Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi on How to Hack Dessert

Recipes from “DIY Dessert Land”

As a rule, I don’t like when people tell me they were into something before it was cool. Like, congratulations on listening to Kendrick when he went by K.Dot. You knew Zion would be an All Star when he was a freshman in high school? Sick. Let me guess: You also liked David Benioff’s novels before anyone had heard of Game of Thrones. 

I despise this Ray Jaysian “I Hit It First” mentality as much as anyone else, which is why I hope you will forgive me for saying, just this once, that I was into Milk Bar before it was cool. 

Back when there was only one Milk Bar, I would travel down to the East Village for cereal milk soft serve whenever I could get my mom to bring me. First, when Milk Bar was attached to Ssäm Bar. Then, when it moved across the street. By the time Milk Bar expanded to Midtown and then the Upper West Side, I was going from store to store like I was a Deadhead and birthday cake truffles were LSD. 

Which is all to say: I was really, really excited to interview Christina Tosi, whose Milk Bar empire now spans the country. And friends, I am happy to report that this interview exceeded all of my expectations. She dropped, like, five different dessert recipes in the span of five minutes. She shared a groundbreaking hack for how to replace All Purpose Flour with homemade Oat Flour. And, most importantly, she reminded me that, even with everything we’re going through, happiness is only ever a few sticks of butter away. 

I’ll let her take it from here...

How To Make Salty, Malty, Sweet White Chocolate Pretzels

Christina: Even outside The Now Times, I am on a never-ending pursuit of how to hack a dessert after dinner. One of my favorite things to make currently is this: I melt some white chocolate chips and while they’re in the microwave and melting, I take pretzels and I crush them up and I fold them into the melted white chocolate until they’re nice and coated and you get this sort of salty malty sweet combination of things.

For some reason, dark chocolate or semi-sweet chocolate chips don’t do it for me. There’s something about the white chocolate that lets it be about the malty pretzel vibes that I’m very into. 

How To Hack Rice Krispies Treats 

Editor’s Note: I have no idea why “Rice Krispies Treats” is the official spelling of this dessert. The double plural boggles the mind. It’s like “Attorneys General,” which is already weird, except if it were “Attorneys Generals.” Makes no sense!

Christina: One of my other dessert hacks lately is I put a few marshmallows in a bigger cereal bowl with a little thing of butter and melt them in the way you would in large scale to make a big rice krispies treat, and while that’s melting, I go into the pantry and choose whatever cereal I have—usually it’s the remnants of boring cereals, things that aren’t super sugary or don’t have a lot of personality. And then, I’ll fold other stuff into that. 

So, like, I’ll take peanut butter and chocolate and when the marshmallow melted butter has pussed and gooed, I’ll stir those things in. And we’ll stir in the boring cereal or maybe some pretzels from there.

But I riff off the basics of a Rice Krispie Treat. 

You can go in so many directions with spices and seeds and nuts and dried fruits and rando baking ingredients or leftover chocolate bars from Valentine’s Day. These are the things in my pantry. I’m showing myself. 

What’s fun about this is, one, I get a little bit of that weird high you get when you engage your imagination, and two, it’s just for myself. That’s why I do these things at night in my DIY dessert land. 

How To Make Pie Bars Out Of Whatever’s On The Door of Your Fridge

Christina: I have been baking during the day a lot more now, and the thing i’ve been jonesing on the most is taking stock of what is on the doors of the fridge, which usually have jellyish vibes. I’m talking about the strange jars of things you never quite finished. And then figuring out how to repurpose those things. Cause right now is a good opportunity to clean out the old shit. 

So I kind of go through the rabbit hole every few days of, like, I have all this jam and jelly, what do I do with it? I made these pie bars the other day, which are like butter, flour, sugar, salt, pulsed together as though you’re making a pie crust but you don’t bring it all the way together with water. You just push half of it into a baking tin, use all of your jellies to cover it, crumble up the rest of it on top, and throw it in the oven. They’re extraordinary and simple, which is the sign of a great dessert. 

WATCH: Christina making oat cookie bars on Instagram. 

Oat cookie bars!
get the recipe at christinatosi.com/recipes
March 26, 2020

Why Homemade Oat Flour is a Perfect All Purpose Flour Substitute 

Christina: One of the first things I always want to do is take the item and grind it all the way down to understand what that state is. So if it’s dry, I want to grind it down into a flour. If it’s wet, I want to puree it down to see how much it holds its shape, and then I decide how to repurpose it from there. 

With oat flour, one, it’s super easy to bake with, so I made Cut Out Cookies yesterday, which are made with butter, light brown sugar, salt, and then whatever your flour is. But most people can’t find all-purpose flour on the shelves. I own a bakery, so it’s easy for me to go dig into my vats of flour, but it’s more fun to be like: What do you do without all purpose flour? So you can replace every cup of flour with about one and one thirds cup of oat flour.  

