Last week I came across Momofuku’s tweet about a demo class with Milk Bar’s chef Christina Tosi in Toronto. Without any hesitation, I immediately reserved my spot and made plans with foodpr0n to attend the class together. I cannot say I am a huge fan since I only visited NYC’s midtown location in 2010 and my taste memory is fuzzy. That was the only time I tasted their signature Crack Pie and honestly I do not remember much about it among a whole weekend of feasting. However, I have long admired chef Tosi’s creativity. Her dessert challenges preconceived notions of North American style baking. Her flavour combinations are unexpected pairings of familiar tastes (cereal milk and compost cookie are both excellent examples). I jumped at the opportunity for a small group class with lots of chances to interact.
The 90 minute demo covered the making of a crack pie from crust to filling with plenty of tips and tricks for crack pie success. I sat at front row steps away from the work bench. Of course I took plenty of photos along the way! Although a cookbook can describe every step in great detail, it cannot compare to seeing up close the consistency of the cookie batter, how the oat cookie crumb ought to hold together, the fluid motion of shaping the crust, and how to stir the filling without aerating it.
Did I mention the class was fun? Chef Tosi and her assistant ran the demo like they were showing friends how to bake in their home kitchen. Their enthusiasm was infectious and I was excited to try my hand baking crack pie at home. Read on for plenty of photos from Sunday and find out how my own crack pies turned out.
Class took place in the sunny Daisho dining room.
I've always been happy with my Kitchenaid stand mixer but totally impressed by how quiet the Breville mixer was.
Chef Tosi explained the importance of scraping the mixing bowl to ensure even mixing and how gluten development is the nemesis of tender cookies. The finished oat cookie batter was wetter and looser than typical cookie dough.
On the left was the unbaked oat cookie dough. On the right was the slab of baked oat cookie. This versatile dough can be made into bar cookie with mix-ins such as chocolate, nuts, dried fruit, or whatever you can think of.
You can crumble the oat cookie by hand or in a food processor. A bit of brown sugar and salt are necessary to lift the flavour. Use some elbow grease to work in melted butter until the crumb hold together easily.
To press the crumb crust into the 10" pie plate, she started with the sides and used both hands to make a neat edge. Then she pressed with her palm in a circular motion to compress the bottom. Pay special attention to where the bottom of the pan meets the sloped side. Chef Tosi said she always looks for that clean angle when she buys pies. She said it's the small details that show how much the baker takes his/her work seriously.
I was surprised how careful they stirred the filling to ensure it didn't aerate. Absolutely zero trace of egg whites was allowed in the filling. Those are secrets to the dense gooey texture.
At last the filling went into the prepared crust. It first baked at 350F until the top was browned. Then it needed to continue at 325F at 5 minute intervals until only the middle third bulls eye was jiggly. An overnight rest in the freezer further enhanced the dense sticky filling.
Of course I got my copy of Milk Bar signed by Chef Tosi. See that she wrote “To My Namesake!”? Apparently she was originally going to be named Candy too! I bought a bottle of freeze dried corn powder from Milk Bar so I could make my own crack pies at home.
The crack pie is an unapologetically sweet treat with super gooey and dense filling that appeals to those with a big sweet tooth. Its name suggests an addictive taste that people cannot stop at just one slice. Judging by its popularity, I believe there are plenty of people who love the crack pie too. When I mentioned to my friends about taking the crack pie demo, the reaction was unexpectedly negative. Many commented it being too sweet and rich. I think it succeeds on being what it is, a larger than life interpretation of gooey fudgy sweet pie. My tiny sliver was enough to satisfy my sweets cravings for days.
The book’s recipe makes two pies and I did exactly that. One in the original flavour and one loaded with fresh raspberries. It is a simple pie to make but the baking proves to be tricky. For those who are inexperienced with baking, it is crucial to look for visual cues to determine when the pies are done. The original crack pie was done much sooner in my oven compared to the raspberry version since the fruit introduced extra moisture in the filing. I must say I much prefer the raspberry variation. The tartness from raspberry provides some much needed contrast from the sugary filling.
For those who are interested, Milk Bar Toronto will host another baking class later this year for cakes. I, for one, will keep my eyes out and sign up again!