Tag Archives: Bake With Anna Olson

Anna Olson’s Easiest-Ever Holiday Desserts

The sheer bustle of the holidays is enough to trip up even the most prepared party-throwers among us. So why make things even harder for ourselves when it comes to whipping up a holiday meal? Or more specifically, when it comes to everyone’s favourite part — dessert.

Whether you have last-minute guests or a big dinner party planned, Anna Olson has your back. Here are four of her ridiculously easy-to-assemble favourites that will leave all your guests impressed and satisfied, giving you way more time to actually enjoy the holidays themselves.

Super Simple Chocolate Mousse

Who doesn’t want delicious chocolate mousse in a matter of minutes? This genius recipe calls for just two ingredients, making it the perfect dish for last-minute guests. Whip some up while you’re getting dinner ready, or make it in advance and keep some on hand in the fridge. This yummy dessert will last as long as the expiry date on the cream you used to make it, which means it can be the perfect standalone dish or serve as a fancy-schmancy garnish.

Lemon Cheesecake Mousse

If it’s a cheesecake flavour you’re looking for but you find yourself low on time, this zesty mousse certainly lives up to expectations. With just five ingredients—including fresh lemon juice—and a hand-mixer doing most of the actual labour, the hardest part about this recipe is not licking the spatula every time you scrape down your cream cheese mixture.

Last-Minute Lemon Delight

Whisk up this three-ingredient, warm lemony delight and serve it over fresh fruit for any last-minute guests you find yourself hosting this holiday season. Or, add some cream to stabilize the mixture and refrigerate it for a dreamy lemon mousse later on. Heck, why not just make both while you’re at it and enjoy the best of both dessert worlds? We promise, it’s that easy.

Easy Apple Tart

Anna can’t take full credit for the deliciousness that is this easy peasy apple tart; it’s actually her husband Michael’s go-to recipe. Four simple ingredients and a half hour in the oven mean this sweet-and-savoury dish is impressive without being time-consuming. Seriously, the hardest part is probably peeling the apples.

Looking for more inspiration? Try these 4 Genius Homemade Christmas Gifts from Anna Olson.

Anna Olson Halloween Hacks

Anna Olson’s Spooktacular Halloween Hacks

If you ask us, the best food-based Halloween offerings combine a little trick and a whole lot of treat. In fact, one of the best parts about the ghoulish holiday is invoking some kitchen creativity and concocting amazing offerings that look as though they belong at a feast table in the great hall at Hogwarts.

Anna Olson may not have the magic spell that brings chocolate frogs to life, but she certainly has oodles of creativity up her flour-dusted sleeves. Check out these four spooktacular Halloween hacks that not only elevate party-friendly treats but are guaranteed to impress kids and adults alike.

Spiderweb Donuts

Scare up some of these elevated jelly donuts for your next Halloween party or office get-together. All you need is a standard sugar glaze, some jelly donuts, a makeshift piping bag and a toothpick. Easy, peasy. (Spiders not included.)

 

Witch’s Cauldron Instant Ice Cream

Source some dry ice and watch guests’ faces positively light up when you whip up some instant, smoky ice cream in a matter of seconds. Extra points for a colourful spread of gummy worms, crushed Oreo cookie “dirt” crumbs and other sugary toppings to pour over top.

 

Slimiest Green Slime

It only takes three simple ingredients to simmer up some kid-friendly slime that’s not only chemical-free but edible, too. Decorate cakes, cupcakes or other concoctions with “green slime,” or just give it to the kiddies to play with as they see fit for some real Halloween fun.

 

Spooky Kitchen Fun: Halloween Treats

Get the kiddies involved in some good old-fashioned Halloween fun with these simple hacks that won’t just transform snacks into adorable creations, but you’ll craft some life-long memories while you’re at it. From witches hats and pretzel ghosties to blondie Frankensteins and fanged pumpkins, these treats are surprisingly easy to assemble.

 

Looking for more spooktacular inspiration? Try our 18 Orange and Black Halloween Treats.

Anna Olson’s Summer Fruit Flan

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

Anna Olson's summer fruit flan

Summer Fruit Flan

Servings: 8 to 10

Ingredients:

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

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

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

Directions:

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

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

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

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

Related: Anna Olson’s Best New Dessert Recipes

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

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

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

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Anna Olson’s Butter Tarts Are the Ultimate Canada Day Treat

Can’t decide on which classic Canadian dish to serve for the nation’s 150th birthday? Look no further, because now you can make Anna Olson’s famous butter tarts for your Canada Day festivities!

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It’s no stretch to say that Anna Olson is a butter tart expert. Even when travelling around the world, the Bake with Anna Olson star is often asked to demonstrate how to make these quintessential Canadian treats. So when teaming up with Kin Community creator Beth Le Manach of Entertaining with Beth for a festive summer collaboration, Anna knew exactly what would be on the menu.

To celebrate this momentous Canada Day, Anna’s sharing her “true Canadian, classic sweet treat”! In this scrumptious video from Anna Olson’s YouTube channel, Oh Yum, you’ll learn the secret to making her irresistibly sweet and flaky butter tarts, just in time for the long weekend!

