Archives for posts with tag: chess pie

There’s only one woman who can get away with a dish like crack pie: Momofuku wunderkind Christina Tosi. Owner and head pastry chef at Momofuku Milk Bar, Tosi likes to take people by surprise, serving up desserts like liquid cheesecake and deep-fried apple pie soft serve. Her dishes tend to elicit childhood memories of Corn Pops and cookie dough, pb & j’s and saltines, but in unfamiliar ways. She’s the real-life Willy Wonka, and I believe one day soon, she will turn someone into a giant blueberry and send them floating down Bedford Avenue.

Tosi was trained at the French Culinary Institute and worked at Bouley and WD-50 before stepping foot in David Chang’s Momofuku to work as an office lackey. After Mr. Chang tried her home-baked goods he convinced her to start making desserts for his restaurants, and the rest is history. Now, Tosi is in charge of a staff of Oompa-Loompas working out of a large warehouse in Williamsburg; besides creating the desserts for Momofuku Ko, Ssam Bar, and Noodle Bar, Tosi runs two Milk Bars, one in the East Village and one in the ‘Burg.

In addition to the infamously addictive crack pie, Tosi is perhaps most celebrated for her “cereal milk,” a flavor that appears in soft-serve ice-cream form, as well as straight milk form, made by soaking Special K, Kix, and other old favorites in milk. Subtle genius. I paid a visit to the East Village storefront last week for the strangely wonderful birthday cake truffles, corn cookies, and yes, crack pie, below.

Last fall, Clarkson Potter published the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, revealing the secrets behind the candy factory. It’s like finding a golden ticket in a Wonka bar: all her best recipes are there for all to read, and replicate if you’re so adventurous. And that’s just what I did today for my dear friend Elizabeth’s birthday. EZ mentioned recently she’d never had Tosi’s crack pie, and when it was described as being reminiscent of that southern classic, chess pie, she seemed eager to try it.

Making this dish was less arduous than I anticipated. There was no cereal-soaking involved, no potato chips or grape jelly stuffed into batter. Just lots of butter and sugar and egg yolks whisked together, the cornerstone ingredients of Tosi’s empire. (If you get a moment check out the article in the current issue of Edible Manhattan, which talks about Tosi and her relationship with former dairy supplier, Milk Thistle Farm, which sadly went out of business last month.) The pie itself is a smooth, custard-like concoction of brown sugar, cream, butter, eggs, and vanilla, baked in an oat-cookie crust. Not a bad way to bite into one’s birthday.

Happy birthday Elizabeth! One of the things I miss most about Phaidon is getting to work next to you every day.

Crack Pie
Adapted from Christina Tosi

Oat Cookie Crust
Parchment Paper
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
9 tbsp (1 stick plus 1 tbsp) unsalted butter, room temp, divided
5 1/2 tbsp (packed) golden brown sugar
2 tbsp sugar
1 large egg
3/4 cup plus 2 tbsp oats (not instant)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1/8 tsp baking powder
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/4 tsp (generous) salt

3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (packed) golden brown sugar
1 tbsp nonfat dry milk powder (*or 3 tbsp nonfat evap milk)
1/4 tsp salt
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted, cooled slightly
6 1/2 tbsp heavy whipping cream
4 large egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla extract
Powdered sugar (for dusting)

Prepare the oat cookie crust
Preheat the oven to 350 F. Line a 13 x 9 x 2 inch metal baking pan with parchment paper; coat with nonstick spray. Combine 6 tbsp butter, 4 tbsp brown sugar, and 3 tbsp sugar in medium bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat the mixture until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add egg, beat until pale and fluffy. Add oats, flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt, and beat until well blended, about 1 minute. Turn oat mixture out onto prepared baking pan, and press out evenly to the edges of the pan if possible. Bake until light golden on top, 17 or 18 minutes. Transfer the pan to a rack and cool completely.

Using hands, crumble the oat cookie into a large bowl; add 3 tbsp butter and 1 1/2 tbsp brown sugar. Rub in with fingertips until mixture is moist enough to stick together. Transfer cookie crust mixture to a 9-inch diameter glass pie dish. Using fingers, press mixture evenly into the bottom and sides of the dish. Place pie dish on a flat baking sheet in case of spillage.

