the truth . . .
. . . of the matter is that growing up I didn’t really love cake. (I KNOW!) I was a fool for dense, fudgy brownies, crazy cookies warm out of the oven, and—my childhood fave—gooey butter cake (which is technically not even a cake! It’s a bar cookie.).
Cake was a bit boring to me, almost always the same old formula: a spongy base with
some muted flavor, sweet frosting on top. Nine times out of ten, I’d just scrape and eat the frosting off the snooze fest, leaving the cake behind, naked and afraid. To be fair, cake was fun to have at birthdays and celebrations because I do love dessert rituals. And it meant, if I played my cards right, I could finagle enough frosting to keep me going through the afternoon and still have a little for a slumber party pick-me-up. To me, cake was really just a vehicle for a frosting fest.
It wasn’t until 2005 that I started really thinking twice about cake. More specifically, layer cake. I had over a decade of home baking under my belt, been to culinary school, and worked my way up in top NYC restaurants, but had still never met a cake that made me swoon. I had started making desserts for the Momofuku restaurants and had found my voice as a pastry chef through the desserts that I adored—ice cream, pie, cookies. The thing I never dared put on the menu was the dessert I never felt was truly lust-worthy. But as my imagination grew, I became obsessed with figuring out how to fall in love with cake.
I sat down and considered the things that bummed me out about cake:
Cake flavors are dull and boring.
Cake is usually overbacked to make it sturdy enough to be layered or topped.
Cake is usually just one soft spongy bit. Why take the time to make cake so beautiful on the outside if it's just a snooze fest when you bite in?
Cake, as I knew it, felt like a throwaway, a statue that told no story, and wasn’t that awesome to eat. But it’s tradition. We’re told it’s decadent, so we turn a blind eye, or turn off our taste buds, and lift our forks anyhow. We can do better than that! If the world is really going to embrace life and dive face first into a dessert, we deserve more than that. Cake should have personality! Integrity! Texture! And a visual appeal that draws you in and gets you excited about eating!
I had a lot of work to do. I believed cake had the potential to be a great vehicle for many things—perspective, point of view, flavor, bits and pieces of goo, graham, glaze, and goodness. But first I had to define a formula for myself, then get the world to trust me and dig in.
I needed to make a direct contradiction to all the reasons cake let me down in the past, and so I decided these would be my cake ground rules:
The cake must have a strong point of view, a flavor “story.”
Every single layer must be amazingly delicious on its own.
Hidden gems of texture within are key.
And there is no way in H-E-double-hockey-sticks we’re going to hide ALL that ingenuity behind a thick coat of frosting. I want to let the people IN, and so I won’t frost the sides of the cake.
And so it began, my little love story with cake. I’d make it every day. Multiple times a day. I’d use ANY cake-worthy opportunity in life to test out this new perspective. A friend’s birthday. A dog’s birthday. A wedding. First day of vacation. Last day of vacation. A housewarming. I got in there, all for the love of the game, to start loving cake, to make cake lovable.
Once I found someone to bake for, I’d analyze their favorite desserts, and I’d set about devising their cake, layer by layer. Love for strawberry shortcake, lemon chiffon pie, and classic New York cheesecake inspired the Strawberry-Lemon Layer Cake (page 221), a goingaway party for someone who loved making tropical cocktails gave birth to the Pineapple Upside-Down Layer Cake (page 237), and someone’s love for pancakes, any time of day,
paved the way for the Pancake Layer Cake (page 255).
I became a woman possessed in this new universe of layer cakes—curious sponges, soaks, outside-the-box fillings, crumbs, crunches, ganache, unfrosted sides. Occasion by occasion, I baked my way into my now deep and abiding love of cake.
No one teaches you how to be prepared for the things you chase down in life. And so I never really considered that this internal, deep-dive study of mine would be something that inspired others . . . and would maybe change the dessert world forever.
In 2008, when me and my guy and gal pals opened the doors to Milk Bar, we challenged the way lots of people think about baked goods: cookies with sweet and salty bits, cereal-flavored anything, “crack” bars and pie, rainbow-sprinkled “birthday” flavor . . . and especially cakes. I must admit, people were confused at first by the naked-looking sides of our layer cakes, with composed flavors and bits and bobs peeking out. But we gave them the Milk Bar Sweat Down, where resistance is futile, where we keep shoving slices of cake their way until they cave in.
Nowadays, at Milk Bar, it’s no secret that we love cake. It has quickly become a way of life. From layer cakes to cake truffles, cake is what makes our operation go ’round. This book is our ode to that. We’re so cuckoo for cake, every weekend at our Milk Bar shops, we throw impromptu parties, where we stop the madness for just a moment or two and celebrate over a #cakebreak. We dance, jiggle, and shake alongside our guests and neighbors to celebrate our everyday lives over cake! When our local school needs to raise some funds, our cake shows up, too.
And cake follows us off the clock, beyond the doors of Milk Bar. After all, when you are that obsessed with something, you find it and carry it with you in any and every form. Real Talk: When I’m home, sometimes the last thing I want to do is fuss over a layer cake, which is when a simple bundt or pound cake comes in. And if I’m being really honest, even turning on the stove sometimes feels like a chore. So enter: Crock-Pot and microwave cakes—if you’re into the warm and fudgy, my friend, I’ve got your back.
Sometimes your crew of friends is more the sheet-cake crowd. And other times, the young ’uns in your kitchen, dying to get up in the mix, are more the cupcake type (the only reason we’ll allow for them). We’re so into spreading the love of cake that we have recipes for those who don’t have a baking bone in their body. As for cake balls, cake pops, or call them what you will, we whisper our secrets for transforming bites of cake into our legendary “cake truffles” in the pages that follow, too.
And, for those fussier perfectionists and pros who just can’t get enough, we’ll get down in there, too, with recipes, processes, tips, and tricks from our classic 6-inch layer cake all the way up to our insane multitier wedding cake architectural feat, if you’re really set on going for it!
I went from being a cake hater to a cake revolutionary. And if there’s one more thing you must know about me, it’s that talk is cheap, especially in the kitchen. Seeing, tasting, is believing. Come on in, tie that apron ’round your waist. A headscarf for flair will get your imagination in the right place, or put on some tunes to get you bouncing. Heat the oven and start nosing around in your fridge and cupboards. I want you all in, as I welcome you into our wild, wonderful world of CAKES!
Copyright © 2018 by Christina Tosi. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.