Book Review: Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook

Cover of "Momofuku"
Cover of Momofuku

The Momofuku Milk Bar in New York’s East Village is clearly a place where amazing things happen, and culinary creations never before seen appear from the kitchen as if by divine black magic.

Established by Chef David Chang, and owned by pastry chef Christina Tosi, Momofuku Milk bar is becoming a legendary destination in the foodie world, high on the list of must-visits of any hungry traveller to New York. For those who can’t get there in person, however, there is now a way to recreate the wondrous delicacies of the ‘Momoverse’, as Tosi calls it, in the home kitchen.

Momofuku Milk Bar is a very particular culinary experience, with desserts, cookies, and cakes based around milk, as the name suggests. So Tosi’s book is also very particular, especially when it comes to the ingredients and equipment that her kitchen uses. These are not suggestions – they are what you must use if you want your cakes and cookies to taste anything like hers.

Fortunately, most of it is pretty standard anywhere in the western world, such as regular old Quaker oats. But some of the ingredients can be quite exotic and will involve fossicking around Amazon and eBay for brand names like Bazzini, Valrhona and Agrimontana.

Don’t try to skip these introductory sections and cut straight to the recipes. Tosi covers her ingredients, her equipment, and her techniques in detail, and her kitchen likes to break a few rules. Eggs are not ‘tempered’ before adding to hot ingredients, flour sifters are never used, and eggs are not added to the ice cream base. Tosi finds these things are not a good fit with Momofuku Milk Bar’s famous products. But all this detail is actually fun to read, because Tosi entertains the reader with her direct, engaging style.

So for someone who has never set foot in the Momofuku Milk bar, or tasted one of Tosi’s amazing creations, what can this book offer to tempt the adventurous home cook? Open it anywhere, and you will be tempted. The full page color images of desserts and cakes that are to die for will certainly do it, showcasing delights like Pistachio Layer Cake, or Grasshopper Pie, which looks like a crazy modern work of art under its drizzled mint glaze. Then there is Earl Grey Fudge Sauce, Cinnamon Bun Pies with Cheesecake Filling, and Apple Pie Layer Cake – Oh My!

One of Tosi’s specialties is creating desserts based on ‘steeped milk’, which is milk that has had stuff soaking in it. The milk at the bottom of your cereal bowl is steeped milk, because it has soaked up all the flavour of the cereal. It is the ultimate in comfort food, reminiscent of childhood breakfasts and after school snacks, and Momofuku Milk Bar customers love it, especially as a base for ice cream. But Tosi really makes your mouth water when she describes Toast Ice Cream, made with milk that has had freshly made restaurant toast steeped in it. Tosi shares with Nigella Lawson the ability to describe food in such sensual terms that readers salivate to have what she is having.

This book not only offers recipes for the cereal milk used by Tosi to make a variety of desserts, but the desserts themselves, such as ice cream and panna cotta. In her kitchen, Tosi’s imagination knows no bounds. She makes ganache with pumpkin or beetroot, carrot cake with yellow and purple carrots, and fills croissants with kimchee and blue cheese. The sheer inventiveness of these recipes is what cooking is all about.

This gorgeous cookbook deserves a place on any kitchen bookshelf, especially for the cook who wants to become known for spectacular cakes, cookies and desserts. But be warned – it is not for the dietary faint-hearted. For example, the aptly named Crack Pie (it’s that addictive) is a fairly scary creation if you are not insanely addicted to sugar. But if you are, this book will definitely not help you get over it.

Momofuku Milk Bar Cookbook by Christina Tosi is to be published by Clarkson Potter in October 2011 (ISBN 978-0307720498) and is available from Amazon.

The copy used for this review came from the publisher via Netgalley.

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