Set for the Holidays with Anna Olson: Recipes to Bring Comfort and Joy: From Starters to Sweets, for the Festive Season and Almost Every Day (2018; Appetite by Random House) is a soothing trip through a beautiful world of confident entertaining, elegant décor, and food that’s almost too pretty to eat.
Anna Olson is an award winning pastry chef, author, and television personality. Born in Atlanta, Georgia, she spent her childhood in Toronto and now calls the Niagara region her home. She’s become the sunny face of Canadian baking through her online and TV presence and her collection of cookbooks.
Chef Olson’s ideas of entertaining at the holidays can be summed up by the word “sparkle” and she tells us that “you can’t have sparkle if you have stress.”
Most of the dishes in Set for the Holidays are decidedly festive, but they’d work as well for any other celebration. There’s a Lemon Meringue Yule Log recipe that’s going to become Lemon Meringue Tracy’s Birthday Cake for at least a few years.
Given Olson’s fame as a pastry chef, it’s no surprise that half of this book is devoted to the sweet side of the holidays. That still leaves half a book of savoury dishes that somehow manage to look as delicate and delicious as the sweets. There are multi-option menus for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as sophisticated New Year’s Eve nibbles, and brunch for the whole family.
Vegan and vegetarian options are clearly marked but my favourite icon was the “particularly gift-able” symbol that marks recipes that are perfect for creating homemade kitchen gifts. There’s nothing like wowing your guests with a great meal, then sending them home with a jar of the magical ingredient. I also appreciated the chapter on leftovers. Olson gives us recipes for comforting one-pot meals to transform your holiday leftovers and warm you through the rest of the cold season.
I have nearly given up on serving turkey, making the easier choice of chicken or ham for my holiday feasts. I changed my mind when I saw Marinated Boneless Turkey Breast Roast with Panchetta Gravy. If that title alone wasn’t enough to sway me, the author suggests a gluten-free option that substitutes Caramelized Onion Cream for the gravy. You need to follow two other (easy) recipes to get this exact sauce, but I will tell you that it combines two cups of caramelized onions, one cup of whipping cream, and one ounce of brandy. Holiday decadence in the most elegant way.
Since turkey dinner isn’t complete without dressing, there are Sausage Dressing Squares. Basically these are Thanksgiving dinner in a finger food. With or without the bacon they are a perfect appetizer, or a dangerously addictive television snack.
An Anna Olson book review wouldn’t be complete without a pastry and the Kouign Amann might be the best pastry I had never heard of. Olson describes it as resembling “a croissant that is a little more like puff pastry, with a caramelized sugar crust and soft sweet interior.” It fits all my preconceived notions of French pastry: it’s fussy, requires a lot of patience and is best eaten fresh from the oven. I will probably drive my family crazy trying to master this dish.
Set for the Holidays makes you feel like you can have all this sparkle without any stress. That’s something to celebrate all year long.
Excerpted from Set for the Holidays with Anna Olson by Anna Olson. Copyright © 2019 Anna Olson. Photography by Janis Nicolay. Published by Appetite by Random House®, a division of Penguin Random House Canada Limited. Reproduced by arrangement with the Publisher. All rights reserved.
Marinated Boneless Turkey Breast Roast with pancetta gravy
Serves 6 to 8 (with enough for leftovers)
Prep: 20 minutes, plus marinating
Cook: 105 minutes.
This marinated turkey recipe, which I call my turketta, strays from the traditional whole turkey (page 93). It’s a nice option if you have a small kitchen or if your family insists on turkey for Thanksgiving and Christmas, but you’d rather not serve the same menu twice. Porchetta is a boneless herb-rubbed pork loin that is roasted until the skin crisps up. Here I use similar flavours but with turkey. For a fully gluten-free option, substitute Caramelized Onion Cream (page 120) for the gravy.
You should start marinating the turkey at least 3 hours (up to a maximum of 24 hours) before it is to go in the oven. Any cooked leftovers (hello, turkey sandwich!) will keep, well wrapped, for up to 4 days in the fridge and up to 3 months in the freezer. Thaw in the fridge before using.
¼ cup (60 mL) extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
8 large fresh sage leaves
2 Tbsp (30 mL) fresh thyme leaves
2 tsp salt, plus extra for the turkey
1 tsp chili flakes
½ tsp black pepper, plus extra for the turkey
2 turkey breasts, each about 2¼ lb/1 kg
3 Tbsp (45 g) butter
1 cup (125 g) uncooked diced pancetta
3 Tbsp (45 g) combined pancetta fat and butter
¼ cup (35 g) all-purpose flour
2 cups (500 mL) low-sodium or no-salt-added chicken or turkey stock
- It’s best to prepare the marinade right before using it. Purée the oil, onion, garlic, lemon zest, sage, thyme, salt, chili flakes and pepper in a food processor or blender until evenly combined.
- Remove and discard any bones from the turkey breasts. Place the turkey, skin side down, in a casserole dish or other pan. Set aside ¼ cup (60 mL) of the marinade for the sauce and pour the rest over the turkey. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and let the turkey marinate in the fridge for at least 3 hours, or up to a maximum of 24 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Using butcher’s twine, tie the turkey breasts together, skin sides facing out, leaving as much of the marinade between them as possible. Pat the outside of the breasts with paper towels and transfer to a roasting pan. Rub the turkey skin with butter and season lightly with salt and pepper.
- Roast the turkey, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350°F (180°C) and roast for 60 to 70 minutes more, basting the turkey with the juices often, until the centre of each breast registers 170°F (77°C) on a meat thermometer. Transfer the turkey to a cutting board, cover with aluminum foil and let it rest while you prepare the gravy.
