Earlier this week I told you about the whole gamut of emotions that I felt when I first received the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook.  I also said that it was one of the most unique (weird?) cookbooks I have come across but did not explain why.  And now after sharing a couple of recipes from the book with you,

(Compost Cookies)

(and this amazing Brownie Pie)

I will break it down for you and tell you my true opinion about the book.  I am almost hesitant to step on any toes because this cookbook is so popular right now, but we are all entitled to our own opinions and I have never been anything but honest with you.

So let’s start with the background.  What the heck is Momofuku Milk Bar and why would I/should I know about it?  Well, in the foreword of the book by David Chang, he tells us about the history of Momofuku Noodle Bar, a restaurant that opened in New York City in 2004.  The restaurant initially did not have a dessert menu and if patrons really wanted something sweet to follow their meal, Chang would run across the street to the market and return with some candy or ice cream sandwiches to please them.  Enter sweet genius Christina Tosi.  Tosi was hired by Chang at Momofuku to help with organization and office tasks.  She would bake in her spare time at home and bring in her goods for her coworkers.  Chang fell in love with her talent and flavor combinations and now Tosi is the mind behind Momofuku’s pastry department (aka Milk Bar) and has had a cult-like following.

We get to learn about Tosi’s background in the introduction to the book and that is one of the things that is so different about this book.  It almost reads like a chapter book with multiple pages of text throughout the book discussing equipment, techniques and the background to many of the “mother recipes”.  I have told you before that I appreciate this aspect of a cookbook.  I want to be told a story about the food and the person preparing and inventing it and this book leaves me wanting for nothing in the story-telling department.

Another example of the novelty of this cookbook’s recipes is one of the first recipes that Christina Tosi ever came up with during her adventures at Momofuku.  Cereal milk.  It is exactly what it sounds like it would be.  You know when you eat Frosted Flakes, for example, and there is that sweetened milk in the bottom of your bowl after all of the cereal has been eaten?  Well Tosi actually uses this sweetened milk as an ingredient for panna cotta, ice cream, etc.

Silly or ingenious?  You be the judge.

As far as amount and quality of photos in this book, there are many photos, while not of all finished products.  There are photos of Christina in action with her fellow bakers, pictures of ingredients and some photos of what the finished recipes might look like.  I am such a visual person that I love to see a photo of each recipe before I begin so I have something to aim for.  So in that case, the book is lacking slightly for me.

I know I touched on this a bit in my post with Momofuku Milk Bar’s Compost Cookie recipe, but the overwhelming majority of the recipes in this cookbook are not for the faint of heart.  If you were to follow the recipes exactly (which the author flat out tells you that if you do not, you will compromise the integrity of the final product), you would need to acquire several specialty ingredients such as glucose, freeze-dried corn and milk powder just to name a few.  This to me overall is a negative of the book.  For everyday baking, I don’t want to have to spend time and money hunting down specialty ingredients.  For a special occasion, sure, but again, a good majority of the recipes call for at least one uncommon ingredient.

The way that this book is organized is also something that is a bit unusual.  Again, there are 10 “mother recipes” and that is how the chapters are divided.  So, for example, “the crumb” chapter gives you base recipes for the crumb which is described as “clumpy, crunchy, yet sandy little bits of flavor” and then further recipes for which one of “the crumbs” will be one of many other ingredients.  A recipe within a recipe, if you will.  More steps, but also more flavor.

With all of that being said, here is my bottom line:  if you are a new baker looking for basic cookbooks to get you started, this is not the book for you.  However, if you have some experience and are adding to your collection, this book offers a great challenge and some magnificently distinctive recipes.  On my list yet to make are:

Confetti Cookies

Birthday Layer Cake (for someone I really,really like because there are quite a few steps involved)

and Grasshopper Pie.

If this book makes me realize one thing, it is that Christina Tosi and the rest of the team at Momofuku Milk Bar are truly artists.  The hours, imagination and dedication that has gone into developing these complex and thoroughly thought-out desserts is very admirable.  I will be happy to pull out this cookbook when I have a full day that I can dedicate to baking, I am looking for a challenge and something out of the ordinary, or I have a special occasion to celebrate.

