Why buy a dessert when you can pour hours into making one?
You might know Christina Tosi from her role as a judge on the competition show Master Chef, but the acclaimed chef is more than just a TV personality, she’s the founder of the world-famous Milk Bar. This bakery opened its first location in New York City and, after serious success and an Instagram-friendly cake, expanded, now with locations across the U.S.
While visiting Milk Bar is an experience not to be overlooked, namely because you leave smelling like a fresh-baked cake, there’s also the option—for those without easy access to a store—to create the famous desserts at home. Though my Milk Bar location is an easy 15-minute drive, I decided, why not make my life a little harder? Baking has been the quarantine trend and, after a loaf of banana bread here and a tray of cookies there, it seemed time to take on the next challenge: Milk Bar’s menu.
If you’re trying to decide whether to Postmates or preheat your oven, allow my trial and errors and sometimes successes to help. Secure your sprinkles and ready your mixer, we’re baking our way through Milk Bar’s recipe collection.
Bake Club Cheesy Lava Love Cake
While not a recipe you might typically associate with colorful Milk Bar, this seasonal treat came just in time for Valentine’s Day. Lava cake is known to be finicky—overdo or undo something, and that decadent inside can go all sorts of wrong. So, when Milk Bar posted their red-velvet take on the popular dessert, my hopes for success were on the floor—if Master Chefs are incapable of executing a lava cake, who was I to think mine would be anything more than just molten?
Despite initial reservations, the recipe for this dessert was seemingly less complicated than the rest, which usually have 20+ ingredients and five different baking-components (each with their own set of steps). The lava cake was a 10-ingredient, seven-step process that I was ready to take on. Because, at worst, at least I hadn’t wasted an entire day on the sweet treat.
Take what you might have heard about lava cake and throw it out the window because this, even for an amateur baker like myself, was simple. You don’t need an expensive KitchenAid or Parisian bakery training, just the ability to follow basic baking instructions (which, if you’re reading this article, I’d assume you have). With easily-sourced ingredients and simple instructions, you’d be remiss to not try this recipe at home—though, we’ll still continue ordering it when the opportunity presents itself.
If we’re being honest with each other, this isn’t Milk Bar’s best cookie—there is such a thing as overdoing it—which is, perhaps, why they put it online. While most of their signature cakes require two days’ worth of work (meaning we’re going to keep buying rather than making), cookies tend to be a little less time-consuming, so why buy the confetti cookie when you can create it in your kitchen? Smart to keep the popular cookie recipes to yourself, Tosi—I see your game.
Oh well, ignore my hate because I made them anyway, and maybe, just maybe, they were even better from my oven.
First things first—not only have I never cooked with glucose, I didn’t know you could buy glucose. This is a recipe you’ll want to head to Amazon for rather than just the baking aisle of your grocery store. But aside from the bizarre ingredient (in my book), these cookies are relatively simple. Plus, chances are, you have some of the ingredients—potato chips, pretzels, coffee—already in your cabinet. From the store, these come prepackaged, at room temp, but from your oven, you can enjoy a bite of a warm, gooey with chocolate cookie. The review: compost cookie is better from home.
Even if you don’t know Milk Bar by name, you likely know their Birthday Cake. With layers of whipped frosting and sprinkles, this three-tiered cake is as photogenic as desserts come. And, as if the cake wasn’t Instagrammable enough before, making it at home adds another element of social-media worth—the ability to brag in the comments. If there’s anything out there to get you through this monster of a recipe, let it be the picture you can share after.
While the previous recipes tackled were moderately easy—they didn’t take a baking-savant to complete—the cake is a different story. Just looking at the five-point recipe overview makes me sweat. And then after a quick once-over of the recipe list, it’s time for a change of shirts and another layer of deodorant: did you know there are different types of vanilla? Yeah, me neither. But the ability to distinguish is (at least according to Chef Tosi) essential here. Something to keep in mind is that this is not a one-day recipe—though no one can blame you for assuming so given a box of Funfetti takes approximately 30 minutes. The Birthday Cake is a weekend-long project that requires skill and an open spot in your freezer (RIP Trader Joe’s meals I had to throw to the wayside).
So, after spending hours mixing and money tracking down ingredients I’d never heard of, was it worth it? No. The cake is undoubtedly delicious—I mean, they were able to turn one bakery into a globally-recognized chain because of it. But unless your love for baking matches your skill, there’s no reason to spend your entire weekend frustrated. Especially when the ability to buy a single slice—something a little more practical in our COVID don’t see anyone era—is available.
Ah, the taste of the aforementioned cake without the stress, how wonderful! Just kidding, if it’s a Milk Bar recipe there will be stress. This is, however, simpler than the cake that nearly took away from me any will I had to even enter my kitchen. There are some repeat steps from the Birthday Cake, but the coming-together process isn’t of the same difficulty as assembling a three-tiered cake inside of a metal tin.
Whether or not you should make the B’Day Truffles depends. Would you consider yourself more patient or more always on the verge of losing it? Do you have at least five of the ingredients on the list? If you’re easily frazzled and this is going to require more than just a quick in-and-out at the grocery store, it’s probably in your best interest to order these directly from the source. After buying everything you need to throw these truffles together, you’ll come close to spending about as much as you would buying them from your local Milk Bar, where the only source of frustration you might run into is a long line.
Chocolate Pretzel Cereal Squares
For all the non-bakers out there, this is the recipe for you. The Chocolate Pretzel Cereal Square is essentially an elevated Rice Krispy. You’re combining melty marshmallows and Rice Krispy cereal, but instead of leaving it at that (which is in and of itself delicious), you add in pretzels, chocolate, and dulce de leche sauce. It’s still got the sweet stickiness of the nostalgic treat but just with some more flavor. The pretzels add a nice crunch and salt and, really, there’s just no going wrong with chocolate.
Make these if you’re needing a star-treat for your kid’s class party or just wanting to treat yourself. Cost-effective and easy to throw together, there’s no reason not to whip up a batch when the midnight munchies hit.
Milk Bar Pie
The Milk Bar Pie is everything you can want in a dessert—it’s sweet, salty, gooey in parts with a slight crunch in others—which is exactly why I didn’t want to make it. Sometimes there really is no need to ruin a good thing. But here I went, pie pan greased, ready to do just that.
You begin by baking a simple oat cookie (better than the compost cookie, sorry) that can be eaten alone or, in this instance, will be turned into a crust. Then comes the filling that, based on the super-specific instructions and constant “make sure you’re doing exactly this!” warnings, I was sure I would fumble. Blame my lack of confidence or blame Milk Bar’s negging, but things felt like they were going wrong. Despite that gut instinct, I poured the filling into my crust and got to baking.
After resting in the freezer for half a day—because isn’t it wonderful to not know if you’ve failed until hours later when your craving for that very pie is through the roof—I sliced out a small piece. To my complete surprise, it was incredible. How silly to say “It tasted just like Milk Bar’s!” when it’s their very recipe, but it tasted just like Milk Bar’s! I’m not sure what was better, the pie or the satisfaction of not failing. But feel free to try your hand at it and let me know.