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Food

The Sweet Life with Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh

When Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh met, it was a culinary match made in sweet-filled heaven. 

Yotam Ottolenghi wasn’t supposed to be a chef. He was supposed to be an academic like his father and grandfather before him. He certainly has the intellect, having written a masters thesis in philosophy and comparative literature. 

But Yotam’s take on creating ‘the good life’ was fed by his lifelong passion for food and eventually he couldn’t resist his kitchen calling. After training at Le Cordon Bleu in London in 1997 and working as a pastry chef at the Michelin-starred The Capital Restaurant, two years later he became head pastry chef at Chelsea’s Baker and Spice. Another three years after that, he opened the first Ottolenghi deli in Notting Hill. Today, there are three more Ottolenghi delis in London, as well as a restaurant, NOPi. He has a regular column in The Guardian, and has written six cookbooks. 

How sweet it is

The most recent of his books, Sweet, a baking tome filled with biscuits, cakes, tarts, pies, desserts and confectionary, Yotam co-authored with Malaysian-born Australian-raised pastry chef, Helen Goh. While the book is a recent release, their culinary collaboration goes back over 10 years to when Helen moved to London. At the urging of a friend to check out the Ottolenghi deli, Helen fired off an email to Yotam, they met, and a wonderful partnership began.  

Helen became product developer and Yotam recalls how she would walk through his door on a Sunday afternoon, “like a gust of wind or, rather, an over-zealous dusting of icing sugar, carrying more brown carton boxes than humanly possible.” A slew of apologies would follow for how many of her cakes had failed (Helen is a perfectionist) before they would settle into a session of ‘Ottolenghifying’ her creations.  

This unique process involves taking a traditional product and giving it a taste twist. As Yotam explains, “We do a lot of stuff that some might consider irreverent, but it’s just adding our traditions, a little bit of Middle East from me and a little bit of South East Asia from Helen.” 

So, in Sweet, you’ll find halva and tahini in the brownies, spiced pineapple in the cheesecake and mixed spices in the pound cake. But that’s not to say the recipes veer too far from tradition. As Helen explains, “In baking, I think people still seek the comfortable and the familiar, but they want a little surprise and I think Yotam and I deliver that!” 

Aussie inspiration

Another thing you’ll find in Sweet is a fair dose of Australia. Having done her training and enjoyed success as a pastry chef here, Helen has been inspired by some of our greats. There are cakes based on creations by Stephanie Alexander and Belinda Jeffrey, not to mention versions of yo-yo and Anzac biscuits. 

Yotam, too, owes a lot to baking Down Under. Known as the ‘king of meringue’, he says, “I’m indebted to Antipodean pavlova because it’s so easy to make and you can do whatever you like with it. It takes anything from chocolate and praline to fresh or dried fruit, the options are endless.” 

Featured image: Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh's cinnamon pavlova, praline cream and fresh figs recipe

Recipes and images from Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh (Penguin Random House, $55)

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Manu Feidel's Bastille Day Celebrations
French-born celebrity chef Manu Feildel celebrates Bastille Day in Australia with an indulgent French menu. Bastille Day is the most important date on the French calendar. July 14 celebrates the famous storming of the Bastille, a military stronghold, by restless Parisians in 1789, who feared France’s progression from a Feudal society to a constitution was being compromised. Although it was a relatively small battle, it had large repercussions and under a month later, Feudalism was abolished and a Declaration of Rights was proclaimed. In 1790, exactly one year after the storming of the Bastille, the Fête de la Fédération was held to celebrate the unity of the French nation. A mass was held and then Parisians partied, enjoying a huge feast with wine, fireworks and some even ran naked through the streets in a display of their freedom! Celebrations Today’s Bastille Day celebrations are more commemorative with the pomp and ceremony of a military parade down the Champs-Élysées, under the Arc de Triomphe and to the Place de la Concorde. For the French people, it is very much a holiday in the middle of summer, a chance to celebrate their nation, have some time with their family and of course, feast. “It’s a little bit like New Year’s Eve in Sydney”, says French-born, Sydney based celebrity chef Manu Feildel. “There is a party atmosphere, fireworks, street parties. It is in the middle of summer holidays, so families are often on their summer breaks, so they enjoy the day together. It is a great traditional public holiday and everyone is in a party mood!” Being in the middle of summer, Manu says there are no traditional dishes as there are at Christmas or Easter, but there would always be a special, often indulgent meal with family and friends. “People would buy the best meats and ingredients to create a luxury feast,” says Manu. “When I had my restaurants here in Australia, we would always organise a special meal for Bastille Day and the staff and I would dress up for the guests.” “In France, the dishes would be more summery salads and seafoods. Of course, over here it is winter, so I have created an indulgent meal fit for Bastille Day celebrations in Australia.” Manu’s Bastille Day recipes “Because Bastille Day here in Australia is in the middle of winter, I wanted to start the meal with a warm dish, comfort food, so I have gone with a chestnut soup,” says Manu. “In the old days, every meal would start with a pottage (soup), so this is very traditional, and fitting for the start of a Bastille Day feast. “The next dish is a very indulgent dish of tuna rostini with foie gras and truffle. Beef rostini is a very traditional French dish, but here I wanted to add an Australian twist, so I changed it to tuna. “The main is pan-roasted duck with celeriac puree and cherry and Pinot Noir sauce. In my mind, duck is always considered expensive, so this dish makes me think of a king eating, so it’s the perfect meat for a celebratory meal. “For the dessert, I did bring a little French history. Apparently Louis XV named this tiny pastry ‘Madeleine’ in 1755 in honour of his father-in-law’s pastry cook, Madeleine Paulmier. Louis’ wife introduced the Madeleines soon afterwards to the court in Versaillles and they became loved all over France. They are also the perfect petit four, for coffee and chocolate, to end the meal.” Manu Feildel's Bastille Day Celebration feast Chestnut soup with parsnip and parmesan crisps Tuna rostini with foie gras and truffle Pan roasted duck with celeriac puree and cherry & Pinot Noir sauce Madeleines with chocolate cherry sauce & candied orange praline
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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