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Q&A: What's New with Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi?

Q&A: What's New with Momofuku Milk Bar's Christina Tosi?

We spoke with Christina Tosi, the 2014 James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of the ever-popular Momofuku Milk Bar, about her latest ventures and the run-up to her participation in the New Taste of the Upper West Side neighborhood culinary event on May 31st.

What will you be preparing for this year’s Comfort Food Classics event at the New Taste of the Upper West Side event this summer?

Some new twists on our classic and comforting cake truffles. Little deconstructed bites of our favorite layer cakes: birthday, strawberry-lemon, and German chocolate (don't snooze there's gooey crack pie filling in this one!)!

Do you think you have a chance at winning the Best Comfort Food Dish award this year again like you did last year?

The Upper West Side packs some serious talent! It will be a fierce battlefield, for sure. I think it will come down to whether the crowd is feeling savory or sweet!

What are some things we can look forward to during this year’s New Taste event, and why do you enjoy participating in the event?

The Upper West Side is such a vibrant and comforting place to be in this crazy, bustling city. The mood of the event is always so familiar even in a crowd of strangers. I love perusing the latest talent in the hood, checking out their newest dishes, and getting merry on food and drink with my team!

Are you working on any new treats for the Milk Bar?

We're always in recipe testing mode! The egg & cheddar bread is new to the Milk Bar menu as of last week, as are some new fun, seasonal soft serve flavors like cranberry limeade, huckleberry cheesecake, yuzu verbena, mandarin creamsicle, and fruit cocktail!

What are your thoughts on your James Beard Award nomination this year?

It's such an overwhelming honor to be nominated. I wear the badge with pride and motivation for myself, my team, and every new dish!

Can we get a sneak-peak of any upcoming projects you may be working on?

Cookbook number two is due out in spring 2015 with Clarkson Potter! Milk Bar Life will celebrate the hilarious, resourceful, fun-loving culture of Milk Bar through sweet and savory recipes and good old fashioned story telling!

Joanna Fantozzi is an Associate Editor with The Daily Meal. Follow her on Twitter @JoannaFantozzi


Q & A with Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi

It takes more to become a James Beard award winner (and one of the nation’s best known pastry chefs) than just pedestrian red velvet cupcakes or chocolate chip cookies. In fact, well before Dominique Ansel’s Cronut had taken New York by storm, Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi had already introduced her own series of game-changing sweets to the culinary canon, like Cereal Milk, Compost Cookies, and Crack Pie.

“Nearly every one of our creations has a hilarious story behind it, which always reminds me to never take myself so seriously,” Tosi laughs. “For instance, the Crack Pie was born out of a determination to make a sugar pie — a self proclaimed cross between a gooey butter cake and a chess pie — without measuring a thing and under-baking the sucker. It truly named itself,” she adds.

Tosi’s process may seem off-the cuff, but her creativity and drive has gotten her far, catapulting her from food safety officer for Momofuku’s David Chang to chef, owner, and founder of Milk Bar’s ever growing dynasty of quirky dessert shops, currently including six popular outposts in New York and one in Toronto.

“Opening Milk Bar has definitely been my greatest personal achievement,” concedes Tosi. “I created it, painted it, baked it, sliced it, and served it on my own volition. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do and I wouldn’t change a thing about how it changed, challenged and shaped me as a person, a friend, a leader or a chef.” We also spoke with the inspired creator of Bagel Bombs and Thanksgiving Croissants about why women tend to dominate the pastry world, her favorite (savory) guilty pleasure food, and how she plans to reclaim her “Best Comfort Dish” title at the upcoming New Taste of the Upper West Side.

Were you always into food and cooking, growing up?
I was an infamously picky eater as a child, but also had an infamous sweet tooth– all I wanted was dessert for every meal of the day. My mother stopped allowing me to only eat dessert, so I stepped into the kitchen to teach myself my favorite desserts. I loved it so much, I decided to go to culinary school and make it my profession.

What made you decide to pursue a career as a pastry chef instead of being a savory cook?
I have sweet teeth (as opposed to savory teeth) and I wanted to find a job that challenged my creative mind, that kept me on my feet, bouncing around all day, that pushed me to be tough and fierce, and never gave me the opportunity to feel bored or stagnant. I also LOVE to bake for people, to feed people. So I crossed my fingers, got my foot in the door in some kitchens, applied to culinary school and jumped!

What job would you say really kick-started your career?
I was hired as the head baker on Star Island, an island off the coast of New Hampshire, tasked at baking for 800 people, 3 meals a day, 7 days a week. I had my own little bakery kitchen and finally a real audience! I worked crazy hours, subsisted off of cookies, cakes and pies, and loved every minute of it. I knew there was no going back after that.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever received from a chef friend or mentor?
From my mother: “Christina, just be yourself.”

