Yotam Ottolenghi on his new book, Sweet, his co-author and fellow baking fanatic Helen Goh and tips for baking novices
I’ve always loved food. I love everything about it: the celebration, the communal nature of it – getting together, sharing dishes around – the connection of food to place and memory and the experimentation.
My first job in a professional kitchen was whisking egg whites, which I did pretty much consistently for three months. I was very junior in the kitchen and my job was to prepare them for
the popular vanilla soufflés we sold.
My parents are both great cooks so that was a good starting point for me. Claudia Roden has always been an inspiration too, and all the chefs I work with at Ottolenghi. Baking-wise, Rose Levy Beranbaum has taught me a lot in her books.
Helen [Goh] and I have been baking together for more than ten years, so our book, Sweet, has been a long time in the making. We were always going to do it, it was just finding the right time for us both.
"The years Helen and I have spent working together mean that we’re very robust when it comes to judging a bake"
The years Helen and I have spent working together mean that we’re very robust when it comes to judging a bake, so it never becomes personal. We’ve also got a huge shared archive of recipes and vocabulary so we can speak in a sort of shorthand which also helps.
There is a cake, cookie or dessert to suit every occasion in the book, so it’s really hard to pick a favourite. I’ve got a bit of a soft spot for alcohol in sweet things, though, so the Vineyard Cake, which takes a whole bottle of wine in the batter, is certainly a bit of a favourite.
If you’re baking for the first time, cookies are always a really good place to start. Making the cookie dough alone for the chocolate chip cookies, for example, is thrilling enough and delicious to nibble on before you’ve even turned on the oven.
I’ve always loved Notting Hill. It’s a great neighbourhood with tonnes of energy. The match between what we were trying to do [when we launched Ottolenghi] and the customer base was a good one.