The holidays are here. If you’re like me, you may view the year’s major baking season with slight dread, not because you’re a Scrooge, but because you lack confidence, patience or skill as a baker.
Recipe developer and cooking influencer Alison Roman has written a cookbook for people like us, who find the “science” of baking frustrating compared to the “art” of cooking. The cookbook, Sweet Enough, affirms this preference; in a section called “What I Hate about Baking,” Roman lists gripes: “I hate when I mess up and feel like I wasted hours of my life.” Same. But this book, written with non-bakers in mind, is for the most part flexible and forgiving, and may well become your companion this December.
Background note on Roman: after authoring viral recipes for New York Times Cooking in 2019 and 2020, as well as two hit cookbooks, Roman
was an early victim of cancel culture, suspended from the NYT and denounced by former fans over catty comments about fellow influencers. She resisted building a brand out of her cancellation, and instead launched an independent media brand. Three years after leaving the NYT’s cooking section, Roman returned instead to its bestseller list with Sweet Enough.
As the title suggests, the flavors of these recipes are less sugary than salty, tart and buttery. Chocolate is notably scarce. Though many recipes call for fresh berries or stone fruit to provide sweetness, don’t be discouraged in the dead of winter; there’s plenty of love for lemons here, like a delicious salty lemon shortbread. (Beware a recipe misprint, corrected online, which destroyed my first attempt.) The golden ginger cake is likewise savory and sophisticated, the perfect companion for an after-dinner decaf or a post-holiday brunch. To my husband’s dismay, there are four shortbreads but no brownies in this book. But he was more than satisfied with the chocolate-sour cream pound cake, a richer and tangier variation on the brownie experience.
It wouldn’t be an Alison Roman joint without anchovies, and sure enough the book includes a caramelized onion and anchovy tart. I preferred another recipe from the “Savory” section, the creamy cauliflower galette: an elegant and cozy cold-weather dinner made using “The Only Pie Crust,” a recipe I find worthy of its name.
Longtime Roman fans will find her signature all over Sweet Enough, from the bold, moody graphic design to the red manicure to the contrarian framing of her recipes: sugar cookies are “boring”; frosted cinnamon rolls, why?; scones, are they bad? You may wonder why Roman bothered to develop recipes for foods she finds so contemptible, but it’s part of her brand to be highly discerning and urbanely cynical.
More important than the branding, though, is the spirit of these recipes, in their wholehearted embrace of natural flavors, slight imperfections
and full-fat dairy. And that spirit will serve us well through the holidays and into 2024. See you next year.
This article was originally published in The Spectator’s December 2023 World edition.