What advice would you give to chefs (pastry or non) just starting out in this business?
Make sure you really mean it, and you’re getting into this business for the right reasons. From there, keep your head down, protect your sense of self and whatever you do, keep pushing!

How did you originally get involved with David Chang, and what inspired you to launch Momofuku Milk Bar?
I worked freelance for Dave doing food safety work. And I guess he saw some kind of “push” or “promise” in me beyond HACCP plans! He offered me on full time to help work “operations,” which was mostly office work, as much as a restaurant office is “office work.”

Besides the Crack Pie, can you share the origin stories of some of your other signature creations?
The Compost Cookies were born on Star Island where storms would roll in and we’d be tasked with churching up a cookie with not enough chocolate chips to make chocolate chip cookies or oatmeal to make oatmeal cookies, we’d clean out the cupboards and fashion together “compost cookies.”The Cereal Milk was an attempt to create a panna cotta (one of the most simple desserts a pastry chef should have up his/her sleeve) but in an interesting flavor that would hit home and compete with the memorable savory courses that always come before dessert!

As it is, your desserts combine some rather unlikely ingredients. But are there any recipes you remember testing that absolutely did not work?
There are ALWAYS more failures than there are successes. The recipe developing process is always, always, always about editing. About checking your ego at the door and learning to let go of your inspiration when it just doesn’t translate into a successful dessert.

What trends in the pastry world do you really get behind, and which do you wish would just die already?
I think of trends as coming and going… I don’t push to stay cutting edge. I push to keep it real within myself and within the walls at Milk Bar. I try to teach to never judge, to never worry about what’s hot, what’s not, what’s upcoming, what’s on trend. I don’t believe you can truly create with those things in mind. It’s not about being like anyone else or fitting in, it’s about being yourself and confidently standing up for and embracing it. That’s the secret to Milk Bar.

If you could only eat one kind of dessert for the rest of your life cookies, pie, cake or ice cream, which would it be and why?
Chocolate Chip Cookies, fresh out of the oven….

Are there any ingredients you just cannot bring yourself to work with (or eat)?
I believe in being a very open minded person. I’ll try anything once.

What’s your favorite (savory) guilty pleasure food?
Nachos!

Why do you think it is that women seemingly dominate the pastry world, whereas men gain greater notoriety as executive chefs?
I have no clue. I only worked for male pastry chefs before standing at the helm of my own pastry kitchen. Like most hot topics, I think it depends on whom you ask and what their experience is.

I would imagine you get asked all the time what it’s like to be a woman in the restaurant community. Do you think that the disparity between the sexes is an important conversation to keep having, or do you think it’s actually harmful to keep shining a spotlight on the differences?
I was always taught to just be me, and not to worry about the rest. I work very hard to make space and encourage anyone and everyone in this industry and plan on doing so until the bitter end!

What was it like to win a James Beard Award for “Rising Star Chef,” and was it particularly sweet to beat out ‘savory’ chefs in that category?
It’s a pretty phenomenal feeling. First off, you black out you don’t realize what REALLY just happened and you sort of just stand and smile and stumble over a few words. But AFTER the fact, wrapping your head around what it really takes to be nominated and then actually WIN?! It’s a very honoring place to be. It doesn’t mix the cookies any faster, but man, it makes you feel so darn energized hunched over a 140-quart mixer.

Your Cake Truffles won you the “Best Comfort Dish” title at New Taste of the Upper West Side last year, which you’ll be defending on May 30th. Who do you see as your fiercest competition, and what do you think it’s going to take to win again?
There’s a LOT of talent on the Upper West Side. It’s any man or woman’s game! I think the winner will keep it simple, but find a way to hone in on flavor, texture and comforting inspiration in a new, clever way.


Momofuku's Christina Tosi Presents Recipes From "Milk Bar Life"


Hershey&rsquos Kiss Roll
SERVES 4 TO 6

One of my first cookbooks as a kid cook was Betty Crocker&rsquos Cookbook for Boys and Girls. The recipes, all supermarket style, were very exciting for a ten-year old to make and take pride in. My bestie and I would obsess over making the &ldquoBubble Ring,&rdquo which was a Bundt pan full of pieces of supermarket bread or pastry dough wrapped around junk food, pizza ingredients, or, whenever we were allowed to use it, candy, then baked.

