At her bakery, Christina Tosi is an unrepentant sugar-pusher of the first degree, with a trademark on the billion-calorie confection called Crack Pie, which is cripplingly sweet and as addictive as the name implies.
To make Cereal Milk, she soaks all the flavour out of supermarket cereal in vats of full-cream milk, then adds some sugar and throws the cereal away. It ends up as ice-cream and as a constituent ingredient of alcoholic milkshakes. Her Compost Cookies include pretzels and coffee grounds as if she's figured out a way to transfigure rubbish into real desserts. (And she has.)
But just four years ago, before she partnered with the chef David Chang and created Momofuku Milk Bar, home of the aforementioned stoner-childhood pastry creations, Tosi was in professional limbo. She'd worked pastry chef positions at WD~50 and Bouley, two celebrated Manhattan restaurants, but found herself adrift. She tried the travelling-aimlessly thing, but it felt wrong – against her hyperactivity, her inherent fastidiousness – and she left the beaches of Thailand to return to New York.
There, oscillating about what to do, she began crafting HACCP plans – phonebook-thick technical manuals required of restaurants by new city laws to allow them to work with sous vide and other modern cooking techniques. Chang hired her to be an office girl to help out at Momofuku (he'd just opened Ssäm Bar, his second restaurant.) She ran errands during the day and baked psychotically delicious, strange, Betty Crocker-on-acid things at night, which she'd bring into the office, or to one of the restaurants, for staff meals the following day.
Until that point, the Momofuku restaurants had served no dessert unless it was something out of a freezer case. After a few months of steadily devouring her handiwork – and knowing her history in good kitchens – Chang ordered Tosi into service to make a dessert, anything, for dinner at Ssäm Bar. She started with very classic strawberry shortcakes and hasn't looked back.
She helped Ko, another sibling in the Momofuku family (which also includes Seiobo in Sydney), to earn two Michelin stars with desserts that showed she could walk the highwire between the uptight, analytical, hydrocolloidal, quenelle-gel-soil-arranging style she'd learned at her previous places of employment and the gleeful, more-is-more, pass-me-the-chocolate-sauce style she'd soon be known for.
When she opened her first Milk Bar, in a former laundromat behind Ssäm Bar, the place was mobbed from morning till midnight. It helped make soft-serve trendy in New York (with oddball flavours such as salty pistachio, guava horchata and green apple-cheddar) and attracted a celebrity clientele, including the newsman Anderson Cooper and lifestyle magnate Martha Stewart.
Little more than a year later, Tosi took over a 1000-square-metre warehouse in Brooklyn and converted it to a commissary that now fuels five permanent Milk Bar locations and many pop-ups throughout the year. She published a book, Momofuku Milk Bar, the source of the recipes printed here, which told her story and supplied readers with the recipes for all of her cultish desserts.