Cookbook Review: Anna Olson's Baking Wisdom by Anna Olson

My Quick Take: Everything in this cookbook worked reliably and was easy to follow. Some good eating!

Thanks to Netgalley, Penguin Random House Canada and Appetite by Random House for a digital ARC in exchange for my unbiased review.


I’ve certainly heard of Anna Olson. I feel like her name here in Canada as a chef, cookbook author and TV cooking show personality is something I’ve absorbed by osmosis. But when I actually think of her recipes, I’m not sure I’ve cooked from one of her books or watched her on TV much. I saw that her new cookbook Anna Olson's Baking Wisdom was being published this month, and was happy to get an opportunity to try some of her recipes. It helps that my very knowledgeable cookbook friend Sylvia of @bestlovedcookbooks said that in her experience, Olson’s recipes were always reliable and a go-to in her household.

The idea for this book is simple: Olson hopes to pass on some of her baking wisdom to her readers:
“Those moments of comprehension and bits of knowledge, gained through repeated baking, are what I call ‘baking wisdom’ and they enhance your baking and empower you as a baker./I’ve created this book to pass along the baking wisdom I have acquired over the years…”
I love how she puts little notes of this wisdom written into the recipes, so you know why you’re doing something, and why it worked for her. There are chapters on basic methods, and a neat section on how to fix baking mistakes. The photography by Janis Nicolay is really beautiful and helped me visualise what I was doing.

I decided on three recipes. She rates each as Simple, More Involved or Complex.

Lemon Crunch & Cream Tray Cake

The picture for this cake looks deceptively benign. An easy tray cake, I thought. But it is marked More Involved, so I should have been suspicious. Really, this wasn’t difficult, but there were a surprising amount of steps. In preparation, I had to make one recipe of her Almond Streusel, very straightforward. Then, I had to make a batch of Tart Lemon Curd. I’m not an expert at lemon curd-making, but I was very successful! Then, finally, I made the cake. But to make the cake I had to whip egg whites and fold them in. One extra step. Then I assembled the whole thing with the cake, curd and streusel and baked it. And you know what? It was a complete success! We had company over and everyone liked it. It has frozen well too. I think next time I will make it with more lemon curd for extra deliciousness. But we did have curd left over (see Scones below).

Classic English Scones

Everyone in my house likes scones, and I had some sour milk that needed using up (always practical, that’s me!). This recipe was marked Simple, and indeed it was. Few ingredients, straightforward preparation, popped them in the oven and they were perfect. We used some of the left over Lemon Curd to top these. Yum!

Onion, Herb & Parmesan Upside-down Cake

I wanted to try something savoury and reasonably simple. This was marked as More Involved but honestly it was so very easy. I have a wonderful cast iron pan that worked beautifully here. I sliced onions, put a savoury cake batter carefully over top and popped it in the oven. That’s it. I thought that when I inverted it it might all be a mess, but the whole thing came out like a charm. I was mildly shocked I’d made it, and I was quite proud. There were a couple of pieces of onion that stuck…you can see it in the picture, but before I realised I should salvage them and carefully place them on the cake, I had eaten them. Oops. This was delicious and lasted reasonably well in the fridge for a couple of days. Paired with a salad, it was a great dinner.


I’d recommend this book for sure. I’d like to make the Salmon & Spinach Wellingtons and maybe, someday, the Pretty Lemon Meringue Tart, though it’s rated “Complex” and I have to get my nerve up. That said, I feel like I can put my trust in Anna Olson’s Baking Wisdom, so maybe I’ll tackle it!