Creating original, good dessert recipes isn’t easy. There are so many brownies recipes out there already, the same for a cupcake or ice cream recipe. Finding a book that really teaches you something new if you’ve got your basics covered isn’t always easy. A lot of authors also tend to build onto one common theme. The different recipes all use the same base, but differ slightly in their execution. This is of course convenient for both author and reader (you’re pantry can be a bit smaller), it does limit the scope of what you’ll actually learn from a book.
‘Sweet‘ (affiliate link) , by Yotam Ottolenghi on the other hand, is the complete opposite. Every recipe is very different from the previous, both with regards to ingredients, textures as well as flavours. There is a ton to learn and the flavour combinations, though sometimes surprising work surprisingly well. It’s the most used sweets cookbook in our line up (tried over 20 recipes and made several of those more than just once)!
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Yotam Ottolenghi, one of two authors of this book, has had a food store/cafe in London, the UK, for years. He and his team sell a variety of savoury and sweet snacks, made at their own facilities. Ottolenghi food isn’t your typical British fare. Instead, it borrows flavours and techniques from a wealth of countries. Initially they were heavily Mediterranean inspired, bringing in Yotam’s Israeli heritage. They continuously expand and experiment though.
Yotam Ottolenghi became famous for his savoury cookbooks such as Plenty and Yerusalem. All lean heavily into light Mediterranean inspired cooking with plenty of vegetables. Sweet (affiliate link) is the only ‘sweet’ cookbook in Yotam Ottolenghi’s repertoire so far. This repertoire in itself is impressive. He published about one new book every two years, since his first, ‘Ottolenghi’, in 2008.
Ottolenghi, both personally and as a business, “are very serious about making people happy through our food (…) it’s vibrant and bold yet familiar and comforting”. This way of thinking about food even shone through during a visit of Yotam at Masterchef Australia (one of my favourite tv series out there). Down to earth, “normal”, but inspiring. Instead of buying the book for his personality or person, I bought the book because of how he spoke about food. It’s seemingly a great way to choose books since it’s definitely one of my favorite cookbooks.
Even though it is Yotam who gets most of the credit for his cookbooks, he has actualy written several of them with someone else. In this specific instance with Helen Goh, who has been with Ottolenghi since 2006. Before moving to London and working with Yotam, she was a well respected head pastry chef in Australia.
Her career path at Ottolenghi has been less than conventional to say the least though. Helen isn’t just a pastry chef, she is also a psychologist and works best when she can work on both of her passions. As such, after working in Ottolenghi’s kitchen for some time, she slowly transitioned into the role of product developer.
In her role she is able to try new recipes, techniques and flavour combinations. Always getting feedback from Yotam and other staff members. It is from this role that the idea for the book Sweet emerged. Her pastry expertise and skill were essential to bring the book to life. Together they’ve been to numerous tastings and improvements to make this book work.
The vision on sugar
An essential part of this book is that recurring food philosophy (did you know Yotam is a graduated philosopher?). A major aspect of this is their thinking around sugar and ‘free from’ foods. They’re well aware that eating 3 pies a day is not good for you. But, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat any pie any more. Eat with consideration, know what you’re eating and enjoy it. It’s better to really enjoy a slice of something ‘less healthy’ than not at all enjoying something ‘healthy’ (which most likely will make you eat something else later in the day).
This vision clicks well with me own beliefs and experiences and I like their common sense thinking. Since their vision shines through in their recipes, it is a core part of whether you will like the book. They makes recipes in a way that they think they taste best. If that makes a recipe gluten-free or nut-free, that’s fine, but it’s not the goal. This is honest cooking.
Design & lay-out
Of course, the book is all about sweet treats. Within that realm. each chapter highlights a different category. There are a lot of nice and original variations on existing themes. There’s a chapter on cookies, cakes, cheesecakes, confectionery snacks and more. They cover a wide range of ‘sweets’ making this a great all-round cookbook (as opposed to more specialized books such as Hello, my name is ice cream).
The chapters are the best way to find a recipe that you’d like to make. There is no detailed table of contents at the start, so you’ll just have to leaf through. Since this is what I tend to do with any new cookbook, putting in paper slips with recipes I want to make some time in the future, it works for me.
Almost all of the recipes have a beautiful photos accompanying them. For me, at least one photo per recipe is a must in a cookbook. I use them to decide what I’ll make (I’m pretty sure that I’ve made more recipes with than without a photo!). Also, they are a good help to know what you’re striving for when making the recipe.
That said, if you’re all about step-by-step photos this book isn’t for you since it doesn’t contain any. I would argue these step-by-step photos aren’t even necessary. The instructions are very clear and well written. The overall lay-out is very user friendly with a good use of bolder fonts and white space to make recipes and the book, easy to follow.
Sweet (affiliate link) is all about discovery of new recipes. It doesn’t contain your staples such as apple pie, regular cup cakes or brownies. That doesn’t mean they aren’t there, they’re just slightly modified. You’ll be able to find an apple cake with maple frosting, lemon and raspberry cupcakes and tahini & halve brownies.
There are over a 100 recipes and all have a twist to them. The recipes are a mix of Mediterranean, English, Australian and various other cuisines. This is probably partly why all those recipes are so original. Although all the thorough recipe testing and evolution have contributed as well.
At first sight the recipes look quite complex. However, since the book is so well written, the recipes are actually very do-able. The instructions are very clear and due to the clean lay-out it is very easy to go through all the steps one by one without losing track of what has to be done.
The same goes for the ingredient lists. The ingredient lists can be quite long, but generally the ingredients are pretty common that you’ll be able to find either in a larger supermarket or online.
This book can keep you busy for a while while teaching you a variety of new skills and flavour combinations. Ever thought about making cake with parsnips (yummy!) or using rosemary in chocolate tarts (surprisingly delicious)? It’s these new, surprising things that make the book unique and worthwhile to explore and use
Cooking/baking the book
By now I’ve cooked over 20 recipes from the book. With the exception of one (due to an ingredient replacement I made that I shouldn’t have) all worked out great. Some where reasonably easy, doable within 30 minutes of preparation. Others were a lot more extensive (the frozen espresso parfait) but all came together so well. It’s the flavour combinations that really make this book work well.
Sweet (affiliate link) is definitely one of my favorite cookbooks. The recipes are original, have amazingly good flavour combinations, are very doable and just work out great. That said, I wouldn’t advise the book to a beginning baker, it might be a little daunting since you won’t find a lot of your basic, traditional recipes in here. Once you have some experience (this doesn’t have to be a lot) baking you will find that this book will teach you new skills and thoughts to help you improve.
Apart from that, his philosophy, beauty of the photos and overall lay-out and structure are simply very good. If you like baking and making sweet things, this truly is an addition for your cookbook shelf!
After buying and using Sweet, we also bought Plenty, a vegetarian cookbook from Yotam. In our house it’s not used as much as Sweet, but definitely just as original.
Jane Cornwell, Pastry chef Helen Goh: How Yotam Ottolenghi nudges me to ‘be bolder’, The Sydney Morning Herald, Sep-8, 2017, link
Ottolenghi, visited Jan-2020, link
Sierra Tishgart, How Helen Goh Became Yotam Ottolenghi’s Go-to Baker, Grubstreet, Oct-25, 2017, link
Wikipedia, Yotam Ottolenghi (for list of published books), link