John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography with Michael Cowton

John Burton Race

Where to start with this odd and badly written biography of the former Michelin-starred chef, minor TV personality and tabloid headline-hogger? Well, how about the time Burton-Race returned drunk from a night out with his then wife Kim to find his stepdaughters Olivia and Eve and Eve’s boyfriend with what Burton-Race thought was drugs on the kitchen table. His response? To go to the utility room and unlock the gun cabinet where he kept ‘a Beretta and a special edition Browning worth £7,500’ and return to the kitchen wielding a shotgun. During a struggle, he knocked Olivia to the floor and hit both her and his wife in the face with the butt of the gun.

That may well be all you need to know about Burton-Race, who you may remember from his 2007 appearance on I’m A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, but if for some reason you are still considering parting with £20 for this shoddy, thrown-together book then read on. Cowton has based the above anecdote on an interview given by Kim Burton-Race to the Evening Standard in 2007. Cowton writes that Burton-Race himself, ‘was reluctant to talk about it in any great detail’ and that Cowton feels that ‘the incident does not sit well with John. It is something he would sooner forget.’ That Cowton has allowed him to do so gets to the heart of the book’s problem. You will learn as much, if not more about Burton-Race from Googling a few interviews and articles (this one by Jay Rayner from 2008 is particularly good) as you will from reading this biography.

In the second chapter, Cowton describes his first meeting with the chef which partly helps explain why the book is such a mess. ‘Without any prompting, he launches into a stream of anecdotes with no prior considered response to my first question…I suggest it might be appropriate to begin noting our conversation and he agrees. However, trying to get John Burton-Race to rewind when he is in fast forward is an entirely different matter.’ Cowton goes on to claim that ‘As I grow to know John Burton-Race better, and on a more personal level, I begin to slowly unravel the complexities of the man’. If that’s true, he has failed to document his findings. Instead, the impression Cowton gives is that he has been bamboozled by the mercurial chef and has struggled to make anything substantial from that ‘stream of anecdotes’ which are often banal and lacking in any real detail.

At 264 pages, it’s a relatively short book yet Cowton has still found it necessary to bulk it out by taking some utterly bat-shit tangents including a page on the sexism of 1960s-80s era Savoy hotel head chef Silvetto Trompetto and the subsequent achievements of women in the hospitality industry. It should be noted that Bruton-Race never worked for Trompetto or with any of the women listed by Cowton which include Prue Leith and Eugénie Brazier. And then there are the disproportionately lengthy biographies of chefs Burton-Race has actually either worked for or with including Raymond Blanc, Gary Jones (executive chef of Le Manoir Aux Quat’Saisons), Martin Blunos and Nigel Marriage which all include details that have no bearing on Burton-Race’s story whatsoever.

However, important incidents go unexplored. Marriage had an unwanted 15 minutes of fame in the mid-90s when he was secretly filmed physically and verbally bullying a junior chef in the kitchens of Burton-Race’s two Michelin starred restaurant L’Ortolan in Berkshire (now under different ownership). The footage featured in an episode of ITVs The Big Story documentary series exposing abuse within the restaurant industry. It was a major scandal at the time which ruined Marriage’s reputation and did no favours at all for Burton-Race who was also filmed verbally abusing the young chef. Cowton offers no new insight from Burton-Race into the incident, quoting only from reports from the time, again failing to add to the sum of biographical knowledge about the chef.

Cowton’s own deathless comment is that, ‘The situation was not helped when the film crew shot John as this opulent bloke driving in his Porsche, so everybody who didn’t have the money for a bicycle suddenly hated him. All the upper-crusties who thought John Burton-Race was politically correct, brilliantly talented and fun to be with suddenly didn’t like him anymore because they felt he had let them down.’ One suspects that those words were actually spoken by Burton-Race himself, as much of the text which is not in quotation marks reads like transcribed interview re-written in the third person. That maybe a valid approach for a biography, but only when properly considered and edited and with sufficient mediated storytelling from the biographer. Unfortunately, time and again, John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography reads as if it has been banged out in a hurry with the minimum of care and attention.

