful treat.

Related: 9 Nanaimo Bar Recipes to Sink Your Teeth Into

Hot Chocolate Nanaimo Bars

Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 10 minutes
Total Time: 30 minutes
Yields: 18 Nanaimo bars

A twist on a classic can be a beautiful thing, and adding hot chocolate mix to a Nanaimo bar recipe really works. Nestled between the traditional chocolate coconut base and the melted chocolate topping is a layer of hot chocolate–spiked custard icing. When the bars are topped with mini marshmallows, the hot chocolate twist is complete.

Related: Coffee and Hot Chocolate Recipes to Warm Your Belly This Fall

A plate of hot chocolate Nanaimo bars topped with miniature marshmallows

Ingredients:

Bars
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, cut in pieces
¼ cup (50 g) granulated sugar
¼ cup (30 g) cocoa powder
½ tsp salt
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 ½ cups (195 g) graham cracker crumbs
1 cup (100 g) sweetened flaked coconut or toasted sliced almonds

Filling
½ cup (115 g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 ½ cups (195 g) sifted icing sugar, divided
⅓ cup (40 g) powdered hot chocolate mix
2 Tbsp (12 g) vanilla custard powder
Pinch fine salt
3 Tbsp (45 ml) 1% or 2% milk

Topping
4 oz (120 g) semisweet couverture/baking chocolate, chopped
2 Tbsp (30 g) unsalted butter
1 ½ cups (75 g) mini marshmallows
Sea salt, for sprinkling (optional)

Directions:

1. Lightly grease a 9-inch (23 cm) square pan and line it with parchment paper so that it comes up the sides.

2. For the crust, place the butter, sugar, cocoa powder and salt in a metal bowl and set over a pot of gently simmering water, whisking until the butter has melted. Add the lightly beaten egg and whisk until the mixture thickens to the consistency of pudding, about 1 minute. Remove the bowl from the heat and stir in the graham cracker crumbs and coconut (or almonds). Scrape the crust mixture into the pan and spread to level it. Chill the pan while preparing the filling.

See More: Anna Olson’s Best Chocolate Recipes 

3. For the filling, beat the butter with 1 cup (130 g) icing sugar until smooth. Stir the hot chocolate mix, custard powder and salt with the milk (it will make a thick paste) and stir into the butter mixture until smooth. Beat in the remaining ½ cup (65 g) icing sugar. Do not overbeat — the filling should be smooth, but not fluffy. Spread evenly over the crust (no need to refrigerate).

4. For the topping, melt the chocolate and butter in a metal bowl placed over a pot of barely simmering water, stirring gently with a spatula until melted. Cool the chocolate slightly and then pour over the filling, spreading to cover it. Sprinkle the marshmallows on top of the chocolate in an even layer (it will not fully hide the chocolate) and, if you like, finish with a sprinkle of sea salt.

5. Chill the pan for about 2 hours before slicing into bars. Nanaimo bars will keep in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.

For more of Anna Olson’s delicious dessert recipes, check out her ultimate holiday desserts or Anna Olson’s best-ever cake recipes.

Anna-Olson-Holiday-Dessert-Hacks

Transform Festive Desserts with Anna Olson’s Top Holiday Hacks

With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s time to shine in the dessert department. In addition to the usual festive fare, why not dress things up for the holidays with Anna Olson’s sweet and easy hacks? Just follow these fun, fresh and flavourful ideas to make good use of your holiday ingredients, and take your Christmas baking to the next level.

How to Eggnog Anything

A mix of eggs, cream, sugar and booze, eggnog is the quintessential holiday drink. With a little ground nutmeg and rum extract, it’s easy to infuse this drink’s festive flavour into desserts, too. Anna shows that just a dash of rum (or rum extract) and ground nutmeg give buttercream frosting an unmistakable “eggnog” flavour. Swirl the sweet spread onto her Flourless Mini Vanilla Cupcakes and sprinkle nutmeg on top to complete the look. Or, for a decadent sweet treat, stir nutmeg and rum extract into Anna Olson’s Chocolate Truffles. If cookies are more your style, infuse the eggnog flavours into Anna Olson’s Vanilla Icebox Cookies by adding rum extract and ground nutmeg to the recipe, then, after baking, pipe frosting between two icebox cookies.

If you just can’t get enough eggnog this season, try your hand at these 15 Delicious Ways to Enjoy Eggnog.

Edible Peppermint Candy Platter

Instead of the plastic or glass trays, serve treats on an edible peppermint candy platter. Anna Olson demonstrates how to make a serving plate out of standard candies in this impressive holiday hack. If you’re making cookies, bake up a peppermint plate so you’ll have a unique and portable option for holiday parties and potlucks.

