Got Cereal Milk?

Photo: Hannah Whitaker

In its early days, Momofuku made do without dessert (unless you count the Hershey’s Kisses David Chang occasionally doled out at Noodle Bar). But as the organization matured, it gained a staff sweet tooth in the energetic form of Christina Tosi, 27, who’d worked at WD-50 and Bouley before she served Ssäm Bar’s first Tristar strawberry shortcake. Then came Noodle Bar’s kooky soft-serve, Ko’s deep-fried apple pie, and this month, a bona fide bakery adjacent to Ssäm Bar called Momofuku Milk Bar. Or, in the words of Tosi herself, “Dairy Queen with pork buns.”

How did you become Momofuku’s pastry chef?
I was working at WD-50 as a pastry cook, and we’d gotten in trouble for using our Cryovac machine, and Wylie [Dufresne] said, “Hey, why don’t you help me figure out how to write a HACCP [Hazard Analysis Critical Control Point] plan?” Dave Chang was getting in trouble for the same thing around that time and needed someone to help him.

So he hired you to work in an organizational capacity instead of as a pastry chef?
Yeah, a little bit. I never even had a job title; we always joked that it was “Etcetera.”

Who are your biggest influences?
Wylie really taught me how to think about food. He’s very big at making you come up with an opinion, and that’s something we try to do here. “Eat this. I know it’s good, but what do you think? Take it apart, tell me why you like it or why you don’t.” And then Sam Mason and Alex Stupak; I worked under both at WD, both huge influences.

When did you start making desserts?
I’ve always had a sweet tooth. It’s actually a very nasty habit. I rarely eat regular food. At an early age my mother stopped letting me eat cookie dough from the bowl because I wanted more. The beater wasn’t enough, the spatula wasn’t enough. So I ended up having to make my own.

How did you guys come up with the Milk Bar idea?
I don’t even remember. We were just eating a lot of soft serve at Noodle Bar and we decided that, you know, let’s open a milk bar. It was just a name, like Ssäm Bar, Noodle Bar— so little of it is about milk or cereal milk.

Cereal milk?
I never drank milk when I was a kid unless it was with really sweet cereal, and the only way that I’d actually drink the milk out of the bowl is if I’d had like three bowls of Lucky Charms.

How do you make it here?
We take corn flakes and toast them and steep them in milk, strain them, and then there’s a very small portion of sugar and salt just to balance it a little bit. The toasting of something and steeping it in milk is very much something I attribute to Sam and Wylie.

How did the Milk Bar menu evolve?
I make cakes and pies for family meal every day. I knew I had to serve pork buns. I like to make late-night food, and I started doing these soft-boiled eggs, then I would deep-fry them. We serve them on an English muffin or a large pork bun.

Your ice-cream toppings have names like crumbs, crisps, and solids. How do you make them?
We use the dehydrator, we use the oven. The peanut-butter halvah is just pulled sugar with fat, with peanut butter in it. The brown-butter solids are part brown butter and part white chocolate that we put in a pot and cook down. Sometimes it’s just playing with the makeup of something to create texture.

What’s the derivation of your Crack Pie?
It’s something that I made one day for family meal at WD-50—we used to call it Sunday Funday when the chef was away. They would always tease me for eating all this candy and sugar, so I thought it would be funny to make this sugar pie. It was so good that it got to the point that I had to put it on someone else’s station because I couldn’t have it near me. It’s brown sugar, regular sugar, butter, cream, salt, and a little corn flour to hold it together.

And what goes into a Compost Cookie?
Potato chips, pretzels, coffee grounds, chocolate chips, graham crumbs, butterscotch chips, and a little bit of flour.

And now for the James Liptonian questions. Cone or cup?
Cup. When I was a kid and went to Baskin-Robbins it would always fall on the ground. I’m a slow ice-cream eater. I was told I had to get it in a cup and I never went back.

Toppings or plain?
I like toppings. I love anything with Heath Bars.

Favorite candy bar?
Right now, Take 5.

Milk or dark?
If I’m eating it solo, I’m going to eat milk chocolate. No one admits it. I know the right answer should be dark chocolate.

What’s one ingredient you can’t live without?
Milk powder. We put it in a lot of the cookie recipes. I call it the MSG of baked goods. It adds this really interesting depth of flavor.

What did you have for dinner last night?
Cool Ranch Doritos in bed and then some Ben & Jerry’s cookies and cream.

What did you have for breakfast today?
Coffee. I usually have the Candy Bar pie too.

Do you ever skip dessert?

Momofuku Bakery & Milk Bar
207 Second Ave., entrance on 13th St.; 212-254-3500.

Got Cereal Milk?