  • 4 (8-ounce) tubes refrigerated crescent rolls, biscuits, or dinner rolls
  • 32 Hershey&rsquos Kisses, unwrapped

2. Pop open the tubes on a clean kitchen surface, unravel the dough, and separate the proportioned dough. With the palm of your hand, flatten out each piece of dough, then load with a Hershey&rsquos Kiss: Gather the dough edges together up around the Kiss so it is completely enclosed.

3. Grease a fluted 10-inch Bundt pan (or a regular one if that&rsquos all you have the roll just won&rsquot be as pretty) and fit the packets snugly inside, staggering each one&rsquos position and stacking them on top of each other in a zigzag pattern if it helps you load more in.

4. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the roll is golden brown. Remove from the oven and let cool slightly before popping the roll out of the pan onto a serving dish. Break apart and eat!

This roll is great for lots of holidays. Instead of Kisses, use leftover Valentine&rsquos Day, Hanukkah, Halloween, Easter, or Christmas candy.

For a glossy finish, brush the baked ring with melted butter and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar.

This roll is meant to be eaten the morning or day it&rsquos baked like other supermarket pastries, it loses its romance if served a day or more later.


Cold Brew
MAKES 4 (12-OUNCE) CUPS OF COFFEE

We make cold brew at Milk Bar throughout the spring, summer, and into the fall by steeping ground Stumptown coffee overnight in cold water. This process of &ldquobrewing&rdquo yields an incredibly smooth and highly potent yet gentle cup of less acidic coffee, because the coffee never comes in contact with heat. I feel confident that it will be your new favorite way to make coffee, served at any temperature.

  • 1&frasl2 pound ground coffee, such as Stumptown (upscale) or Bustelo (supermarket style)
  • 6 cups cold water

2. Strain the cold brew through a fine-mesh sieve into another container. Then pour the strained coffee through a coffee filter back into the rinsed-out pitcher. Store in the fridge for up to a week.


CRACKLE
MAKES ABOUT 4 CUPS

Because just about every moment we&rsquore not eating family meal together, we&rsquore making, tasting, or snacking on dessert, we rarely have dessert at family meal. But every once in a while we just can&rsquot help ourselves. That vat of crack pie filling waiting to be baked into toasted oat pie crusts stares you down, and you can&rsquot help but wonder, &ldquoWhat if . . .&rdquo Crack pie® meets brittle = Crackle. It&rsquos a candy-like, mini version of crack pie filling, baked in a pan rather than a pie crust, yet just as addictive as its big sister. There&rsquos a choose-your-own-adventure aspect to making crackle: you can opt for your favorite flavorful snack food, or use up the end of a box of something that needs eating from the pantry.

  • 1&frasl2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1&frasl4 cup packed light brown sugar
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 1&frasl4 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 4 1&frasl2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 1&frasl4 cup heavy cream
  • 2 large egg yolks
  • 1&frasl2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup flavorful pantry item (cereal, crackers, chips, pretzels, snack mix, granola, etc.&mdashnuts and seeds work well here too!)

2. Whisk together the sugars, flour, and salt in a medium bowl. Add the butter, heavy cream, egg yolks, and vanilla and whisk until smooth.

3. Pour the mixture into the baking pan and spread it out with a spatula until 1&frasl4 inch thick. Crush up and sprinkle your selected pantry item over the mixture. Bake for 12 to 15 minutes, until dark brown (at golden brown, it will still be a little chewy, which is OK, but I like to get real color on my crackle). Let cool completely.

4. Remove the crackle from the pan and break it up into medium to small pieces with a meat pounder or a heavy rolling pin. Store the brittle in an airtight container and try to gobble it up within a month (or, try not to gobble it all up immediately).


