Read this cookbook: “Sweet: Desserts from London’s Ottolenghi” by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh (Ten Speed Press, $35)
By Wendell Brock
Most people know Yotam Ottolenghi via his work with Sami Tamimi. The Israeli-born, London-based partners are the highly influential chefs and authors behind the Ottolenghi brand.
“Jerusalem: A Cookbook” (Ten Speed Press, $35), perhaps their most popular volume, helped spawn a phenomenon around the food of their hometown: an ancient city where the vibrant cuisines of Syria, Lebanon, Turkey, Israel, Armenia and Iran all collide.
But Ottolenghi has another partner. Her name is Helen Goh.
Malaysian by birth, Australian by virtue of the time she spent honing her craft in Melbourne, this pastry chef now works as a product developer for the many Ottolenghi restaurants in London. In Goh, Ottolenghi, who started his career with sweets and whose shop windows are filled with “famously giant meringues,” has found his muse and sweet mate.
Together, they have collaborated on a remarkable book that reminds us why the whole world is so sweet on Ottolenghi, who defines his style as anything made “with love, a bit of flair, real ingredients and lots of attention to detail.”
Many of these 110 recipes are grounded in the traditional: cookies, cakes, pies, tarts, cheesecakes. But when the two begin to layer on the Mediterranean, Middle Eastern and Asian influences, the flavors really start to dance.
Sure, there are classic comforts like Chocolate Chip and Pecan Cookies and Brown Butter Almond Tuiles. But there are also Persian Love Cakes: made with buckwheat flour, scented with mahleb (ground St. Lucie cherry pits) and topped with mascarpone, pomegranate seeds and pistachios.
Madeleines are infused with honey and orange and dipped, again, in chopped pistachios. The little French brown-butter cookies known as friands are spiced with star anise, studded with blackberries and slathered with pink icing. So pretty!
There are a bunch of spiced autumnal cakes that sound glorious for right now: rum-raisin; prune with Armagnac and walnuts; parsnip and pecan with aniseed and orange; beet, ginger and sour cream; apple and olive oil cake with maple frosting.
A super-complicated Lemon and Blackcurrant Striped Cake sits next to a humble Rhubarb and Strawberry Crumble Cake. An dazzling Tropical Fruit Cake adds mango to the cream cheese frosting and wears a crown of banana, pineapple, mango, passion-fruit seeds and flaked coconut. A labor-intensive Pistachio and Rose Water Semolina Cake is a springy affair soaked in rose syrup, sprinkled with candied rose petals and crushed pistachios and served with rose cream on the side.
I am especially intrigued by the cheesecakes, which employ crusts, flavors and toppings in surprising and playful ways. Lime cheesecake, for example, is made on a crust of crushed brazil nuts, graham crackers and coconut—wearing a profusion of meringue peaks. Passion-fruit cheesecake uses a bit of star anise and cinnamon in the crumble crust, with spiced pineapple spooned on top. I’m drooling.
With their splendid good taste, strong sense of design and bright, culture-hopping palate, Ottolenghi and Goh have created a stunning book of sweets. Even for those who don’t bake, it is weep worthy.
Wendell Brock is an Atlanta food and culture writer, frequent AJC contributor and winner of a 2016 James Beard Foundation Award for journalism. Follow him on Twitter (@MrBrock) and Instagram (@WendellDavidBrock).