Given the number of factual errors and spelling mistakes, it’s surprising to discover via Cowton’s acknowledgements that the book actually had an editor. It’s worth noting at this point that Cowton’s other works include books about Level 42, The Pet Shop Boys and a trilogy on Murders That Shocked the World and that, despite claiming to have a ‘passion for gastronomy’ in his Twitter handle, his unfamiliarity with his subject matter is painfully obvious. Chef Gary Hollihead is referred to as Paul Hollihead on two separate occasions, chef Aldo Zilli is called Aldo Zilley and Gidleigh Park hotel becomes Gidley Park.

Every restaurant in New York visited by Burton Race on a trip in 1994 is misnamed. Daniel is Daniels, Le Cirque is La Cirque and, for some reason, Cowton hasn’t even bothered to Google the name of ‘Robert De Niro’s place in the docks’ (it’s Tribeca Bar and Grill, and it’s not in the docks). In one of the worst sentences ever written in the English language, Peter Luger Steakhouse gets rechristened: ‘Mesmerised by the host of influential quarters, he found himself at the hub of a cosmopolitan gem and visited a steakhouse in Brooklyn called Lugeros.’ I’m sorry, he was mesmerised by what, where?

The book is full of puzzling moments. In a bizarre and difficult to follow anecdote that goes precisely nowhere, Cowton confuses rillette (potted pork), with andouillette, a famously pungent sausage made with chitterlings. On page 143 we learn that ‘John met his second wife Kim in 1996 on a Caribbean island’. On page 144, THE VERY NEXT PAGE, Cowton writes, ‘As John was collecting his Catey Award in 1995, the year also saw him betrothed to Kim’. That’s one year before they met in case you’re having trouble keeping up. More troubling is the head scratching revelation that Burton-Race’s mother and father-in-law abandoned him and his younger sister at some point in his childhood (there is no strict chronology in the early part of the book), leaving them alone in a house in Sarisbury Green in Hampshire and moved to Indonesia with ‘no explanation to the children, no heartfelt goodbyes, nothing – just gone, the taxi’s rear lights flickering and gradually fading into the distance’.

According to Cowton, the children were discovered by chance by ‘an uncle’ and then ‘placed with neighbours’. But then, sometime later (weeks, months, years – it’s impossible to tell), Burton-Race’s mother and father-in-law returned to the UK, took up residence for a brief spell and then returned to Indonesia, this time taking Burton-Race and his sister with them. Given that Cowton says that Burton-Race’s ‘earliest childhood memories are a pile of mismatched fragments’, it’s surprising that Cowton appears not to have tried to verify the exact circumstances surrounding what is obviously an important incident in his subject’s life and which he says ‘had devastating results’ and ‘left both children mentally scarred’. Why would the parents not have been arrested for child abandonment on their return to the UK? Why would they have been allowed to take them out of the country after behaving in such an astonishingly irresponsible manner. Why were the children not taken in by relatives and who were those amazingly generous-hearted neighbours?

A little bit of legwork with public records and the local paper’s archive might have provided some answers, but Cowton seems satisfied to leave his readers with more questions about his subject’s life than when they started reading the book. Much easier to devote pages documenting forgettable TV appearances on programmes like Kitchen Criminals and Great British Menu, which can be called up on YouTube, or interviewing easily accessible chefs such as Michel Roux Junior who has never even worked with Burton-Race but has ‘bumped into him several times at events’ and was willing to contribute a quote or two to fill up a bit of space.

It’s also easier to cram the book full of clichés: at various points in the book Burton Race is ‘never lots for words’, has had a ‘long and distinguished career’ is on ‘a single minded mission’ and ‘a relentless search for perfection’ or has ‘ had to manage the cards he’s been dealt’. There’s plenty of meaningless hyperbole too, culminating with the laughably unsupportable assertion that ‘without question [Burton-Race] has worked monumentally hard to achieve and maintain a level of creative genius unparalleled in his time’ (no one mention Ferran Adria or Rene Redzepi or Daniel Humm or…well, you get the picture).

