I love David Chang and Peter Meehan’s Momofuku cookbook. Although I haven’t cooked many of the dishes, it’s inspired me in countless ways. Obsessively reading the recipes for how to make ramen broth that will simmer for days to fresh steamed bun dough, has taught me many techniques essential to Asian cuisine. Eating at the Momofuku restaurants only made me more exhilarated about the book. So, when I realized their sister bakery, Momofuku Milk Bar, had a cookbook…Well, I had to get my hands on it. Ever since a year ago I’ve been furiously checking it in and out of the library, mentally drooling over the pages and fantasizing long days of mixing cookie dough and straining cereal milk. A few months ago, I cooked the highly sought-after Compost Cookies along with the infamous Ceral Milk. For my contribution to the Thanksgiving table, I spent an afternoon tackling the incredible cultish Crack Pie. But it wasn’t till a few days ago that I went all out, tackling three recipes in one day. Hence my first cookbook review…
Christina Tosi, the mastermind behind Milk Bar, has brought us an incredible book. In it you’ll find ten master recipes (from liquid cheesecake to cereal milk) which you will, in a perfect world, make and then be able to cook the sub recipes. Essentially, with these master recipes on hand, you can make everything from Kimchi and Blue Cheese Croissants to Chocolate Chip Layer Cake. The wide range of fantastically original recipes are gloriously wacky and fueled on pure fun.
The amusing delight in the recipes isn’t enough to carry the entire book, however. The book’s major pitfall is that in adapting these recipes for home cooks, Tosi and her team haven’t quite succeeded. The Compost Cookies, while ultimately incredibly delicious, didn’t end up exactly like the real thing. The recipes calls for 18 minutes in a 375 degree oven, which led to an impossibly thin and slightly overly browned cookie. That being said, who doesn’t love a thin, crispy cookie? Still, the Bagel Bombs were slightly under-baked when I pulled them out of the oven 25 minutes into the 20-30 minute suggested bake time. (Some of the blame for this could certainly go to my own oven whose temperature fluctuates inaccurately. After all, every oven and home bakers equipment are not the same.)
Despite a few faulty details, what really prevails is the execution and spirit of the book. Asides from it’s freewheeling spirit, the book features incredibly in-depth writing from Tosi. Her account of everything from the very beginnings of Milk Bar to its current status as NYC tourist attraction are equally fascinating. Gabriele Stabile was brought in for the Momofuku cookbook and returns here. Stabile uses his experience as a documentary photographer to turn out some stunning photographs. He shoots the food in a different light than one might expect; it’s by no means over-lit, flashy shots of cookies on plates, but instead the dough being lined up on baking sheets.
Plus, the Ceral Milk tasted like the milk at the bottom of your cereal bowl…Except the balance of sweet and salty has been amped up a few notches. The Bagel Bombs are an ingenious invention. You make a mother dough which is somehow versatile enough to be a croissant, focaccia, or a bagel. Cut the dough into eight pieces and fold it around a whipped cream cheese with scallions and bacon (or whatever you have on hand). Wash it with an egg wash, sprinkle with an everything bagel spice mix, and you have a bagel in the form of a dinner roll that oozes with blisteringly hot cream cheese.
If you’re looking for a challenging, yet engrossing cookbook, one that will both stimulate your curiosity and dare you to try a little harder in the kitchen than you might be used to, Momofuku Milk Bar is the book for you. If you’re a slice-and-bake kind of person, you’ll want to stay away from the book. But for who this book is aiming at, it really works. While planning ahead to make dough which must cold ferment, cream cheese which must be frozen, and egg yolks which must be separated from their whites is certainly difficult, the book has become my favorite resource for an adventurous, challenging baked good.