Book Club Tuesday: Anna Olson’s Baking Wisdom

[B]aking isn’t just following instructions; it’s a journey and an exploration. (1)

It’s not very often that a home baker can pinpoint where tips come from because we take them in, make them our own, and move ahead. One tip that I learned from watching Anna Olson on her show was to add skim milk powder when making whipped cream to stabilize it. That piece of information has served me well (as well as all my friends and family who I passed it onto). Watching her often, I learned that much of her baking success was due to the fact she’s a technically competent and knowledgeable baker; her wisdom was gained through so much practice and honing of her craft. Excited to read through , I realized very quickly that she’s carefully organized the information for us in the most useful way – in the first 4 sections of the book (Baking Ingredients, Baking Tools, Baking Actions & How-Tos, and Baking Science & Other Baking Wisdom) she provides foundational ideas and knowledge. All the things home bakers need to be technically adept. Although I am a very practiced baker, I welcomed the opportunity to build my understanding of the hows and how-tos.

Black Velvet Chocolate Layer Cake, p. 247/248

As for the recipes (both sweet and savoury), they’ve been arranged into 8 chapters: 1) Essentials, 2) Pies & Tarts, 3) Pastries, 4) Cakes, 5) Custards & Creams, 6) Confections, 7) Cookies & Bars, and 8) Breads. The layout and design of the book is so helpful! Each chapter begins with a small section – Recipes at a Glance – where Olson introduces the recipes and, pictures of each recipe are organized in a grid pattern. This provides us with a clear focus of how the recipes will demonstrate techniques or ingredients. Each recipe provides practical information – yield, prep time, cook time, level of complexity, and what she calls “Bites of Wisdom” (page numbers are given from the opening 4 sections where home bakers can cross reference information). After making close to half a dozen recipes, I can say that the level of complexity listed for each recipe (ranging from simple to more involved to complex) is accurate. That being said, any level of home baker can use this book because the recipes are scaffolded in a way to build up your skills and confidence.

Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars, p. 397

If you’ve ever listened to Anna Olson, you know that her voice is kind and reassuring, so much so that as I worked my way through her recipes, I could hear her patiently talking me through the steps in my head. The most complex recipe I attempted from the book was the recipe for Black Velvet Chocolate Cake for my husband’s birthday. Consisting of layers of chocolate cake and a creamy truffle filling, the whole thing is covered in a dark chocolate ganache. It was the most chocolatey, delightful cake, which only seemed to get more delicious as the days went on (for the curious: it lasted 3 days before we polished it off!). My husband – an unabashed chocolate lover – thought this cake was wonderful! It was the absolute perfect cake to celebrate his birthday.

I haven’t really mentioned it up until now but, the recipes in Baking Wisdom are incredibly delicious! When I baked up a batch of the Peanut Butter Banana Cookies (the recipe yields a healthy 3 dozen cookies), I packaged up a couple dozen and gave them to some friends. Something about these peanut buttery-banana flavour pillows flecked with chocolate caused a stir! My friends texted me to tell me how much everyone enjoyed these cookies. I appreciated how soft they turned out and, without the help of eggs. Here, ripe, mashed banana fill in for eggs while also adding that distinctly sweet banana flavour.

Soufflé is something I have never attempted to make but, since my mother gifted me a soufflé dish the last time I saw her, I knew I needed to put it to good use. In my mind, soufflé is one of those mythical recipes that feels impossible to make. I can picture mad-cap classic movies where someone has tried to bake one, only to have it dramatically deflate – I wondered: could this happen to me? As I made my way through Olson’s recipe for a Classic Cheese Soufflé, I read through the recipe, got everything ready and went for it! The result was spectacular (and one that I was really proud of)! The texture was light and cheesy and as I removed it from the oven my family marveled at how much it had risen up the sides of the parchment collar. As we scooped warm, saucy soufflé onto our plates, I understood that no dish is impossible if you’ve got the right recipe with a great teacher!

Peanut Butter Banana Cookies, p. 382

As I touched on before, my husband loves chocolate, so I decided to make him the Creamy Chocolate Pudding. With a handful of ingredients and simple instructions I was able to make this satiny thick and chocolatey-rich dessert. Of course, I served it topped with dollops of Chantilly Cream (recipe also from the book) and rainbow sprinkles. I also baked up the Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookie Bars – baked in a 9” square baking pan, I liked that this recipe made the perfect number of bars! These bars had a prep time of 15 minutes, with a baking time of 30 minutes so it felt like we had a lovely afternoon treat in no time! As Olson tells us in her recipe head notes, these bars are super chewy, easy to slice and freeze well. I ended up putting the extras in the freezer for later.

No matter what your baking skill level, through Anna Olson’s Baking Wisdom, home bakers are given the technical and practical information, along with delicious recipes to improve their baking skills and confidence. I am so pleased with all the recipes I made – everything turned out perfectly! Beautifully photographed (they’ve included photos of the final dishes as well as helpful pics of different techniques/processes), with over 150 recipes, this will be a book I keep turning to for advice as well as delicious bakes.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Appetite by Random House for providing me with a free, review copy of this book. I did not receive monetary compensation for my post, and all thoughts and opinions expressed are my own. Any links provided are intended purely for informational purposes.

Creamy Chocolate Pudding, p. 292 (Chantilly Cream, p. 95)

One thought on “Book Club Tuesday: Anna Olson’s Baking Wisdom

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s