Adorable Rudolph Cookies

Shake up the holiday cookie table with these show-stopping sweets! Start with Anna’s Icing Sugar Cookies and learn how to transform them into adorable and easy decorated treats. A little royal icing and perfectly placed pretzels will help create delicious and adorable desserts. Those new to decorating will love how easy and achievable these sweets are.

Leftover Candy Canes

Got a stocking full of candy canes? There’s a recipe for that. Before you toss them, break out the food processor and pulse those broken bits into a fine candy cane crumb. This will serve as the base for tons of recipes. For a simple dessert, add crunchy candy cane bits inside and out of Anna Olson’s Vanilla Icebox Cookies. Another way to refresh your holiday treats with candy cane crumbs is to roll filled Chocolate Peanut Butter Whoopie Pies into candy cane dust. If you’re looking for a festive sipper, double-up on the peppermint with this Slow Cooker Peppermint Hot Chocolate, lining the mug’s edge with candy cane bits (brush the edge with a bit of warm water to encourage sticking).

For even more recipes with the traditional holiday candy, try these 15 Tasty Recipes That Use Leftover Candy Canes.

Anna Olson’s Ultimate Holiday Cookie Hacks

Plates and tins of shortbread, gingerbread and sugar cookies have long been a holiday tradition in households across the world, and for good reason. Holiday cookies are an indulgent classic, perfuming homes with comforting sugar and spice while satisfying the seasonal sweet tooth. Plus, they’re wonderful for gifting in jolly little jars or tins.


Click here for the chocolate snowflake cookies recipe from Anna Olson. 

But, between the shopping, wrapping, visiting and workplace parties, the holidays can sneak up on the best of us, leaving less time to bake than we’d like. That’s why we love these cookie hacks from master pastry chef Anna Olson, who always has her holiday baking under wraps! From decorated classics to spiced snickerdoodles, this cookie queen has you covered this season and beyond.

Watch Anna Olson’s Genius Ideas for Christmas Cookie Storage:

Plan Ahead, Bake Ahead
Being organized is the first step to creating an array of delightful treats that you and your loved ones can snack on, all season long. Get inspired by Santa and make a list of the recipes you want to enjoy this holiday season, then check it twice. As December can sometimes seem like a marathon, begin your baking as soon as that list is made.

Freeze Your Cookie Dough
If you’ve whipped up cookie dough but want to bake them off to gift or share later, store the unbaked dough in a zipper-top bag, and then pop it in the freezer until you’re ready to go. Anna recommends freezing the dough rather than the cookies themselves as it saves space and retains freshness (and we think that nothing smells better than freshly-baked cookies!). Check out her awesome tips for techniques, storing and labelling in the video above.

Bake A “Fresh” Batch Every Week  
Now that you have a few batches of frozen dough in the freezer, do as Anna would do and bake up a tray of cookies once a week leading up to Christmas. With this hack, you’ll always have fresh treats on hand for family, friends and impromptu holiday guests.

Make One (Killer!) Basic Recipe
Having a versatile cookie dough base to work from saves time and ingredients, while allowing you to have a selection of cookies to enjoy over the holidays. Take Anna Olson’s Ice Box Cookies, for example. The base recipe can be combined with different ingredients to concoct amazing flavour combinations that will tickle a variety of taste buds.

Watch Anna Take One Cookie Recipe and Make Three Different Cookies:

Host A Cookie Exchange
Even the most organized bakers and holiday planners out there can’t always complete their checklists on time. That’s why hosting a cookie exchange is another great option when it comes to securing a selection of goodies. Anna has some tried and true tips on how to host the actual exchange to ensure that it goes smoothly. But don’t stress! As long as the hot cocoa is flowing and there are a few baked goods to snack on during the actual party, we’d say you’re pretty much covered.

Watch Anna Share 9 Tips for Christmas Cookie Exchange Success:

Ready to get baking? Here are dozens of our favourite festive cookie recipes to share, exchange and hoard this holiday season.

Anna Olson’s Best Recipes for a Successful Bake Sale

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

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

Try Anna Olson’s School-Safe Granola Bars

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

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

Get the recipe for Raspberry Peach Fruit Leather.

2. Make homemade versions of sugary snacks

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

3. Try quick alternatives to bake sale favourite recipes

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

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

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

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

Anna Olson’s Quick Guide to Ingredient Substitutions

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

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

888_red-velvet-cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Try Anna Olson’s recipe for Oatmeal Raisin Sandwich Cookies

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

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

Anna Olson Dessert Station

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

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

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

Anna Olson Party Desserts

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

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

Waffle Dessert Station

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

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

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

Cupcake Garden Dessert Station

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

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

Anna-Olson-Cupcake-Garden

Get the recipe for Vanilla Cupcakes With Floral Frosting

All Things Sprinkles!

