Have you heard of the Momofuku Milk Bar or its compost cookies? How about the Momofuku Noodle Bar, the Milk Bar’s sister restaurant? I have. And I don’t even have TV to watch cooking shows all day long. No, I simply love food, and I love cookbooks. I have heard of Momofuku’s amazing food, particularly the Milk Bar’s compost cookies and crack pie, and I have longed for the day I could visit New York and taste these wonders (among many other culinary delights the city has to offer) for myself. So when I got the chance to review the Milk Bar’s cookbook, well, let’s just say I jumped.
Be forewarned: this cookbook is not for the faint of heart. Christina Tosi, the author and head honcho goes into some detail about specific, not-so-common-in-home-kitchen ingredients and why she uses them over the more traditional ones you could find in your local grocery store baking aisle. She goes so far as to recommend brands and tell you where to get them (hint: Amazon is a wonderful source for hard-to-find items), but she also tells you what you can substitute and the difference it will make. For example, you can use corn syrup in place of the liquid glucose she recommends, but you will end up with slightly less chewy cookies.
Also, the majority of the recipes are actually multiple recipes. Each chapter is based on one “mother” recipe and may include other recipes-within-a-recipe as well. Take the aforementioned compost cookies: one of the ingredients is Momofuku’s graham crust, which you have to mix up before you can make the cookies, and then you end up with enough graham crust for at least four batches of the monstrous compost cookies. Fortunately, once you taste Momofuku’s graham crust, you’ll never want to go back to the store-bought kind, so it doesn’t hurt to have extra stashed in the freezer.
In addition to containing multiple recipes, most of the recipes are somewhat complex and involve specific techniques or processes. They’re not difficult techniques — I’m talking about chilling doughs at a certain stage, or only mixing for a specific amount of time — but this type of cooking is far more precise than your typical “throw it in the mixer, scoop it out, then pop it in the oven” type of cooking. The author went to a lot of trouble to make sure that the recipes are just perfect for the Milk Bar, and tries to give us an authentic reproduction of what they do that makes them so perfect.
But the book is not all techniques and steps and ingredients. Tosi tells us stories of what it’s like to work in a New York restaurant, of creating crack pie by tossing ingredients together and hoping it turns out, of baking cookies with her grandmother, of getting stuck on an island with nothing to do but cook, of swiping bites of cookie dough when she walks through the kitchen. Paired with the carefully crafted recipes, it comes off as a memoir of the author’s love affair with food, one that she so gracefully shares with us.
Okay, wonderful. How do the recipes taste?
The instant I saw this cookbook, I wondered if those famous compost cookies were in there. When I saw that they were, I knew that was the recipe for me.
I won’t say that it was the most complex recipe I’ve ever made, but it was right up there. I also won’t say that they were the best tasting cookies I’ve ever made, but that is perhaps only because I slightly overbaked mine. My husband has already asked when I’ll be making more of the “monster” cookies, as we have come to call them (because they’re massive and because they’re a mish-mash — a Frankenstein, if you will — of ingredients). And I think I may have to include pretzels in every cookie I bake from here on out.
Another warning: the recipes in this book are utterly sweet and rich. Arm yourself with coffee, or at least some milk, before indulging.
The best part of this cookbook is that it has given me more confidence in my own baking. The insight into how professional chefs work, along with Tosi’s fearlessness in trying new combinations (avocado ice cream, anyone?), has encouraged me to experiment, to throw in new ingredients I haven’t tried before, and to trust my own intuition. I honestly think that reading this cookbook has made me a better cook, and what higher praise could I offer?
This book has earned its place on my shelf. In fact, I’ll likely invest in the Momofuku Noodle Bar cookbook as well, and I can already think of a few friends who might receive one of these books as a gift. I’d certainly love to see a copy under my Christmas tree, or, better yet, a trip to New York to see if my cookies turned out anything like the original.