There’s no question that Burton-Race is a complex figure who has led an interesting life and achieved notable success in his chosen field. In more skilled hands, his story could have made for a rattling yarn (albeit with some unsavoury aspects), instead John Burton-Race: The Authorised Biography makes for a deeply unsatisfactory read. If you want to find out about the life of a flawed British Michelin-starred chef then you’d be much better off with Marco Pierre White’s oddly titled but very readable autobiography White Slave.

Due to a litany of bad business moves and ill health (all documented in the book), Burton-Race’s career is currently at something of a low-ebb with his most recent venture in Torquay, that included John Burton Race hotel and Restaurant, folding within less than two years. From his website it appears that he is currently concentrating on consultancy. If this book is an attempt to get him back into the limelight, he may be in for a disappointment as big as anyone foolish enough to buy a copy.

Cookbook Review Rating: One star

Buy the book
John Burton-Race 2020: The Man, The Magic & The Mayhem
£20, Banovallum Books

Falastin by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley

Falastin

What’s the USP? I can’t do better than quote the introduction: ‘This is a book about Palestine – its food, its produce, its history, its future, its people and their voices’. There are also recipes, more than 100 of them.

Who are the authors? You’ll know Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley from such books as Jerusalem and Ottolenghi: the Cookbook. Tamimi co-founded the Ottolenghi restaurant empire. Wigely worked in publishing before joining the Ottenleghi test kitchen a decade ago.

Is it good bedtime reading? In addition to the short foreword by Ottolenghi and seven-page introduction, there are page-long introductions to each of the nine chapters that cover everything from breakfast to sweets as well as articles covering subjects including ‘The yoghurt making ladies of Bethlehem’, ‘Vivien Sansour and the Palestinian Seed Library’ and ‘The Walled Off Hotel, the seperation wall, and the Balfour balls up’.   

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? As has been noted before on this site, thanks in part to Ottolenghi, ingredients such as za’atar, Aleppo pepper, date syrup, rose harissa, sumac and labneh now seem quite commonplace, at least to the enthusiastic home cook. If you do have trouble tracking them down in your local shop, you can source them online from ottolenghi.co.uk.

What’s the faff factor? This is not restaurant cooking but on the other hand, these are not quick’n’easy one pot wonders either. You’ll be chopping, finely slicing, picking leaves, chargrilling, roasting, whipping, braising, frying, baking, blitzing, caramelising and making dumplings, dressings, and dips; soups, salsas, and sauces. Nothing however is excessively complex or beyond the abilities of your average keen cook.

Must cook recipes: spiced chicken arayes (pan fried pitta bread sandwiches); chilled cucumber and tahini soup with spicy pumpkin seeds; spiced salmon skewers with parsley oil; upside-down spiced rice with lamb and broad beans; sumac onion and herb oil buns; knafeh nabulseyeh (a sweet mozzarella, ricotta and feta kataifi pastry dessert drenched in orange blossom water syrup.

What will I love? Tamimi and Wigley have already proved beyond doubt that they are a class act and Falastin does nothing to alter that. The recipes are uniformly enticing and well written, the articles are informative and fascinating, the book is beautifully designed and the location and food photography by Jenny Zarins is gorgeous. As is usual with the Ottolenghi family of books, there’s a code to access a fully illustrated and searchable database of all the recipes online (you can even print off a shopping list for each recipe) which is a very useful and fun bonus.

What won’t I love? I can’t believe you’re even asking this question, go to the back of the class.

Should I buy it? If you’re already a fan of Tamimi and Wigley (and Ottolenghi of course) there is just no way you won’t want to add this terrific book to your collection. If you are just getting into Middle Eastern cooking then is a great place to start.

Cuisine: Palestinian/Middle Eastern
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Five Stars

Buy the book
Falastin: A Cookbook
Ebury Press, £27

Cook from this book
Sweet tahini rolls (Kubez el tahineh)
Chicken musakhan
Labneh cheesecake with roasted apricots, honey and cardamom

Giffords Circus Cookbook by by Nell Gifford and Ols Halas

Giffords Circus

What’s the USP? Some people go to the circus for the clowns, some for the acrobats and their feats of derring-do. But if you’re headed to the traditional touring circus of Giffords, which performs across the Cotswolds and the South West of England each year, then you might well be going for the food.