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

Confetti-Frosted-Sugar-Cookie-Squares

Get the recipe for Confetti Frosted Sugar Cookie Squares

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

Party Table Tips

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

1. Location

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

2. Labels 

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

3. Serving Tools 

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

4. Use Battery Twinkle Lights 

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

5. Takeaway Boxes 

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

Lemon meringue pie

Anna Olson’s 10 Secrets to Mastering Meringue Make Lemon Pie That Much Better

The perfect meringue is a lofty, yet very attainable, goal for any baker. Achieving that crowning glory of pillowy softness inside and browned exterior is no easy task — but professional baker Anna Olson has you covered with a few tips and tricks to make sure your next meringue attempt doesn’t fall flat.

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Lemon Meringue Pie

Let’s start by breaking down meringue by type. Depending on the stability required, meringue techniques can vary from a simple whip and serve to a more complicated cooked syrup version:

Common Meringue

This is simply egg whites with granulated sugar, sometimes with cream of tartar or lemon juice added for stability. The whites are whipped to a medium peak, which Anna describes as “peaks with a curve, but not a full curl when the beaters are lifted”. This method is used for the pretty swirls you see atop lemon meringue or other pies, and is often browned once frosted.

Swiss Meringue 

A method that takes the simple meringue one step further by heating the egg whites and sugar over a water bath until gently warmed (for those reluctant to pull out a double boiler, a bowl placed over a pot of boiling water will also work). The warmed egg white mixture is then put into a mixer and whipped into a meringue, which sets as it cools. You’ll see this technique used for pavlovas, meringue cookies or anywhere you want a little more stability and firmness once baked.

Italian Meringue

This is the zenith of meringue firmness — Anna calls it “the magical combination of whipping hot sugar syrup into softly whipped egg whites.” By melting sugar (and sometimes honey) to a specific temperature, then whipping it with egg whites, this extra thick meringue can be used for marshmallows and other candy. You can also use this method for key lime pie, a cousin to the ubiquitous lemon meringue.

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Key Lime Meringue Pie

Ready to get started? Here are Anna’s 10 secrets to achieving the perfect meringue for lemon pie.

1. Don’t Over-Whip

One of the hardest things for novice bakers (and even some pros) to judge is how much is too much when it comes to whipping egg whites. Over-whipped egg whites look kind of craggy, says Anna, and when you touch them, they start to collapse. You don’t want to bake with over-whipped eggs, because whatever you bake will fall once it hits the heat of the oven.

A quick fix? A little bit of time: let the eggs sit, and after about 10 minutes, the mixture will start separating. Even if you’ve added sugar, you can whip those egg whites on medium speed back to the point you missed the first time.

 2. Keep Thing Hot

When topping a pie, make sure your filling is hot when you’re ready to put on your meringue, says Anna. The reason you don’t want to put a layer of meringue on a cold filling is to prevent condensation — that layer of dew in between the lemon filling and the meringue. Keeping the filling hot when spreading on the meringue ensures a nice even layer without gaps or weeping (either from the pie or the cook).

3. Pretty Peaks

Want to get the same Instagram-worthy swirls and flourishes you see in the bakery window? In her recipe for lemon meringue pie (above), Anna recommends adding half the meringue and using a bamboo skewer or paring knife to swirl and secure it to the lemon curd. Then, dollop the remaining meringue onto the pie and use the back of your spatula to lift up the meringue and create spikes.

Related: Top Lemon Desserts From Anna Olson

 4. Stir, Stir, Stir

If you’re making an Italian meringue, you’ll be standing by the stove for a bit: Anna advises that you stir the sugar mixture constantly when you’re bringing it up to the initial stage of 280°F to prevent it from boiling over. Between 280°F and 315°F (the final stage), you can take a break and ease off the stirring — the danger of an overflowing pot is past.

5. Safety First

To prevent spatters when putting hot sugar syrup into a mixer going at high speed, Anna has a safety tip: pour it down the side of the bowl — it will bypass the beaters entirely and go to the bottom without splashing a single drop. You’ll be able to tell when the mixture cools and thickens by the sound of the motor, and by touching the side of the bowl.

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Lemon Meringue Squares

6. Connect the Dots

When smoothing your meringue over the pie filling, make sure it connects with the crust — that little connection kind of latches the meringue in place, says Anna. Use a spatula and even, long strokes to smooth the thick meringue onto the pie, making sure you don’t press too hard, deflating your meringue and, even worse, staining the pristine white fluffiness with flecks of filling.

7. Perfect Piping

For pro-level piping to top mini lemon meringue pies, cupcakes, eclairs or even profiteroles, scoop your meringue into a piping bag (be sure to prep your fillings first). Anna’s technique involves piping evenly and in one concentric motion for round desserts, or using a slight back and forth wave for an eclair. Any mistakes can be scraped off for a second attempt — we won’t tell.

