Cookbook Review: Momofuku Milk Bar

Ain't nothing simple in Christina Tosi's cookbook

Cookbook Review: Momofuku Milk Bar

I avoid restaurant cookbooks because I’m not the target audience and because I firmly believe that restaurant food and home-cooked food should never mix. The Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook is a perfect example of why I hold these beliefs.

I had high hopes for this cookbook after sampling a compost cookie during Christina Tosi's panel at SXSW; I've had good luck with the cookbooks from another beloved Brooklyn bakery and besides, how hard could it be to make a cookie with coffee, chocolate and butterscotch chips, and potato chips in it? Everybody loves a chocolate chip cookie, and the nostalgia factor is appealing. Turns out, it’s a massive pain. In fact, I didn’t even make the compost cookies because I was so exhausted after making the cereal milk (the simplest recipe in the book), cornflake crunch, cornflake chocolate chip marshmallow cookies, and crack pie that I couldn’t muster the energy to jump through anymore culinary hoops in service to this cookbook.

Here’s why this cookbook is not for the home cook:
1. The ingredients are expensive and difficult to obtain. Raise your hand if you have glucose, gelatin, and corn powder on hand or know where to get it. (Sure, you could order the ingredients online, but that’s not super helpful if you have a hankering to make a cool pie and then have to wait a week for the UPS guy to show up with your supplies). What’s more, I spent $30 on ingredients for the recipes I named above. Cookies and pie shouldn’t cost $30.
2. The recipes haven’t been tested for home kitchens. Cook times are waaaaay off (the Crack Pie recipe claims a 20-minute cooking time, but in my oven it took nearly 40 minutes and it still wasn’t set when I yanked it for fear of burning). The cook time for the cornflake cookies is allegedly 18 minutes, but at 16 minutes, I had melted, burnt Frisbees. A second tray fared better at a more conservative 12 minutes, but if you look at the reviews, you’ll see that I’m not in the minority in my extremely frustrating experience. (You can see photographic evidence of my travails with this recipe here.)
3. It’s way too fussy. Don’t be fooled by the presence of Fruity Pebbles and Ritz crackers in this cookbook; it may be super playful and adorably nostalgic and toy with the conventions of classical cooking, but when I want to make a pie, I just want to make a damn pie. I don’t want to have to make a giant oatmeal cookie, then crumble it up and process it with other ingredients in order to get to a pie crust. I am a busy working mom who doesn’t have the unlimited reservoir of time, energy, and patience required to make a “mother” ingredient (like cereal milk or cornflake crunch or sprinkled birthday cake crumb) for my desired recipe.

But how does the food taste? Well, if you like overcooked, thin, chewy cookies with a nice hint of caramelization, you may like the cornflake cookies. The Crack Pie is extremely rich and sweet – a little sliver goes a long way toward satisfying a craving – and gets greasy as it warms to room temperature (the cookbook demands that you eat it cold, presumably to head off a consumer’s butter shock), but the deep caramelized flavor of the filling is delicious, and you can never go wrong with the combination of salty and sweet. Quite frankly, my favorite recipe is the cereal milk; I have been enjoying stealing sips from the jar of sweet, nostalgic goodness all week. But as far as the rest of the recipes go, when I want a nostalgic after-school snack, I’ll stick with Toll House cookies and draining my cereal bowl the old-fashioned way.

By the way, Tosi will be at Killed By Dessert on Monday, where you can enjoy pastry chefs' recipes as God intended: in a restaurant.

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Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, Momofuku, Milk Bar, Crack Pie, cereal milk, Christina Tosi, Killed By Dessert

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