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Christina Tosi’s ‘Milk Bar Life’

fgfs-milkbarlife

The new cookbook Milk Bar Life is an insider’s look into life at hip New York City bakery Momofuku Milk Bar. As a sister bakery to David Chang’s wildly successful Momofuku restaurants, Milk Bar has gained a devoted following for its trademark creations, Compost Cookies, Crack Pie and Cereal Milk. Now, Momufuku Milk Bar’s founder and chef Christina Tosi is sharing more of her favourite recipes.

Unlike Tosi’s first cookbook, Milk Bar Life takes a refreshingly lowbrow approach. Recipe after recipe call for Velveeta, Cool Whip and cake mix, and Tosi makes no apologies.

“I’m really letting you into my very-late-night, most desperate food moments,” Tosi writes in the chapter titled ‘Weak Nights’. “These recipes are made up of only what you can scrounge up … they are easy and don’t require any planning. At all. They are not healthy. At all.”

Despite this unassuming approach, throughout the cookbook Tosi reminds readers of her elite pedigree; name-dropping supermodel Karlie Kloss and molecular gastronomy master Wylie Dufresne as collaborators.

I forgive Tosi for the name dropping, because of the fun quality of the cookbook. Recipe titles are written in a bubble font that somehow recall the seediness of a ’70s porno. Instructions are simple and are accompanied by colourful, engaging full-page photos.

The Bo Ssäm Challenge is salt-roasted pork recipe

I took the Bo Ssäm Challenge by roasting this pig butt.

I took a divide and conquer approach to Milk Bar Life; testing three different recipes from three different chapters. I started with the Bo Ssäm Challenge; Momofuku’s signature approach to the dry rub.

The recipe is simple enough: find a fatty cut of meat and coat it in sugar, salt and pepper. My choice the roast a 3-lb. fatty pork butt was my first mistake. After five hour in the oven, the roast’s haunch still had a thick layer of fat. With the fat undissolved, the roast couldn’t confit. While Tosi’s recipe promised a delectable, tender roast, I was left with a grisly slab of pork.

Tosi writes that the Bo Ssäm roasting technique can be used with “a hunk of beef, a goat shoulder, a saddle of lamb, a pork butt, or a skin-on turkey breast.” However, I wouldn’t use this method again with a pork haunch.

A recipe for Christina Tosi's sugar cookie squares

The Greta (Sugar Cookie Squares) were underwhelming.

Wooed by pictures of radioactive-coloured sprinkles, I made Tosi’s answer to the sugar cookie, The Greta. Named for Tosi’s mother, the recipe produces a tray of simple, vanilla squares. The results were underwhelming.

The cookie squares were cake-like and had the lingering taste of baking soda. Like the Bo Ssäm Challenge, the recommended cooking time for The Greta (Sugar Cookie Squares) wasn’t accurate. I baked the cookies 10 minutes longer than recommended and still the center of didn’t set. The square’s vanilla flavour really didn’t translate either, so the cake was bland. Overall, the squares were a flop and I pawned them off to strangers at a potluck picnic.

To her credit, Tosi does mention that she likes her cookies slightly undercooked, to the retain that gooey, fresh-out-of-the-oven flavour. If you decide to make anything from Milk Bar Life, I recommend watching your oven carefully and setting an accurate timer.

I leave the favourite for last: Tosi’s Lemon Squares. Like The Greta (Sugar Cookie Squares), I found the Lemon Squares to be too doughy and undercooked. While this quality was unpleasant in The Greta (Sugar Cookie Squares), this made the Lemon Squares even more delectable. In line with Tosi’s love of humble ingredients, this recipe is build around lemon cake mix. I was skeptical about the boxed cake, Tosi proved me wrong.


 

Recipes

Bo Ssäm Challenge
Serves two to four

Ingredients:

A sensibly-sized slab of meat. (Tosi recommends a hunk of beef, a goat shoulder, a saddle of lamb, a pork butt or a skin-on turkey breast.)
1 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup light brown sugar (packed)
2/3 cup kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper

1. Heat the oven to 250 F.

2. Toss together the sugars, salt, and pepper in a large bowl.

3. Choose an appropriately sized roasting pan, baking dish, or oven-friendly pot. You want a dish that mimics the size of the meat you are cooking to ensure that the meat you will cook drenched in its own juices as the the fat begins to render in the oven. Put the meat into said baking receptacle.

4. Coat the protein, top, bottom, right, left-the entire surface area of the meat, including the fat or skin; don’t miss a single spot, or you’ll be sorry! — with the sugar mixture. Flip if necessary so the fat or skin is on the top.

5. Put the meat in the oven and cook for three to 4 hours, uncovered. You’ll know it’s cooked through when the meat falls apart when prodded.

6. Let the meat cool slightly before serving or cutting up or shredding for other recipes.


The Greta (Sugar Cookie Squares)

Makes about two dozen 2-inch squares

Ingredients

1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan
2 cups sugar
2 large eggs
1/2 cup grapeseed or other neutral oil
1 and a 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup whole milk

The Cinnamon Sugar

1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon

1. Heat the oven to 350 C. Grease a nine by 13-inch baking pan.

2. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream on high until homogeneous, about three minutes. Add the eggs, oil and vanilla and mix until just combined, about one minute.

3. Add the flour, salt, and baking soda, mixing until just combined, about 30 seconds. Mix in the milk until just combined, about 30 seconds.

4. Spread the dough in an even layer in the prepared pan. Mix together the sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl and sprinkle evenly over the cookie dough.

Note: If you’re not a cinnamon sugar fan, substitute sprinkles.

5. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes for a slightly underbaked cookie (which is how [Tosi] likes it), or for another three to five minutes if you’re a firm cookie fan. Cool completely in the pan before cutting into the squares.


Lemon squares recipe

Lemon Bars

Makes 2 dozen two-inch squares

Ingredients:

butter for the baking dish

The Crust

1 (15-oz) box lemon cake
8 tbsp (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg

The Filling

1/3 cup lemon crust from above
1/2 lb cream cheese, at room temperatture

2 cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon, kosher salt
2 lemons, zested and juiced

extra confectionser’s sugar for dusting.

1. Heat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.

2. Make the crust: Beat together the cake mix, butter, and egg in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment (or in a mixing bowl, using a large wooden spoon) until homogeneous. Scoop out 1/3 cup of the mixture and reserve for the filling. Dump the rest into the prepared dish and use your hands to press it firmly and evenly over the bottom.

3. Make the filling: Return the 1/3 cup reserved lemon crust to the mixing bowl and paddle it together with the cream cheese until the two have become one. Add the confectioners’ sugar, salt, and lemon zest and juice and mix until well combined and smooth, one to 2 minutes. Use a spatula to spread the filling in an even layer on top of the lemon crust mixture.

4. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until the top has puffed slightly and is golden brown and beginning to crack. Cool completely.

5. Cut the lemon bars into two-inch squares and dust with an even snowfall of confectioners’ sugar. Cover with plastic and refrigerate for up to one week or freeze for up to one month.

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