Nicola Lamb Q&A

Chef, baker and writer Nicola Lamb sits down with Sous Chef to reveal how she thinks about flavour. Plus how a happy accident in the kitchen prompted one of her best flavour discoveries...

Nicola has worked in some of London and New York's top bakeries, including Dominique Ansel, Ottolenghi, and Little Bread Pedlar. She is the author of the much-loved ‘Kitchen Projects’ Substack newsletter - with over 42k avid monthly readers.

SIFT by Nicola Lamb is out now, Ebury Press £30, Photography Sam A Harris.

Try Nicola's recipes for Olive Brie-ocheMiso Walnut Cookies, & Secret Chocolate Cake!

What’s the one dish to make anyone fall in love with your new book? 

Dessert is so subjective, but I find it hard to imagine anyone not adoring the hazelnut, ricotta & marmalade chocolate chip cake. I wish I could go on, but you’ve said one, so I’ll leave it there.

Which Sous Chef ingredients are always stocked in your pantry? 

Pistachio paste! It’s my crutch ingredient - a rather expensive and fancy one, but always effective at inspiring me. Everything tastes better with pistachio paste - custard? Yes. Buttercream? Yes. Panna cotta? Yes, yes, yes! Even piped inside raspberries in the summertime, a little secret green surprise. SO GOOD.

secret chocolate cake

TRY: Secret Chocolate Recipe by Nicola Lamb

What new tips, tricks or ideas have you learned while writing the book?

One of the best discoveries we had during the book making process was burnt white chocolate. It was a complete mistake - I gave my amazing food stylist Holly the wrong instructions and, dutifully, she baked the white chocolate based on my timings and temp - twice as long - and hot.

Oops! Anyway, we decided to taste it anyway and it was amazing - umami, toasty, rich. I use it in my book grated on top of a milky panna cotta. It’s SO delicious.

What is one kitchen tip everyone should know? 

Don’t forget to season your desserts - sweet things, cake batters, curds, jams etc. will all benefit from salt, too!

What’s your favourite ingredient to cook with right now? 

As I’m typing this we are right in the height of Alphonso Mango season - though I do love kesar and honey mangoes too - there’s something special about these little ones.

That being said, I love trying to work out ways to amplify and celebrate the flavour of these special mangoes. You don’t want to add too much sugar, or dairy, as it softens the flavour - you want anything you bake or make with it to have the essence of it’s perfect natural form! That’s such a fun challenge for me.

miso walnut cookies

TRY: Miso Walnut Cookies Recipe by Nicola Lamb

Can you tell me about a particularly memorable meal you have had and what made it so special? 

I’ve had some amazing meals throughout my life, but a really special one was at Bar Ganbara in San Sebastian.

We were at the bar next to a group of locals, and despite sharing no common language, a food based kinship formed between us and we started ordering dishes for one another - it was amazing to see what showed up!

Between the perfect mushrooms, torrijas, the most perfect t-bone I’ve ever had and the hilarious competition between us to out-hospitality the other group, it was a night to remember.

What will you be cooking next? 

I’m very ready for summer berry season - I’ve never really been a fan of summer pudding, so I’m going to examine that this year and see if there’s a half-way or compromise I can make with it. I’m looking forward to that.

What’s your favourite kitchen tool - do you go in for gadgetry? 

I like some gadgets - my refractometer, for example, and my trusty universal indicator paper, always offer me a bit of context when I’m trying to balance and develop recipes.

But my favourites are the simplest - a spoon bent at a right angle for smoothing and dipping, and a dough scraper! Which I think costs about 70p. It’s perfect for cleaning, scooping, and dividing.

Olive Brioche

TRY: Nicola's recipe for Olive Brie-oche

Which cookbooks have shaped the way you cook, or think about food? 

A few come to mind: Harold McGee’s ‘On Food and Cooking’, Camilla Wynne’s ‘Jam Bake’ for opening the world of preserves to me and all of Nigel Slater’s work - his ingredient lists are always incredibly short, which is difficult to do!, and I’m amazed at the way he strips things back to their most powerful essences.

How do you balance tradition and innovation in your cooking?

For baking, I think it's important to look at the history of the recipe and understand why it has been developed in that way.

Take the Victoria sponge for example - it’s fascinating that this recipe couldn’t actually exist before the invention of chemical raising agents / baking powder in the 19th century. I always like looking at the journey that a custard, or bread has gone on to become the recipe we know and love today.


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