"Tempering Eggs is a waste of time."
Momofuku Milk Bar by Christina Tosi
By all that's Holy and buttery, I didn't know eggs could be tempered!
I'm not sure if this is a trend or that I have been picking out cookbooks with a lack of photographic common sense, whatever it is, it makes me steaming mad!
I know this will sound rude, but I don't care about the sous-chef de cuisine, the line cooks, the saucier or the pastry chef. My indifference is so great that I don't want to see pictures of them clogging up my cookbooks.
I also don't want to see pictures of a stocked pantry. Pictures of a crowded kitchen, pics of someone walking around outside a restaurant or extreme closeups of butter, cute cats (seriously?), boxes of fabric scraps, people walking through slushy snow or kitchen staff looking busy and earnest, this is a cookbook for crow's sake! I want pictures of completed recipes, maybe a few step by step photos and I want descriptions of foods not pictured, detailed directions and that's about it.
Okay, whew, sorry for the rant, sometimes I really lose it and I ran out of coffee this morning so it's a double helping of bitchitude, so, anyways, onto the rest of the review.
The preface of cookbooks are always pretty dull, I don't usually read them. They are part mission statement; 'this is a cookbook, I'm an expert in [insert type of cooking] and would like to share with you my favoritest recipes which you will love so much you will tuck this book under your pillow and cover it with kisses each night the same way I do,' and part testimonial, 'I once baked a cake for Queen Elizabeth and she granted me a knighthood it was so delectable.'
This time, I decided to skim through the preface/intro because Momofuku is supposed to be this super important restaurant, a trendsetter, a trend breaker and all around food revolution, plus, I was curious to find out what these foodie rebels would have to say about desserts.
A whole lot it turns out, the intro goes on and on and on, like a Phish song on endless play (the first recipe starts on page 35!). There were some interesting tidbits, but mostly it was filler. Then there was an exhaustively complete section on kitchen essentials and ingredients. On the kitchen tools segment, everyone knows what a sound system is and why you'd have one in the kitchen, same with a vegetable peeler and spoons.
I did find some useful information in the ingredients section and for the novice baker, it is good to know that there is clear vanilla and brown (both available online), that chocolates are different and that kraft makes good mini marshmallows.
The recipes are divided into types; Cereal Milk, Crunch, Crumb, Liquid Cheesecake, etc. The super famous Crack Pie ($44 for a pie!) is included and I'm going to make it on my website just to find out if it really is worth $44.
But, for me, this is where the cookbook loses steam, the recipes themselves range in intricacy and technique from the simple (a recipe for Cinnamon Toast Crunch) to the difficult (Pistachio cake with it's alternating layers of cake, lemon curd, milk crumb and pistachio frosting assembled inside of a an acetate sheet lined cake ring) to the truly astronomically difficult, kimchi blue cheese croissants (oh how I want to eat one of these).
There are some truly transformative uses of ingredients in this book, pretzel crumbs, milk powder (secret ingredient of the pastry chef) and lots of made by hand crunchy bits that add brilliance to old favorites like white cake or the humble chocolate chip cookie.
But, personally, I found only a few recipes that I would try at home, in particular, the crack pie, the nut brittle (there were awesome directions and I had no idea brittle was so easy to make), the chinese sausage focaccia and the pistachio cake (maybe for the hubby's birthday, he loves pistachio ice cream).
But what I found most invaluable was the spirit of imagination, these are some really innovative cooks and they are going crazy with food. I loved the new ingredients and the interesting presentation of old favorites like banana cream pie and brioche. Some of the cool ingredient recipes, Kimchi butter and black pepper butter in particular could revolutionize home cooked recipes, I'm thinking of adding kimchi butter to my favorite naan recipe, nom nom.
Do I think this is a recipe book that should be on every home cook's shelf? Welllll, probably not, for me a shelfer is one with recipes that would become a part of my family's cooking tradition, I'm thinking of the roux technique I learned from Legasse, the basic bread dough I learned from Reinhart (no relation to me) or the beef stew I learned from Julia Child. But I definitely think this merits a look through, mostly because it makes me rethink some of the ingredients I have on hand in my pantry.
So, to sum up, here are the downsides,
1. Stupid photos of not food. There were 32 photos of the chefs (yep, I really did count them, Howard Hughes ain't got nothin' on me in the OCD department)! Some of pics showed earnest looking chefs making food, but it was unclear in most of the shots what recipe they were making and if it was something included in the book. Beyond irritating, sigh.
