Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Milk & Cookies


Even the word sounds boring.

One dictionary I referred to defines the word rut in several ways but the one that makes me cringe is "a fixed or established mode of procedure or course of life, usually dull or unpromising."

Yes, I was in a dull rut but I didn't even yet know it.

A few months ago I attended the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook signing by Christina Tosi at Omnivore Books in San Francisco.

Her compost cookies, crack pie and cereal milk ice cream have been widely discussed and admired in the food press. Her riffs on childhood favorites and dessert classics are well known.

At last the world would now have the recipes for Tosi's fun loving desserts that are served at the various Momofuku restaurants in New York City (as well as Toronto and Sydney) and at the Momofuku Milk Bar bakeries.

Tosi was a passionate and entertaining speaker. But as I flipped through the book, I also realized what a hard worker she must be. These recipes were not for the baker who wanted quick and easy sweets.

The recipes are based on ten mother recipes and there are also variations to each mother recipe.

And if you want to feel inspired, but tired, just read her introduction to the cookbook.

As Tosi says in the introduction, "We will do anything to make something work. It's one-half rock-hard work ethic, one-quarter pride, and one-quarter spite..."

Although she says there are no tricky secrets to the recipes and that she believes in using everyday ingredients, she does admit that there are a few "funny ingredients" that are needed to make the recipes work.

Like what? Well, glucose syrup, feuilletine, citric acid and corn powder are a few examples.

That night I read the book cover to cover and then shelved it. I had bookmarked a few recipes to try but nothing that made me want to run into the kitchen. It's not that kind of cookbook anyway -- for these recipes I would need to plan, shop and dedicate some serious time. And I must admit, I wondered who beyond the serious (or professional) home bakers would actually attempt these recipes.

But the recipes and Tosi's voice kept running through my head. A few months later I found myself at the mother ship of restaurant supply stores also known as Surfas Los Angeles. I so wish we had a Surfas in San Francisco!

Before I knew it I had a 20 oz jar of glucose syrup (product of France, no less) in my basket.

Back home I flipped through Milk and decided to make the chocolate cookies. The recipe called for glucose syrup which I now had but also required that I make what Tosi calls a chocolate crumb.

"The crumb" is Tosi's name for "clumpy, crunchy, yet sandy bits of flavor." The chocolate crumb consists of baking a mixture of flour, cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, salt and butter.

The chocolate crumb then simply becomes one more ingredient to add when making the chocolate cookies. The cookie recipe wasn't difficult but included one odd ingredient (the glucose) plus an additional recipe (chocolate crumb).

And honestly, the cookies didn't look all that attractive. But what amazed me was the depth of flavor that the baked cookies had. I could taste the complexity of the chocolate and the richness of the butter. This cookie was amazing.

I remember when my baby daughter had her first taste of ice cream. I think I had that same look of wonderment on my face after I tasted this cookie. And this was just a simple chocolate cookie. The only hint of hyperbole from Tosi of what was to come was to name the cookie: Chocolate-chocolate cookies. Almost like what she was actually saying was: Really really good chocolate cookie!

But most of all it was really really fun to experiment with a new recipe and to make something out of my comfort zone.

I felt jazzed about trying new recipes again. It was a similar feeling to when I spent all those months reinventing that most humble of desserts, the pie, into what I called ipie (individual pie) that I now sell online and at a local farmers' market.

I'm excited to tackle more of Tosi's recipes. Because while her recipes might be complex -- dull and unpromising they are certainly not.

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