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!”
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)