Yotam and Helen Goh – Yotam’s long-term collaborator on all things sweet – discuss some of the secrets behind our legendary Christmas cake
Q. What are the three top words people use when they first eat the Ottolenghi Christmas cake? Helen: Fruity, boozy and rich. Yotam: And not overly sweet, which Christmas cakes can tend to be.
Q. What do we do to get this level of boozy richness into the cake? Can you briefly talk us through the process and give a sense of the time frame? When does the bakery start making it? Helen: We begin the process just after the summer holidays, in early September, when the fruit and alcohol are ordered. Everything is measured and cut up and then left to macerate in large tubs which are kept in a cool dark place to plump up. After a few weeks, the first batch of cakes are made. They are cooked for a long time at a low temperature and then get doused with more alcohol as they come out of the oven. They are then wrapped and left to mature for several weeks, after which a layer of marzipan balls are placed on top. Yotam: We like our cakes to have a time-honoured look so they then get a little bit of blow torch before they are carefully wrapped in cellophane and sent out to the shops for the next set of elves to get working their magic on them.
Q. What is the booze in the cake? Yotam: Brandy and rum. Christmas cake is basically an excuse to see how much alcohol you can get fruit to absorb. Always a good thing in my book.
Q. Which fruit? Helen: So many you could make a Christmas day game over guessing the ingredients in the cake! People will guess the sultanas, raisins, date and mixed peel but then there are a host of other secret Santa fruity ingredients in there: dried pineapple, dried apricots, prunes, glace cherries, fresh orange and lemon zest, orange marmalade. Yotam: Off the fruit theme, extra brownie points can be given for black treacle, mixed spice, cinnamon and nutmeg.
Q. Why are they sold in little 500g packs? Are they not too big for one portion, on one hand, and too small to share on the other? Or is each cake more than enough for people to have a bite of, as it’s so rich? Does it get sliced or quartered?! Helen: The size of the cakes is one of our favourite things about it. So often, Christmas cakes have one or two slices taken out of them and the remainder sits there for days, making us feel slightly guilty about the gluttony that encouraged us to think we could eat all of it in the first place. With our cakes, there is the perfect amount for a good few people to share – you only need a few mouthfuls with coffee or tea (or more brandy or rum) – without a crumb going to waste. Yotam: Their size also makes them super lovely gifts to take to people at Christmas or to slip into a stocking.
Q. Is there room on the table for a marzipan and icing-free Christmas cake or do you think it should it always, by definition, get its marzipan-icing wrapping? Yotam: I always like the little layer of marzipan and icing on top of the cake. It makes it look like the snow has come and laid its blanket and also, secretly, gives a little soft base for any novelty Christmas figures that might be finding their way onto the Christmas table to position themselves. Helen: It also gives a little something for kids to tear off and eat, if they are not going for the rum-soaked fruit.
Q. What’s the best thing to drink alongside Christmas cake. Tea, coffee, sweet wine, bubbles? Helen: Anything goes, really. Our cake is not overly sweet so it works just as well with sweet bubbles or wine as it does with tea and coffee.
Q. Finally, is there room on the festive table for Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, a chocolate log, mince pies and a trifle or should we all be a bit more sensible and choose just one or two? Yotam: Christmas is not the time to be sensible. A little bit of everything, when it comes to pudding, I reckon. Hence the joy of our perfectly-sized Christmas cakes which means you can experience the joy of bounty without actually having to consume a full-sized portion of each and every option
The Ottolenghi team has searched across the Mediterranean - from beach shacks in Istanbul to the alleys of Jerusalem - for the best street food there is. Get ready for thick, fluffy pittas bursting with flavours; sumptuous salads and exotic desserts.
When it comes to food and drink and all good things, Yotam is a very open-minded. Anything, pretty much, goes. Anything, that is, apart from tinned sweetcorn and rosé wine. We couldn’t get the Green Giant to come in to the test kitchen to defend the case of sweetcorn but, far more excitingly, are delighted to welcome Ottolenghi wine buyer Heidi Nam Knudsen back to the test kitchen court to present her case in the ongoing trial of Yotam vs. Rosé wines.
Q: Heidi, in a sentence or two: what’s the case in favour?
A: Rose wines are just deliciously versatile and lots of fun! These wines work brilliantly alongside salads and can cope with even strongly flavoured dressings; they go very well with spicy food or with simple grilled meats or vegetables.
Q: Yotam, in a sentence or two: what’s the case against?
A: There's nothing inherently wrong with rose. I guess it's a hang-up from days when I foolishly looked at the world through a black and white prism, or, rather, red and white, with no room for greys and pinks. I feel grown up enough now to kick this bias and accept every shade along the spectrum, from white to pink, to red, to orange, which is my current favourite.
Q: Yotam, in our last blog you said that you’d take ‘anything apart from rose’ on a summer lunch and that Heidi was ‘still working on your ridiculously baseless bias against rose’. So, here goes. Are you not just being a bit narrow-minded or prejudiced against the wine, due to the slightly naff associations is has. Are you possibly just being a bit snobby? Although you do love Lambrusco which suffers, in some people’s eyes, from the same associations so the accusation of snobbery is not very watertight.