Baking tips from Milk Bar’s and Momofuku’s Christina Tosi

This weekend at the Austin Food & Wine Festival Christina Tosi of Momofuku and Milk Bar gave attendees a taste of her famous Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies from her book Momofuku Milk Bar. But she also graciously shared some baking tips, including Milk Bar’s ten-minute creaming process, milk powder, and why too much butter is never a bad thing. — “I like to use whole milk. I was raised on skim milk, but whole milk is the best. We get the milk we use at Milk Bar from a local organic dairy farmer.” — “I’m a big proponent of tasting and seasoning to your liking. At Milk Bar when we make big, big bowls of cereal to make our cereal milk, we usually season the milk with a little light brown sugar. The light brown sugar helps season the milk so [well] that it could go in so many different types of cereal… I like to put a pinch of salt in my cereal milk because it helps sharpen the flavor. I’m a big fan of salt in desserts, not to necessarily make it salty and sweet, but just to bring out the flavor and sharpness of the dessert.” — “We use milk powder in our ice cream. I sort of jokingly refer to it as the MSG for pastry chefs because it has this great ability when you put it in baked goods to really give a great depth of flavor.” — “Kosher salt is my favorite salt to use because iodized salt for me is a little too fine, and it doesn’t provide the same sort of sharpness of flavor as kosher salt when you use it to season in baked goods.” — “Butter is another sort of preaching lesson for me. It’s a lot like the organic whole milk. We use European-style butter in all of our baked goods, and European-style butter usually has a little bit higher butter-fat content. The dairy is cultured before it is churned into butter, so it already has a great depth of flavor beyond your average, generic, store-bought butter.” — “We don’t really throw anything away at Milk Bar. We look at over-baked or under-baked items as an opportunity to learn and grow and challenge ourselves because that’s how you get from step to step.” — “My favorite place to hide something that is over-baked is to throw it into a cookie dough because anything coated in butter, sugar, egg, and flour and then baked is (pause) well, you can get away with murder with cookie dough.” — “I’m a very casual baker. I bake with a cook’s mentality, which most bakers I feel like are very precise and calculated, and most people don’t bake because there is something about the precision of baking that scares them off or makes them think they aren’t capable. That’s not my style. I think you learn the most when you throw yourself into a situation, and you have to look at everything as a learning experience.” — “The creaming process is a very underestimated process in any baker’s kitchen. It’s the most important process because it really aerates or emulsifies the fat and the sugar together. If you’re baking something, you’re always starting out with some sort of fat [and] some sort of sugar. We feel very strongly about our creaming process. In fact, we call it the ten-minute creaming process, and it’s a mantra that we sort of live and die by at Milk Bar when we’re making cookies.” — “We have way too much butter in all of our cookies. One, because it makes them taste even more delicious, and two, because that’s how we’re going to get our cookies to stand out.” — “I get the butter and the sugar going, and I usually add vanilla extract. Don’t ever underestimate the power of vanilla extract. You don’t ever underdo vanilla overdo vanilla! Believe it or not, it is the greatest secret ingredient. It’s not a secret, but it’s actually what adds so much of that flavor that you don’t quite associate [with the vanilla extract].” — “Once the creaming process is up, you’re going to have that big, voluptuous, airy, eggy, buttery mixture, and [then] it’s time to add the dry ingredients. I would say the adding of the dry ingredients is the second most important part of the mixing process, and I’ll tell you why: Most people don’t spend enough time on the creaming process, and you don’t get that light, fluffy, airy, cripsy-on-the-outside, fudgy-in-the-center cookie. You don’t get fluffy cakes, and sometimes you have weird dips in your cakes. That’s from the creaming process. The other thing people fall to is the adding of dry ingredients. Most people over mix their cookies and their cake batters, even though you don’t know it. Same thing with biscuits. It’s all about adding the dry ingredients, mixing it just enough, and then letting it be. When you introduce any sort of flour into your baked goods, you’re introducing gluten, and gluten is great for bread, but you don’t want it in your cookies and you don’t want it in your cakes… I do a lot of it by hand just to make sure I’m not over mixing it.”


4 Secret Tips for the Best Birthday Cake You'll Ever Bake

When it comes to feel-good food, there's nothing like a towering, colorful, frosted, and sprinkled birthday cake. It's impossible to dig into a slice without smiling (thousands of kids across the country can't be wrong). And when it comes to epic birthday cakes, no one makes them better than the team at Milk Bar. Its version is made with traditional vanilla cake, a creamy, sweet frosting slathered in between three (count ɾm!) layers, and doused with a shower of rainbow sprinkles. Wanna learn how to make it at home? Check out this video with Milk Bar owner Christina Tosi and BA senior food editor Alison Roman, then read on for insider tips on the essential four steps to birthday cake nirvana. Need even more Milk Bar in your life? Check out Tosi's new book, Milk Bar Life, on sale this April.

One of the simplest ways to ramp up your birthday cake is to swap regular old vanilla extract in the batter for the clear imitation variety. Wait, did we really say "imitation"? You bet—this synthetic flavoring agent is reminiscent of your favorite boxed cake mix, and Tosi refuses to use anything else in this recipe. Oh, and remember those sprinkles we talked about earlier? They go directly in the batter for candy crunch in every bite. Once everything is mixed up, line a rimmed baking sheet (or jellyroll pan) with parchment paper and pour the batter on it—the layer of paper helps the cake pop right out of the pan once it's done. You'll also want to let it cool completely before assembling it. While it cools down, you can make your frosting and birthday crumbs (yep, we said "crumbs").