8. Time for the Torch

Although meringue will set on its own, those dramatic dark touches of colour can be added with a butane kitchen torch to brown the meringue. Don’t have a creme brûlée torch? Take a tip from Anna’s recipe for lemon berry meringue cake (below) and turn the desserts out onto a parchment-lined baking tray, pipe and then bake the meringues for two minutes in a 450°F oven.

Get the recipe for Anna Olson’s Lemon Berry Meringue Cakes With Bumbleberry Sauce

 9. Cool it Down

Even if you’re tempted to dive right in, it’s very important that once you’ve baked your meringue, you let your pie cool completely before slicing into it. The reward for your patience? Pretty, even slices with distinct meringue and filling layers.

 10. Keep Things Fresh

Sadly, lemon meringue desserts aren’t meant for keeping. Anna advises making the pie the day you plan to serve it in order to show off your perfect meringue at its finest. Don’t worry — with a pie this good, you’ll have no problem indulging in seconds.

Fore more inspiring Anna Olson Dessert recipes, browse her most popular Easter desserts.

Anna Olson Assembling Cakes

Anna Olson’s Top Tips for Assembling and Icing Cakes

Dreamed of being a cake boss? From simple coffee cakes to elaborately layered tortes, it’s all within the realm of “yes, you can!” if you master the recipe and technique. When baking at home, follow Anna Olson’s step-by-step methods to creating beautiful and delicious cakes dressed to impress.

Stacking Cake Layers

Don’t be intimidated: it only takes three simple tools to successfully stack two cakes on top of each another. Plus, Anna’s easy instructions make it a cinch.

As Anna says, grab your measuring tape, wooden doweling, and a serrated knife, and give it a go at home.

How to Fill a Cake

For filling a cake, think beyond the usual frosting-cake combination: spoon lemon curd, strawberries stirred with jam, chocolate mousse, or whatever you fancy between the cake layers. Follow Anna’s step-by-step instructions and your cake will slice perfectly without squishing or sliding.

To recap, the steps are to create a stabilizing “dam” – a ring of buttercream frosting around the edges and a secret slicing ring in the centre – and then spoon filling into the gap and pop on the next layer. Repeat until you’ve got a towering masterpiece ready to be decorated.

Masking a Layer Cake

Once you learn the icing essentials, “masking” or frosting a cake is a snap.

Remember these essential tips from Anna when masking your cake:

  1. Start by using more frosting than you need
  2. Always mask at the top of the cake first, and then move onto the sides
  3. Always connect the next addition of frosting to the first
  4. When polishing the cake, start with the sides and finish with the top
  5. Use a bowl scraper to achieve clean edges on your cake
  6. Chill the cake for 30 minutes before decorating

Covering a Cake with Fondant

Why not fancify your baked creation with a little fondant? Working with this edible icing, used to sculpt or decorate cake, is easier than you think.

Remember, the key steps are:

  1. Ice the cake.
  2. Roll the fondant into a thin but stable layer.
  3. Using the rolling pin, drape the fondant over the cake.
  4. Gently press out any air bubbles.
  5. Trim the edges.
  6. With the palm of your hand, rub the fondant until it feels satiny.

Looking for more cake inspiration? Check out Anna Olson’s Best-Ever Cake Recipes.

Iron Chef Anna Olson

Meet Canada’s Newest Iron Chef, Anna Olson and Enter to Win Her New Cookbook

A brand new Iron Chef has been announced for the holidays and it’s Canada’s baking sweetheart, Anna Olson. We sat down with Anna to talk everything from how she felt about competing for the first time to her favourite cookie this holiday season.

Iron Chef Anna Olson

Read on for the full interview with Iron Chef Anna Olson and don’t forget to enter our draw to win one of five signed copies of Anna’s new holiday cookbook, Set for the Holidays. It’s chock-full of delicious recipes that will have your holiday entertaining sorted, from delicious comforting appetizers like Lobster Mac ‘n’ Cheese Squares, to sweet Canadian classics like Signature Butter Tart Squares. And of course, don’t forget the cookies for Santa, like Breton Sea Salt Shortbreads and Carrot Cake Sandwich Cookies,

Can you tell us about how you fell in love with food?

My love of food happened gradually out of love for spending time with my grandmother in the kitchen. She was the avid baker. For her, it was the passion for cooking, but most especially baking to share.  I think over the years when I look at what I love about baking most is that sense of sharing that comes with it. So it all started there, even though it took me a while to come about it professionally.

How did you begin to transition that into your career?

For a lot of people, baking is a stress reliever. When I was in university and early in my career in banking, it was my way to relieve stress at the end of the day. And I really did have what I call my ‘muffin epiphany’ where after a very stressful day I found myself up at two in the morning making banana muffins just to relax. And it was at that moment the light went off and I said, “Okay, I need to cook”.