For the last 17 years, Giffords has also been host to the UK’s only travelling restaurant. After each show, 60 audience members gather for a 3-course banquet that seems to carry all the wonder of the circus over into each dish. Here, then, is the Giffords cookbook; now you can create your own whimsical feast without having to worry about your children’s coulrophobia (that’s a fear of clowns, as if you couldn’t guess).

Sounds magical! Who’s the author? The circus’ founding matriarch, Nell Gifford has teamed up with the restaurant’s head chef, Ols Halas. Both get ample time to share their stories at the beginning of the book and, as you might expect, they’re pretty fun (it’s not often a chef’s background involves literally running way to join the circus).

Is it good bedtime reading? The reading is probably where Giffords Circus Cookbook is at its best. There’s an absolute tentful of writing here, from Marco Pierre White’s fawning foreword to the chapter introductions that offer insight both into the challenges of cooking in a travelling restaurant and of the inner-workings and community of a modern circus.

Will I have trouble finding the ingredients? Nothing here is particularly unusual, though the recipes do tend to fall on the more luxurious end of the scale. You’ll want a good butcher at hand, and some of the ingredients (romanesco broccoli, activated charcoal and fresh truffles) are a little more Waitrose than Asda. It would be nice to see a cookbook knock up this sort of wonder and magic in their dishes using more down-to-earth ingredients, but I suppose that’s not the point, is it?

What’s the faff factor? Look, Willy Wonka didn’t build his chocolate factory in a day. It took bloody ages and required the slave labour of Loompaland’s indiginous people. So consider yourself lucky when your own slice of whimsy only needs a two-day brine beforehand, or perhaps necessitates the creation of a meringue (there’s a lot of meringue in here – apparently this is a staple of the circus diet).

What will I love? There’s an irrepressible joyfulness that runs throughout the entirety of the Giffords Circus Cookbook. Everything is bright, and everyone always seems to be having so much fun. It’s an infectious sort of a feeling, and reading the book makes you feel every bit a part of the mish-mash vaguely-Moominesque family of oddballs and misfits.

What won’t I love? The recipes aren’t organised in any sense that could be considered even remotely helpful. Instead, the eight chapters loosely tell the story of a season with the circus and might feature anywhere between one and nineteen recipes. Desserts are mixed in, and as such the panna cotta might be found next to the monkfish tails, the black forest trifle opposite roast guinea fowl. If you know what you’re looking for, you can dive right into the index – but for inspiration, it’s not particularly practical. But then, what part of ‘60-seat restaurant serving the clientele of a travelling circus’ suggested practicality to you?

Should I buy it? If you entertain regularly and want to inject a little bit of magic into your dinner parties, this cookbook is not to be missed. There isn’t much here for the casual, everyday cook – except escapism. And that’s always worth a look.

Review written by Stephen Rötzsch Thomas a Brighton-based writer. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @srotzschthomas.

Cuisine: British
Suitable for: Confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Three stars

Buy this book
Giffords Circus Cookbook: Recipes and stories from a magical circus restaurant
£27, Quadrille

Rye Crostata with Peas and Asparagus

235 rye crostada

Gluten-free
Preparation Time: 30 minutes plus resting time
Cooking Time: 1 hour
Serves: 6 to 8

To enhance the flavor of the sesame seeds, toast them, covered, in a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat until they start to crackle, then transfer to a plate and let cool. For a vegan version of the recipe, replace the egg yolks with a heaping tablespoon of millet flakes.

  • 1¾ cups (220 g) farro (emmer) flour, plus more for sprinkling
  • Scant ½ cup (50 g) all-purpose (plain) flour
  • 3 tablespoons black sesame seeds
  • 1 tablespoon brown flaxseeds (linseeds)
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) plus 3½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • 1 bunch asparagus, thinly sliced
  • 11/3 cups (200 g) shelled fresh peas
  • Scant 1 cup (200 ml) soy milk
  • Grated zest of ½ lemon
  • 2 egg yolks
  • 2½ tablespoons sunflower seeds
  • Salt and black pepper

In a food processor, combine the farro flour, all-purpose (plain) flour, sesame seeds, flaxseeds (linseeds), 3½ tablespoons of the olive oil, and a pinch of salt and process the mixture until crumbly. With the motor running, drizzle in 1/3 cup (75 ml) cold water and process until the dough comes together and forms a ball. Wrap the dough in plastic wrap (cling film) and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C) with a rack in the lower third.

