Of Crack Pie & Cereal Milk: A Book Review

This cookbook is for the dessert lover who sees nothing wrong with eating cookie dough out of the bowl and eating cereal just for the milk at the bottom.

Pastry chef, Christina Tosi is no food snob. She unabashedly adores confetti sprinkles, Ovaltine, milk powder, and pretzels – all ingredients she utilizes to the max in her book, Momofuku Milk Bar. In the foreword, Momofuku chef-owner David Chang writes, “ … she can consume more sugar than seemingly possible… Resistance to her sugar manifesto is futile.”

A riveting narrative begins in a lengthier-than-usual Intro – I feel as if Tosi is setting the groundwork for me to get to know her as well as understand the beginnings of Milk Bar. It’s a pleasure to read since she writes with aplomb and humor. The intro then segues into her dessert philosophy which is surprisingly simple for her playful plates: “Our recipes exist to appeal and relate to everyone. We make things we are interested in. We make them taste good.”

Preceding the recipes is a primer on Ingredients, definitely not a section to be missed since it explains Tosi’s preference – make that obsession, with for instance, milk powder (“The MSG of the pastry world!” She crows.), glucose, and yes, even pretzels. This is a girl who loves her salty snacks and isn’t afraid to toss them into her cookies. But more on that later. Do slog through the Equipment (only the basics are needed for these recipes) and then the Techniques section where, true to every pastry chef’s penchant for precision, she devotes an entire page to “The ten-minute creaming process, or why milk bar cookies are so damn good.” Uh huh.

The book centers around ten bases – cereal milks, crumb, crunch, graham crust, fudge sauce, liquid cheesecake, nut brittle, nut crunch, ganache, and mother dough. Each base is further broken down into and utilized in cookies, cakes, pies, ice cream, etc. The “Elsewhere in this book” sidebars are helpful for cross-referencing where the same ingredient can be used in another sweet incarnation. Recipes are written clearly and ingredients are presented in grams and the more common volume measurements. The more than 100 colored photos capture the frenzied milieu of the Milk Bar pastry kitchen and the evident camaraderie amongst its staff.

Reading this cookbook is like going on a wild ride with a broken seatbelt. The New York Times characterizes Tosi’s creations as “… a time capsule of arrested adolescence, an homage to American processed food,” and I can’t help but concur. I love the whimsy of her desserts such as Confetti Cookies (a snickerdoodle-type cookie with rainbow sprinkles), Pretzel Ice Cream, Blondie Pie, Cake Truffles, and Cinnamon Bun Pie; and man, for my next snack I’m going to nosh on Birthday Cake Crumb and Cornflake Crunch. Naturally, Tosi’s recipes that inspired a cult following are all here: the Compost cookie, basically an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink cookie; the Crack Pie, as addictive as its name connotes; and even Cereal Milk, the milk at the bottom of a bowl of cereal in several fanciful interpretations.

All recipes are doable save for some that require rather arcane ingredients, at least to me in Manila: Pistachio oil and paste? Freeze-dried corn? Guava puree? Eh. I’ll pass on those. But the majority of the recipes call for basic pantry ingredients and manageable techniques that transform junk food into the stuff of nostalgia.

Before Christina Tosi came along, David Chang was serving Hershey’s Kisses for dessert at his restaurants. Her now-legendary sweet imaginings only goes to show how vital dessert really is.

My rating: ? ? ? ? /5

Momofuku Milk Bar
Christina Tosi (Author), David Chang (Foreword)
Hardcover, 256 pages ; Clarkson Potter
P1,399 at all Fully Booked Stores .

This book is part of my Lori’s Book Picks for December. Click image on the sidebar for a discount.

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