Officially, she’s a “product developer” for Ottolenghi, but that doesn’t really do her role justice; her originality and perfectionism have had an enormous impact on what we do. From Australia, she brought wonderfully crumbly and sharp yo-yo cookies, her billowy powder puff cakes that are just impossible to put down, and her chocolate cake, which is the cake grown-up kids dream of, and which a newspaper in Australia once called “the world’s best.”
Her Malaysian heritage came through loudly in her chiffon cakes and pandan-infused pineapple tarts, which we often placed on the counter alongside our mince pies around Christmas. Her fluency in European and American baking traditions are there everywhere, from the almond-and-aniseed nougat bars piled by the register to our cheesecakes, cupcakes, madeleines and scones, which all sit beside the cakes I grew up eating, like the syrup-soaked semolina cake here.
Because I am a pastry chef myself, and a notoriously sweet-toothed being with an insatiable appetite for cakes, my bond with Helen was immediate and firm. We spent the following decade conjuring up an enormous variety of sweet things. Eventually, all these led to “Sweet,” the cookbook Helen and I have been working on for the past three years, which is also my first book dedicated solely to sweets. The Sunday tastings at home were forerunners to our Wednesday tastings for the book, which happened in my test kitchen in Camden, North London. Similarly, they were long and intense, sugar being both the fuel enabling us to carry on and the focus of our in-depth discussions.
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