Birthday crumbs may sound like what's leftover after you eat the cake, but trust us: These are arguably the best part of the cake. "It takes very little time, and will make a huge difference in your cake," explains Roman. To make them, mix together your dry ingredients—cake flour is key here, along with both light brown and granulated sugar—with a neutral tasting oil to bind them. Oh, and sprinkles. Of course there must be sprinkles. Work the crumbs between your fingers, then bake in the oven. Instead of a completely frosted cake, these are the main decoration, making it unique and easier to put together—they're placed on each layer, right on top of the frosting.


Most Read

It's become an increasingly popular marketing strategy in the beauty and fashion industry to team up with a dessert brand or take inspiration from the confectionery world for a launch.

Sephora teamed up with French macaron brand Laduree to launch the beauty line Les Merveilleuses Laduree, which includes eye shadows, lip glosses and blush inspired by Laduree's fairy tale pastel colors.

Demeter Fragrance, meanwhile, boasts perhaps the widest -- and strangest -- collection of food-inspired scents, with a library that includes everything from the standard sweet smells of sugar cookie and apple pie to the eyebrow raising pizza, rye bread, sushi and dirt.

And in Girona, Spain, the pastry chef of the Michelin-starred El Celler de Can Roca also created a woman's perfume, Nuvol de Llimona, which bottles the smells and tastes of lemon muffin soaked in milk in a flask.


Bake Club, Day 101, And Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi Is Still Going

(Bloomberg Businessweek) -- When Christina Tosi started her fantastical bakery Milk Bar in 2008, it was a small storefront in New York’s East Village that opened in collaboration with David Chang’s Momofuku restaurants.

She’s since grown her company to 15 stores (8 are currently open) across the country and in Toronto, with around 200 employees. Through its online business, Milk Bar sold almost 3 million cookies in 2019, as well as thousands of other baked goods like the signature Birthday Cake Truffles. In April, Milk Bar introduced a consumer packaged goods line including cornflake, chocolate chip and marshmallow cookies at Whole Foods nationwide and on Amazon.

During the pandemic, Tosi, who has a frenetic, engaging energy that makes you think she’s eaten too much sugar but shouldn’t stop, has found another way to engage fans: Through an Instagram Live Bake Club that takes place daily at 2pm EST. Against the backdrop of a manic playlist and with her dog Butter as unofficial co-host, Tosi bakes a different treat daily: The ingredients are teased the day before on an IG post so members are prepared (though she never reveals what the ultimate baked good will be).

On Wednesday, July 22, Tosi will record her 101st show and announce a major format change: Come Monday, July 27th, Tosi will turn Bake Club into a weekly ‘show’ on Instagram that includes games, prizes and a baking demo. We checked in with Tosi a few hours before the birthday party for day 100 of Bake Club, to talk about the power of online communities and what other small businesses can learn from this. (The interview has been edited.)

How did Bake Club come about?

After that initial shock [at the consequences of the pandemic], my first instinct was to figure out how to get out in the world and be there for people. I went on IG live, and said, ‘Hey I’m going to start Bake Club, who is in, and what time works?’ After mellow interest, that video with Butter in the background got so much engagement, close to 100,000 views. Now, we get up to 80,000 views per video. And we’re worldwide.

How long did you think this would last?

If you asked me when I opened the door to Milk Bar in 2008 how long it would last, I couldn’t have told you. I just kept going, to keep showing up. When people said, ‘Are you really going to do this club, 7 days a week?,’ I said, ‘Yeah for however long people need it.’

What were some unexpected challenges?

I do all of the recipe testing and writing. Some recipes take a day, others take a week, and yet bake club happens every day. Some recipes have typos, they’re missing a step. I’m trying to run the Milk Bar business but also run this side hustle. There’s the reality of, ‘I’ve gone through 30 pounds of butter, I’m out of flour.’ So we’re not doing a recipe with flour for the next few days until I can get to the store during quarantine.

Where do you find 100-plus recipes?

I keep a spreadsheet with categories like ‘savory’ and ‘recipes without flour,’ or ‘what’s in people’s pantry.’ We try to hit one bucket a week: a cookie, a pie, a savory item, something without flour. Our list is miles long. But I go back to family recipes and old cookbooks.

Most popular Bake Club recipes?

A few. People really love the PB sandies, and we did a fudge brownie play that people went crazy for. Some of the bigger projects like bagels and pretzels, recipes with yeast, have a following. People are there for the challenge as well as the joy.

How do you keep an intensive daily routine like Bake Club going?

