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Fun read but too sweet
on October 25, 2011
Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook is your chance to jump back to your youth when you were raised on Cap'n Crunch and Corn Flakes. In a follow-up to David Chang's best-selling Momofuku Cookbook, his pastry chef, Christina Tosi, presents her most popular recipes including the famed Compost Cookies and Crack Pie. But beware of her overly sweet recipes if you prefer your desserts a bit more subtle and understated.
Momofuku Milk Bar's fame, although relatively new, is well deserved. The story is legendary ' David Chang was serving Hershey Kisses as dessert for his restaurants, and on leave from wd-50, Christina Tosi arrived to assist in dealing with the New York restaurant inspectors. A quick consult turned into a full-time job based on junk food turned nostalgia pastry. Many terms have been used to describe her creations including the New York Times' 'a time capsule of arrested adolescence, an homage to American processed food,' but I prefer to think of them as 'gussied up stuff my mom used to make.'
Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook comes in at 256 pages with over 100 photographs. Pictures fill most pages and are sure to get your mouth watering although her desserts are not about fancy and frilly, and so they aren't necessarily the most photogenic. The book also contains sections on her preferred ingredients, equipment and techniques. What is most exciting about this book is that Tosi gives us much of her menu, and explains how the menu evolved in those early years.
The evolution of her menu makes sense. Chefs don't have much time so they need to create a handful of knock-out base recipes that can be spun into a number of other recipes. And for this reason alone, Milk Bar is a good read for any aspiring chef or prolific bake sale maven. The book centers around ten such bases ' cereal milks, crumb, crunch, graham crust, fudge sauce, liquid cheesecake, nut brittle, nut crunch, ganache and mother dough ' which she spins into more savory applications. And then each of those bases is used in cookies, cakes, pies and other sweets. Recipes are written clearly and ingredients are presented in grams and standard measures.
In reviewing cookbooks my pastry staff and I prepare a number of the recipes to check for flavor and success. Our response (and the response of our customers) was universal ' too sweet and inconsistent outcomes. We started at the Compost Cookies and worked our way through the cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow cookies, carrot layer cake, cinnamon bun pie, candy bar pie, and finally finished with the Crack Pie. Even my sugar loving pastry team was left setting the fork down to grab a cup of water. Aside from the sweetness, some of the recipes didn't have the final finished appearance that was worthy of a restaurant let alone a bake sale. But is that enough to disregard this book?
I found the narrative sections to be an enthralling and fun romp. I cook in a small rural community and while reading Tosi's accounts I felt like I was in New York. I could smell the crowded, hot kitchens. I could see her running down the street to the market to buy chips. I could feel the camaraderie of her staff. Tosi has a wonderful gift in being able to capture the passion of her kitchen and sharing it with the reader. Her recipes are fun and doable for all levels of cooks. For those who wake up to Cap'n Crunch (even in their 30s and 40s), her recipes will be cherished.
I can make your decision fairly simple. When you're done eating your cereal, do you pick up the bowl and drink the milk because you like the flavor of the cereal milk? Do you ever find yourself dumping all of your leftover junk food in a bowl and pouring chocolate sauce on top for a late afternoon snack? If you do these things then you'll love this book. If not, take a glance at it for a quick afternoon read and then share it with your sugar-loving neighbor.