11 Oct 2017

Yotam Ottolenghi reveals his sweet side

From Jesse Mulligan, 1–4pm, 3:08 pm on 11 October 2017

The Israeli-British chef and restauranteur worked with one of the best bakers he knows, Helen Goh, on the new cookbook Sweet, which includes recipes for 'Ottolenghified' Anzac biscuits and pavlova.

Yotam is a British-Israeli chef and restauranteur who has written five successful cookbooks before Sweet.

He says his first job in a professional kitchen was in the pastry section, whipping up a lot of egg whites for meringues, and he has always baked.

Helen was born in Malaysia, grew up in Australia and got into cooking while working as a psychologist in the pharmaceutical industry.

When Helen visited doctors to tell them about new drugs, she would make food to take along.

"I figured that one of the ways to get them interested in me talking about drugs was to provide lunch. Over time I became more interested in what I was doing for the lunch than the drugs I was speaking about."

Yotam says Helen is one of the best bakers he knows and their decade-long collaboration is always creative.

"When we brainstorm we inspire each other in all sorts of ways, her with Asian spices and myself with Middle Eastern spices."

But Helen also enjoys going back to basics, such as the reliable and accessible recipes in The Australian Women's Weekly.

"Every now and then I just crave the simple bikkies … Anzac cookies or yo-yos."

She thought these Australasian classics might too simple for Yotam's taste, but was happily surprised when he loved them.

He did make some tweaks, though.

Some of Yotam's Antipodean Twitter followers were outraged by the 'Ottolenghi-fied' Anzac biscuit, which includes lemon zest, honey and raisins.

"I like snappy biscuits, but I also like chewy biscuits. And this one, because of the oats, it felt like it needed to be a bit more chewy for some reason … It's a metaphorical Anzac."

To set up your kitchen for baking from Sweet, you'll need measuring spoons, weighing scales, a good set of mixing bowls and a mixer (it doesn't have to be electric, but those are really helpful), Yotam says.

And remember with baking it's always very important to be accurate and precise and follow the recipe.

Helen seconds this, recommending that people read the recipe right through before starting as if it were a roadmap.

Also, the consistency of your butter is very important – take it out of the fridge an hour before you bake, she says.

"If it's too oily you're not going to get it creaming properly. If it's too firm, too hard and cold, you're going to have a dense cake."

And what do they say to those who believe we should all be steering away from sugar?

While they're opposed to hidden sugars in processed foods and 'candy bars at the till', Sweet focuses on the tradition, ritual and sharing that goes along with baking, Helen says.

"When you bake a cake there's a respect for the ingredients and a respect for the ritual of baking and sharing. You're, paradoxically, probably less likely to consume loads of sugar. It's satisfying to have one slice and to really enjoy it."

Yotam doesn't have sweets all the time, but most days he'll have a little something.

It's about being rational and moderate, he says.

"I really don't think it's going to hurt you, as long as you have a healthy approach to it."

Recipes

Middle Eastern Millionaire's Shortbread

Cinnamon Pavlova with praline and fresh figs

Chocolate banana and pecan cookies

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