David Chang's food is fun. Yes, he uses advanced techniques such as sous vide, and ingredients such as transglutaminase (that's meat glue and it's what makes “brick” chicken stick together in Momofuku, his cookbook), but, goddammit, his dishes aren't stuffy. No, Mr. Chang earned the slavering praise of foodies and stars from Michelin by making food for the people. Thanks in large part to his Momofuku restaurant empire, which is scheduled to expand into Toronto next year, it's never been more acceptable for cooks to cater to popular tastes, whether it's pork buns or fried chicken. This is a great thing.
In the occasionally frustrating but always delicious Momofuku Milk Bar, pastry chef Christina Tosi picks up where her boss left off: the sweet kitchen. Mr. Chang turned dorm-room staples such as ramen noodles into a delectable justification for culinary OCD, and Ms. Tosi works the same mojo, but on breakfast cereals, pretzels and powdered milk. As a result, every recipe in this book panders to a craving, from cereal milk to liquid cheesecake. This is food that seems as though it's been conceived by a committee of stoners and executed by a brigade of pastry chefs, and that's both a huge strength and a fundamental flaw.
Of the eight dishes (and countless subpreparations) I tested over two gluttonous weeks, there was not a single unsatisfying bite. The blueberry and cream cookies are sublime, as are the cornflake-chocolate-chip-marshmallow ones. The former captures the marvellous milkiness of a bowl of ice cream in a biscuit, while the crackling edges and chewy centre of the latter are a masterstroke of textural contrast. Crack pie – with a chilled oat-cookie base cradling an egg, cream and sugar custard so dense that words such as “fudgy” feel inadequate – is every bit as addictive as the name implies. After repeated trips to the fridge to carve out increasingly narrower wedges, I've come to accept that the diminishing size of each piece is an inverse reflection of my guilt at being unable to resist it.
And yet … despite a vocabulary of flavours to which any child who throws a tantrum in the cereal aisle can relate, these are technically challenging recipes. Ms. Tosi offers substitutes for uncommon ingredients, such as glucose, in every recipe, but warns the results will not be the same. If it weren't for a rush shipment of freeze-dried corn from a survivalist website, I could never have made crack pie. At least her writing overflows with humour, but that didn't stop me from cursing Ms. Tosi while heating a mere two tablespoons of sugar and 1.5 tablespoons of water to precisely 115 C for a delectable layer of peanut butter nougat for a sensational, gooey, candy bar pie.
Advanced equipment is also essential. “If you don't have one,” Ms. Tosi writes in her discussion of food processors, “you should get married so you can put one on your registry.” Lucky spouses should insist on a stand mixer, too – or consider a second marriage (or a different cookbook).
Beleaguered home cooks can take some solace in perhaps the funniest cookbook on the market, but only those with advanced kitchen know-how, gear and pantries will wander over to their fridge and grab one last slice of crack pie before eating their cake and laughing at it, too.
Rating (out of 5)
Quality of recipes: 4.5
This is not the book to turn to for a quick batch of cookies for a bake sale (all three cookie recipes I tested required separate subpreparations), but the recipes work splendidly.
Down-and-dirty vérité images of life in Momofuku Milk Bar’s kitchen with occasional styled shots of finished dishes.
Ms. Tosi has written a laugh-out-loud cookbook brimming with personality and wit.
Optimal results require high-end ingredients, equipment and technique.
Over all: 4
Amateurs should probably look elsewhere, but the reward for perseverance and skill is a happily overstimulated sweet tooth.
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