sweet

Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh 

To be perfectly frank, writing a review for a book by Ottolenghi is perhaps only slightly less like writing a review for a book by Jamie Oliver or Tana French. It's just exceedingly unlikely that I'm going to find any work by any of them to falter much. It's difficult to be even-handed. 

But I'll do my best. :)

For over four years, I've been absolutely resolute on my follow-through with reading and posting any reviews for advanced reader's copies that I accept. Whether my review is a positive one, it only seems fair and appropriate that I give a response to the publisher's kindness in providing me a copy. 

However, it's all completely disintegrated in the last six months or so. I have about a dozen books that I have utterly failed to read and review and are now long past their publication. There are multiple reasons for this, but the two most overwhelming are an incredibly long and incredibly hot summer, which was energy sapping and demoralizing (and hasn't this year in general been, anyway?), and second is that I accepted a new job. 

But I return! I return for Ottolenghi. I was so incredibly excited to receive an advanced copy of his new book, Sweet. I'd be excited for any Ottolenghi, but this one is particularly in my wheelhouse, given that it is all about sweet things.  

This book doesn't disappoint. 

I have, in fact, already baked something from it, but it was in the midst of an already busy week and made for guests for a Wednesday (!) night dinner party, so I have no photographs of the cake or the guest who took one bite and instantly said, "Oh! Now tell me about THIS."

In classic Ottolenghi style, he and Goh are excellent at overwhelming the reader with gorgeous photography and equally if not more enticing recipes that marry often unique combinations of flavours (but don't read unique to be questionable or difficult-to-source).

It should be noted, however, that some of the recipes may both seem and be daunting to less experienced bakers. I'd categorize the Roma's Doughnuts with Saffron Custard Cream or the Mont Blanc Tarts here, for example. There are multiple steps including more fiddly things like frying or tempering chocolate, but it's a minor complaint because it is a book centered around sweets and baking so of course there's going to be some of this. One can be reassured that even in these more daunting recipes, they are excellent at providing details and specifications and even alternative ingredients or methods to guide and support. For example, they clearly LOVE mini-cakes, which frequently require speciality bakeware that can often be more difficult to source, require spending more money, and take up room in one's kitchen that be difficult to justify, being that they exist for ONE sort of creation. It makes sense that they like them because that's the sort of thing to sell in their bakeries/restaurants in London. However, in (almost) every single instance, they acknowledge all the above limitations and tell you how to adjust the recipe, as needed, if you choose to just make a full cake in your one regular cake pan or a muffin tin.    

But the recipes that are more approachable certainly outweigh any that might give a moment of hesitation.... 

Orange and Star Anise Shortbread

Soft Gingerbread Tiles with Rum Butter Glaze

Lemon and Raspberry Cupcakes

Beet, Ginger, and Sour Cream Cake

Apple and Olive Oil Cake with Maple Frosting

Almond Butter Cake with Cardamom and Baked Plums

Rhubarb and Blueberry Galette

Walnut and Black Treacle Tarts with Crystallized Sage

Sticky Fig Pudding with Salted Caramel and Coconut Topping

Campari and Grapefruit Sorbet

If you love cheesecakes (not really my thing), you are going to be so happy with this. A disappointment for me is no chapter on yeasted things. I can certainly understand their decision not to court a Pandora's box by trying to restrict such a broad category to one chapter (and he mentions this briefly), but still. 

Ottolenghi and Goh both have sections where they write about their partnership and what brought them to this point in their careers and in both instances, they mostly write about one another.  

There's an extensive section of Baker's Tips & Notes, information that is often easy to gloss over in cookbooks but they keep the writing engaging and informative enough that it makes it easy to keep reading because of how many interesting tidbits and techniques one can learn. 

Ottolenghi's section of writing, which opens the book, begins with a Sugar Manifesto. I was sorely tempted to recount almost all of it here but in the interest of brevity, here's just part of it:

"In the fickle world of food fads and fashions, Public Enemy No. 1 is constantly changing: eggs, fats, carbs - we are told to restrict our intake of them one year, and then to make them a major part of our diet the next. To those who do as they're told, it's all very confusing. 

In the midst of this confusion, we try to stick with the simple rule of what you see is what you get. People will make responsible choices about what and how much to eat so long as they are not consuming things without realizing it - hidden sugars, hidden salts, hidden elements with names we can't even pronounce, let alone understand what they are. There is nothing wrong with treats, as long as we know what they are and enjoy them as such."

While I hesitate to concur with the statement that "people will make responsible choices about what and how much they eat so long as they are not consuming things without realizing it...", I do agree that there is nothing hidden here - everything is clearly a treat, and clearly meant to be moderated as one. I'm reminded of a Michael Pollan statement that I am certainly going to butcher so much that it's not even a quote, but it was about how we can eat things like french fries.... so long as it's something that we make ourselves. The effort that it takes to peel and prepare the fries and to fry them up is one that both reminds us of precisely what is in such a treat and also prohibits (most of) us from making and eating them every day (also, the act of making it at home gives us the opportunity to control what's going into the dish). It's precisely the same situation here, with all these astounding sweets. 

I made the Gingerbread with Brandy Apples and Créme Fraîche. This is one of those recipes that lies within the realm of There's a Bit of Effort Required But It's Really Not All That Much and Its Returns are Well Worth It. If you actually decide to get the book (I actually had my physical copy pre-ordered back in February and despite that Penguin Random House provided an advanced digital copy, I retained my pre-order because the book is too amazing in print to not have) and to make this recipe, my only suggestions would be not to run out of molasses and partially substitute with golden syrup like I did (and I am, in fact, going to try it with the treacle syrup next time) and to probably make at least half as much more of the brandied apples and their sauce.