Olson’s career began not in baking but in banking, as she worked at a bank in Toronto after graduating from university with a degree in political science and sociology. She didn’t feel like this life suited her, however. “One night, I really couldn’t sleep,” she recounted to The Portugal News. “So, I just started making muffins, and I had what I call a muffin epiphany. I remember being there and thinking ‘this isn’t what I want to do for the rest of my life.’” From then on, she decided to pursue baking, an activity she enjoys much more. She enrolled into the College of Culinary Arts at Johnson & Wales University, in the American state of Rhode Island. Upon graduation, Olson travelled the US until returning to Canada and settling down in the Niagara region.
Travel is something Anna considers fundamental, especially when you’re working on something like a TV show. “My experiences, like my one in Portugal right now, are very important,” as for Baking with Anna Olson alone, across the two seasons that were made, Olson had to come up with about 300 new recipes. “There are only so many flavours I can make.” Instead, she’s been using her travels to gain first experience with the baking techniques of other cultures. “I live in Toronto and there’s a huge Portuguese population here, so I thought I knew what a pastel de nata tasted like,” she elaborated, “but then I went to Portugal and learnt the technique behind it.” Her inspiration thus comes not from researching new flavours, but from researching new techniques from over the world to approach recipes she already knows in novel manners.
Big fan of Portugal
Anna Olson is a big fan of Portugal and its gastronomy. “I usually fly in and out of Toronto so when I go to Europe, I usually have a layover in Lisbon,” she told of her discovery of the country, “so as that kept happening, I’ve gotten to know the city a little better, even though I’ve never stayed over a week.” Her connection to the nation is strengthened by the fact her niece is Portuguese. “I like how simplistic Portuguese food is,” she continued. “American recipes are usually so complex, with so many ingredients.” In comparison, Portuguese dishes often have fewer ingredients, choosing to put more effort into making those work together in synergy. Her favourite Portuguese food? “I’m a big sardine fan,” she revealed.
The second season of her show ‘Baking with Anna Olson’ will aim to draw in baking fans of all levels. Episodes will start with a basic tutorial for the recipe for the casual viewers who may just want a basic idea of baking. Then, as the recipe is made, it’s elaborated on, adding more complicated tasks to challenge the amateur viewers. Finally, Olson takes the recipes to their conclusion, using all her knowledge as a professional baker. Three recipes will be showcased per episode, with each episode focusing on creating recipes for a particular occasion, such as birthday parties, family dinners, weddings, and weekend brunch.
At the end of the recording of each episode, Olson obviously always has a lot of cake baked, and she’s not going to eat it all. Instead, she donates her creations from TV to organisations such as the YWCA women’s shelter so that people with more need can have them. These groups are especially thankful for her, as the cakes are professional and whole. “They know, because it’s me, that it’s not even my cake. When you take a photo of a cake, normally you’d take a big slice out of it. They know it’s not someone’s birthday and they haven’t just been given what’s left.”
LEMON OLIVE OIL CAKE
With Sugared Fruits & Flowers
Makes one 8-inch (20 cm) cake
Prep Time: 10 minutes
Bake Time: 55 minutes
For the Cake:
1 large egg
1 large egg white
1 ¼ cups (250 g) granulated sugar
¾ cup (175 mL) 2 % milk
2/3 cup (160 mL) extra virgin olive oil
Zest of 2 lemons
1 cup (150 g) all-purpose flour
¼ tsp (1 g) baking powder
¼ tsp (1.5 g) baking soda
¼ tsp (1.5 g) salt
Lightly sweetened whipped cream or fresh sweet cheese
Sugared Fruits & Flowers (recipe follows), optional
1. Preheat the oven to 350 °F (180 °C) and grease and flour an 8-inch (20 cm) cake pan.
2. Whisk the egg, egg white, sugar, olive oil, milk and lemon zest by hand in a large mixing bowl. In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Add this to the olive oil mixture and stir slowly just until blended.
3. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Let the cake cool in the pan for 30 minutes, then turn out to cool completely.
The cake can be baked a day ahead, wrapped in plastic and stored on the counter (no need to refrigerate).
For serving casually, dust the cake with icing sugar and serve with citrus segments or fresh berries. To dress it up, dollop the Lemon Mascarpone Cream on top of the whole cake (leave some of the cake visible) and top with sugared fruits and flowers.
SUGARED FRUITS & FLOWERS
Assorted berries including: red currants (on the stem), raspberries, blackberries, blueberries, cape gooseberries, very small strawberries (on their stems) and assorted edible flowers (pansies, gernaniums, cornflowers).
1 egg white, lightly whisked
1 cup (200 g) superfine sugar (also called fruit or quick-dissolve sugar)
1. Spread the berries out on a paper-towel-lined tray and let them come up to room temperature. Be sure the flowers are completely dry, and for larger flowers, have an empty egg carton ready.
2. Use a small paintbrush to paint a sheer layer of egg white onto the berries and flowers. Some berries, like the raspberries and blackberries, do not need the egg white but can be dipped in the sugar directly. Immediately after brushing, sprinkle or dip the fruits and flowers in the superfine sugar and shake off any excess. Set the fruits and small flowers on the tray to dry for an hour, and large flowers can be set in the egg carton (so the air circulates all the way around them). Once dried, they can be used to decorate cupcakes, weddings cakes, other cakes or a plated dessert.