In the meantime, in a heavy-bottomed frying pan, heat the remaining ¼ cup (60 ml) oil over medium heat. Add the onions and asparagus and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the peas and a scant ½ cup (100 ml) water and cook for 7 to 8 minutes, until the liquid has evaporated. Sprinkle the vegetables with farro flour, drizzle in the milk, and stir.

Reduce the heat to low and cook the sauce for 5 to 6 minutes. Season with salt and pepper, then stir in the lemon zest. Remove from the heat and let the sauce cool. Add the egg yolks and stir to combine.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out two-thirds of the dough into a 2 mm-thick sheet and transfer it to a 9-inch (22 cm) round baking pan. Fill the crust with the vegetable mixture. Roll the remaining dough into a thin sheet and cut it into ¾-inch-wide (1.5 cm) strips. Arrange the strips over the filling to form an open lattice. Press the lattice strips against the bottom crust to seal, then trim the excess dough around the edges.

Brush the lattice with a little water and sprinkle with the sunflower seeds. Bake the tart in the lower third of the oven for about 40 minutes. Serve warm.

Read the review

Buy this book
The Vegetarian Silver Spoon: Classic and Contemporary Italian Recipes (FOOD COOK)
£35, Phaidon

The Vegetarian Silver Spoon

Vegetarian Silver Spoon

Vegetarianism and veganism are on the rise in the UK. According to the shopping comparison website, finder.com, 12 million people claim they will be vegetarian, vegan or pescatarian by 2021. The Vegan Society say that the number of vegans quadrupled between 2014 and 2019 with 1.16% of the population (about 600,000) now living a vegan lifestyle. That’s a lot of home cooks and chefs on the look-out for something delicious and a bit more inventive than the ubiquitous mushroom risotto. With 200 Italian vegetarian recipes, many of them dairy free, gluten free or vegan (symbols identify which category or categories each recipe fits into, and there are lists for each category in the back of the book, making them quick and easy to find), The Vegetarian Silver Spoon is a godsend for anyone looking to expand their plant-based repertoire.

The book draws on the archives of The Silver Spoon, Italy’s bestselling cookbook first published in 1950, and also includes 150 new recipes developed by The Silver Spoon kitchen team. Divided into eight chapters, the book is a comprehensive survey of traditional and contemporary Italian vegetarian and vegan cooking covering snacks and small plates; breads and pizzas; salads and sides soups and stews;  pasta, dumplings and crepes; vegetable tarts and pastries;  grains, gratins and stuffed vegetables, and desserts.

There’s a homely feel to many of the recipes such as chard and chickpea soup with tofu; buckwheat lasagne with broccoli and eggplant-tomato strudel. Lesser known ingredients such as black chickpeas (used in a salad with apple and Jerusalem artichoke); millet (paired with beets and Romanesco), and Kamut flour (derived from Iranian red Khorasan wheat that’s high in protein, vitamins and minerals and used to make calzone with asparagus and egg) will invigorate any cook’s interest in meat and fish-free cooking, making The Vegetarian Silver Spoon a valuable addition to their cookbook collection.

This review was originally published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Vegetarian
Suitable for: Beginners and confident home cooks
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy this book
The Vegetarian Silver Spoon: Classic and Contemporary Italian Recipes (FOOD COOK)
£35, Phaidon

Cook from this book
Rye Crostata with Peas and Asparagus

 

Sweet tahini rolls (Kubez el tahineh) by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley

286_sweet_tahini_rolls

The journey of these rolls can be traced through Lebanon to Armenia, where these kubez el tahineh come from. They are simple to make, impressive to look at and loved by all. They’re a particular favourite with kids. Eat them as they are, or sliced and spread with dibs w tahini, the Palestinian equivalent of peanut butter and jam, where creamy tahini is mixed through with a little bit of grape or date molasses (see page 336).