Within three months I quit and went to cooking school. It was a need. I needed to make cooking and baking my full-time occupation. Originally, I didn’t plan on working in restaurants. I thought that recipe development for a company would be the way I went. But I actually got hooked on the adrenaline of working in restaurants.

How do you feel Canadian cuisine has influenced you— because you have a very strong identity as a Canadian chef and baker.

When I found myself living in the Niagara Region, I was drawn to the type of cuisine with four distinct menus based on four distinct seasons with produce that came from close by. In Canada, we embrace that, whether it’s cooking with the seafood of the East Coast, the produce and dairy we have in Ontario, Quebec beef, or the fish on the West Coast. That is Canadian cuisine and we don’t need to rely on a dish or a specific menu to call it Canadian. You can cook globally so long as you shop locally. And that too, I think is very Canadian, bringing the global influence.

How did it feel to compete on Iron Chef Canada?

When the opportunity came to be an Iron Chef, I thought long and hard about it. I was petrified. Can I do this? Can I stand up against a challenger and can I deliver a five-course menu [that is] all baking in an hour? And even though this is an all baking episode, the rules are still exactly the same as if it was a traditional Iron Chef [challenge].

I decided one of my life philosophies is you never regret the things you try and fail. And I thought if I say no to this, I’ll always wonder ‘what if?’ So I just jumped right in.

Anna Olson Battle Nuts

So once you did decide you were going for it, how did you start to prepare?

There is really only so much you can do because you have to wait until the [secret] ingredient is revealed. But knowing that you have to prepare a certain amount of dishes, I had to look at techniques. People know me from Bake where I really focus on the technique behind something. So I knew I needed to find recipes that could draw on that and [we] could mix, bake, set, and cook within an hour, which can be a challenge.

What I didn’t want the judges to do was walk away with sugar shock, [that] they didn’t have a great experience because I didn’t give them a balanced menu. That was already in my head. So when the ingredients [are] revealed, you simply apply it.

How did you go about showcasing Canadian flavours in your Iron Chef Canada menu?

I feel showcasing Canadian flavours and preparations is just inherent to my style, so I didn’t feel like I had to reach or be something different than [what] I was. I think that would have created a challenge that I didn’t need. We do what we know and we do what we love. Just like a home cook preparing Christmas dinner, if you make something you’ve never made, it’s going to go sideways. The home cook at holiday time is kind of their own Iron Chef!

What’s your favourite holiday food event—from cookie swaps to brunch to the big Christmas dinner?

The Christmas Day brunch is my favourite meal. I love how it’s relaxed and casual, but still elegant. We do the big ham and lots of side salads.  I’ll do things like a raspberry Danish pastry wreath and scones with fruit to start the meal, but then you still get to have dessert. Brunch is done is [by] 2 or 3 p.m. and the kitchen is cleaned up and you still have the rest of the day to snack. And the best is that little leftover ham sandwich or turkey sandwich later on in the evening.

Anna Olson's Chocolate Crinkle Cookies

What’s your ‘it’ cookie of the season?

I do have a collection of three cookies from my latest cookbook called Crinkles and Twinkles. So I do a Chocolate Crinkle,  a Gingerbread Crinkle, and a Lemon Twinkle. They’re rolled in granulated sugar and sparkles. Those, together on a plate, look lovely because they all relate, but they each have their own flavour.

The other cookie that I like to make every year is a Vinarterta Linzer cookie.  It’s a mix of tradition and reinvention. I’ve adopted what is a really quite difficult and time intensive [recipe] to make into a simpler cookie. It’s very much a Canadian prairie recipe. When Icelanders emigrated [to Canada]  they treasured and kept onto these heritage recipes. That’s a big part of Canadian cooking too. We cherish our cultural heritage and hold onto these recipes, but also share them with each other.

That is, to me, what a cookie exchange should be. You can always assign people to make you make the shortbread or make the chocolate cookie, but everyone should be invited to make one that’s part of their family tradition.

*This interview has been edited and condensed.

Watch Anna Olson on Iron Chef Canada: Battle Nutcracker ‘Sweet’ on December 12 at 10 p.m. ET/PT

anna-chocolate-cake

4 Must-Know Chocolate Rules for Better Baking

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

Rich-Chocolate-Mousse-Cake

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

1. The Difference Between Chocolate Chips and Baking Chocolate

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

Chocolate Chips

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

Baking Chocolate

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

2. The Difference Between Dark, Milk and White Chocolates

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

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

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

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

3. Chocolate Percentage Explained

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

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

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

4. Baking Chocolate Storing Tips

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

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

anna-peach-cake

How to Make the Best Birthday Cake

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

How to Select a Birthday Cake Recipe

Which Flavour of Cake to Make?