Can’t wait to get baking?  Get into that kitchen and start whipping up a batch of these Canadian treasures.  Find the recipe to her delicious Canada Day Butter Tarts below.

Anna Olson’s Pecan Butter Tarts

Butter tarts are a Canadian classic sweet treat. While this recipe uses pecans, feel free to use other additions in place of the pecans such as raisins, walnut pieces, chocolate chips or simply leave the butter tarts plain.

Prep Time: 40 minutes
Bake Time: 20 minutes
Serves: 12 butter tarts

Ingredients:

Pastry:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp granulated sugar
1 tsp salt
3 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 cup cool unsalted butter, cut into pieces (does not have to be ice cold)
1/4 cup cool water
2 tsp white vinegar or lemon juice

Filling:
3/4 cup dark brown sugar, packed
3/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp white vinegar
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 cup raisins, pecans or walnut pieces

Directions:

1. Combine the flour, sugar and salt together. Add the oil and blend in using a pastry cutter, electric beaters or a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until the flour looks evenly crumbly in texture.
2. Add the butter and cut in until rough and crumbly but small pieces of butter are still visible. Stir the water and vinegar (or lemon juice, if using) together and add all at once to the flour mixture, mixing just until the dough comes together. Shape the dough into 2 logs, wrap and chill until firm, at least an hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 200°C and lightly grease a 12-cup muffin tin. Pull the chilled dough from the fridge 20 minutes before rolling.
4. Cut each of the logs of chilled pie dough into 6 pieces. Roll each piece out on a lightly floured work surface to about 5 mm thick and use a 12 cm round cookie cutter to cut each into a circle. Line each muffin cup with the pastry so that it comes about 1 cm higher than the muffin tin, and chill the lined tin while preparing the filling.
5. Whisk sugar, maple syrup and butter in a bowl by hand until combined. Whisk in eggs, then vinegar and vanilla. Sprinkle a few raisins, pecans or walnut pieces into each cup and then pour the filling into the shells and bake the tarts for 5 minutes, then reduce oven to 375°F and continue baking until butter tart filling starts to dome, about 20 more minutes. Cool tarts in the tin, and chill the tarts in the tin before removing.

Looking for more yummy treats? Learn the sticky-sweet History of Butter Tarts.

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Anna Olson’s Guide to Making the Perfect Cheesecake

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

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

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Here are 5 essential tips for the perfect cheesecake.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Meyer Lemon Meringue Cheesecake Recipe

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

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Ingredients:

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

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

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

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

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Directions:

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Olson’s Tips to Make Holiday Baking a Breeze

As Canada’s baking expert and adored television personality, Anna Olson has amassed an infinite amount of tips and tricks to keep her calm and organized in the kitchen.

Whether you’re a serious home baker or just preparing for your annual cookie swap, it’s always a challenge trying to whip up homemade treats during the busy holiday season. Here, the Bake with Anna Olson star shares some of her holiday traditions, along with her tried-and-true tips for holiday baking.

Scottish-Pan-Shortbread

On Her Turkey-Less Traditions
I do have some traditional things; when I grew up, my grandmother would always make cherry walnut icebox cookies. And my husband’s favourite holiday dessert is an Icelandic dessert called Vinarterta; a prune and cardamom shortbread torte. So for me, it’s not Christmas until those are made. But, I am a cookie monster. I love making holiday cookies — shortbreads are my favourite. There are so many different styles with those same four ingredients.

On Show-Stopping Desserts
To ensure success and to ensure that you’re spelling desserts front to back and not backwards (which is stressed), you want to budget time. It takes baking, chilling, cooling, setting time — those are the little steps that you don’t want to cheat on. For something like a croquembouche, make it work for you as a make-ahead (dessert). (Make and) freeze the profiteroles a week ahead, take them out to thaw, and make the pastry cream two days ahead. Then, you can assemble it the day you serve it, and set aside one hour.

Croquembouche

On The Right Ingredients
(Use) unsalted butter, not salted butter. It’s sweeter, fresher and you’re in control of the salt, because you don’t know how much salt is in salted butter. Salt also retains water, and when you melt butter in a pan, you get that white liquid that runs off called milk solids, [which is] essentially water. So you’re getting more butter in unsalted butter.

On Knowing Your Oven
Just because you set your oven to 350°F, doesn’t mean it’s actually at 350°F. Spend the $7 to $10 on an oven thermometre. That’s the best way to prevent a baking disaster, because that’s the point where you relinquish control. I do a lot of candy making and chocolate work at holiday time, so I have a really good thermometre and I’d say that’s indispensable.

Chocolate-Slice-Cookies

On Freezing Now, Baking Later
I find that when you freeze baked cookies, they never come out as good as they went in. They take up so much space, so you can just make all your (cookie) dough ahead of time. If it’s a slice-and-bake, say my Chocolate Slice Cookies, I’ll just label it: “Chocolate slice, 325°F, 1/4-inch thick, 12 minutes.” So when I pull it out (of the freezer), I don’t have to go back to the recipe — slice, bake, done.

