I have a new baker crush. Ever since I picked up her Milk Bar Cookbook from the library on a whim, I have been engrossed with Christina Tosi's recipes. Most of America will probably recognize Chef Tosi from her appearance as a judge on Masterchef, but she is renowned for her incredibly successful and groundbreaking desserts served at the wildly popular Momofuku Milk Bar in New York City. Her desserts certainly deserve the notoriety they have received. They are unique, whimsical, and complex. Milk Bar is a fitting name for her bakery since every recipe prominently features milk in some way, shape, or form. Her layer cakes were what caught my eye first, but her cookbook is filled with enticing recipes for cookies, breads, pies, and ice cream. Everything looked good. Well, everything except the recipe for "Cereal Milk". I know lots of people, my children included, who look forward to slurping up the sugary, color-tinged milk leftover from a large bowlful of Lucky Charms, Fruit Loops, or Cinnamon Toast Crunch, but that has always been my least favorite part of cereal for breakfast. Making an entire quart full of milk reminiscent of that experience certainly did not appeal.
But her cakes! Her beautiful layer cakes! Each one is a exquisite combination of several different components that, when stacked and mingled with one another, create an intriguing combination of sweet, salty, crunchy, and creamy. Each one is a masterpiece. And, like most masterpieces, the cakes require a bit of time and patience. The good news is that none of the steps are particularly difficult - actually, everything is quite simplistic - there are just a LOT of them. I started making my first cake - this beautiful Carrot Layer Cake - over a week before I planned to serve it for Easter Sunday. Thankfully, all the components can be frozen or refrigerated for a period of time, making your life a lot easier. I worked on this cake after the kids were in bed and I found it to be a really fun and relaxing experience! Paul also had some engineering work to do during the same time, so we just put on a Ken Burns documentary and both worked away in the kitchen, me at the counter and him at the table. It was fun, productive, and we both learned a lot about how the West was settled. Major takeaway: we should never complain about how tough life is now compared to back then.
All of the Milk Bar cakes are built inside a mold constructed from acetate strips and a 6-inch cake ring. This allows everything to be stacked neatly together while leaving the sides of the cake completely exposed. It's a nifty look that I personally love. I chose to embellish the top of our cake with some mini cadbury eggs and a little chocolate bunny because it was for Easter! Of course when I revealed the cake to the kids, they immediately started arguing over which one of them was going to consume the chocolate bunny on top. Because of course that's the part to focus on!
I loved this cake. Loved it. It is very, very rich and easily serves about 10 people even though it is only a 6-inch layer cake. My favorite part of the whole cake was the graham cracker crust frosting. It was one of the greatest things I have ever eaten and went so well with the cake! I normally have a "take it or leave it" attitude when it comes to carrot cake, but I will be hoarding the leftovers of this treat in my fridge. I can't wait to make another Milk Bar cake - and I think you should make one too! Again, don't be intimidated by the length of the recipe and some of the specialty ingredients you might have to find. Nothing is too expensive and can easily be found on Amazon. If you enjoy baking, you will love making this cake.
Carrot Layer Cake
from Momofuku Milk Bar
Note: I detailed the recipe below in the order that I made each of the components. Also, I weighed all my ingredients in order to get the flavor as close as the Milk Bar as possible but included the common measurement equivalent for those who do not own a kitchen scale.
For the Milk Crumb:
40 g (1/2 cup) milk powder
40 g (1/4 cup) all-purpose flour
12 g (2 tablespoons) cornstarch
25 g (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
2 g (1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
55 g (4 tablespoons, 1/2 stick) butter, melted
20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder
90 g (3 ounces) white chocolate
Combine the 40 g (1/2 cup) milk powder, the flour, cornstarch, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl. Toss with your hands to mix. Add the melted butter and toss, using a spatula, until the mixture starts to come together and form small clusters.
Spread the clusters on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper, and bake for 20 minutes. Remove from oven and cool completely.
Crumble any crumb clusters that are larger than 1/2 inch in diameter, and put crumbs in a medium bowl. Add the 20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder and toss together until it is evenly distributed throughout the mixture.
Melt the white chocolate in a heatproof bowl set over a pot of simmering water. Pour the melted white chocolate over the crumbs and toss until your clusters are completely coated. Continue tossing them every 5 minutes until the white chocolate hardens and the clusters are no longer sticky.
The crumbs can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer for up to 1 month.
*Makes about 260 g (2 1/4 cups)
For the Liquid Cheesecake:
225 g (8 ounces) cream cheese
150 g (3/4 cup) granulated sugar
6 g (1 tablespoon) cornstarch
2 g (1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
25 g (2 tablespoons) whole milk
1 large egg
Preheat oven to 300°F.
Place the cream cheese in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and mix on low speed for 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. Add the sugar and mix for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sugar is completely incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Whisk together the cornstarch and salt in a medium bowl. Whisk in the milk in a slow, steady stream. Whisk in the egg until everything is thoroughly combined.
With the mixer on medium-low speed, stream in the egg mixture. Paddle for 3 to 4 minutes, until the mixture is smooth and loose. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Line the bottom and sides of a 6″x6″ baking pan with plastic wrap (I used a 6″ round Pyrex, and had to bake it a bit longer, but it worked fine). Pour the cheesecake batter into the pan, put the pan in the oven, and bake for 15 minutes. Gently shake the pan. The cheesecake should be firmer and more set at the edges, but still jiggly and loose in the center. If the cheesecake is jiggly all over, cake for 5 minute intervals until it is done. If the cheesecake rises more than 1/4 inch or begins to brown, take it out of the oven immediately. Cool completely before using.