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

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

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


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

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

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

How Big of a Cake to Make

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

The Right Ingredients

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

Make-Ahead Cake Tip

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

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

Birthday Cake Frosting Tips

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

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

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

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

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

Make-Ahead Frosting Tip

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

How to Fill a Layer Cake

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

How to Mask a Cake

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

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

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

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

Birthday Cake Decorating Ideas

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

Anna Olson’s Cheerful Lemon Meringue Easter Desserts

Easter marks the time of year when the sun begins to shine a little brighter and warmer, and when garden flowers slowly begin to emerge from the ground. Not only are welcome changes happening outside, but also inside kitchens, with home bakers turning to fresh, vibrant flavours, like zingy lemon, for desserts that offer a treat for both the palate and eyes. Resident pastry pro, Anna Olson showcases a few brilliant ways to bring those good outdoor vibes into the kitchen with her lemon meringue desserts.

Get creative with lemon meringue, and think beyond pie this Easter with Anna Olson’s desserts that delight.

 

Anna Olson uses a bright lemon curd to fill cupcakes, profiteroles and eclairs before giving them the burnished meringue flourish.  Here’s where you can easily find the recipes that Anna references in the above video:
To bake up a lemon-scented cupcake, try Anna’s recipe here.

Get Anna’s lemon curd recipe here.

To make eclairs and profiteroles, use Anna’s recipe here.

Lemon Curd Makes Easter Desserts Shine

Anna Olson’s lemon curd recipe can be used beyond the recipes she features in the video. For instance, for a lemon-lovers Easter dessert, double the citrus by infusing a pound cake with lemon zest, then top each slice with a spoonful of lemon curd and tumble of sliced strawberries. Or, use lemon curd to fill a springtime layer cake or stir into yogurt for an Easter brunch side dish. There are countless ways to get more lemon curd into your springtime sweets.

The Best Meringue for Lemon Desserts

For that must-have snowy white topping, Anna makes a Swiss meringue, which begins by whisking egg whites and sugar together over a water bath until warm. This differs slightly from the raw egg white French meringues many recipes call for. When the sugar is dissolved and the whites are foamy, the mixture is added to a stand mixer where it’s beaten until glossy, thick and cool.

You Can “Lemon Meringue” Any Dessert

Armed with a tangy lemon curd and fluffy meringue, you’re ready to add lemon meringue intrigue to your favourite treats.  Anna adds a bright lemon curd filling and cloudlike meringue topping to cupcakes, profiteroles (cream puffs) and éclairs. Anna’s recipe for Lemon Coconut Cupcakes is a naturally fitting cake base to use for the cupcakes.

For the choux paste, the same base is used for both the round profiteroles and elegantly long éclairs, allowing you to have two seemingly different, French patisserie-level desserts in one. For a failsafe choux paste recipe, try Anna’s Profiteroles and Éclairs, replacing the pastry cream filling with lemon curd, and the chocolate topping with meringue, as shown in the video.

How to Fill Éclairs, Profiteroles and Cupcakes

When filling the choux paste desserts, you’ll feel the lemon curd resist slightly, which is how you know when to stop piping. If you don’t have a pastry bag, try a zip-top bag with a corner snipped out.

The profiteroles and éclairs are naturally airy so you can fill them with the lemon curd right away, but you’ll have to take out a centre portion of the cupcakes before filling (save those scraps for cake pops). That small hole in each cupcake that holds the lemon curd filling is fully concealed when the meringue topper is in place for a very delicious surprise.

The Final Flourish 

With that zippy lemon filling hiding in the treats, it’s time to top with the meringue. If you don’t have a pastry bag for the topping, consider going rustic with the back of a spoon, creating a bit of textural interest on top.

Anna notes you can leave the meringues to set as is, but for that true lemon meringue pie appearance, she gently caramelizes the meringue using a kitchen torch. Along with looking great stylistically, torching adds a rich toasted marshmallow flavour to anchor the juicy lemon filling.

Once you have the hang of it, you’ll be lemon meringue-ing everything.

From chocolate cake to madeleines, explore more springtime sweet inspiration with these Delightful Easter Desserts.

Anna Olson’s Dainty Easter Egg Chocolate Covered Strawberries

This easy and unique dessert is an exciting take on chocolate covered strawberries and dazzles on your spring sweets table.  Anna shows us how to give the time-honoured treat an Easter spin for a play on chocolate eggs that’s fresher, juicier, and prettier, too. It’s the chocolate and strawberry combo we all know and love, presented in a brand new way. There’s not a tastier way to enjoy fruit this Easter.

 

Make Your White Chocolate Eggshell

Whole strawberries with their stems cut off are dipped in melted white chocolate, taking on the appearance of an eggshell and acting as a blank canvas for your Easter egg designs. If you like brown eggs, this would be a great place to melt down some unwrapped chocolate eggs to coat the strawberries in place of, or in addition to, the white chocolate. For ease of dipping, choose firmer strawberries, not overly ripe ones that may bleed or cause the chocolate to split.