WATCH: Christina making four ingredient cut out cookies on Instagram.

4 ingredient cut out cookies
recipe at christinatosi.com/recipes
March 25, 2020

Ground down oat has a flour-like consistency, which is super interesting, and it is not as flavor-bearing as whole wheat flour or rye flour or otherwise. It just has this really cozy vibe to it. What I’m finding is it holds all these other different things. As you can imagine, it holds cinnamon and sugar well. It’ll also hold some cozy savory flavors, like I’ll make some crackers today with curry powder and this oat flour, because the flavor of oat is just really soothing.

If you think about like, oat, or this idea of like hot cereal or porridge, it exists across all cultures. So then you can kind of start to ping around in your spice drawer as well to sort of play the sweet or savory game.

How To Make Oat Flour

Christina: You can use whatever you would normally use to, like, dice an onion or make salsa in a machine. So you can use your food processor. Or you can use a blender. I used a blender the other day cause I didn’t have a food processor.

So you can put it in the pitcher of a blender. Just don't crowd it. So do like a quarter cup at a time, just so it really starts to get going. And you just want to get it down as far to flour like consistency as possible. And that takes more than 15 seconds is what I tell people, because they’re not as patient in that pursuit.

How Christina Came Up With The Idea For Milk Bar’s Corn Cookie

Christina: Anything dry that you can grind down is a really fun way to think about a flour sub. Like that's how we made our corn cookies in the first place. I was like, “Oh, I love freeze dried fruits and vegetables from working at WD 50!” And I was like, “Oh, what if I take these and grind them down into a flour like consistency and then all of a sudden you start to learn how to swap those things out in really interesting ways?”

Milk Bar’s corn cookie is a sugar cookie with freeze dried corn substituted in. We grind it down into a flour and you can just sub it out.

So when everyone's going for the hearty stuff on the aisles of the grocery store, go for the freeze dried vegetables. 

READ: Here’s the recipe for Milk Bar’s corn cookies, which are my favorite Milk Bar cookies.

What pantry ingredients you should always have around if you want to bake

Christina: In the most basic form, I'd say you need a fat. Butter’s the most delicious fat. Olive oil is also a great fat for baking. Or shortening lard.

You need some sort of binder, which is flour or an adjacency. You need some sort of salt because I just am a very big believer that every dessert needs salt to just find a balance of flavor. 

And then you need a sweetener, which can be anything from granulated sugar to 10x powdered sugar to light brown sugar, dark brown molasses, honey. 

You can make do with all of that. And from there, you just have to know your ingredients, which is like: If you’re using honey, honey’s wet. It has water content. That means that you are going to have to offset it either by baking time or by adding more of your binder or what have you. And then you find the balance of flavor there. 

But I think the best part of this day and age of baking is like this is where the brilliance comes out of your kitchen. Don't take it so seriously. Don't go for perfection. Go on an adventure of what you can learn and find. And the internet is your best friend.

What charities to support

Christina: We do a lot of work at Milk Bar with the Birthday Party Project. They throw birthday parties for kids who don't have the resources to throw their own birthdays, whether they're homeless or just in an economic distress. And I mean, as you can imagine, because so much of my work comes from childhood moments and memories and nostalgia, that's just something that I hold really near and dear to protecting outright and always. 

I'm also obviously a very big believer in our independent restaurant food community.

And the IRA is doing really great things in Congress to try and get that 2 trillion dollars spent. So if you need to put your voice out there, go to saverestaurants.co. We need all the voices possible. 

But if you're just looking for a way to support humanity in general, I think little children need to know that they're loved and that a day where they get to feel celebrated is at thebirthdaypartyproject.org.

Shout Out: Grocery-Store Workers 

As Olga Khazan reported in The Atlantic, several grocery-store workers across the country have tested positive for COVID-19. This is heartbreaking—and it’s a moment for all of us to recognize the sacrifices they have made to keep our country fed. 

Make no mistake: Grocery-store workers are first responders; and they deserve to be treated like it.  

JAMIE OLIVER HAS A QUARANTINE COOKING SHOW

As a proud member of the literati, I would never read the Daily Mail, let alone believe an article in it. But let’s imagine, as a hypothetical, that I do read the Daily Mail; and that I read that Jamie Oliver is hosting a cooking show called “Keep Cooking and Carry On;” and that, in the first episode, he manages to make tagliatelle with nothing but flour and water in “minutes.” Were this true, I would 100%, absolutely, unequivocally be watching this show. (And I know you would be, too.)

Until next time...