Keeping notes: These are best eaten fresh on the day of baking but are also fine for 2–3 days once baked, warmed through in the oven. They also freeze well, after they’ve been baked and left to cool: you can pop them into the oven straight from the freezer until warmed through.

Makes 10 rolls
Dough
1½ tsp fast-action dried yeast
1 tsp caster sugar
110ml whole milk, lukewarm
300g plain flour, plus extra
for dusting
75g unsalted butter, melted
1 egg, lightly beaten
Olive oil, for greasing
Salt

Filling
100g caster sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
120g tahini
Topping
1 egg yolk, beaten
1 tbsp white sesame seeds

First make the dough. Put the yeast, sugar and milk into a small bowl and mix to combine. Set aside for 5 minutes, until it starts to get frothy. Meanwhile, put the flour and ½ teaspoon of salt into the bowl of a freestanding mixer, with the dough hook in place. Mix on a low speed, then slowly pour in the yeast mixture. Add the melted butter and continue to mix for about a minute.

Add the egg, then increase the speed to medium and leave for 5 minutes, for the dough to get well kneaded. Using your hands, scrape the dough into a ball: it will be slightly sticky and elastic. Place it in a lightly oiled bowl, turning it a couple of times so that the dough gets well greased. Cover the bowl with a clean tea towel and leave to rest in a warm place for about 1 hour, or until almost doubled in size. Put the sugar and cinnamon for the filling into a small bowl. Mix well to combine, then set aside.
On a lightly floured surface, roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about 35 x 50cm. Drizzle the tahini over the dough, then, using the back of a spoon or a spatula, spread it out evenly, leaving 1cm clear of tahini at both the shorter ends. Sprinkle the sugar mixture evenly over the tahini and leave for 10 minutes, until the sugar looks all wet.
Starting from one of the long sides, roll the dough inwards to form a long, thin sausage. Trim away about 2cm from each end, then slice the dough into 10 equal pieces: they should each be just over 4½cm long. Sit each piece upright, so that its cut side is facing upwards, then, using your hands, gently flatten out to form an 8cm-wide circle. Cover with a damp tea towel and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 160°C fan. Transfer each roll of dough to a large parchment-lined baking tray, spaced 2–3cm apart. Brush all over – just the top and sides, not the base – with the egg yolk, sprinkle with sesame seeds, and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 18 minutes, or until cooked through and golden. Remove from the oven and set aside for about 20 minutes – you don’t want them to be piping hot – then serve.

Extracted from FALASTIN: A COOKBOOK by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ebury Press, £27) Photography by Jenny Zarins

Cook more from this book
Chicken musakhan
Labneh cheesecake

Buy the book
Falastin: A Cookbook
Ebury Press, £27

 

Labneh cheesecake with roasted apricots, honey and cardamom by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley

323_labneh_cheesecake

Cheesecake is not, traditionally, a dessert eaten in Palestine, but all the ingredients are: the labneh and filo, for example, the nuts and floral orange blossom. The base was Noor’s idea: blitzing up the sheets of filo to make crumbs. Mixing this with the nuts calls baklava to mind. The result, we think, is distinct and special.

Getting ahead: If you are making your own labneh (which couldn’t be easier: it just requires getting organised a day ahead), then it needs to be made 1–5 days before using. To get the 500g of labneh required, you’ll need to start with 850g of Greek-style yoghurt, mixed with ⅔ teaspoon of salt (see page 48 for the recipe). The base and cheesecake are best baked the day before serving, so that it can chill in the fridge overnight. The apricots are best roasted and put on top of the cake on the day of serving. Once assembled, the cake is best eaten the same day.

Playing around: Rose water or vanilla extract can be used instead of the orange blossom water, if you like. If using vanilla in the filling, use 1½ teaspoons of vanilla paste or the scraped seeds of ½ a vanilla pod, in addition to the vanilla extract already there. Lots of other fruits – stone fruits or otherwise – work as well as the apricots here. Peaches, plums and cherries are also good, as are strawberries. As ever, with nuts, other nuts can be used apart from those we suggest: Brazil nuts, for example, or macadamia nuts. They both work well in any combination in the base: just keep the net weight the same.