Decorating Eggs with Royal Icing

Anna uses royal icing to decorate the white chocolate dipped strawberries. This is simply a mixture of water, icing sugar and meringue powder, and you can get Anna’s royal icing recipe here. The royal icing is neutral base can be tinted in any colour you wish; in this case, it’s delicate springtime pastels. To pipe, Anna uses a parchment cone, which is easy to make – she demonstrates the technique in this quick video.

Add Some Sparkle

The royal icing also acts like glue when soft for a shower of decorator’s sugar (more colour!). This adds texture and vibrancy to really make the chocolate dipped strawberry eggs pop. Head to your local bulk food store and see the Easter-inspired sparkles and sprinkles they have available.

Do-Over Your Design

Anna notes that if you’re not happy with your design, just wipe it off before the royal icing sets. You don’t even need to re-dip the strawberries. As long as the white chocolate is firm, you can remove any unsightly icing squiggles in a pinch.

Have an Egg Decorating Party

For an interactive Easter activity, dip a few pints of strawberries far enough ahead of time so that the white chocolate can set, about 4 hours at room temperature or about 30 minutes if you put them in the refrigerator. Then, lay out sprinkles, tinted royal icing and any other edible decorations at the table for kids to embellish their own eggs.

Double the Chocolate

Easter wouldn’t be the same without mountains of chocolate. So, if you’d like even more chocolate on your white chocolate dipped strawberry eggs, decorate with a contrasting dark chocolate or coloured white chocolate instead of royal icing. This imaginative recipe is versatile and adaptable to your favourite sweet drizzles.

Keep the chocolate and berries theme going this Easter with Anna Olson’s Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Torte, decorating the top with these chocolate dipped strawberry eggs for a real showstopper.

Anna Olson’s Pretty Birds’ Nest Meringues Sing of Spring

Pastry chef Anna Olson adds her whimsical touch to make a springtime or Easter treat that, as she says, “sings of the season.” Meringue nests hold a creamy vanilla buttercream, sweet coconut “grass” and colourful candy eggs. Kids and adults alike will love this treat, and every baker can put their own spin on it. What’s more, this fanciful birds’ nest dessert is easier than it looks, and Anna shows you how to pull it off flawlessly with the following video – and have fun in the process.

 

To assemble these spring-themed meringue birds’ nests,  you’ll need Anna’s simple white Birds’ Nests meringue recipe here.

You can use your favourite buttercream frosting recipe for the filling or try Anna’s vanilla buttercream frosting recipe here.

Meringue 101

For the nests, Anna turns to a French meringue, a straightforward mix of egg whites and sugar. Unlike Swiss meringue, a French meringue doesn’t have you warm or cook the egg whites and sugar together before using; the whites are kept raw, becoming cooked upon baking in a low oven. Be careful not to over-whip your egg whites, but if you do Anna shares her easy fix in this quick video.

No Pastry Bag? No Problem

If you don’t have a pastry bag, prepare the nests as you would a mini pavlova, using a spoon to create rounds and indentations where your filling will sit. There’s no wrong way to go about creating your masterpiece.

This Trick Keeps the Colour Pure Pink

To retain the pink colour (or your preferred pastel shade) in your meringue, a low and slow bake will help to achieve this. Other desserts, like pavlova, where you want to keep the appearance fair,  can also follow this method, with or without food colouring.

Avoid Browning the Meringue

A low oven also helps to avoid browning for a more polished look, creating a crisp exterior and airy interior to boot. After baking, those delicate egg whites have turned into a sturdy base, ready to be filled.

Have Fun with the Filling

rich vanilla cupcake buttercream is the ultimate compliment to those light-as-air nests. You can play around with the flavour of the buttercream, use a thick vanilla bean custard, or using Anna’s recipe for lemon curd mixed with whipped cream for the filling. And, not only does the filling taste great, it acts as “glue” for the decorative toppings to come.


If you’d like a more straightforward interpretation of this springtime treat, try Anna Olson’s elegantly pared down recipe for her meringue birds’ nests here.

Decorating the Birds’ Nests

Anna keeps with the playful feel of the meringue nests, creating green “grass” from shredded coconut and green food colouring. She uses liquid food colouring, not paste, which coats every strand of coconut more evenly to create a bagful of blades ready to decorate with.

Every Nest Needs Eggs

Egg shaped candies are the final touch. Alternatively, small foil-wrapped chocolate eggs will work as well, just be sure to unwrap them before eating. Or, if it’s already sweet enough for you at this point, consider topping your nests with blueberries (like robin’s eggs), raspberries or red currants.

We can’t think of a more fun, family-friendly way to serve up something sweet, special and just a little different this Easter.

After the chocolate egg hunt, serve up a scrumptious Easter Brunch with the help of these morning-making recipes.

