Sweet - Yotam Ottolenghi / Helen Goh
The Complete Works of Yotam Ottolenghi (et al) will almost certainly be found, pride of place, on any self respecting cookbook enthusiast's shelf. For those outside London, these books are the closest you get to the iconic salads and piles upon piles of baked goods. The Plenty's have turned the head of ardent carnivores, Jerusalem transported us and this sentence will be far too long if I continue to wax lyrical about the books of Ottolengi past. Suffice to say, even for someone with a cookbook collection to rival Amazon's, these books are beloved.
Many bases have been covered across these books but previous tomes have contained mere teasers of the sweeter side of the Ottolenghi empire, until today with the release of "Sweet" by Yotam Ottolenghi and his longtime sweet guru Helen Goh.
Given sugar is currently at the top of the food police's most wanted list (a list akin to the FBI's one), perhaps only a chef such as Ottolenghi could release a book entitled Sweet in the current climate. To address the elephant in the room, page 7 (the first page of substantive content) contains their sugar manifesto. A sensible piece of writing and thinking, the authors don't shy away from what this book is - full of cakes, biscuits, tarts and desserts - which do not omit sugar. They simply state, in a nutshell, that a treat is a treat (as long as it is a treat) and should be enjoyed as such. The fact that these treats contain sugar is not hidden, so essentially the message I heard is, if you are going to eat it - enjoy it - but maybe don't cook from this book for every meal. And if you are sugar free, this is not the book for you.
If you are not, then this is a baking book for the ages. Page after page reveals meringues, cheesecakes, galettes, truffles, shortbread (etc.) all in the signature style of Ottolenghi, full of strong and often exotic flavours, spices, nuts and fruits. They look like the baked goods you know, but none of these recipes come close to standard.
Despite the title, and the manifesto, these are not cloyingly sweet items, the sugar component is often an accent, simply playing second fiddle to the other flavours. It is incorporated in various forms; light brown, demerara; not just WHITE, as well as sweetness from dried fruits, honey or maple syrup.
Everything looks beautiful, but is not so perfect you don't want to start grabbing cakes by the fistful and ever so slightly disgracing yourself with the enthusiasm of your eating (only if you are among the sort of people who would judge you for that - I don't know any). Generous garnishes, thick dripping icing and dustings of icing sugar grace the pages of this book, and the baked goods which are soon to come into your kitchen.
When trying to note a few favourite recipes at the top of the to-bake list, I nearly ended up diligently typing out the name of every recipe in the book. With great reluctance I have narrowed it down...Custard Yo-Yos with Roasted Rhubarb Icing, Orange and Star Anise Shortbread, Raspberry and Rose Powder Puffs, Pineapple and Star Anise Chiffon Cake, Doughnuts with Saffron Custard Cream, Cleopatra Cake, Fig, Orange and Mascarpone Cheesecake, Schiacciata with Grapes and Fennel Seeds, Gingerbread with Brandy Apples and Creme Fraiche and.....Ricotta Crepes with Figs, Honey and Pistachio.
On the practical front, very little speciality equipment is needed, its all pretty standard so you should be good to go. Some recipes may involve ingredients that aren't regulars in your cupboard, though all but a couple, are now very readily available if you know where to look: pandan leaves are in the freezer section at Costco, just discovered a halva spread at www.fortythieves.co.nz and honestly pretty much everything else can be found at a well stocked supermarket (like our local, Fendalton New World).
Cookbook connoisseur or not, this book has a place on any shelf and will be loved into filthiness by any who cooks from it - and will keep anyone who is lucky enough to be baked for from it happy for a very long time.
Ps for the type nerds - the typography is ace...