Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City debunks a few myths and makes us feel better about using regular old vanilla.
It's not often that a French Culinary Institute graduate admits to a crippling cookie dough–eating problem. Or that said baker reinvents the chocolate chip cookie by adding cornflakes and marshmallows because everyone's mom has the "best" recipe for the traditional favorite, and she knows she can't compete if she plays it straight. Meet Christina Tosi, whose Momofuku Milk Bar bakeries in Manhattan and Brooklyn serve desserts that sound weird—Compost Cookies, Crack Pie, Liquid Cheesecake—but taste oddly familiar. Her cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar, shares the secrets for making these cult favorites. And while your average supermarket isn't going to carry some of the required ingredients (last we checked, Kroger's didn't sell glucose by the bucket), Tosi is a pretty easygoing pastry chef, summing up her don't-take-yourself-so-seriously attitude this way: Be precise when it makes a difference but don't sweat things when it doesn't. Here, Tosi's rules for breaking the rules and the recipe for her famous Compost Cookies.
Do Not Throw Out Half-Broken Pretzels, Cake Scraps or Other Leftovers
As a young teenager, Tosi ransacked her mother's cupboards for ingredients, dodging rancid nuts but striking gold with Ritz cracker crumbs and near-empty bags of potato chips containing just the salty dregs. She'd incorporate the leftovers into her baked creations, putting new spins on old favorites and giving them character the standard versions never had. Try it for yourself: Broken Fritos could be the ingredient that elevates your snickerdoodles from very good to "omigod-wow."
Do Not Sift Flour
It's a messy waste of time, Tosi says. Sifting, which aerates the flour and, in turn, the dough, is especially unnecessary with cookies—particularly if they're meant to be rich and dense. You may notice a difference between sifted and unsifted flour if you're making a delicate angel food cake or soufflé. But for buttery, moist cakes, Tosi believes in skipping this process—unless you just can't pass up the opportunity to use your grandmother's antique sifter.
You Don't Need Sharp Knives to Chop Nuts
Most pastry chefs, Tosi included, are not obsessive about sharpening their knives for the simple reason that cutting butter into chunks requires nothing more than a dull-edged cheese spreader. For other jobs, like chopping nuts and candies like peppermints, use a zip-top plastic bag and a meat pounder, a heavy saucepan or the end of a rolling pin.
Next: What's the deal with food coloring?Tempering Eggs: Don't Bother
Chefs and many cookbooks suggest using the technique—which consists of gently incorporating raw eggs into a warm liquid or sauce, most often for custard or ice cream—in order to raise the eggs' temperature without running the risk of curdling or scrambling them. This classic maneuver also happens to involve a lot of annoying back-and-forth pouring and dirtying multiple bowls. Tosi doesn't buy it, since she's found that if you incorporate enough of a recipe's other ingredients into the eggs and blend it all immediately, and then heat that mixture all together, you're still changing the eggs' temperature gradually—without all the fuss.
It's Okay to Use Food Coloring and Supermarket Spices
At Milk Bar, the bakers don't use an ungodly amount of food coloring, but they use a little, since people expect banana desserts to look yellowish, and cooked bananas are decidedly not (they're an unappetizing brown). The bakery also uses McCormick spices. Tosi doesn't feel any reverse snobbery toward cooks who'd rather freshly grind their own whole spices, but "if you already have them powdered, there's no shame in that," she writes.