After 100 days, people are living their lives differently than they were on Day 1 of Bake Club. We’re all evolving. But also, Bake Club continues to be an escape as your routine changes. Bake Club 101 will be the same ingredients as Day 1 [brown sugar, flour, butter and salt to make cut out cookies]. We’re going to see how you would make the same recipe 100 days in.

We’re going to evolve Bake Club to a show that’s live Mondays at 2 pm, rather than 7 days a week. It will be a variety show. There will be a Spin the Wheel component. Each week someone will win something from a KitchenAid mixer to 15 pounds of chocolate. We’ll have a Bake Club spirit award based on what folks have posted. Not necessarily for the most beautiful thing, but for the most joyful.

How does Bake Club support your Milk Bar business?

The way that I see it, I have to rectify why I started Milk Bar versus what it has become. Bake Club is about people understanding what we do. Why we think baked goods are infinitely cool and hold power. The spirit of Milk Bar, it’s imperfect. It’s a little crazy but we’re here to be an escape for you. Any business you’re running, unless you’re a nameless tech company, what you’re selling is based on community and emotion. That’s how you become a consistent part of people’s lives.

What’s your advice for other small business owners?

Being online is one of most powerful things you can do. Figure out where your people are—and show up for them. Food is an emotional thing, we make our eating decisions, community decisions, based on emotion. Think about the thing you have that no one else has. Also as a small business, if you don’t have money, go online and stay alive. Try something new every day until you find something that sticks.

Could you see Bake Club as a Netflix show?

Having this show on cable, Netflix, would be incredible. Right now, no one is filming anything. I would welcome a camera in any day of the week. I’ll never run short of recipes and ideas and Bake Club will always show up and make a difference in people’s lives.


How Milk Bar's Christina Tosi Invents Exhilarating New Desserts Like Crack Pie

Christina Tosi's Milk Bar, known for its cereal milk, innovative cookie flavors and inventive, peak-snack creations, began as an adjunct to David Chang's Momofuku Noodle Bar in 2008. It has since become a dessert empire her Brooklyn Commissary supplies nine Milk Bar locations in New York, but there are also Milk Bar locations in Washington D.C., Toronto and Las Vegas, with a Los Angeles bakery on the way. They've gone through 11 tons of sprinkles. Battle-hardened Hobart mixers, in sizes ranging from 20-quart up to 140-quart, mix blends of cookie dough and cake batter to an exact formula.

"Precision is key. Even in mixers of that size and scope, we're measuring down to the gram. With salt and some other ingredients we're measuring with a gem scale, down to the hundredth of a gram," Tosi says. "A slight underhand of flour and the cookie will spread differently."

Her quick rundown of the recipe for a single item&mdashMilk Bar's savory Bagel Bombs&mdashinvolves a dizzying number of details: knead for seven minutes for full gluten development, dough hook at Speed 2 for X minutes, and so on.

"The secret to having an epically beloved bakery is consistency," Tosi told Newsweek. "How do you catch lightning in a bottle or become a part of people's lives? It's not because the birthday cake tastes different every time."

But if consistency and precision are critical to Milk Bar's success, what about that initial flash of inspiration&mdashthe lightning bolt to be bottled? Chef's Table: Pastry, a Netflix Original Documentary Series created by Jiro Dreams of Sushi director David Gelb, explores Christina Tosi's inspirations, background and creative process. Of course, since it's Chef's Table, there's enough sumptuous shots of cakes, cookie dough and ice cream to sugar glaze your eyeballs.

If Milk Bar just made dessert standards, say chocolate chip cookies and apple pie, it could probably flourish on taste alone. It's the bakery's sense of inventiveness, the reconfiguration of familiar flavors, that truly sets Tosi's work apart. Her Chef's Table episode delves into the origin stories for some of her most famous creations, including cereal milk, birthday cake, compost cookies and crack pie, with its salty-sweet addictiveness. Tosi's meeting with her R&D team to taste test a new blueberry jam stands out as one of the more fascinating moments in the episode&mdashit's a look into the actual process of invention and the careful work that follows inspiration.

"We call it spaghetti. Throw the spaghetti at the wall and see what sticks," Tosi says. "In the R&D kitchen, when we're first playing spaghetti, we almost don't measure anything."

The precision can wait, this is play. "I find I need to fly free, drive without a seatbelt, ride without a helmet (which I do and I know you're not supposed to)," Tosi explains. "We try and organize around the chaos of inspiration and go 'Okay, where is a home for this?'"

Part of the process also comes down to region, both in the historic and the immediate sense. Though her Chef's Table episode delves into her background in Ohio and Virginia&mdashplaces of potluck, pie and generational wisdom, where that night's dinner and dessert depends on the produce in season&mdashit's more than nostalgic folk tradition steadying Milk Bar's more free-flying innovations. For Tosi, one of the first considerations is simple: who will be eating?

