In “Give Me Some Sugar,” Emily Hilliard introduces us to some of the South’s most talented female pastry chefs, courtesy of the Southern Foodways Alliance. They do right by the classics while developing a new canon of their own. Check back every Monday to meet a reason to save room for dessert.
Who: Christina Tosi
Where: Momofuku Milk Bar (Five locations in New York City)
You may know Christina Tosi for her whimsical, sugary creations like cereal milk (think the dregs of the cereal bowl in drinkable or soft-serve ice cream form), compost cookies, and crack pie—all of which she makes as pastry chef for New York City’s Momofuku Milk Bar. What you may not know is that Tosi is a Southern gal at heart. “I grew up in Virginia and have family in Louisiana, Arkansas, and Ohio. Living, cooking, and eating within the region, with a waste not-want not mentality; celebrating tradition and what’s around you on the breakfast, lunch, or dinner table—that was the spirit of my family’s upbringing.”
While she’s known to source ingredients from a wide range of childhood snack favorites, including corn flakes, marshmallows, potato chips, and rainbow sprinkles, Tosi says her favorite place to start when creating a recipe is with a sense of limitation or restriction—making do (and making delicious) with what’s on hand. She explains that she associates this sensibility with the South. “To me, Southern food is all about heart, flavor, nurture, resourcefulness, history, and roots. My mentality lies and lives in this realm of clever, creative, resource in the kitchen—and darn it, it better be finger-licking good!”
Tosi admits she’s always been a sugar hound, whipping up treats with the women in her family since she was a child. “The matriarchs in my family baked. We bake now. We bake every day. We lick spoons and beaters. We nurture through baking, and we all happen to have very sweet teeth, to boot!” She says that being a pastry chef is something she feels born to do, but being a woman in a kitchen is not how she identifies herself as a chef. “I went from being one of many females in the kitchen of my mother, or aunt or grandmother, to New York City, where I was often the lone woman in the kitchen. I identify just as me in a kitchen, though my nurturing spirit has certainly informed who I am as a chef, as the females before me did. The other side of me in a kitchen certainly has a much more masculine, knuckle-grinding grit.”
Tosi’s nurturing spirit emerges when she speaks of baking her favorite food: cookies. “I LOVE making cookies. I believe it’s like loving a child unconditionally (I don’t have any human children). It never gets old. It’s always exciting, and exhilarating.” Below, Tosi shares her recipe for her corn cookie—“the sleeper at Milk Bar, but it’s nearly every Southerner’s (by heritage or at heart) favorite!”
Recipe courtesy of Christina Tosi, from Momofuku Milk Bar (Clarkson Potter, 2011)
For years, this was a recipe I didn’t let out of my kitchen—I don’t know why, but everybody has one or two recipes like that. I finally relented and gave a copy to Rick Bishop, Milk Bar’s famous strawberry farmer, and he told me he hid it under his kitchen sink, where he knew it would be safe.
Note: Tosi recommends weighing your ingredients for baking, but she also includes standard approximations if you don’t have a kitchen scale. Also, you’ll see that Tosi mixes her ingredients for a loooooooong time; she swears it’s her secret to cookie success.
- 16 tbsp/2 sticks (225 g) butter, at room temperature
- 1 ½ cups (300 g) sugar
- 1 egg
- 1 1/3 c (225 g) flour
- 1/4 c (45 g) corn flour
- 2/3 c (65 g) freeze-dried corn powder (To make freeze-dried corn powder, pulverize freeze-dried corn, such as “Just Corn” from the Just Tomatoes brand, in a blender.)
- 3/4 tsp (3 g) baking powder
- 1/4 tsp (1.5 g) baking soda
- 1 ½ tsp (6 g) kosher salt
Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of a standard mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the egg, and beat for 7-8 minutes.
Reduce the mixer speed to low and add the flour, corn flour, corn powder, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix just until the dough comes together, no longer than 1 minute. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.
Using a 2 ¾ oz. ice-cream scoop, or a 1/3 cup measure, portion out the dough on a parchment-lined sheet pan. Pat the tops of the cookie domes flat. Wrap the sheet pan tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour, or up to 1 week. Do not bake your cookies from room temperature—they will not bake properly.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Arrange the chilled dough a minimum of 4 inches apart on parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pans. Bake for 18 minutes. The cookies will puff, crackle, and spread. After 18 minutes, they should be faintly browned on the edges yet still bright yellow in the center; give them an extra minute if not.
Cool the cookies completely on the sheet pans before transferring to a plate or to an airtight container for storage. At room temp, the cookies will keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezer, they will keep for 1 month.
Note: This recipe has not been tested by the Southern Living Test Kitchen.