2. Lots of exotic ingredients that could prove difficult to find for the home cook; pistachio oil, toban djan, hazelnut paste, gianduja chocolate (some upscale version of Nuttella) and feulletine (broken bits of sugar cone'ish substance, costs about $55 on Amazon, too steep for my baking experiments, but then I'm a cheapskate).
3. Lots of exotic pieces would need to be bought before attempting many of these recipes, acetate sheets, gelatin sheets (tho' the author did say you can substitute regular gelatin, but it didn't say what amount or show an alternate recipe, so, I think you'd have to buy the gelatin sheets, I googled them and they aren't terribly pricey but you can't buy just a few, so it's a product commitment), an ice cream machine (I wish), silpat (I want) and bakery quality baking sheets (I need).
4. Some of the directions are hard to follow on the more difficult recipes, here's where a few step by step pics would have come in handy.
Here are the good things about the Milk Bar;
1. Downright tasty use of disparate ingredients, kimchi, cornflakes (my favorite cereal, evah), pumpkin seeds, earl grey tea, grapefruit (an underutilized fruit, IMHO) and pretzels.
2. Lots of interesting sounding snacks, some of them are used in concert with other recipes, but each element would be tasty on it's own, I like that a lot, because it means if I pooped out after making a milk crumb, I could just give up and eat it alone.
In the end, this is kinda coffee table'ish but without the interesting pics, does that make sense?
Here's one of the recipes from the book, it's savory instead of sweet and I thought it was tasty if overly meaty. I loved the spiciness of the Guilin Chile sauce and next time I might try it fusion style, subbing pepperoni for the chinese sausage.
Chinese Sausage Focaccia
|This is what I ate for breakfast.|
|Chinese Sausage, garlic and Guilin Chile Sauce|
|The dough is super wet, so just kinda move it around a bit, resist adding more than a couple of extra Tablespoons of flour. I don't know, I couldn't really knead this, it's very sticky and wet.|
Proof the Dough, I put it into the microwave (don't turn on the microwave!). Note: Microwaves are the perfect temp for proofing.
Anyways, drain the red oil from the sausage/garlic mixture.
Spinkle more sausage garlic on the dough and then fold over and seal.
Here's the full recipe, with liberties taken for method and some of the ingredients. If you want to see the original recipe, buy a copy of Milk Bar when it comes out in hardcover 25 October 2011.
Chinese Sausage Focaccia
from Milk Bar by Christina Tosi and David Chang
340g/12 ozs. chinese sausage, sliced
8 garlic cloves, sliced thinly
150g/1 cup canola
150g/1/3 cup Guilin Chile Sauce or Toban Djan
550g/3 1/2 cups all purpose flour (I subbed 1/4 cup wheat bran, cause I like the taste of wheat)
12g/1 Tablespoon kosher salt
3.5g/1 1/8 teaspoon active dry yeast (just eyeball that 1/8 tsp if you don't have a 1/8 tsp measure, it wont really matter if you over or under the measurement, dough is not that persnickity, IMHO)
370g/1 3/4 room temp. water.
Grapeseed oil or canola for greasing a bowl
1. Stir together the flour, salt, yeast and add the water. Mix until you have shaggy dough.
2. Knead until the dough looks more doughlike. It wont be easy, like I showed in the pic above, this is a wet, loose dough.
3. Dump the dough into a well oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place into a warm, draft free location, like a microwave after you've heated up a cup of tea.
4. Drink tea and wait 45 minutes to an hour for the dough in the microwave to double in size.
5. Dump your sausage, oil, garlic and chile sauce into a frying pan and fry it over a medium/low temp for 15 minutes. The oil will turn red, the garlic translucent and the sausage will become dark and chewy.
6. Drain the oil and save it seperately from the oil.
7. If you poop out after this. Take the bread from the microwave, drop it into a plastic bag and put it into the fridge along with your reserved oil and garlic/sausage mix. I left mine in the fridge for three days because it was too hot to bake. If you do this allow the dough to come to room temp before following the rest of the directions.
8. When you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 375.
9. Spread the dough out on a sheet of parchment until it is roughly the size of a hand towel. Sprinkle one half of the sausage mixture down the middle of the dough. Fold 1/3 of the dough over the sausage.
10. Sprinkle the other half of the sausage over the dough and then fold the last third over the top and seal (there wasn't much sealing to be done, the dough was sticky enough that it stuck to itself).
11. Spread the reserved oil around the edges of the dough. DO NOT pour the oil over the dough, you'll want to, but just don't.
12. Bake for 15 to 25 minutes, mine was toasty in 22 minutes.
13. Let the focaccia rest for about an hour because it will be gummy if you slice into it right away. I couldn't wait and cut off a tiny corner after about thirty (very long) minutes of waiting.
Serves 6 to 8