"When you open any kind of food service establishment you do all this planning, but it's not until you've opened the door and people are inside that you learn what people want you to be to them," Tosi says.

Asked about the blueberry jam, Tosi recalled the constellation of considerations and details that went into its deployment. At the time of filming, Tosi and her team were preparing for the opening of their D.C. flagship. "It's warmer there than it is in New York," she pointed out, adding that there's nothing much more American than blueberry pie in the summertime. "What are we thinking about ice cream and warmer months and what we want to eat then? So we would say, 'You know what? I would buy, every day of the week, a blueberry pie milkshake.'"

From there, the process invention narrows to more and more practical considerations. "Should it be textured? Should it be smooth? How thin or thick should it be?" Tosi says. "So we ended up pulling out a few different blueberry jams, just in case the one we like most doesn't resonate in a milkshake."

The final result: "An epically delicious blueberry jam that reminds you of a blueberry Pop-Tart plus jam you'd get after blueberry picking, but also tastes like a lazy morning after you open a jar of jam."

This balance, between creation and function, has come to define Tosi's path to mastery. Working in famous restaurant kitchens with Chang, David Bouley and Wylie Dufresne filled her twenties with grinding work, but also a growing expertise.

"Getting into this, I never had enough time for self-reflection, because you're working a lot and you're in this trajectory to learn, but you're someone else's soldier," Tosi said. "All you are is a sponge, taking in information. In the next phase you're a pro, and you're orbiting around the things you've been taught."

In following her own creative spark, Tosi not only found a better balance in her life, but unlocked new lessons. "You actually have to learn this beautiful patience," Tosi says. "The hardest thing to do is dig deep and be patient about the things you're going to learn month to month and quarter to quarter."

There's the spaghetti, but there's also what she calls "a never-ending Sisyphus complex."

"Fall in love with repetition," Tosi says. "Perfecting day in and day out&hellip you have to love that pursuit."

Milk Bar celebrates its tenth anniversary this November, which is sure to mean new inventions and tastes. But while Tosi and Milk Bar established themselves with creations both spectacular and familiar&mdashwho doesn't love that last slurp of milk from the bottom of the cereal bowl?&mdashTosi emphasizes the essential simplicity of her approach. "It's just figuring out how to add to the world something that it needs," she says. "You love food because you love to create and because you love to feed people."

In our conversation, Tosi poses a question to herself: "Why is a cookie powerful?"

Milk Bar's playful invention, the effort her and her kitchen put into providing joy, in all its flavors and possibilities, provides the answer. "I hope that comes through," she says.


How Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi Treats Herself


Christina Tosi, chef and owner of Momofuku Milk Bar, is famous for providing New Yorkers with new, creative ways to satisfy their sweet tooths, from cereal milk soft-serve, to “crack pie” (a crunchy, toasted oat confection with gooey butter filling) and—our personal favorite—birthday cake truffles.
But how does the queen of sweet treats indulge herself (aside from taste-testing her own delicious concotions, of course)? Here, Tosi spills her five favorite ways to feel pampered in New York City.
1. Bike Rides: “There’s nothing like feeling as if you own this city,” says Tosi. “Riding my bike does just that for me. I have a rusty old red clunker and I love riding over the Williamsburg bridge early in the morning, late at night, or any other time of the day. I’ll ride over to the city to tool around, and ride up the east river, get a bite, meet a friend, hit up a thrift store. It’s the ultimate way to decompress!”
2. Qi Gong Massages: “I lived in Chinatown when I first moved to the city and fell in love with going to Qi Gong massages. My favorite place to disappear for an hour long massage is actually in the East Village—the gals there know me by face, and by the ridiculous number of knots in my back.”
3. Cure Thrift Shop: “I’m from Virginia, and the art of being frugal but put together is in my genetic makeup,” Tosi explains. “It’s quite hard to find a thrifty score in this city, but my best luck has always been at The Cure—it’s best to go when school is out of session in the summer. There’s nothing better than a mission impossible shopping mission, and there’s also a cute vintage furniture and antiques store next door.” 111 East 12th Street, New York City curethriftshop.com.
4. Movie in the Park: “One of my favorite things about this city are the free movies in the park during the summer. It’s like having a picnic, and going to the movies—two of my other favorite indulgences separately—all wrapped up into one. Tompkins Square Park has some great films, as does the Brooklyn Bridge Park and, of course, Bryant Park.”
5. Dinners at WD-50: “There is no greater restaurant in New York City than WD-50, if you ask me,” Tosi says. “It is the perfect place to get dolled up just enough, but also stay cool and casual. The food is thoughtful, evoking, artistic and clever. I love riding my bike or walking to a meal at WD-50 because it’s in my neighborhood, the Lower East Side, which is so rich in life and downtown culture it seems like a waste to get there any other way. I also learned how to cook, how to eat and how to think while I spent over a year as a pastry cook under chef Wylie Dufresne. In my perfect evening, I’d get a cocktail at the bar first then tasting menu with the wine pairing—it’s always worth the splurge.” $240 per person 50 Clinton Street, New York City wd-50.com.