A: Snobbery is definitely a factor here. I have so many painful youth memories of the cheap stuff and a series lingering mild headaches.
Q:And it’s not just because it is pink, is it? You love barberries, sumac, pink peppercorns, bright pink rhubarb and beetroot and sumac so it’s clearly to do with something more than the colour.
A: I've got nothing against pink. As a matter of fact, I am known to have many a pink shirt in my wardrobe, perhaps a few too many.
Q: Heidi, Why do you think rose is seen as a bit of a naff choice of wine – has that just come from its pretty-in-pink colour?
A: Possibly - but also because it is often cheaper than white or red wines because they don't need to age. Most rose wines should be enjoyed when they are young. There is definitely some snobbery against these wines....
Q: Heidi, what is rose wine and how is it made?
A: It is made with dark skinned grapes - the skins are left to macerate for either a long or short time depending on the style of wine.
Q: Why is it (stereo)-typically sweeter than other wines? Is it sweeter or are there other less sweet varieties you’d recommend people try?
A: These wines are actually not sweeter than other wines - I think because of the colour they have been given a bad rep! A lot of these wines are actually very dry. I'm a big fan of bone dry Lambrusco so still think people should give this humble, most delicious drink a chance!
Q: Heidi, do you only drink it chilled, during the summer, or would you have it throughout the year?
A: I would drink these wines throughout the whole year, all the time....
Q: Yotam, are you convinced or at least encouraged to try? Or are you going to stick the summer with your sherry, chilled reds and Lambrusco?
A: As I said, I am determined to love rose. It is so cool at the moment!!
For an impressive and distinct dressing, reduce 180 millilitres of verjuice in a small pan until just 2 tablespoons of liquid remain. Whisk in 1½ tablespoons of oil and half a tablespoon of lemon juice and then drizzle over some summer leaves for a show-stealing salad.
Inspired by the vibrant market stalls and the smoking grills of the Middle East, Sesame is a new food offering from Noam Bar, one of the founders of Ottolenghi. With intimate knowledge of the food traditions of the Mediterranean combined with the support and the creativity of his colleagues in Ottolenghi - Sami Tamimi and Yotam Ottolenghi - the result is fast food with tradition, heritage and authority.
Freshly grilled chicken or lamb wrapped in soft, fluffy pitta filled with freshly cut vegetable salad and spiced with tahini and tangy condiments. For vegetarians we have a delicious Iraqi dish - Sabick - made with specially prepared aubergines, hard-boiled egg and tahini, topped with tangy mango pickle wrapped in a fluffy pitta.
Freshly grilled, and carb free: paprika and cardamom chicken, lemon and za'atar chicken or spiced lamb.
Full of flavour, our salads can be eaten as full meals or as a side dish. Some of our many options are: sweet potato with baby spinach and za'atar, cauliflower with tahini and pomegranate, butternut squash with Greek yoghurt and sumac and mixed green beans with sesame oil and chilli.
Savoury and sweet treats
Sweet and spicy nuts, hummus with zhoug and chickpeas, sesame brittle, rose walnut brownie, busbussa - a rich semolina cake flavoured with orange blossom, halva and chocolate cookies.
“We researched to find the absolute best dishes from around the Mediterranean, and mainly looked to re-create the flavours of our childhood: the generously-stuffed pittas bursting with flavours, the crunchy vegetables, still full of flavour, the tahini sauce running down our face and dripping on our school uniforms, much to the dismay of our mothers. These sunny, warm and vibrant flavours are what Sesame is all about.” - Noam Bar
We are delighted to announce the opening of our new Ottolenghi restaurant and deli, in Spitalfields, on Monday 30th March. It has a similar set up to our Upper Street branch, being able to sit 70 people. There is also a bar which customers can dine at. For those not able to sit down, there is our usual bespoke pack-to-order counter service as well as a grab-and-go fridge full of lovely ready-made salads and sandwiches.
50 Artillery Lane
London E1 7LJ
Significantly upping his output from 140 tweetable characters to an hour-long SOAS lecture, Yotam held the audience cative at the Brunei Gallery Lecture Theatre on the 12th November . Speaking on “Jerusalem on a Plate: Identity, Traditions and Ownership” as part of the Food Studies Centre’s Distinguished Lecture series, Yotam’s talk was illustrated by the stunning photos Adam Hinton took of the streets, alleys, people and food of Jerusalem when he and Yotam worked together for the JERUSALEM cookbook. Delegates to the sold-out event also received a goodie bag of Ottolenghi goodies to nibble on as they digested the sizeable themes that had been raised about race, religious and empires. Syrian Qanun players and current PhD student with SOAS’ Department of Music, Maya Youssef, provided the pre-lecture entertainment with a 30 minute recital of some of her work.