The cheesecake can be stored in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Makes about 325 g ( 1 1/2 cups)
For the Carrot Cake:
115 g (8 tablespoons, 1 stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
120 g (1/2 cup tightly packed) light brown sugar
100 g (1/2 cup) granulated sugar
2 large eggs
40 g (1/4 cup) grapeseed oil
200 g (1 1/4 cups) all-purpose flour
4 g (1 teaspoon) baking powder
1.5 g (1/4 teaspoon) baking soda
1.5 g ( 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 g (1 1/4 teaspoons) kosher salt
225 g (2 1/2 cups) shredded peeled carrots (about 2 to 3 medium-sized carrots)
Nonstick cooking spray
Preheat oven to 350 F.
Combine the butter and both sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
On low speed, stream in the oil. Increase the speed to medium-high and paddle for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is almost white, twice the size of your fluffy butter and sugar mixture, and there are no streaks of fat. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl.
On very low speed, add the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, and salt. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until the batter comes together and all the dry ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Remove the bowl from the mixer, dump in the shredded carrots, and fold them into the batter with a spatula.
Spray a quarter sheet pan with nonstick spray and line with parchment paper. Using a spatula, spread the cake into an even layer in the pan.
Bake the cake for 25 to 30 minutes. At 25 minutes, gently poke the edge of the cake with your finger. The cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Bake for another 3 to 5 minutes if necessary.
Remover the cake from the oven and cool completely in the pan on a wire rack (or place it in the fridge or freezer to cool quickly).
The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.
For the Graham Crust:
190 g (1 1/2 cups) graham cracker crumbs
20 g (1/4 cup) milk powder
25 g (2 tablespoons) granulated sugar
3 g (3/4 teaspoon) kosher salt
55 g (4 tablespoons, 1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted (plus additional if needed)
55 g (1/4 cup) heavy cream
Toss the graham crumbs, milk powder, sugar, and salt with your hands in a medium bowl until ingredients are evenly distributed.
Whisk together the butter and heavy cream. Add to the dry ingredients and toss well, until evenly distributed. the mixture should hold its shape if squeezed tightly in your hand. If it’s not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 14 to 25 g (1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons) butter and mix it in.
Use immediately, or store in an airtight container for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge of freezer.
Makes about 340 g (2 cups)
For the Graham Frosting:
1/2 recipe Graham Crust (above)
85 g (1/3 cup) whole milk
2 g (1/2 teaspoon) kosher salt
85 g (6 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature
15 g (1 tablespoon tightly packed) light brown sugar
10 g (1 tablespoon) confectioners’ sugar
.5 g (1/2 teaspoon) ground cinnamon
.5 g (1/8 teaspoon) kosher salt
Combine the graham crust, milk, and salt in a blender, and pure until COMPLETELY smooth, 1 to 3 minutes depending on your blender.
Combine the butter, sugars, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, and cream together on medium-high speed for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
On low speed, mix in the contents of the blender. After 1 minute, turn the mixer up to medium-high and beat for another 2 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.If the mixture is not a uniform pale tan, beat for another minute or so at medium-high speed, and scrape down the bowl again.
Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
Makes about 230 g (1 cup)
To Assemble the Carrot Layer Cake:
1 recipe Carrot Cake (above)
1 recipe Liquid Cheesecake (above)
1/2 recipe Milk Crumb (above)
1 recipe Graham Frosting
1 (6″ by 3″ cake ring)
2 (3″ by 20″) acetate strips
Place a piece of parchment paper on the counter. Invert the cake onto it, and peel the parchment from the bottom of the cake (you may need to run a knife around the cake before releasing it from the pan). Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake (as if you were using a giant cookie cutter; see photo below). These are your top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake scraps will be your bottom layer.
Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan or cutting board lined with a clean piece of parchment paper. Use 1 acetate strip to line the inside of the cake ring.
Put the cake scraps inside the ring and use the back of your hand to push them down into an even layer. Don’t worry if it doesn’t look nice—once it’s covered up no one will ever know.
Using a pastry brush, brush the cake layer with a good dose of milk (not too much, or it will leak out of the bottom of the cake).
Use the back of a spoon to spread half the liquid cheesecake in an even layer over the cake.
Sprinkle 1/3 of the milk crumbs over the cheesecake. Tap them gently with the back of your hand to anchor them in place.
Use the back of a spoon to spread 1/3 of the graham frosting as evenly as possible over the crumbs (I found it really hard to spread frosting over the cheesecake and crumbs, so I just dolloped it evenly over them).
With your index finger, gently tuck the second acetate strip between the cake ring and the top 1/4 inch of the first strip of acetate (see photo below), so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall. Set another cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the process from the first layer (the rest of the cheesecake, half of the remaining milk crumbs, and half of the remaining frosting).
Top with the last cake round. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting, smoothing it out. Garnish with the remaining milk crumbs, gently nestling them into the frosting.
Cover with plastic wrap, transfer the sheet pan or cutting board to the freezer, and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. You can keep the cake in the freezer like this for up to 2 weeks.
At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, remove it from the freezer, and using your fingers and thumbs (pushing against the bottom of the cake), pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate, and transfer the cake to a cake stand or serving plate. Allow the cake to defrost in the fridge for at least 3 hours.
Cake can be kept, wrapped well in plastic, for up to 5 days.