By Anna Olson

Cookbook review written & photographed by

Back to Baking is available for purchase through our online store or at local bookstores. For more information on this cookbook please visit Whitecap Books Ltd. 

Back to Baking (published by Whitecap Books Ltd., $40.00 CDN) is Canadian celebrity chef Anna Olson’s seventh cookbook, and marks her return to the world of pastry. After a semi baking hiatus that allowed her to focus on broader culinary pursuits (such as her hit television show Fresh with Anna Olson), Back to Baking was released in December of last year to rave reviews.

Written as an approachable guide to the fundamentals of baking, this book is perfect for novice bakers as well as those with more experience. The recipes are clearly written with detailed directions that will help you achieve the results you expect. A plethora of cookie varieties, brownies and squares, pies and tarts, crisps, crumbles, cobblers, cakes and cupcakes, cheesecakes and special occasion desserts, puddings, custards and soufflés are all tackled beautifully in what has already become a well used book in my house.

I like the way in which the book acknowledges the wide variety of dietary restrictions many of us face, and includes a number of recipes specific to dairy-free, egg-free, gluten-free, and low-fat/low-sugar lifestyles. The photography (by Ryan Szulc) is beautiful and informative, letting the food shine in an appealing oh-my-god-I-need-to-make-this-now kind of way. The ‘Note from Anna’s Kitchen’ sidebars provide readers with helpful tips and tricks, as well as ingredient substitution and storage information.

Aside from the three recipe tests I conducted for the purposes of this review, I have subsequently made several other treats including the Raisin Butter Tarts, Raspberry, Lemon & White Chocolate Rugelach and Classic Spanish Flan, all of which turned out nicely. This is definitely a cookbook that I will continue to use on a regular basis.

Apple Crisp & Bourbon-Cream Trifle

RATING: 5 out of 5 (perfection!)

This recipe was one of the dishes that Anna whipped up during her cooking demonstration at Well Seasoned Gourmet Food Store, and after one bite I knew I would have to include it as one of my three recipe tests.

This version of trifle takes chilled apple crisp and layers it with a bourbon-spiked pastry cream and toasted pecans. There is a recipe for Classic Fruit Crips included in the book, which also has notes on different flavour combinations as well as specific fruit that just won’t work in a crisp. In the end I decided to make my all-time favourite apple crisp recipe that my family’s been enjoying for years. Ironically it’s a recipe by Anna Olson!

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Assembling the trifle is straightforward and both the apple crisp and pastry cream can be made ahead of time. Because I was serving this for a special family function I made both elements the day before the dinner party. When you’re ready to serve, simply layer the apple crisp (sprinkled with bourbon), pastry cream, and toasted pecans. To finish off this striking dessert, spread bourbon whipped cream overtop and sprinkle with cinnamon. NOTE: be sure to choose a clear dish for the trifle in order to showcase the different layers.

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THE RESULTS: Not only is this a beautiful dessert that’s simple to prepare and great for entertaining large groups, it tastes absolutely fantastic! I am normally not a fan of bourbon, but in baking I appreciate (and applaud) the smoky spice it lends to dishes. That being said, if you would prefer to replace the bourbon with rum or leave out the alcohol entirely I’m sure the results would be great.

The sweetness of the pastry and whipped creams are cut nicely by the tartness of the apples and cranberries in the crisp, while the crunch from the pecans adds great texture.

Perfect in every way.

© 2012 CookThatBook


Fluffy Frosted Carrot Cake (dairy-free)

RATING: 3.5 out of 5 (loved the icing, cake bland)

THE TEST: When CookThatBook contributing writer Jacqueline Twa and her hubby invited us over for an impromptu dinner party, I was charged with bringing dessert. Because Jax is lactose intollerant, I thought this dairy-free Fluffy Frosted Carrot Cake would be the perfect addition to the party. Who better to judge the merits of the results of this recipe than someone who happens to live dairy-free?

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Because Jax and I both tend to go over the top when it comes to food, I knew I wanted to lavish as much impressiveness upon this cake as possible. So I ended up making two layers and topping it with maple-toasted walnuts, icing it as per the Autumn Carrot Wedding Cake (also included in the book). The look on Jax’s face when I presented the cake was priceless! Plus, my endeavours have also given me bragging rights with Whitecap Books’ publicist who jokingly suggested I make one of the wedding cakes for a recipe test. Well Jeffrey – done and done my friend!

Because traditional carrot cake typically uses vegetable oil, making this recipe dairy-free wasn’t a stretch. The only change I made to the cake batter was to replace the raisins with crushed pineapple. I’m not a fan of raisins, plus I find the pineapple keeps the cake nice and moist.

Obviously cream cheese frosting was out, replaced instead by a lovely Maple Meringue Frosting which graced the cake in etheral fluffiness. (Apologies for the flowery description, but seriously folks – this frosting is like eating air it’s so light!)

THE RESULTS: This cake was definitely a hit with everyone, and Jax appreciated my efforts to produce something she could actually eat. Because dairy-free desserts traditionally end up being subpar, she usually avoids sweets altogether.

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The cake was lovely and moist, but we all felt that it could have used more spice as it tasted rather bland. The light texture of the frosting was a nice companion for the dense cake, and the subtle hint of maple syrup lent everything a lovely caramelized flavour that was complimented by the syrup doused walnuts.

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White Chocolate Black Pepper Scones

RATING: 5 out of 5 (great texture & flavour)

For a copy of this recipe, please click here

THE TEST: I must admit that scones are something I enjoy eating but never seem to get around to making myself. It’s not a matter of purposeful avoidance, I kind of just forget about them and turn instead to muffins or cookies when I’m looking for a quick baked good to whip up.

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The book includes a variety of scones, including Apple Cheddar Walnut Scones, Cranberry Spelt Drop Scones, Currant Scones, and Maple Raisin Scones. But the flavour combination of white chocolate and black pepper was something I couldn’t resist.

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Mixing the scones is similar to making biscuits, cutting the butter into the dry ingredients before adding the wet. I liked how the recipe calls for the chocolate to be added to the dry ingredients in order to coat it evenly with flour, preventing it from sinking to the bottom during the cooking process.    

THE RESULTS: I loved the texture of these scones; flaky and light yet still tangible. It’s a balance I often find missing from commercially produced scones. The white chocolate and black pepper paired perfectly, resulting in scones that weren’t overly sweet.

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I ended up splitting the scones and smearing with strawberry jam and Devonshire cream, but you could also serve these with fresh strawberries and whipped cream as a fun shortcake substitute.

 © 2012 CookThatBook

Click here to read my interview with Anna Olson