TORONTO – If your whipped cream separates or your chiffon cake falls, Anna Olson will tell you why, along with how to fix it.
Her new television show, “Bake with Anna Olson,” is just like going to class. Its instructional format is peppered with plenty of tips and demonstrations. Each episode is like a series of building blocks, in which the celebrated pastry chef explains a fundamental skill and then augments it with more difficult concepts and recipes.
“It is based loosely on a baker’s apprenticeship, but within each episode. So you take that single concept of, say, a pie dough or a pastry cream or chocolate mousse. You start at the beginning and you learn the whys and hows behind it,” Olson explained in an interview last week just ahead of the launch of the first two episodes on Food Network Canada.
“Then, because you’ve got those basics within the episode, you can build on it. And it also allows any viewer, whether they’re a novice baker or a seasoned baker, to find something within it.”
In the first episode, Olson makes a classic chocolate cake, then progresses to a decadent red velvet cake, a rich chocolate mousse cake, and chocolate-glazed petit fours.
There are 40 episodes, but Olson stressed that you don’t have to start at the beginning to build on a base of knowledge.
Baking and cooking were things Olson grew up with and she later studied culinary arts.
“I love sharing information, what I’ve learned. I’m so passionate about baking I can spend all day recipe testing for projects and stop at 5 o’clock and then bake at home and it feels different. And you learn. Every time you make something there’s something to learn and what I like to share through the television format are those lessons,” she said.
“You can articulate so much on paper in a recipe, but through television I can talk you through it. You’re witnessing the recipe happen. It’s a great vehicle to just share and empower people to be better bakers.”
Olson, who has also hosted “Sugar,” “Fresh with Anna Olson” and co-hosted the kitchen design show “Kitchen Equipped,” developed all new recipes for this show. Still photography of the final dishes was done in her Niagara-area home.
Anyone with a sweet tooth will drool over such creations as lemon meringue pie and classic fruit tart, but those with a savoury bent will also enjoy episodes encompassing bread baking.
Even within episodes there’s savoury and sweet.
“I show you how to make puff pastry from scratch, use it and then you turn those little scraps and pieces into little hors d’oeuvres,” explained Olson, who has half a dozen cookbooks to her credit.
When using up the dough trimmed from the edges of a pie, Olson shows viewers easy ways to create leaves for garnish and teaches how to braid strips of dough to decorate the edges of a pie.
“It’s how a real pastry kitchen operates. You don’t waste anything…. In a professional kitchen if you were to make pastry cream you make a big batch of it and you use some for this, some for something else but all in different forms, and you really get to know these techniques and build a comfort level with them,” said Olson.
“At the same time it’s … what sets you apart from the pastry chef who has the shop down the street. You have your decor tricks and then you learn how to personalize your desserts and also I think it’s important to show that there is flexibility and versatility in a baker’s kitchen.”
When working through the recipes on the show, Olson explains the principles behind baking techniques.
Rolling out pie dough exercises the glutens in the flour so they bond. Then the dough needs time to relax before the crust is baked.
“Resting a pie dough is not just to chill the butter or buy you time to have a cup of tea. It’s actually something that’s happening and those glutens are relaxing within the pie dough so that when you roll it it won’t shrink back and also it won’t shrink as you bake it.
“So I like to follow through with the whys behind it. Then the next time you make a pie dough or you’re making gingerbread cookies and your dough starts shrinking, you’ll know, ‘Aha, it’s the glutens. I’ll just pop it in the fridge and in 20 minutes it will be fine.’”
As for the secret of perfect whipped cream that can be prepared ahead, Olson’s trick is to add 15 ml (1 tbsp) of skim milk powder per 250 ml (1 cup) of whipping cream at any point during the whipping process to stabilize it.
“It doesn’t impact the taste or texture, but it stabilizes the whipped cream. You can pipe it, you can dollop it, every swirl and swish will stay in place for a full 24 hours. If you ice a cake you can cut it and you get these clean perfect slices and the whipped cream stays whipped.”
Another tip: “Icing sugar is a great fix. A little dusting of icing sugar can fix just about anything.”