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What happens when one of the world's top pastry chefs takes her children to one of the world's most renowned botanic gardens? If the pastry chef is Ottolenghi's Helen Goh and the gardens are London's famed Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew, a delicious confection is bound to be born. We'd expect nothing less from Helen Goh, who has been Yotam Ottolenghi's longtime collaborator and pastry chef at his London shops, and is the co-author of their new desserts cookbook, Sweet—the woman behind so many of the treats we've been dying to make at home for ourselves.
Helen Goh did not start her career in pastry or in product development for a mini empire of restaurants and take-away shops. She started in pharmaceutical sales—a job she left to follow her passion for baking, opening a cafe with her boyfriend at the time; from there she worked in Melbourne restaurants before she got a graduate degree in psychology. Eventually, she found herself splitting her days between seeing patients as a therapist and moonlighting as a pastry chef, perfecting the cake that would come to be known as the World's Best Chocolate Cake. When she decided to pursue pastry full time, she made her way to London, met Yotam Ottolenghi (of aforementioned mini empire), and the rest is sweet history.
This year, Ottolenghi and Goh released their first book together (and Ottolenghi's first dessert-focused cookbook): Sweet: Desserts from London's Ottolenghi. The book features recipes for everything you've ogled (whether in person or online) in the London shop's windows: cookies, mini-cakes, full-sized cakes, cheesecakes, tarts and pies, and confectionery. There are sweets for all occasions, from everyday cookies (like Cranberry, Oat, and White Chocolate Biscuits) to mini-cakes perfect for a mid-afternoon treat (like Lemon and Poppyseed Cake) to showstopping desserts (like the Rolled Pavlova with Peaches and Blackberries). And there are so many divine confections: candies and treats to be wrapped in cellophane, tied with a ribbon, and given as the most welcome gift of all time.
"People love to have treats baked for them and people love to receive gifts," the authors write in their introduction to the chapter on confections:
"Combine the two and all your Christmases have, quite literally, come at once...whatever the occasion, there's nothing more satisfying than turning up at a friend's house with a little bag, box or stick of something, and being able to slip in the fact that you made them. 'You made them?!' It's a real ta-da! moment: the celebration of small and sweet things."
These "small and sweet things" are some of the most enchanting recipes in the book. They reflect the charm, seasonality, inventiveness, and London-meets-the-world flavors and inspirations that Ottolenghi is best known for.
Take the Woodland Meringues, for example—a gorgeous, simple confection inspired by London's Kew Gardens and Helen's children. Helen had taken her boys to the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew for a day trip one fall. The gardens are huge (over 325 acres), and home to an extraordinarily diverse range of plants, trees, and flowers: the arboretum features over 14,000 trees; there are 9,000 species of grasses from around the world; 1,200 bamboo species (along with a traditional Japanese farmhouse); an award-winning "kitchen garden" planted on a site that had been used to grow produce for George III; a conservatory with ten different climate zones including cacti, orchids, carnivorous plants; a giant walkway bordered by 30,000 different types of plants; and a 37-acre wild area that's...well, just wild growth.
On the day that Helen was there with her sons, the ground was covered in horse chestnuts—brown nut-like orbs contained in a spiky green coat. The boys wanted to eat them; their mother had to tell them they couldn't. Their mother, also being one of the top pastry chefs in the world, went home and created a treat reminiscent of the horse chestnuts that the boys could eat.
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The confections are a simple meringue piped up nice and tall, then given a dip in melted chocolate (dark or white) and a roll in hazelnuts or chopped freeze-dried strawberries. The effect is so delightful: the touch of chocolate and topping (it's still topping if it's on the bottom, right?) makes these feel incredibly special, and they come together so easily that we're stocking up on cellophane bags and gifting these beauties all season long.
Want to make these meringues yourself? Well lucky you, we've got Helen showing you how in the video above.
We've partnered with VisitBritain to take a closer look at the foods, producers, restaurants, and regions that make Great Britain a top destination for food-loving travelers. Follow along on Instagram to see what's going on across the pond at @lovegreatbritain and what Great Britain is eating at @greatbritishfood.