STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
There is plenty enough holiday season left for you to get some holiday treats. British-Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi coauthored a book called "Sweet" and has some suggestions.
YOTAM OTTOLENGHI: Holiday in the northern hemisphere - you know, this time of year, it's winter, so it's cold. So you want things that are kind of warming - so things with spices, with caramel, with chocolate - all these kind of flavors work really well - fried food. And also alcohol - you know, a bit of brandy, a bit of gin, a bit of vodka - all those things - red wine - really help. So, for me, you know, wintery desserts have to have a kind of a warming aspect to them. And that's what I'm looking for. But also with festivities, you want colors. So although things that are perceived as a bit summery, like red currants, but actually this is very Christmassy, as well.
INSKEEP: Of course, red, yeah.
OTTOLENGHI: Red currants and black currants - things that look good as decoration for beautiful cakes and pastries that you have.
INSKEEP: OK, so warmth and color. I wonder if simplicity of making it is also something. I mean, the house is overrun with kids and relatives. You don't want anything too complicated maybe.
OTTOLENGHI: So there's two types of desserts that I would go for if I was cooking in this time of year. I mean, the staples can be simple. So, you know, a good cookie or a biscuit. You know, you could use something like we've got in my book. There's a recipe for pecan snowballs, which is buttery cookies that are filled with pecan nuts and a bit of rosewater...
INSKEEP: I'm already there - pecan snowballs.
OTTOLENGHI: When they come out of the oven, you roll them in icing sugar. You call it powdered sugar, I think?
OTTOLENGHI: And they go all white and beautiful and snowy. So it's, in a sense, something that is quite simple. You can have the dough ready. You just put them in the oven. As soon as they come out of the oven, you dust them. So those are the simple things. But some people like to kind of make an effort. So they make something like a yule log or, you know, or sufganiyah for Hanukkah. So things that take a bit more effort. But because it's time off and everybody getting together and putting something quite impressive together is another aspect of of holiday cooking or baking.
INSKEEP: You - well, in your book here, I flipped it open to something called the vineyard cake, which has an alternative name the Cleopatra cake, which sounds...
OTTOLENGHI: Oh, yeah, that is a wonderful cake. I can't tell you how good it is. It's got a whole bottle of dessert wine in it. And what happens when you add dessert wine to a cake, you don't get drunk. But you got all the wonderful flavors of fermentation. You know, the aging of a good dessert wine brings a lot of flavor with it.
And this particular cake has got the most wonderful texture - crumb really soft and pillowy. It's got grapes. It's got olive oil. And it's got this dessert wine. And it's got also some citruses - the orange and lemon. So everything together gives you really intense flavors and a wonderful texture. And it looks great because it's got grapes on top with kind of melted butter over them. It's sensational.
INSKEEP: Yeah, you've got a picture here. I mean, it's crumbly, but it also looks kind of savory. I mean, there's a lot of different flavors going on there.
OTTOLENGHI: Yeah, absolutely. And it is really, really good. I mean, people look at it and go, oh, this got olive oil in a cake; that's a bit unusual. But actually, olive oil, just like the wine, really adds complexity and richness, which is really what you want for a holiday.
INSKEEP: How do you get this thing together?
OTTOLENGHI: It's not that complicated. It's a simple sponge cake that you make. And then halfway through the baking, you add some butter mixed with sugar. So it creates this beautiful crust on top. But it really, really is simple. And it's one of those recipes that you take out of the oven and the whole house just - the smell spreads throughout the house. Everybody just rushes to the kitchen to try the first bite.
INSKEEP: This is a little more spectacular looking - the next thing I want to discuss here - rolled pavlova. Am I saying that right? Rolled pavlova with peaches and blackberries. And I'm having a Pavlovian reaction to the pavlova.
INSKEEP: I'm salivating looking at this thing. Tell me about it.
OTTOLENGHI: So pavlova, for people who don't know, is essentially is a meringue that is filled up with cream and fruit. Normally, it's a round beautiful thing. So it's open, and you pour the cream onto the center, which is slightly - you know, it's concave. And then you put lots of fruit on top. But this is another version on this, which is you make a kind of a sponge almost made out of meringue. So it's a rollable meringue. It's a square...
INSKEEP: It becomes like a wrap. You roll it up. Go on.
OTTOLENGHI: Yeah, it's a roulade or wrap or Swiss roll. And you whip some cream. You spread it over it. And then you put your seasonal fruit. I mean, around Christmas, I use red currants, maybe some passion fruit, tropical fruits - the stuff you get around Christmas - citrus. But it doesn't matter what fruit you use. You spread it all on top, and you roll it. And it looks sensational because the meringue cracks. And it looks like a yule log, you know, like a Christmas log, where the meringue is the bark of the tree. And as soon as you dust it with a bit of powdered sugar, it really looks the part.
INSKEEP: Do you serve this hot or cold?
OTTOLENGHI: You serve it cold. It's super light. And if you wanted to make, like, a warm compote and serve with that, it's absolutely fine. But I think this is something you bring to the table. It's super impressive. And everybody goes like, wow. And they think they can't eat much of it because it's big and impressive. But, actually, it's super light because meringue has a lot of air in it. And they come back for seconds and thirds. I can tell you that.
INSKEEP: So when you're a noted chef, do you get, like, lots of invitations to come to people's houses for the holidays and people just think, maybe, you might just happen to bring something?
OTTOLENGHI: (Laughter) I think they think that. Yeah, and I often do. Only yesterday, I went to a friend's house, and I made some cupcakes from "Sweet," from the book. And it is just something I do. And, yeah, I guess that's it. But some people are terrified of inviting chefs to their...
OTTOLENGHI: ..Houses as well. So there's that side, as well.
INSKEEP: Pressure, pressure.
OTTOLENGHI: Yeah, absolutely.
INSKEEP: What holidays do you celebrate, if I can ask?
OTTOLENGHI: So we are a mixed-religious couple. So my - I'm Jewish, and my husband is from Northern Ireland from not a very practicing Catholic family but still from a Catholic background. So we celebrate mostly Christmas, a little bit of Hanukkah and whatever else anyone else wants to celebrate around us.
INSKEEP: Is there anything that you make that feels like it leans toward one particular holiday or another?
OTTOLENGHI: Look, I mean, most people around us celebrate Christmas. So things tend to be Christmassy, especially in the U.K. In London, a lot of people celebrate Christmas. So Christmas becomes the kind of - the starting point for the holiday conversation. But then, you know, people do celebrate in so many ways. And London is cosmopolitan, so you've got a lot of people from everywhere. So I think it becomes less and less of a religious thing and more and more of a celebration, which is where I feel very comfortable. You know, all those flavors of the spices, all the things we spoke about - the meringues and beautiful sweets - they really work well in any context and in any celebration. So I'm just happy to bring it along. And people are normally very happy.
INSKEEP: Yotam Ottolenghi is co-author with Helen Goh of "Sweet." Thanks very much.
OTTOLENGHI: Thank you. It was so good to talk to you.
(SOUNDBITE OF TRIO WEST'S "THE CHRISTMAS SONG")
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