Thursday, November 22, 2007

Anna Olson's Baking Tips

By Anna Olson, Host of Sugar

Valuable holiday baking tips from Anna Olson, pastry chef extraordinaire and host of Food Network Canada's Sugar.

1. The key to a successful pie is in the resting—no, not you! Giving your pie dough a chance to sit in the fridge for an hour after mixing and an hour after rolling will produce a pie crust that is tender and does not shrink.
2. For pies that feature a liquid-like filling, like lemon meringue or pumpkin, it’s best to use vegetable shorting for the crust—it’s less likely to get soggy.
3. If your pie crust cracks while rolling, simply sprinkle a little cold water on the cracked area, chill it for half an hour and then roll it again.
4. Apple pie is one of my favourites. I like to use Mutsu apples (also known as Crispin apples) as they are both tart and sweet and hold their shape when baked.
5. I still use my grandmother’s and mother’s trick of putting tin foil along the edge of the crust if it seems to be browning too quickly. Mom’s always right!
6. Be sure to follow the pan measurements correctly for a successful recipe—even an inch of difference can impact how your cake turns out.
7. When mixing batter, alternating dry and wet ingredients ensures an evenly textured cake.
8. Quality ingredients count. If you are making a chocolate cake, your cake will only be as good as the chocolate you use in it.
9. Slicing a cake into layers is easier the next day. Let your cake sit for 24 hours, then slice. I find that my cakes turn out best when baked without a convection fan.
10. Get ahead for the holidays by making your cookie doughs ahead of time and freezing them. I pack plastic containers with a selection of my favourite holiday cookie doughs. Each week in December, I pull out a container and bake the week's worth of cookies. This way I always have freshly baked cookies, but the hard work was done ahead of time!
11. Use unsalted butter so that you can control the salt in recipes.
12. Feel free to interchange nuts that are similar in texture. For instance, if a recipe calls for almonds, hazelnuts are an appropriate substitution, or if a recipe calls for pecans, feel free to use walnuts.
13. If you are freezing baked cookies keep in mind that the larger the quantity of sugar in the cookies the less it is that they will freeze. Sugar turns to liquid in the freezer.
14. A good candy thermometer is your best tool when making sweet treats! Accuracy in temperature is your key to success (I use it when I make my almond nougat).
15. Chocolate truffles are great gifts and can be flavoured any way you wish. I’ve been really keen on tea lately and have been infusing tea into truffles. You can use any flavours, from earl grey to orange pekoe, jasmine green, orange spice or chai.
16. If you are not happy with the results of your truffles use the pastry chef’s trick and sprinkle them with icing sugar. It makes everything look lovely.
17. Look for creative ways to wrap your candy. Craft stores often have cellophane bags. I’ve used a great tip from Samantha Pynn (Style at Home magazine) to wrap truffles in cellophane bags and attached a pair of mitts to them.
18. Take care when making candy with children. It is a task that kids naturally gravitate towards, but boiling sugar is VERY hot. Best to let the kids help with measuring the ingredients, and get them involved in decorating or wrapping the candies (and eating them of course!)
19. To easily remove your favourite square recipe from the pan, simply line the pan before baking with a sheet of parchment paper so that the edges hang over the sides. Once your squares have been baked and cooled, lift them easily out by the parchment, remove from the baking sheet and place on a cutting board for easy slicing.
20. Nothing like a little chocolate drizzle to top of any square!
21. If you are giving a tin of squares to a friend, it’s always a good idea to mention if there are nuts or other allergy sensitive ingredients inside (My Gooey Southern Squares are my absolute favourite).