‘Chef’s Table: Pastry’ Recap: Christina Tosi Channeled Her Childlike Wonder Into a Dessert Empire

The Christina Tosi episode of Netflix’s culinary documentary series Chef’s Table: Pastry explores how the New York City-based chef/restaurateur built a trend-setting bakery inspired by her love of classic American treats. Tosi opened the first Milk Bar — a spinoff of David Chang’s Momofuku empire — in 2008, and now operates several locations throughout North America as well as an online business. In addition to her work in the kitchen, Tosi has written two cookbooks and has a third on the way in October 2018.

What was Tosi’s journey through the culinary world like?

Tosi grew up as a picky eater with what she describes as a “crazy sweet tooth.” Her parents held her to high standards, expecting A’s in school and nothing less. After studying hard and graduating from college with high marks, Tosi decided she didn’t want a standard nine-to-five job, so she moved to New York City — having never visited — with dreams of becoming a pastry chef. This didn’t sit well with her mom, who thought of baking as something to do in your free time, not as a profession.

Tosi bounced around restaurant kitchens for about a decade before she ended up working for Wylie Dufresne at his heralded restaurant wd

50. This is where she came up with “crack pie,” which is now a Milk Bar staple. She whipped it up for a family meal with the limited ingredients she had on hand one Sunday, and the exuberant reactions from the kitchen staff inspired her to make it a regular family meal dessert.

Tosi had been working at wd

50 for a couple of years before she connected with David Chang, at Dufresne’s suggestion. She first helped out as a hired hand to get food safety plan at Momofuku Noodle Bar in order. Chang then hired her to help run the business side of things, but he eventually demanded that she make some of those desserts. These treats also wowed the Momofuku team during family meals, and quickly become part of Momofuku’s menu.

In 2008, Chang was working to open Momofuku Ko, his tasting-menu restaurant in NYC, and Tosi was in charge of the dessert. In preparation for opening night, she came up with a cereal milk panna cotta. Chang was blown away. He encouraged her to open an entire concept centered on cereal milk in a vacant space his company had acquired, and Milk Bar was born. There was a line out the door on day one, and business steadily increased from there.

crack pie K C Bailey/Netflix

What was her “aha” moment?

Tosi looks back on her stint at wd

50 as her first opportunity to really make a name for herself in New York’s restaurant scene, but she quickly realized being the pastry chef at a cutting-edge, high-end restaurant was not who she wanted to be. She wanted to make simpler desserts that reminded her of her childhood — cookies, pies, cakes — and her move to Momofuku allowed that dream to become a reality.

What are some of her most awesome quotes? And what are some great quotes about her work?

  • “Christina is a uniquely American chef. She’s not trying to be French, she’s not running off to Japan. She is America, and America’s delicious.” — Bon Appetiteditor at Large Christine Muhlke on Tosi’s cooking style
  • “I think the world is more often your oyster when you approach it with more of a childlike sensibility. The world is a more curious place. It’s a more beautiful place. It’s not always sunshine and rainbows, but within any given day in life, there should always be a moment where the weight of the world is just a little bit lighter on your shoulders.” — Tosi on her outlook on life
  • “She’s so light and easy, it distracts you from just how incredibly ambitious and hardworking she is.” — Muhlke on Tosi’s work ethic
  • “I was like, ‘Oh my god.’ When you eat it, you’re immediately at your childhood, and that was when I tasted something, I was like, ‘This is a world-class dish.’ And I remember [saying] like, ‘Christina, we need to put whatever the fuck cereal milk is in everything. It’s that amazing. I don’t know what the fuck you did, but we need to put it in everything possible.’” — Chang on his reaction to tasting cereal milk panna cotta for the first time
  • “The spirit of Milk Bar is, ‘Come in. You’re welcome. We’re here for you.’ It’s not this elitist place, and that’s important to me. It’s not about, like, only if you can get a reservation and only if you have a certain amount of money or a certain amount of time. You don’t need to go to a fine-dining, multi-course menu to indulge.” — Tosi on her business philosophy

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