4 Genius Ways to Elevate Store-Bought Desserts

So you’ve been tasked with making or bringing a dessert, have you? While it’s a nice thought to want to bake up a spiced cake with hand-crafted frosting, crumble an amazing pie with those apples you picked in the fall, or even whip up a batch of the warmest cookies the season has to offer, sometimes time just isn’t on your side.

That’s when store-bought desserts from the local bakery or grocery store are oh-so-key. You can buy them ahead of time (giving you more time for other dishes or a little more sleep), and then thanks to these ingenious tips from our very own Anna Olson, you can take them to the next level. Trust us, these simple tricks just may have people thinking you slaved in the kitchen.

Just don’t forget to put the dish on your own plate before serving!

Classic Chocolate Sauce

Six ingredients, a pan and a whisk are all you need to make an indulgent, silky-smooth chocolate sauce that you can pour over decadent vanilla ice cream, fresh fruit, or—if you feel like it—just eat it straight up with a spoon. It’s that good.

 

Want to make something from scratch anyhow? Pair Anna’s Classic Chocolate Sauce with:

Brownie Sundae Explosion

Caramel Butter Tarts

Classic Caramel Sauce

We were shocked at how easy this yummy dessert-topper is to make with just a little planning and the foresight. It’s a classic addition to any crumbly, fruit-based dessert, but we love it mixed with brownies or other chocolaty items too.

 

Want to make something from scratch anyhow? Pair Anna’s Classic Caramel Sauce with:

Anna Olson’s Caramel Apples

Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Raspberry Coulis

If you’ve got a creamy dessert or something chocolaty on-hand, bring it to the next level with a fruit-based coulis—a classic pastry chef concoction that’s actually way simpler to make than it sounds. (Seriously, you don’t even need to turn on the oven.) The people you’re making it for don’t have to know that though; tell them you made a fresh coulis and then sit back and revel in their impressed looks.

 

Want to make something from scratch anyhow? Pair Anna’s Raspberry Coulis with:

Anna’s Coconut Cream Pie

Mint Chocolate Cake

Quick Toffee Sauce

Gingerbread, sticky pudding or plain old ice cream will never be the same after you’ve had those items with this simple toffee sauce that packs a huge flavour punch. Amazingly, you only need four ingredients and a few short minutes to whip it up, but it can also be assembled beforehand and quickly heated up again before serving. Now that’s what we call a (not-so) sticky solution.

 

Want to make something from scratch anyhow? Pair Anna’s Quick Toffee Sauce with:

Spiced Nut Cake

Maple Walnut Ice Cream

Looking for more easy desserts? Try Anna Olson’s Best Pie Recipes.

anna olson gingerbread cake with whipped cream

Anna Olson’s Make-Ahead Tip to Make Holiday Desserts Shine

The holidays aren’t just a time to break from work and to celebrate; they’re also a time to indulge in things that make us truly happy. And when it comes to desserts, what’s more indulgent than the time-old classic, whipped cream?

Light, frothy, sweet and delicate, whipped cream is an easy way to elevate any dessert, cup of coffee or bowl of fruit, instantly putting a smile on your face.

Classic-Farmhouse-Strawberry-Shortcake

Anna Olson’s Classic Farmhouse Strawberry Shortcake

This holiday, you could certainly go for the store-bought variety, but let’s face it: nothing beats fresh, homemade whipped cream. There’s a problem though—while we love the fresh stuff, we often find that in order to truly get that frothy, whipped finish, whipped cream needs to be made fairly close to serving time. Otherwise, it falls flat in the fridge, leading to a disappointing lump on your plate.

Luckily, Anna Olson has a solution. And not just any solution; with this one secret ingredient that instantly stabilizes whipped cream, you can make the stuff up to 24 hours in advance and then tuck it away in the fridge, where it’s guaranteed to hold its shape.

No one will be any the wiser that you made it in advance—maybe even while you were in your pajamas.

 

Ready to get your whipped cream on? Here are some of our favourite go-to Anna Olson recipes that—you guessed it—include whipped cream.

Key Lime Cheesecake

Classic Farmhouse Strawberry Shortcake

Classic-Gingerbread-Cake

Anna Olson’s Classic Gingerbread Cake

Classic Gingerbread Cake

Florentine Napoleon with Berries

Strawberry Meringue Tart

Still hungry? Check out these whipped cream-friendly recipes from other Food Network Canada stars:

Old Fashioned Chocolate Pudding with Whipped Cream

Ginger Snap Pumpkin Pie with Ginger Cream

Peach Upside Down Corn Cake with Bourbon Whipped Cream

Red Velvet Hot Chocolate With Marshmallow Whipped Cream

Butternut Squash Soup With Cinnamon Whipped Cream and Fried Shallots

Valerie’s Irish Coffee

Looking for more delicious holiday desserts? Try these impressive cheesecakes from Anna Olson.

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