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Momofuku: The Bakery That Sounds Like a Swear

Has this ever happened to you? You see a complicated recipe, decide to try it, and realize you don’t have the required ingredients. So you make substitutions with what you have, and then are dismayed when the end result looks nothing like the original. It happens to me all the time because I’m frugal, and I don’t like to buy special ingredients that I know I’m only going to use one time.

Enter Milk, The cookbook from Momofuku’s pastry chef extraordinaire, Christina Tosi.

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I can’t possibly tell you how excited I was about this book. I requested it from my library (see: frugal, above), and bugged them every day to see if it was in yet. I read it cover to cover. Ms. Tosi’s story of how she came to be one of the most celebrated and innovative pastry chefs in the United States is as interesting as the pictures of her food are beautiful. I couldn’t resist trying one, and so I decided on the Chocolate Malt Layer Cake. I have a deep love of all things malt (except liquor; never tried it), so I knew this was the cake for me. And for once I decided to do it by the book, to buy every special ingredient and equipment.

The problem is that I live in a very small town. Our idea of fancy is cutting watermelons to look like baskets for baby showers.

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(No, I didn’t make that. Sure is fancy, though!)

Try as I might, I could not find European butter (with a fat content of 82% compared to American butter’s paltry 81%), a 6-inch cake ring, or acetate to hold the cake together. This did not bode well because I am notoriously bad at making things look good. It’s why I never got into cake decorating. No matter how hard I try, my cakes always lean, my icing slides and plops–it’s a distressing dilemma for someone who loves baking as much as I do. Hello, my name is Vanessa, and I make ugly cakes. There, I said it. Feels good to get that off my chest.

One thing I did purchase especially for this cake is Valrhona cocoa powder. If you followed my previous posts, then you may remember that Valrhona is an export from France. It’s real chocolate with no non-food chemical additives. The cocoa powder is Dutch processed, or alkalized, to remove some of the acidity. Here’s a comparison of the three cocoa powders in my cupboard.

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I was interested to see if Valrhona would look or taste different compared to the others. It does. Note how the powder is refined and reddish brown, not chunky or chalky like the others. (Though I should note that the Trader Joe’s brand is not Dutch process. The two are not interchangeable; take my word for it and never try Dutch process cocoa powder in no-bake cookies. Ick.) I tasted the Valrhona cocoa powder straight from the tub, and it tasted like ground cocoa nibs–smooth, chocolaty, and with no bitterness. Now, back to the cake.

There are several steps to this cake that, for a large bakery, probably become routine, sort of like a human production line. I’m sure they have people who are dedicated to making the crumb topping, people who do the cake, and other people who make the sauces. For the home cook, we do it all. I stretched it over a few days. Day one, I made the crunch–a mixture of milk powder, melted butter, Ovaltine, and white chocolate.

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Day 2, I made the sauce. This is the sauce that goes in the cake, not to be confused with the sauce that goes on top. Think of this sauce somewhere between hot fudge and Hershey’s syrup. It made extra, and it was excellent on ice cream. I forgot to take a photo of this. Instead, here are some of the many ingredients used in this cake.

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I don’t know why that’s important, but it seemed like a very “blogger” thing to do.

Day 3, I baked the cake, toasted the marshmallows, assembled, and made the malt sauce to go on top.

This is where I tried to get fancy and use my butane torch like a real chef, but my tech-savvy husband wasn’t home to help, and I couldn’t get it to work.

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I used the broiler instead.

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Notice the Silpat, another export from France, and a must for every serious home cook. It’s one of my most-used tools. I bake cookies on it, make candy on it, pretty much everything that would be sticky doesn’t stick to it. You can bake at high temperatures or freeze it, and it lasts for years.

The cake was supposed to be baked in a sheet pan and then cut out using a 6-inch ring. For assembly, it was suggested to use acetate to wrap around the cake and keep the layers from sliding. I couldn’t find either of those things. Instead, I baked the cake in 2 8″ rounds. They didn’t come out. (See: I make ugly cakes, above.) Assembly was a wreck–everything slid off. I had high hopes when the first layer came together and looked pretty.

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Here is the finished product.

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Man, that is one ugly cake. But unattractive cakes, like many unattractive people, are often filled with good things on the inside. I don’t know how ugly people taste, and I never want to find out, but this ugly cake tasted DELICIOUS!

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*Apologies for not posting the recipe, but copyright infringement and possible prison, blah, blah, blah. Perhaps I’m not dedicated enough to my art if I’m not willing to go to prison to bring you this post. Something to think about. If you’re interested, look for Milk at your local library; I promise it’s worth your time!

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About vanessagraybartal

Author. Eater. Wife. Mother. Not necessarily in that order.

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