Life is Sweet

This is the first in a series I thought I’d try, where I (attempt to) objectively assess recipe books – both new and old – in my collection. Sweet has been on my gift list since before it was release (hence the ‘attempt’ at objectivity), and when I got it for Christmas just gone, I was super excited.

It has done nothing for my waistline, but it has made me crazy popular in the office as I come in each Monday morning, laden with goodies.

The book arose out of a collaboration between Yotam Ottolenghi and Australian pastry chef Helen Goh, who have been working together in Ottolenghi’s London restaurants for a number of years. The introduction gives charming little insights into their afternoons together, dreaming up exquisite, sometimes weird and wonderful recipes for all manner of sweet treats, and the (absolutely necessary) element of taste-testing that would leave all participants in “a perfect state of sugar-induced delirium”.

The book also acknowledges, given its title, that precarious position that sugar has found itself in these days, due to its addition to basically every processed product, not to mention the fact that it’s incredibly addictive. I’m guilty of the addition more than anyone else I know, but it helps to have a willing cohort of cake-happy colleagues to hoover up your creations each week, just so there’s not too much temptation left in the house. In any case, I think utter deprivation – unless you have health complications that necessitate an absolute ban on certain ingredients – is rarely a good thing, and the associated sense of counterproductive self-flagellation that comes with avoiding what you love. With that in mind, I jumped into the book with both feet, and I really bloody loved it.

The recipes

The recipes, as with most Ottolenghi recipes, are clear, concise and thorough, and allow for little amends or make-aheads either within the introductions, or in the tips in each margin. Sometimes I got caught out by a random ‘leave for 3 hours to set’ that’s tucked away halfway down the page, as I attempted to make something that at first glance seemed really quick and simple. Then again, I’m one of those people who doesn’t read the question properly in exams, so I guess for anyone who makes a practice of reading the whole recipe, you’ll probably be OK.

The writing and photography is, predictably enough, beautiful, enticing and indulgent – everything you want from a cookbook that can be devoured like a novel (my favourite kind).

Here’s what I tried:

The Neopolitan pound cake (page 184-5)

I mainly picked this lovely cake out as an excuse to try out my new Le Creuset Bundt Tin (another thing that’s been on the wishlist for a while), and it didn’t disappoint. It’s easy and quick to make, my one gripe being that the mixture was quite runny, so I didn’t get the marbly swirl quite as much as I wanted to, from all the different colours. Mine also caught slightly, due to an erratic oven, but once it was iced, it was absolutely perfect. This cake got full marks at work, even warranting a post-it review of 4 ½ stars – apparently it would have been 5, but there was only enough for once slice each. A definite hit.

Banana cake with rum caramel (page 100)

This one came from the section on tiny bakes – those elegant, beautifully decorated little morsels of loveliness that Ottolenghi delis and displays are so renowned for. I don’t own baby bundt tins (or baby tins of any description, really), so I opted for my big bundt tin again, which worked a charm. In place of rum, I used rum-matured whisky (the Balvenie 14 I used in the tropical tarte tatin from the other week), which is boozy delightfulness in itself. I think you could probably use any characterful matured spirit – maybe a spicy Highland whisky? – and it would work really well with the flavours in the cake(s). Because I didn’t go small on the tins, I made too much caramel sauce, but this is sat in a bowl in the fridge, awaiting its chance to adorn every sweet thing I eat for the next 3 weeks, so everyone’s happy.

Chocolate, banana and pecan cookies (page 29)

Hey, can you tell I had bananas to use? (I hate wasting food, I told you that). These cookies are a dream. I can’t make biscuits (I told you that once, too), but these came out perfectly. The dough chilling can be cut down to minutes rather than hours by simply putting the mixture in the freezer rather than the fridge, just FYI. The recipe was also specific about eating them within 24 hours. We managed it in 12, they were that good.

Other recipes on my list to try (this review is very much TBC):

Lemon and Blackcurrant Stripe Cake (page 145)
Roma’s doughnuts with saffron custard cream (page 113)
Middle Eastern Millionaire’s Shortbread (page 341)

Let me know if you’ve cooked anything from this book so far! I would love to compare notes.

That's it!

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