- For the gravy, use the roasting pan if it has toasted bits that aren’t burnt, otherwise heat a clean medium saucepan over medium heat. Add the pancetta and cook until crisp, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes. Spoon the cooked pancetta onto a plate and drain the fat into a measuring cup.
- Measure 3 Tbsp (45 mL) of the fat back into the pan, supplementing with butter if needed. Add the flour, and stir with a wooden spoon over medium heat until the roux becomes the colour of peanut butter, about 7 minutes.
- Add the reserved ¼ cup (60 mL) of marinade, stirring well, and then whisk in 1 cup (250 mL) of the stock, waiting until it begins to bubble before whisking in the remaining 1 cup (250 mL). Bring the gravy to a simmer, add the cooked pancetta and season to taste with salt and pepper.
- To serve, untie the turkey, cut into ½-inch (1 cm) slices and serve with the gravy.
Traditional porchetta seasoning also includes rosemary and fennel, but I find these flavours can be overwhelming and not always family-friendly, which is why I don’t use them in this turketta.
Makes 12 Pastries
Prep: 30 Minutes
Cook: 35 Minutes
I fell in love with these pastries a few years back on a visit to Montreal, a city that is pastry heaven! This layered, buttery sweet pastry was created in Brittany, a region of France famous for its butter (kouign amann means “cake butter” in Breton). Imagine a croissant that is a little more like puff pastry, with a caramelized sugar crust and a soft sweet interior . . . Now get ready to bake! Like many classic French pastries, kouign amann take patience and adherence to timing—they’re the boss, not you, but you get to take all of the credit when friends and family rave about them.
I don’t recommend baking these ahead of time, since they are best enjoyed the day they are baked. They are tastiest once cool, when the caramelized sugar on the surface has had time to set and become crunchy. Timing is key when rolling, folding and letting your kouign amann rise. If you do want to make these ahead of time to freeze and bake later, make the dough, do the first 2 folds and then freeze, well wrapped, for up to 3 months. Thaw the dough overnight in the fridge before continuing with the folds that use sugar. (If you were to freeze the assembled kouign amann, the sugar would liquefy once thawed and you would end up with sticky pastries that are difficult to handle.)
2 ½ cups (375 g) all-purpose flour
2 Tbsp (25 g) granulated sugar
1 pkg (2¼ tsp/8 g) instant dry yeast
1 tsp fine sea salt
1 cup (250 mL) cool water
2 Tbsp (30 mL) vegetable oil
BUTTER AND ASSEMBLY
1 cup (225 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar, divided
- For the dough, combine the flour, sugar, yeast and salt in a large mixing bowl, if mixing by hand, or in a stand mixer fitted with the hook attachment. Add the water and oil and stir together on low speed until combined. Increase the speed 1 level and mix until the dough feels smooth and elastic, about 4 minutes. (If mixing by hand, stir the dough with a wooden spoon until it becomes too difficult, and then turn it out onto a work surface once combined and knead until elastic, about 6 minutes. The dough should come off the bottom and sides of the bowl but will be relatively soft.)
- Place the dough in an ungreased bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour, until doubled in size. Punch the dough down, shape it into a 10-inch (25 cm) square (dust your hands with flour to prevent sticking), wrap in plastic and chill for at least 1 hour, or up to 8 hours.
- For the butter, beat the butter and 2 Tbsp (25 g) of the sugar together. Line the bottom and sides of a 9 × 5-inch (2 L) loaf pan with plastic wrap and press the butter into the bottom in an even layer. Wrap well and chill for at least 1 hour.
- If preparing the dough and butter more than 1 hour ahead, pull both out from the fridge 30 minutes before rolling. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Place the rectangle of butter on top of the dough and fold the dough over so the sheet of butter is hidden. Press out any air pockets and pinch the dough, just a little, to enclose the butter.
- Roll out the dough to a rectangle 12 × 18 inches (30 × 45 cm), just under ½ inch (1 cm) thick. Bring the short sides together so that they meet in the centre and then fold the dough in half like a book. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat, this time folding the dough into thirds. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap and chill for 1 hour.
- Lightly dust a work surface with ¼ cup (50 g) of the sugar and roll out the dough to a rectangle 12 × 18 inches (30 × 45 cm), just under ½ inch (1 cm) thick. Sprinkle the top of the dough with the remaining 2 Tbsp (25 g) of sugar and fold it in thirds.
- Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the rolling and folding (but not adding more sugar at this point). Wrap and chill the dough for exactly 20 minutes (any longer, the sugar will dissolve).
Grease a 12-cup muffin pan and set aside. Unwrap the dough and roll it (no additional flour or sugar will be needed) into a rectangle 16 × 12 inches (40 × 30 cm) and just over ¼ inch (0.5 cm) thick.
- Trim away any rough edges and cut the dough into twelve 4-inch (10 cm) squares.
- Bring the corners of each square into the centre, pinch them together and press down gently. Press each pastry into a muffin cup and cover the pan with a tea towel, letting the dough rise for 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Place the muffin pan on a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until the kouign amann are a rich golden brown. Carefully turn them out of the pan (they will be sticky and hot) onto a wire rack to cool completely.
When you are rolling and folding the kouign amann in sugar for the final time, you need to work quickly — the more you handle the dough, the more it will warm up and then liquefy the sugar. Once you get the pastries into the pan, the pressure is off.
There are times when investing in top-quality butter really counts, and this is one of them (shortbread cookies are another). Most butter in Canada has a fat content of 80%, but premium butter has 82% (check the label). That extra 2% makes a big difference in a pastry where butter is important for flavour and texture.