Cake

In Ottolenghi’s Sweet, Here's the Recipe You’ll Bake the Most

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October  6, 2017

This article is brought to you by Ten Speed Press. Head here to learn more about the wonderful new cookbook Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh—or here to enter to win a trip to London, Ottolenghi-style: that's two tickets to London, luxe accommodations, dinner for two at Ottolenghi, and signed copies of all five of Yotam Ottolenghi's books!

When I first got my copy of Sweet, the all-dessert cookbook from Yotam Ottolenghi and his longtime sugar conspirator, Helen Goh, I fainted. But once I came to, I dog-eared nearly every recipe in the book to the extent that all said dog-ears became meaningless.

In a stupor of sugar, I baked through the three pounds of butter in my freezer within the first week of receiving my copy.

There is Hazelnut Crumble Cake with Gianduja Icing, and Apricot and Amaretto Cheesecake, and Rolled Pavlova with Peaches and Blackberries. There are cloud-light sandwich cookies called Powder Puffs, there are Saffron and Almond Ice Cream Sandwiches, and there are—for crying out loud—Little Baked Chocolate Tarts with Tahini and Sesame Brittle.

In a stupor of sugar, I baked through the three pounds of butter in my freezer within the first week of receiving my copy.

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Vibrant flavors, colors, and textures have made Ottolenghi's other books, as well as his mini restaurant fiefdom, the new standard-bearers of culinary creativity. And with the diligence and ingenuity of Goh—a former psycotherapist who would show up to his house every Sunday afternoon with stacks of cakes, each distinguished by a undetectable-to-most tweak—Ottolenghi laid claim to the realm of dessert, as well.

But paging through the book, I was most surprised not by the abundant citrus, or the fresh gooseberries and husk cherries and figs, or the coffee and semolina, passionfruit pulp and star anise and pandan (would I expect anything else?), but by a fairly plain tea cake called, frill-less-ly, "Lemon and Poppy Seed Cake (National Trust Version)."

It is a plain-looking cake, and is easily overshadowed by all the other colourful offerings.
Helen Goh, being honest

How did such a humble loaf—with no fanciful tahini-cocoa swirl, or candied fennel flower garnish, or sumac streusel—end up here? Who let him into this party?

"However ambitious and discerning Helen's palate," the headnote explains, "this light lemon cake is the one she'd take with her to a desert island if she could only choose one."

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Top Comment:
“This is a great loaf cake, I want to make this as a round cake - I think I'll bake two batches, but fear that it will make well over enough for two tins, but one will be less than two. I guess maybe it'll be three. In any case, it is fabulous. I'm planning on filling the middle with a cream cheese mixed with some meyer lemon marmalade and then using the same glaze on the top. I managed to find some amazing candied lemon rounds at TJ's and they look gorgous on the top. ”
— nazilam
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I asked Helen what made this loaf stand out—if not in looks or in ingredients, than in good old deliciousness. First, it's the method: It has a texture akin to pound cake, but the technique makes for a finer, more delicate texture: Rather than cream butter and sugar before incorporating the eggs one by one, you start by whisking together the eggs and sugar. The addition of heavy cream makes the cake particularly tender and moist; the abundant lemon zest perfumes each slice without inducing puckers; and the glaze, bolstered by confectioners' sugar, does not seep into the cake, thereby avoiding any syrupy sogginess.

Who you calllin' humble? Photo by Bobbi Lin

The lemon loaf is Helen's perfect accompaniment to a mug of tea—but it was nearly forgotten. While it was included in the earliest version of the Ottolenghi "X Files," a PDF of all the recipes followed by pastry chefs at the restaurants and cafés, no one could pinpoint its origin and the recipe was rarely made. Helen herself had never eaten it before testing it for the cookbook and falling in love: "It does not sell well in our stores," she told me: "It is a plain-looking cake, and is easily overshadowed by all the other colourful offerings."

Ultimately Yotam and I were guided by the notion that if we wanted to eat it, then chances are that others would, too.
Helen Goh, Standing Up for this Loaf

And it barely elbowed its way into the book—though thank goodness it did. "We felt, initially, it might have been too simple and prove disappointing to the readers. But over time, it became clear that our motivation was for the book to be accessible, and that our mission was to satisfy rather than to impress," she explained to me.

Yet, for what it's worth, we made this cake on a day the Food52 office was inundated with desserts—and it was gone in ten minutes flat. I saved a piece for a friend who told me it was hands down the best lemon cake she's ever had.

If that's not impressive, I'm not sure what is.

This article is brought to you by Ten Speed Press. Head here to learn more about the wonderful new cookbook Sweet by Yotam Ottolenghi and Helen Goh—or here to enter to win a trip to London, Ottolenghi-style: that's two tickets to London, luxe accommodations, dinner for two at Ottolenghi, and signed copies of all five of Yotam Ottolenghi's books!

Do you have strong poppy seed opinions? Tell us in the comments below.

9 Comments

Meredith L. October 26, 2017
Very nice cake. And very easy. I used an 8 inch round pan, which fit nicely. I decreased the cook time to 40 minutes. Could probably have been done in 35. <br />I was concerned b/c is says to spoon the batter into the pan, but mine was pourable. All turned out fine:)
 
nazilam October 26, 2017
This is a great loaf cake, I want to make this as a round cake - I think I'll bake two batches, but fear that it will make well over enough for two tins, but one will be less than two. I guess maybe it'll be three. In any case, it is fabulous. I'm planning on filling the middle with a cream cheese mixed with some meyer lemon marmalade and then using the same glaze on the top. I managed to find some amazing candied lemon rounds at TJ's and they look gorgous on the top.
 
SusieQ October 15, 2017
I haven't tried this recipe yet but I can't imagine why I would ever change from my trusted Ukrainian Poppyseed Loaf from Susan Purdy's book "A Piece of Cake." It is hands down the absolute best poppyseed cake and you can't ruin it - it says to separate the eggs but I never do, I've swapped coconut oil for the butter, soy milk for the regular milk, made it in round cake pans or muffin tins and decorative silicon bakers. It is always a hit and if there are any leftovers, they taste even better the next day. And did I mention that you can freeze it?
 
MelissaH October 9, 2017
If you like this technique, also check out Dorie Greenspan's Rum-Drenched Vanilla Cake, which also starts with eggs and sugar, and adds melted butter later. The recipe was originally published in Baking: From My Home to Yours in 2006, but is available on the web.
 
Regine October 7, 2017
Original recipe says 1 1/4 not 1 1/3 tsp baking powder so the 1/3 tsp is probably a typo.
 
Liz H. October 6, 2017
1 1/3 of a teaspoon? How does one measure 1/3 of a teaspoon?
 
Mariel October 15, 2017
a heaping 1/4 tsp?
 
Ed H. October 6, 2017
How much flour?
 
Ali S. October 6, 2017
Thanks for the catch! The recipe's now been updated: 1 1/3 cups (170 grams) all-purpose flour