Ok I know. Two cookie posts in a row. Crazy! But sometimes a girl can’t get enough of the cookies! When you’re obsessed with both the dough and the finished product, cookies just seem to creep up on your kitchen activities. Besides! This recipe is specifically a milk bar cookie.
Christina Tosi, the genius behind Momofuku milk bar, is something of a legend these days. She has become an icon for burgeoning young women—especially women chefs. She also makes delicious baked goods under superstar chef, David Chang’s Momofuku brand.
During my brief (but wonderful) stay in Brooklyn this summer, I had the pleasure of visiting milk bar many times. It was conveniently on my walk home from Mast Brothers to the subway in Williamsburg. As I pretty creepily took pictures of every inch of that little storefront, I salivated just looking at the cake truffles and cereal milk soft serve.
There is one main thing you notice when you bite into your first milk bar cookie. The cookies have a particular texture. They’re delightfully chewy and soft at the same time. Some cookies are crunchy or dense, but these cookies have a way of lingering in your mouth. The secret to this texture is the creaming of the sugar and butter.
The creaming step is not specific to milk bar cookies in the slightest. Every cookie recipe you make surely has a place in the recipe where it states “cream the butter and sugar together.” Christina Tosi, however, writes in her cookbook for milk bar that this step is the most important step. In fact, she dedicates a whole page to this process entitled “the ten minute creaming process, or why milk bar cookies are so damn good.” I don’t know about you, but normally I cream the butter and sugar only as long as it takes to become incorporated. I am pretty impatient to get the dough ready to eat. And that’s fine! The cookies will be great. But for these cookies, Tosi is right about her ever-important creaming process and the length of time it takes! I will tell you why creaming is important when it comes to texture. Read on dear friends!
When you mix butter and sugar in a recipe, there are a couple of different things happening. First, you’re breaking the structure of the butter down. The fat crystals in the butter need to loosen up a little bit. That’s why cold butter takes so much longer to cream. The cold butter is that much more rigid because the fat crystals are completely solid. Along with this mechanical breakdown, air is being incorporated into the butter when the sugar cuts into the butter. Air gets trapped in between fat crystals while the paddle attachment in the stand mixer does its work. (That’s another thing, you pretty much need a mixer for this cookie otherwise your arms will fall off) Adding the egg in this process solidifies and strengthens the bond between the air, sugar, protein, and fat. This final connection is critical when it comes time to bake the dough.
The more air you incorporate, the bigger the butter mixture becomes in the bowl. The volume should double in size and look really puffy or “like a cloud” in Tosi’s words. This air becomes important in the baking process. The air pockets assist in the rising process of the cookies. When the leavening agents start to work their magic, the air pockets created by the creaming process get expanded by the carbon dioxide release from the baking soda/powder. This creates a more delicate outer layer that crisps up. If there isn’t a lot of air from the creaming process, it’s harder for the cookie to get lighter.
The sugar and butter dis-associate in the heat without the strong bond causing the butter to “leak” out of the cookie and the sugar to sink into the cookie and become dense. This is obviously the “worst case scenario” with no incorporation at all. If you like a crunchier or a denser cookie, the longer creaming process is not required. The Fixmer sugar cookies, for example use super small sugar crystals (powdered sugar) that dissolve in the butter matrix quickly so that creaming is not required, and a denser cookie is created.
The milk bar cookie creaming process is definitely a game-changer in your cookie.
Depending on what kind of cookie you enjoy eating, this explains why the extra time pays off. As a rule of thumb, I like to listen for when the butter and sugar are creamed. If you sit and listen, after a couple minutes of creaming (depending on the speed you’re using), the mixture begins to almost slap against the bowl as it lightens up. That sound means you’re on the right track! When you start to hear it more and more, you’ll know it’s getting pretty darn close to being done.
A lot of milk bar recipes are done in two parts. There are things that are used in multiple recipes so that bulk preparation for those certain items make large recipe amounts easier to work with. In this particular recipe the “crumb” is used in the cookie. Recipes are included below!
Milk bar confetti cookies
Barely tweaked from momofuku milk bar cookbook
Birthday cake crumb
½ cup sugar
1 ½ tablespoons packed brown sugar
¾ cup cake flour
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon kosher salt
2 tablespoons rainbow sprinkles
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon CLEAR vanilla extract (use the clear, artificial one for a flavor more like boxed confetti cake—Tosi explains it as a flavor more associated with a “guilty tub-of-frosting” taste)
½ recipe of the birthday cake crumb (I ate the other half, but it also freezes really well)
2 sticks unsalted butter, room temp
1 ½ cups sugar
1 tablespoon light corn syrup
2 teaspoons CLEAR vanilla extract
2 ½ cups flour
⅔ cup malted milk powder
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 ¼ teaspoons kosher salt
¼ cup rainbow sprinkles
Birthday cake crumb
1. Preheat oven to 300⁰F.
2. Combine the dry ingredients and the sprinkles in the bowl of a stand mixer and mix just until well combined. Add the oil and vanilla and mix again. The wet ingredients should create clusters in the bowl.
3. Spread the un-baked crumbs on a sheet pan with a piece of parchment paper covering the pan. Bake for 20 minutes breaking the crumbs up a couple times during the baking process.
4. Let the crumbs cool completely before using them in the cookie recipe.
1. Cream the butter, sugar, and corn syrup in a stand mixer for about 3 minutes. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat for 7 to 8 more minutes (see above).
2. Scrape the sides of the bowl and add the dry ingredients and the sprinkles. Mix on low until the ingredients come together. Do not over-mix because you don’t want the air you incorporated to disappear!
3. Add the cooled crumb to the dough and mix just until incorporated.
4. Scoop the dough onto parchment-covered sheet pans and pat the tops down. Christina Tosi likes to make rather large cookies (about ⅓ cup dough per cookie). If you want to make smaller cookies, adjust baking times accordingly.
5. Refrigerate your cookie dough disks for at least an hour (up to a week) before baking. Toward the end of the chilling, preheat your oven to 350⁰F.
6. Arrange your chilled cookie dough disks about 4 inches apart if you are making the ⅓ cup size cookies. Bake the cookies for about 18-20 minutes or until they puff and spread. The middle of the cookies will be less golden-brown than the outside of the cookies, but they should not be doughy pale.
7. Cool on the sheet before storing in containers. They will keep at room temp for about 5 days.
Now eat those cookies up!
(photo of Christina Tosi courtesy of Cherry Bombe and photo of milk bar courtesy of milkbarstore.com)