“I think”, Ryan contended, as we finished our peanut brittle chocolate cake and coffees and began to survey the Notting Hill café, his voice low, “that Ottolenghi is actually a sweets man.”
It was certainly a controversial statement. After all, most of us first have become familiar with Ottolenghi through encountering his legendary salads at dinner parties and family gatherings over the last few years. Those gorgeous, layered, complex, savoury platters that everyone has a riff on yet which still speak so clearly of Ottolenghi and his way of cooking: the bowls of giant cous cous and charred vegetables, strewn with herbs and spices from distant places; the customary deep slick of hummus and olive oil at the side of a plate that have become his signature.
Before I could disagree, Ryan went on to qualify his point, noting that every one of the salads we had eaten (we ordered seven between us) had had some play on sweetness at their core – a tangle of charred red peppers on one; a swirl of roasted sweet potato and creamy, nutty, faintly honeyed tahini in another.
Back at home and trying Ottolenghi’s recipe for tahini cookies a few weeks later, I realised that Ryan was right – so many of the ingredients that Ottolenghi has brought to the fore over the last few years have a subtle, mellow, rich sweetness to them; a sweetness that brings out the best in smoke, char or bitterness, and in turn in our cooking too. These cookies, which come from Ottolenghi’s Jerusalem cookbook show just this characteristic – the sweetness in them comes more from the flavour of tahini than the sugar, and they’re all the nicer for it.
130g caster sugar
150g butter, at room temperature
110g light tahini
1/2tsp vanilla extract
25ml double cream
270g plain flour
Pinch of cinnamon
8 dried apricots, diced
Preheat the oven to 180c. Beat the butter and sugar till it’s pale and creamy. Add the tahini, vanilla and cream, then the flour, and continue to beat. Once the dough has come together, transfer to a work surface and knead gently for a couple of minutes. Pinch off chunks of the dough, roll into balls and transfer them to parchment-lined baking sheets, leaving a good gap between each cookie. Sprinkle with a little caster sugar and some sesame seed if you like and press some dried apricot into the centre of each. Bake for around 10-15 minutes, or until nicely golden. Once cooled, transfer to an airtight box.