Serves ten to twelve

Base
5 sheets of good-quality filo pastry (about 110g)
90g unsalted butter, melted, plus extra for greasing
40g walnut halves
60g pistachio kernels
1½ tbsp plain flour
50g caster sugar
10 cardamom pods, shells discarded and seeds finely crushed in a pestle and mortar (or ¾ tsp ground cardamom)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp flaked sea salt

Filling
500g labneh (either shop-bought or 850g of Greek-style yoghurt, see headnote and page 48, if making your own)
500g ricotta
210g caster sugar
⅔ tsp flaked sea salt
5 eggs (2 whole, and 3 with yolks and whites separated: you will only be using the yolks of these)
2 tsp finely grated orange zest
1 tbsp orange blossom water
1¼ tsp vanilla extract
1½ tbsp cornflour

Topping
75g runny honey
2 tsp orange blossom water
40ml orange juice
6 cardamom pods, shells on, seeds roughly bashed together in a pestle and mortar
350g ripe apricots, stones removed, cut into 6 wedges
A small handful of picked mint leaves, to garnish (optional)

Preheat the oven to 160°C fan. Grease and line the base and sides of a 23cm springform baking tin and set aside. To make the base, lay out one sheet of filo on a clean work surface. Measure out a third of the butter – this will be used for brushing the sheets – and set the remaining 60g aside for later. Brush the sheet until well coated, then top with the second filo sheet. Continue in this fashion until all the filo and butter has been used up, finishing the last layer with a coating of butter. Transfer the filo stack to a parchment-lined baking tray and bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden and crispy. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 15 minutes (or longer) before breaking apart into large shards. In two batches, place the shards in a food processor and blitz for about 10 seconds, to form fine crumbs. Place in a medium bowl, then add the nuts to the processor. Blitz for about 20 seconds, until fine but not powdery. Add the nuts to the filo along with the flour, sugar, spices, flaked salt and remaining two-thirds of butter and mix to combine. Tip the mixture into the base of the lined tin and press it down firmly and evenly so that the whole base is covered. Bake for 12 minutes, or until lightly golden. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool.

To make the filling, clean out the food processor and add the labneh, ricotta, sugar and salt. Pulse for just a few seconds, to combine. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, then add the eggs, egg yolks (the spare whites can be saved for something else), orange zest, orange blossom water, vanilla extract and cornflour. Pulse for about 15 seconds, to combine, then pour the mixture into the cake tin. Bake for 60–70 minutes, or until the cake is beginning to take on some colour around the edges but still has a slight wobble in the middle. Remove from the oven and leave to cool at room temperature for an hour before refrigerating for at least 4 hours or (preferably) overnight.

On the day of serving, preheat the oven to 200°C fan and prepare the topping. Put the honey, orange blossom water, orange juice and bashed cardamom pods into a small saucepan and place on a medium-high heat. Cook for 4–6 minutes, stirring often, until the mixture has reduced by half and is beginning to form a thin syrup. Spread the apricots out on a parchment-lined baking tray, on their side, and drizzle over half the syrup. Bake for about 8 minutes, turning the apricots over halfway through baking, until completely softened but still retaining their shape. Remove from the oven and set aside for about 30 minutes, until completely cool.

Just before serving (or up to 1 hour, if you want to prepare ahead), release the cake from its tin and transfer to a round serving platter. Top with the apricots – there should not be any overlap – and drizzle with the remaining syrup. The bashed cardamom pods can be used for garnish as well – they look nice – but these are not to be eaten. Scatter over the mint leaves, if using, and serve.

Extracted from FALASTIN: A COOKBOOK by Sami Tamimi and Tara Wigley (Ebury Press, £27) Photography by Jenny Zarins

Cook more from this book
Chicken musakhan
Sweet tahini rolls

Buy the book
Falastin: A Cookbook
Ebury Press, £27