Christina Tosi runs one of the break-out bakeries in New York City, Momofuku Milk Bar. You go there to taste saltine panna cotta, Fruity Pebbles, Christmas cookies, and an apple pie cake people rave over. Tosi's book contains all of her imagination, plus a solid basic primer for beginning bakers.
Lynne Rossetto Kasper: Going through your book, I see ingredients such as Cap'n Crunch, Fruity Pebbles and Ovaltine. Your imagination is just amazing.
Christina Tosi: Those are just things that I love -- things that satisfy my soul and soothe me. I take my passion for baking and I go for those ingredients that speak to me with the same sort of like soulful passion. It just happens to be cereal and Ovaltine milk.
LRK: But you are a classically trained chef, right?
CT: Yeah. I moved to New York about 10 years ago to attend the French Culinary Institute's pastry arts program. I really thought I was going to be a fancy pastry chef who made large sugar sculptures and tempered chocolate decorative art pieces.
I didn't turn my back on my formal training. I've just taken pieces from it, in terms of technique, and chosen to present them in a very casual way.
For me, there is nothing better than a warm cookie out of the oven. I would choose that any day over a warm chocolate soufflé with a magnificent tuile and rose-petal ice cream.
LRK: You're using really unusual ingredients. I've done a lot of baking and I've never seen some of these things. For instance: What is milk crumb?
CT: In very fancy pastry kitchens, one of the staples is called crumbs. They're also called soils. They're this crumbly, sandy bit of flavor that you put on a plate to hold your ice cream in place, or to create a little bit more texture. It's the milk powder you get in the powdered drink aisle, but we use it as a flavoring ingredient.
It's like the MSG for pastry chefs, because we not only make these little crumbly textural elements, but we also use it in recipes to deepen the flavor. We put it in cookies, we layer it in cakes, we press it into pie crusts. It's very versatile.
Christina Tosi's recipe for Cornflake Chocolate Chip Marshmallow Cookies.
LRK: The other really intriguing work you do is with cereal.
CT: Drinking milk was a requirement as a child, and my parents gave me carte blanche to buy any box of cereal at the grocery store. That was the guarantee that I would be drinking my milk. So by being a picky eater and exploiting my mom, I really grew to love cereal on a whole other level. I'd have a bowl for breakfast, for lunch and for dinner.
So when I was deciding what my personality would be as a pastry chef, I tried to be very honest in terms of who I was and what my palate was. I wasn't afraid to be like, "It's Corn Flakes. It's Cap'n Crunch. It's Fruity Pebbles. I'm going to try and be as thoughtful and technique-driven as possible with it, and I'm going to see how far I can push it."