Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Anna Olson Guest Post: Top Five Essential Baking Tips

Hey everyone!

Because it was a long weekend here in Canada, I bumped Monday Meet the Experts one day, and as promised, have a once in a lifetime guest post for you today from renowned Food Network Host Chef Anna Olson.

I had the opportunity to meet Anna last summer during The Real Women of Philadelphia cook off and she inspired my culinary sights towards becoming a more proficient baker. Her recipes, both sweet and savoury, are always incredible and I aspire to becoming that well rounded.

At this point however, it should also be mentioned that she is a fantastic person!

 Down to earth, funny, approachable, and at the top of her game in the culinary world, I have to admit I was beyond grateful that when I asked if she would be so kind as to guest post here at The Kitchen Witch, she said yes!

Which means I'm also super excited to give a HUGE shout out to her new show BAKE  where every episode features a new technique - like making choux pastry - Anna then teaches a variety of different preparations from easy to more advanced, and I can't wait to show you how well I did using Anna's easy to follow instructions to make, what for me was, a very sophisticated dessert featuring chocolate ganache:

Peanut butter Chocolate Cups - Click here for Anna Olson's recipe

But now, onto Anna's post!

Essential Baking Tips: The Top 5 Checklist from Anna Olson

 1. Get to Know Your Oven – Your oven can be your best friend or greatest nemesis, so you really need to get to know it.  Place a thermometer inside the oven (it can hang from the centre rack) and watch how the guage moves.  Just because you set your oven to 350 doesn’t mean it actually IS at 350 – watch how the temperature oscillates and if it varies by 25 degrees then call for a service repair (they can calibrate it).   Once you’ve got an accurate temperature, then pay attention to where your oven is hot (back or front?) or if baked goods come out better with our without the convection fan (I favour no fan).  It takes repetition and practice, but then you’ll find you are the one in control, not your oven.

2. Bake with Unsalted Butter – You see that all my recipes call for it, but why?  Professional pastry chefs use unsalted butter because:

A) You are in charge - Recipe to recipe, your salt requirements vary and your butter requirements vary.  You be the boss.

B) Freshness – Salt is a preservative, and lengthens the shelf life of butter.  You may not taste the “age” when spreading a teaspoon of butter on your toast in the morning, but when using a cup in a pie crust or shortbread recipe, you will definitely taste the difference.

C) More Butter in your Butter – Salt retains fluids, so salted butter has slightly more milk solids and less butter compared to unsalted.  This especially makes a difference in butter laden pastries like pie doughs, tart crusts and laminated doughs (puff pastry and croissants)

3. Roll Pastry on a Wood Surface – If you take a peek in a professional pastry shop, most have a maple wooden top table used for rolling pastry.  Marble is expensive and really only needed if doing a lot of chocolate work or puff pastry (marble stays cool), but wood is best as it stays an even temperature and little flour is needed when rolling.  Wood also has natural antibacterial qualities and is easy to keep clean.  You can always buy a large maple cutting board to use for pastry rolling.

4. Repetition – When cake decorating, the old fashioned phrase is true: practice makes perfect.  In cooking school, you have to repeat patterns and designs over and over in cake decorating and , like learning to write, the repetition of the technique builds precision, speed and ease.  Remember that, when it comes to cake decorating, mistake are erasable – simply scrape off the piping and start again.

5. Invest in an Off-set Spatula – Also known as a palette knife, this tool becomes your best resource and an extension of your hand.  The angle allows you to negotiate edges and corners easier, and spreads fillings and frostings with ease.


I have taken  what everything Anna and our previous experts have had to say to heart and today, thanks to Anna Olson, I made the best dessert ever!!!

I hope you enjoy my step by step video...

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  1. Thank you and Anna for lots of good information and a delicious recipe!


  2. Great tips Anna!! Thanks so much for sharing with us! Those Peanut Butter Chocolate Cups look amazing!!!

  3. Fantastic tips, Anna! Thanks for sharing with us, Lyndsay! :)

  4. Wonderful tips - thank you for sharing with us!

  5. Lyndsay - what a Fabulous job on the guest blog of Anna Olson Love the top 5 checklist (very interesting about unsalted butter). The Peanut Butter Chocolate cups look heavenly good--- What a great dessert to bring to that next BB, family reunion or baby shower!

    Great job both Anna and Lyndsay!