Chef Talk: New York’s Dessert Goddess Christina Tosi Creates Sweets for Every Diet

Christina Tosi of Momofuki Milk Bar
Christina Tosi of Momofuki Milk Bar

Christina Tosi, founder of  the Momofuku Milk Bar and New York goddess of all things sweet and craveworthy, has big summer plans. In addition to expanding her fast-growing empire to Chelsea and Las Vegas locations, Tosi recently partnered with Lactaid® on their No More Dairy Envy campaign to create ice cream recipes for those intolerant of dairy products.  Here we catch up with the sugar genius to talk about her news, as well as scrumptious new offerings from Milk Bar. 

Where are you from?
Ohio, but I grew up outside of DC.

What gave you the idea to start Momofuku Milk Bar in 2008?
I approach life with a “jump” sort of mentality, although I wasn’t raised to take crazy risks. I was raised to be a crazy hard worker. It seems to be a pretty good match of qualities. What comes from jumping and hard work is either luck or a damn great blessing. When I opened Milk Bar in November 2008, I was quite adamant about making sure the bakery was an honest reflection of life and food through my eyes. I had no intention beyond that. I credit everything else to the people who received it so enthusiastically. I am also incredibly fortunate to create, but also to be given a canvas for creation by David Chang under the Momofuku name.

Before your involvement with Momofuku, why did you decide to specialize in baked goods and desserts?
I was an infamously picky eater as a child, but also had an infamous sweet tooth. All I wanted was dessert for every meal of the day. My mother stopped allowing me to eat only desserts, so I stepped into the kitchen to teach myself how to make them. I loved that so much, I decided to go to culinary school and make it my profession.

Milk Bar Compost Cookie Granola-Fudge Sundae
Milk Bar Compost Cookie Granola Fudge Sundae

You began Milk Bar with the concept of “happy mistakes.” Which have been your favorite “mistakes”?
We have plenty of failures in our recipe testing and innovation sessions. It’s usually less the flavor combos and more the technique and delivery of the idea. I think my biggest heartbreak was when I just couldn’t get an American cheese cake/pie with a saltine cracker crust and green tomato sorbet to work out in my favor.

Milk Bar Strawberry Popcorn Shake Birdseye.
Milk Bar Strawberry Popcorn Shake Birdseye.

What are the Milk Bars most popular items?  Do they vary from location to location?
It depends on the store and the season. Folks just can’t get enough of Crack Pie (an insanely addictive mix of gooey butter cake and chess pie with a toasted oat crust), our B’day Truffles (that tastes like the quintessential birthday cake from your childhood, rainbow sprinkles and all) and Compost Cookies (a chocolate chip cookie that’s so much more–butterscotch! graham crackers! oats! pretzels! potato chips! ground coffee!)

Milk Bar Compost-Cookie Granola Fudge Sundae
Milk Bar Compost Cookie Granola Fudge Sundae

What changes in New Yorkers’ tastes for sweets have you seen since 2008?
Many folks have dietary restrictions (gluten free, vegetarian, lactose free) and are looking for something sweet that is every bit as fun. It’s the best part of my job. I love a good challenge and I love making desserts that are so  darn crave-able you don’t even realize they’re without gluten, sugar, lactose, etc.

Why do you think you’ve been so successful with sweets in such a highly calorie-conscious age?
It’s about finding the balance in life. At Milk Bar indulgence is fun. A cookie is a great way to make a great day even sweeter. Our desserts are approachable, quirky and deep. They pack a punch in the flavor department. They’re a moment you want to be a part of, but you don’t need to crush an entire box of cookies– one amazing corn or blueberry & cream cookie will do.

What are some new Milk Bar creations for summer?
I’m constantly creating items that we put into Milk Bar or recipes with partners that will reach people all over the country, and hopefully inspire them to make in their own home kitchens. I’m most excited about partnering with Lactaid on two super tasty recipes using Lactaid ice cream. One is a Lactaid Vanilla Ice Cream milkshake with Strawberry Jam blended seasoned with some corn powder and salt. There’s also candy corn on top for good measure. The other is Compost Cookie Granola Chocolate Fudge Sundae, using Lactaid Chocolate Ice Cream, garnished with a mocha fudge sauce and crunchy compost cookie granola.

How many desserts do you eat each week?
Depends on the week and what we’re testing at Milk Bar. Right now, we’re working on Brown Butter Rice Krispie Treats, so I’m eating countless versions as we look to get it just right!

Are you a cupcake or cookie person?

What’s your favorite non-sweet dish?
Nachos or crazy sandwiches.

What trends are you seeing in birthday cakes and wedding cakes?
When we opened Milk Bar seven year ago, we started the “naked cake” trend with our thoughtfully playful cakes unfrosted on the sides, so as not to hide the amazing the amazing layers and textural fillings inside. People are asking for Milk Bar classics—can we make a Birthday Layer cake and substitute the Birthday frosting with Strawberry Jam and Strawberry frosting? Can we make the Chocolate Chip Layer Cake with pretzel crumbs and chocolate stout ganache, etc.?

The recipe or dish you’re proudest of.
I have to say the Perfect 10 Kookie– our Gluten Free-Dairy Free cookie. The proceeds from each purchase helps to feed those in need. It is essentially an oatmeal-almond-chocolate chip cookie packed with so much protein, it might as well be a power bar, but it’s got the most amazing balance of flavor and texture. Though I try everything when I go to other bakeries, I’ve never found a gluten-free cookie so darn crave-able, that does good and is delicious as this one!

Where will you be expanding to next?
We’re opening in Las Vegas at The Cosmopolitan later this year, and have a few other new locations up our sleeves, too!