Cookbook Review: Momofuku Milk Bar

Momofuku Milk Bar is the new cookbook from New York-based Momofuku pastry chef Christina Tosi.  The cookbook delivers recipes for many famous items from Milk Bar bakery including Compost Cookies and Crack Pie, as well as plated desserts served at the Momofuku restaurants.  The cookbook is divided intro ten “mother recipes” like cereal milk, crunch, flavored crumbs, and liquid cheesecake that serve as the basis for many intriguing recipes.

Chef Tosi’s recipes update flavors that recall childhood, most famously cereal milk, and also successfully combine salty and sweet.  Some of the recipes have been published elsewhere, but the majority are revealed in this book for the first time.  Others are updated – for example, the cereal milk panna cotta recipe is substantially different from the one that appeared in the original Momofuku cookbook.  There are gorgeous photos.

Chef Tosi explains a lot of technique, including her method for creaming butter, sugar, and eggs to give Milk Bar cookies such great texture.  A stand mixer is essential as you have to mix for 6-8 minutes at a high speed.  She introduces some new ingredients for baking, at least to me, including liquid glucose and milk powder.   Measurements are given in grams as well as typical American measurements.  I bought a digital scale on Amazon that measures up to 1000 grams with an accuracy of 0.1 grams for around $10 that works great (as an aside, the recent popularity of small digital scales has probably not been driven by cooks alone).

I started by making the cornflake crunch, where cornflakes are tossed with milk powder, sugar, salt, and melted butter and then toasted in the oven.  Super easy, and the sweet-salty cornflake crunch clusters are really addicting and dangerous to have lying around. These can then be used as a garnish for Cereal Milk Panna Cotta or for the crust for Cereal Milk Ice Cream Pie.

I used the cornflake crunch for the Cornflake, Chocolate Chip, Marshmallow Cookies, which came out incredibly good.  Just as Chef Tosi described, the edges have a rich buttery sticky crispiness while the center of the cookies are soft.  Really impressive.

I will be making my way through the book (Blueberry and Cream Cookies, Red Velvet Ice Cream, Carrot Layer Cake) and posting recipe reviews from this outstanding cookbook.  Highly recommended.

Link to Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookie recipe here.

Note on sourcing ingredients for Momofuku Milk Bar recipes in the Bay Area:  Milk powder can be found in a regular grocery store.  Trader Joe’s carries grapeseed oil.  Spun Sugar in Berkeley has the following: Valrhona Dutch-process cocoa powder ($8 for 8 oz), E. Guittard 72% and 55% chocolate in little discs that make it easier to weigh ($7.75 for 1 lb; the book recommends Valrhona chocolate, but the store did not carry the recommended percentages), 5000-count mini chocolate chips ($4 for 1 lb), citric acid, clear vanilla extract (but not McCormick brand recommended in the book), glucose syrup ($8.50 for 18 oz), rainbow sprinkles in a wide range of colors, and gelatin sheets.  Passion fruit puree I found at Crossroads World Market in Palo Alto ($14 for 1 kg).  I checked many places, including Whole Foods, for freeze-dried corn but could not find it and will probably have to order on-line.

Update January 2012: Having now made several of the recipes in the book (five different cookies, Cinnamon Bun Pie, Brownie Pie, Grapefruit Pie, Bagel Bombs), I can’t emphasize enough how on point the recipes are in terms of measurements, directions, and expected baking times.  Follow the directions and you will get something delicious.  They must have tested the hell out of these recipes.  Outstanding.

Amazon link to Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook here.

Recipe Review: Ginger-Yogurt Mousse with Pistachio Meringue and Orange-Blossom-Honey Madeleines

Ginger-Yogurt Mousse with Pistachio Meringue and Orange-Blossom-Honey Madeleines.  A really good dessert from Bon Appetit October 2011.  Vanilla-ginger syrup is made by steeping ginger and vanilla in a simple sugar-water syrup.  This is folded into whipped cream and yogurt to make a very light mousse that works really well with the crunchy, sticky pistachio meringue.  Orange-honey madeleines are an extra indulgence.  I didn’t buy the $20 madeleine molds and instead baked them on parchment paper on a baking sheet.

Link to recipe here, and link to madeleines recipe here.

Recipe Review: Scallops and Mushrooms with Soy-Ginger Butter

From Rendezvous Bistro in Jackson Hole, WY chef Roger Freedman and Bon Appetit October 2011, Scallops and Oyster Mushrooms with Soy-Ginger Butter.  I used a mix of crimini and shiitake mushrooms instead of oyster mushrooms to save a little bit of $.  Not really Asian, or American, but good product and flavor make a good dish.  Two sub-recipes are a soy-lime-wasabi vinaigrette and the soy-ginger butter sauce.  Once those are made, the final preparation is an easy saute of mushrooms and spinach, and a quick sear of the scallops.