Timing is Everything
My #1 tip: Timing. Taking time now that we have time. If you know you have between 7:30 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Saturday morning, then make that your time. Make your favourite coffee, put on your favourite playlist, and baking takes you into that place. We love our sweets at the holidays, but we love baking because it’s an extension of that sharing and giving, and you want to channel that — remind yourself that that’s what it’s about.

Looking for some festive dessert recipes? Check out Anna Olson’s Ultimate Holiday Treats.

Anna Olson’s Tips for Hosting the Ultimate Cookie Exchange

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Olson’s Guide to Baking Ingredient Expiry Dates

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

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

baking-ingredient-expiry-dates

 

CRITICAL

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

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

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

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

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

GUIDELINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

IGNORED

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Olson’s Tips on How to Make Perfect Challah

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Olson: 1 Simple Dessert, 4 Seasonal Decorations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get the recipe for my Seasonal Garnishes.

Anna Olson

Anna Olson’s Top 10 Baking Questions Answered

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Anna Olson’s Top 10 Baking Tools

Want to create the most beautiful treats without a hitch? Baking expert Anna Olson shares her list of essential tools that every passionate home baker should have on hand.

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1. Off-Set Spatula

This great tool is used to lift cookies off of hot trays, loosen cakes delicately from their pans, and frost cakes with precision and panache. The spatula you see me use on Bake with Anna Olson is my own — I’ve had it for about 10 years, and I’d be lost without it!

2. Silicone Spatula

For effective folding and stirring, and for getting every last bit of batter out of a bowl, I favour the curved spatulas in this tool family. And silicone is heat-proof so it can be used to stir pastry creams, sauces and other preparations on the stove.

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. You’d be amazed how many ovens don’t sit at the correct temperature risking underbaked or overbaked goods. Just because your oven displays the temperature you’ve set, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s accurate. When using this tool, if you find that your oven temperature is far out of range (10°C or more), you will need to get a repair person to calibrate your oven.

4. Disposable Piping Bags

Gone are the days of fabric piping bags that never quite come clean or are cut so far down that they 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 and are fully recyclable.

5. Ice Cream Scoops

Ice cream scoops aren’t just for scooping ice cream. I rely on an assortment of sizes for a variety of uses, including portioning perfectly consistent cookies and dropping muffin batter into tins without a mess.

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 all the guesswork out of it. There are traditional models and also digital probe thermometers — both work equally well. (Note: If you have an induction cooktop, I recommend the traditional model. The magnetic energy of the induction can interfere with the digital reads.)

7. Microplane Rasp

This handy tool is commonly used as a fine grater for garlic and Parmesan, but I value it to finely grate citrus zest, nutmeg, chocolate and to mince ginger without fibres. There are models with larger grates so that you can make chocolate curls, not just shavings.

8. Bar Citrus Juicer

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

9. Measuring Tape

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

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 arduous and hard on your back. Professional cast-iron cake wheels can be pricey, but there are other more affordable options. (Tip: Ikea offers a lazy Susan that functions as a cake wheel.)

Watch all new episodes of Bake with Anna Olson Sundays at 12 pm E/T and online.

Anna Olson’s Gluten-Free Walnut Poppy Seed Cake

With summer in sight, I think of my grandmother’s baking, and poppy seeds and walnuts were among her favourite ingredients, whether for nut rolls, egg breads or other sweet concoctions.

This recipe is for a typical central European-style cake – a very simple one-layer torte that leaves room for creative plating. It can be served with just a dollop of whipped cream or sweetened sour cream, or even blood orange segments and fresh raspberries for a lighter and fresher approach.

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Gluten-Free Walnut Poppy Seed Cake 

Makes: 1 9-inch cake
Serves: 16

Ingredients:
1 1/4 cups (6 oz) walnut pieces
3/4 cup poppy seeds*
1 cup sugar
2/3 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
5 eggs at room temperature, separated
1 tsp vanilla extract
½ cup whipping cream

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease 9-inch springform pan and sprinkle the bottom and sides with sugar, tapping out any excess.
2. Pulse the walnuts, poppy seeds and 1/3 cup of sugar in a food processor until finely ground.
3.  Beat the butter and 1/3 cup of sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks and vanilla, and beat until well blended.
4. In a separate bowl, whip the egg whites until foamy, then slowly pour in the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and whip until the whites hold a soft peak. Fold the whites into the butter mixture. Fold in ground nuts and poppy seeds, and continue to fold until incorporated. Spoon about 1/3 cup of this batter into the cream and then fold this into the batter. Pour batter into the prepared pan and bake for about 45 minutes, until a tester inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake to room temperature and then chill it completely before removing from the pan and serving. The cake will keep for up to 3 days refrigerated.

* If you have access to ground poppy seeds from an eastern European grocery, those are preferable (and can be used in the same measure), but the recipe does work deliciously well with regular whole poppy seeds.

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