Prepare the filling
Position rack in center of oven and preheat to 350 F. Whisk both sugars, milk powder, and salt in medium bowl to blend. (If it’s too darn hard/expensive to buy the powder, you can substitute for 3 tbsp evap milk in the next step.) Add melted butter and whisk until blended. Add cream, egg yolks, and vanilla, and whisk until well blended. (If you’re going to use evap milk instant of powder, use 3 tbsp here, and only 3 1/2 tbsp of the heavy cream.) Pour filling into crust. Bake for 30 minutes (filling may bubble). Reduce oven temp to 325 F. Continue to bake pie until filling starts to brown in spots and sets on the edges but center is still a little wobbly when gently shaken, about 20 minutes longer. Cool pie 2 hours in pie dish on rack. Chill uncovered overnight. Sift powdered sugar lightly over top and serve cold!

I recently came upon a treasure. For the past couple of months my grandmother has been telling me of an old blue cookbook she’s had for ages that she wanted to give me. She said it contained recipes for things like Campbell’s tomato soup cake and various gelatinous desserts that might be fun to create. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the book and start cooking, retro style.

To my chagrin we couldn’t find the book anywhere in her house; I turned closets upside down, called my mother asking if she had thrown it away, to no avail. Then recently, on my last visit, she told me to go to the upstairs kitchen and look above the sink. I dashed up the stairs, like it was Christmas morning, and there it was: a little musty, mildewy, and indeed, blue.

The American Woman’s Cook Book, edited by Ruth Berolzheimer, the director of the Culinary Arts Institute, was published in Chicago in 1945. Back then, my grandmother was a secretary in Manhattan at an insurance company. She traveled into the city from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn where she lived with her mother and sister. The way she remembers it, one day, someone came into the office and all the “girls” had to each buy a copy of the newly published cookbook. I should say the book was first published in 1938 and later revised by Berolzheimer in 1945.

Well there isn’t in fact a recipe for tomato soup cake, or even too many wiggly desserts. It’s a treasure of classics with recipes including: creamed salmon, bacon corn bread, popovers, welsh rarebit, réchauffé of lamb, roast beef, and coconut cream pie. Oh the good old days! When folks drank buttermilk with dinner and dissolved baking soda in water when sick. When milk was dropped off in glass jars on your doorstep and people made their own preserves and jellies.

The Table of Contents reveals a chapter for “The Lunch Box” and another for “Food for Invalids.” The Lunch Box section reads:

“As much care is needed in selecting and preparing the food for the lunch box as for the other meals served to the family. If the lunch is inadequate or lacking in food essentials throughout the year, the individual’s whole nutrition will be seriously affected, and his work will suffer. The lunch box is one of three meals, not just a ‘snack,’ and should possess the following characteristics:

1. It should be abundant in amount for a hungry, healthy individual. A little too much is better than too little.
2. It should be chosen with regard to nutritive needs of the individual, and in relation to the whole day’s food.
3. It should be clean, appetizing, wholesome and attractive.”

That’s a tall order. It’s also quite different from today when most people get a $7 burrito from Qdoba or a $5 footlong from Subway and call it a lunch. I like the idea though of a well-prepared, carefully presented lunch, in a metal box, with a thermos and cloth napkin and silverware (to say nothing of course that the woman didn’t have much of a choice whether this was the job she wanted or not, preparing cute and wholesome lunches for her husband and kids). Some of the menu suggestions are cream of spinach soup with crackers, an egg salad sandwich with lettuce, raw vegetable strips, an apple, and cup cake (that’s one lunch); or peanut butter, bacon and lettuce sandwiches, carrot sticks, cauliflowerlets, a hard-cooked egg, gingerbread, grapes, and milk (again, that’s all one lunch).

“Food for Invalids” reads, “The following general suggestions are intended to help the housewife who, in addition to her other work, has the duty of ministering to the needs of the sick and convalescent.” It recommends presenting the food as nicely as possible, and serving hot foods very hot and cold foods very cold, with meals arriving at regular intervals, perhaps with a sprig of green or a flower on the tray. Dishes in this section include banana gruel, egg drinks, kumiss (milk, yeast-cake, and sugar), rice jelly, and flaxseed lemonade. A recipe for something called “panada” says to place 2 soda or graham crackers in a bowl and add boiling water to soak the crackers, for 20-30 minutes. Lift them from the water carefully and serve on a hot saucer, serve with sugar and cream.

Needless to say I can’t wait to start cooking from this book. I’d like to try the chess pie, which includes only pastry, butter, sugar, eggs, raisins, nuts, and vanilla; fricassee of chicken; chicken and dumplings; the devil’s food cake; and many more. This weekend I hope to carve out some time for at least one or two recipes, and if I do you’ll hear about it here of course.

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