Kitchen Tips

The Secret To Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Plus 4 More Essential Baking Tips From Anna Olson

Plus, the pastry chef's easy way to convert a muffin recipe into cake or a loaf.

Small batch chocolate chip cookies

A classic for a reason. Photo, Sian Richards.

As a latchkey kid in middle school, I would break my parents’ “no TV on weeknights” rule to watch the Food Network before they got home from work. That’s where I discovered Anna Olson’s first-ever TV show, Sugar. In it, she made even the most elaborate recipes approachable thanks to her calm approach to baking. Later this year, the pastry chef will release a brand-new cookbook Set for the Holiday (if anyone can make the holiday season seem stress-free, it’s Olson). In anticipation, I turned to her 2016 cookbook Bake with Anna Olson, as well her website, to brush up on my own baking skills by studying some of her genius baking tips. Here’s what I learned.

The secret to chewy chocolate chip cookies

Cornstarch (Olson uses a 2 tsp in her otherwise standard chocolate chip cookie recipe) holds in moisture, which Olson says guarantees a “soft-centred cookie.” She got the idea from her pavlova recipe because — unlike a typical crunchy meringue — pavlovas stay soft thanks to cornstarch.

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How to turn a muffin recipe into a cake — or a loaf

Your trusty pans are actually interchangeable. On her website, Olson writes that a standard 12-muffin recipe yields the same volume as a recipe meant for a 9×5-inch loaf or a 9-inch cake.

You don’t need many tools to start baking

KitchenAid stand mixers are certainly coveted, but they’re not essential if you’re not an avid baker. According to Olson, novices need only a few affordable tools, including: measuring cups, pans in various sizes, a cooling rack, electric beaters, a whisk, an offset spatula, an oven thermometer, a rolling pin, a silicone spatula and – if you really want to get serious – a kitchen scale, to more accurately measure your ingredients.

How to avoid pie-dough mishaps

Instead of rolling pie pastry right after it has spent time chilling in the fridge, Olson recommends letting it sit at room temperature for about 30 minutes before handling it. That way it’s easier to work with and is less likely to crack.

The kind of butter you should always use

If a recipe is unclear, always use unsalted butter while baking. Not only can you control the salt content, but unsalted butter has a sweeter, creamier flavour that’s perfect for pastries.

Watch: How to accurately measure ingredients for baked goods