Recipe Review: Spaghetti with Salumi, Buttermilk, Poppy and Parmesan

Nice, easy recipe from Matthew Accarrino, chef of SPQR in San Francisco and recently published in the San Francisco Weekly SFoodie Blog.  Buttermilk and poppy seed sauce is creamy and tangy and works well with the fatty proscuitto and salumi.  Trader Joe’s sells a combination package of Italian proscuitto, salumi, and capicola that is pretty good quality and perfect for small portions required in this recipe.  The recipe calls for home-made pasta made out of farro flour, which sounds delicious, but regular spaghetti worked well for me.

Link to recipe here.

Recipe Review: Chicken a la Diable, Vegetable Tian, Banana Tartes Tatin

Three easy recipes from Bon Appetit’s October 2011 Fast, Easy, Fresh feature make a nice, simple meal.  Chicken a la Diable: chicken breast is dredged in flour, then egg+dijon mustard+cayenne pepper, then bread crumbs.  Fry one side to golden crispy-brown, then finish in the oven.  Vegetable Tian: sliced sweet potatoes, eggplant, zucchini are tossed in a sauce of butter, anchovies, garlic, and nutmeg.  Sounds strange, but it worked.  Roast in the oven, and then top with parmesan cheese.  The sweet potatoes took a bit longer to roast then the 20 minutes suggested, more like 40 minutes.  Banana Tartes Tatin: butter a baking dish, toss with brown sugar, line with banana slices, top with puff pastry, bake, invert onto a plate and top with vanilla ice cream.  Simple and delicious caramelization of the brown sugar and bananas.  All three dishes can be done in the oven more or less simultaneously, making preparation pretty efficient.  Easy weeknight dining!

Ferran Adria at the Castro Theatre, San Francisco, October 10, 2011

Ferran Adria is one of the world’s most renowned chefs.  He is the chef at el Bulli, a restaurant that was named top restaurant in the world for five years and took over two million reservation requests for 8000 seatings per year.  How could this chef from the tiny town of Rosas on the Mediterranean coast of Spain sell out the 1400 seat Castro Theatre on a rainy Monday night in San Francisco?  He told his story in words, pictures, and video, in an event expertly coordinated by Omnivore Books.  He began by humbly pronouncing that he did not know much about cuisine or cooking.  To illustrate the point, he showed a simple orange, and explained how there were so many varieties of citrus and that it would take several lifetimes to know everything about them, or about grapes, or about wine, or about any foodstuff.  He then discussed different levels of creativity by explaining The Omelette and the Miniskirt.  No one knows who made the first omelette, but from that idea hundreds of variations have been developed.  With the miniskirt, short dresses have been around since ancient Roman times, but it took a personality like Mary Quant in 60s London to introduce the concept of the miniskirt.  So this was Ferran’s goal, conceptual creativity, to create new recipes and concepts that would be as influential as the omelette.  He showed videos about some of the concepts that were invented at el Bulli – the use of liquid nitrogen, gels, and spherical liquids.  Fantastical, delightful, surprising, and wildly creative innovations in food.  A rubber mold that perfectly rendered a strawberry sorbet into the shape of a strawberry, re-making the familiar with unexpected tastes and textures.  Is this frivolous or elitist, multi-course meals that cost hundreds of euros per person, in a time when there is widespread joblessness and hunger in the United States, not to mention most of the rest of the world?  Maybe, but I think there are three answers to this criticism.  My own feeling is that society needs avant garde artists to push forward whatever their chosen medium, like Frank Gehry designing the Guggenheim instead of warehouses, or Picasso painting Guernica instead of ads for the Gap.  Second, Ferran addresses home cooks with a new book entitled The Family Meal, based on the meals prepared for the staff at el Bulli that are economical, healthy, and accessible to the home cook.  Finally, Ferran has established the el Bulli foundation to continue to develop new concepts in food and share them on-line, to inspire new chefs wherever they might be.  This might be his greatest legacy, lasting beyond the ephemeral experience of a single meal – developing new “omelettes” that can be shared, improved, and contribute to food culture for years to come.

I also recommend a book that describes the behind-the-scenes operation at the restaurant, A Day at el Bulli.

Recipe Review: Skillet-Roasted Chicken with Farro and Herb Pistou

This is a complicated recipe from Husk restaurant in Charleston, SC and published in Bon Appetit that makes an impressive dish with lots of great flavor.  There are several sub-components that requires some advance planning, including a chicken marinade, roast acorn squash, blanching kale and herbs, farro, and herb pistou.  The chicken marinates overnight, and the recipe recommends pre-poaching the chicken, browning in a skillet, and finishing in the oven.  Instead, I skipped the poaching, browned individual pieces skin-side down in an ovenproof Dutch oven, turned the pieces over, then finished the chicken in a 400 degree oven for about 15-20 minutes, in a method I learned from Bobby Flay in his Mesa Grill cookbook.  The farro is straightforward but takes a long time and attention, because it is prepared like a risotto with a little bit of vegetable stock added every few minutes.  The herb pistou is pretty easy to make, but it calls for parsley, tarragon, and chervil.  The tarragon is a little hard to find, and chervil I could not find anywhere (farmer’s market, Trader Joe’s, specialty grocery stores).  Despite all the hurdles, I think the dish is definitely worth doing.

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