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Pumpkin Spice Snack Mix
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It seems like every city, no matter how big or small, has a cupcake shop.  It amazes me that a bakery can make it only selling one item and it also makes me very curious to sample these items to see what all of the rage is about.

I have told you before about my love for Magnolia Bakery and when I was in Chicago this past week, I naturally had to wander in to the Magnolia there to see if the standards that NYC set were held up.  Everything that I have come to expect from Magnolia was just as it should be.  In addition to their cupcakes, Magnolia offers other confections that people rave about such as pies, icebox desserts, cookies and bars.  I have only sampled the cupcakes, but the other desserts look just as drool-worthy.

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I have never tried Sprinkles Cupcakes and felt that it was my sweet tooth duty to compare the other popular cupcakery to my already beloved Magnolia.  Sprinkles prides themselves on having celebrity fans and using high quality ingredients for their cupcakes which are topped with their signature “modern dots”.

While the cake was incredibly moist, and the frosting was just fine, I just felt that the cupcakes were nothing to write home about.  I detected no overwhelming flavor sensations and the vanilla and chocolate cake may as well have been from a box mix.  Please don’t stone me to death devoted Sprinkles fans, I’m just telling it how I experienced it!

There was an unexpected contender in this battle for the country’s best cupcake.  This quaint little place literally just snuck up on me.

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Even though this place was a sleeper to me and I had never even heard of it, I made two trips in the 4 days I was in Chicago just so that I could be sure of what I am about to proclaim:  Crumbs Bake Shop officially makes the best cupcake I have ever tasted!

What makes these little babies earn the top spot on my list?  Well these aren’t just any old cupcake.  Almost every cupcake is not only frosted and topped with wonderful things like candies, cookies or nuts but also filled with fruit preserves, buttercream, fudge and many more tempting fillings.  I also love the Crumbs philosophy of celebrating the simple things in life, like the best cupcakes on earth, for example!

This cupcake was my love at first bite.  It is called the Baba Booey and is a peanut butter lover’s dream come true:  chocolate cake filled with peanut butter frosting and topped with peanut butter and chocolate cream cheese frosting and miniature peanut butter chips.  Are you booking your trip to Chicago yet?

The bakery also offers inciting breakfast options such as scones and ginormous muffins that looked splendid, but even I only have so much room in my tummy for treats, so those will have to be a reason for me to revisit Crumbs (like I needed another reason :))!

The day we left Chicago, we made one final stop and my husband and I each chose a cupcake for the road.  Before I forget to mention, Crumbs cupcakes come in 4 different sizes:  Taste (a mini cupcake to tease you a bit), Classic (your traditional-sized cupcake), Signature (Crumb’s most popular size and the size that you want if you are a serious sweet tooth like me) and Colossal cupcakes (perfect for a party:  serves 6-8).  My husband chose the Salted Caramel Cupcake which was a deep chocolate cake filled with melty salted caramel and topped with fudge sauce and I chose the Cookie Dough which was vanilla cake with chocolate fudge filling and topped with cream cheese frosting studded with cookie pieces.  I regret to inform you that possibly our favorite cupcake, the Salted Caramel variety never made it to it’s photo debut.  You can use imagination as to why that tragedy may have happened……

But it’s Cookie Dough friend made it far enough to introduce himself:

The cake is so moist and flavorful and that fudge filling and perfect frosting just puts these cupcake over the top into my new favorite bake shop dessert.

Don’t worry, Chicago is not the only place you can find a Crumbs cupcake of your own.  There are bakeries on both coasts and you can also order your very own assortment of cupcakes and have them delivered to your door.

I hope you enjoyed my cupcake tour of Chicago (FYI: they actually have formal cupcake tours of the city that you can go on!).  I always love to get new inspiration on my travels and you can bet I will be trying to replicate some of these incredibly scrumptious creations!

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