Cookbook Review: Christina Tosi's "Milk Bar Life"

We cook through Christina Tosi's new cookbook, "Milk Bar Life"

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In Momofuku Milk Bar, pastry chef Christina Tosi shared the recipes that made her—and the Milk Bar brand—famous. Now, in her follow up, Milk Bar Life (Clarkson Potter, $35), Tosi invites us into her world.

It's an intimate book, full of stories and photos of Tosi and her friends, and it offers a glimpse into her own personal culinary landscape. There are plenty of sugary treats, but there's just as much savory food, including Milk Bar family meals, recipes from Tosi's chef friends and an entire chapter devoted to late-night meals assembled from ingredients found at a bodega or gas station.

The most compelling recipes tend to come from Tosi's past, like the sugar cookies her mom sent her every week during college or the Cornbake recipe that the women in her family can rattle off the tops of their heads. The decision to include so many old-fashioned comfort foods might elicit an eye roll (just what kind of hipster maneuvering is this?), but that would be underestimating Tosi.

She's an award-winning chef with the best ingredients, equipment and expertise at her fingertips, but she has a strong affection—and respect—for the dishes she grew up eating. In the age of constantly chasing after the next culinary wonderkid, it's a pleasant change of pace to consider the foods that got us here and to make sure we can pass them on to the next generation.

Milk Bar Life features a smattering of fresh vegetables and a handful of wholesome dishes like roast chicken and kale salad, but considering the current obsession with local, organic and artisanal foodstuffs, there's an almost shocking amount of processed ingredients. Shopping for this book took us down supermarket aisles we hardly visit, and we became truly reacquainted with the can opener. You can't eat this food every day—and, honestly, you shouldn't—but you'll enjoy it when you do.

Party Nachos demonstrate Tosi's fearless embrace of supermarket ingredients. It's a loose recipe, and Tosi encourages readers to build their own "tower of crunch." We skipped the fresh corn, because out-of-season corn is depressingly flavorless, even for nachos. Heed Tosi's construction advice, as it yields an ideal mix of crisp and ever-so-slightly soggy chips and an even spread of toppings, rather than that all-too-common nacho scenario in which half the chips are overloaded, while the rest are bare.

Tosi's Chocolate Chip Cookies don't stray too far from your standard recipe, but there are some quirks that had us skeptical. She doesn't cream the butter and sugar, which is pretty much cookie making 101. She also adds nonfat milk powder, which is a supermarket item but seemed like an unnecessarily cheffy flourish. In case you have any doubt, Tosi knows what she's doing. These are some of the best chocolate chip cookies we've ever made, and they're exactly as described: "crispy on the outside, fudgy in the center, with just the right amount of chew." You don't need special equipment for this recipe, and it's a one-bowl operation, proving that baking can actually be simple and provide some real elbow-grease enjoyment. It's not necessary, but thanks to the ever-enduring trend for salty-sweet desserts, we found ourselves wanting to sprinkle these with sea salt.

It's hard to pinpoint exactly what makes Fruity-Pebble Meringues with Passion Fruit Curd so appealing. It might be their nostalgic use of sugary kid cereal, their neon-speckled bright white snowball appearance or just the fact that they're so sweet and crispy. There's nothing complicated about this recipe. You whip egg whites and sugar, fold in Fruity Pebbles and then bake the meringues in a low-heat oven for three hours. Even the comparatively sophisticated passion fruit curd is easy, whether you take the microwave or stovetop route. The curd is hidden inside the meringues, delivering a surprise burst of tanginess that elevates these sugar bombs for a slightly more adult palate.