I’ve never felt comfortable describing myself as a ‘foodie’. People start analysing where you last ate or expecting Michelin- star restaurants to be top of my list, but in reality, some of the best food might be classed as ‘junk’. That’s why I loved the Christina Tosi episode of Chef’s Table. She is the unashamed queen of sugar; a woman who champions cakes and cookies over fine patisserie, despite her impeccable training. Her bakery Milk Bar was top of my list to try on my trip to New York, but when I saw on Netflix that they also have a baking school, I became a woman obsessed.
As soon as classes were released, I booked us in, and it was our first full day in the Big Apple that we walked from our hotel to the Williamsburg store and classroom. There were no more than 30 people in the open plan kitchen space: a few couples and a very excitable group of teenagers who whooped and cheered like a hilarious American TV show audience. The room was full of sunlight but thankfully sheltered us from the insane humidity outside. Blackboards around the edgeshowed the basics of some of Milk Bar’s most famous creations, and a jar of headscarves were available to wear, just like Tosi herself – all of which were handmade by her mum!
We were there to construct the behemoth Birthday Cake. This version of something we all know and love is a layered masterpiece and really kickstarted the whole ‘naked cake’ obsession you see across Instagram wedding photos nowadays. Christina Tosi allegedly hates icing cakes and can’t see why you would hide all the delicious stuff when you’ve worked so hard to make it. I personally don’t like royal icing on cakes anyway, but a bucket of buttery cream-cheese frosting on our workbench was a welcome sight.
The cake sponge had been tray-baked before we arrived and was peppered with hundreds and thousands, and our first task was to learn how to cut out three perfect circles from the rectangle given to us. Because the cake is assembled in layers there’s no point using separate cake rounds for baking, and the leftover sections were kept aside for making truffles later on (and for nibbling throughout too, of course!). We lined
For the soak and the next step of frosting, we used the genius tool of a bent dessert spoon, meaning it was easy to gently shake the soak onto the sponge and then smooth the frosting evenly and extremely liberally! Next up, we helped ourselves to fistfuls of cake crumbs: crunchy chunks of sugar, flour and sprinkles which are then baked and add awesome texture to each slice of cake. All of the elements included are made with the same vanilla flavour which links it all together and made it near-on impossible to not eat a large chunk of the ingredients as we went through. Repeating on the steps, we were left to decorate the top in whatever garish, lip-smacking way we pleased, before removing the acetate and seeing if the cakes looked as impressive as the original.
Obviously, mine was AMAZING and holy Jesus it tasted so incredible. I’m really not that bothered by cake in general, but this one is a game changer; the cake of cakes – all hail its vanilla-y joy!
Remember those extra cut-offs from the first step of making the Birthday Cake? Some of them survived my greedy chops and were blitzed into crumbs and mixed with that heavenly cake soak to be squished into little bite-sized truffle balls. We then dunked them into melted white chocolate and tossed in more cake crumbs. Left to cool, we then bagged them up and took them away along with huge slices of our cakes which we split between our tiny hotel fridge and the front of house staff so it wouldn’t go to waste.
The whole afternoon swept by so quickly and it was an infectiously happy, deliciously hands-on way of experiencing the inventions of a sweet-toothed legend. We had so much fun and the sugar crash we experienced alongside our jetlag was a great excuse for an indulgent vacation nap. It brought back my itch to bake again and next time I head to New York I’d love to get involved in making another Milk Bar icon.