Momofuku Milk Bar Exam no. 16 {chocolate chip layer cake}

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This dessert is a long overdue post. A really fantastic, fun recipe that is apparently Christina Tosi's favorite cake in the Milk Bar cookbook. Hence, you can imagine how nervous I was to make it! Like a samurai assistant forging a sword for his master (except this sword is edible). Yet it turned out to be as great as I could have imagined. 

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As the name entails, the base of this recipe is a chocolate chip cake yet of course as with any Milk Bar recipe there's always a twist. This one includes a passion fruit curd, chocolate crumbs, and coffee frosting. It all comes together to create an incredibly unique cake. One that I am glad to have checked off my Milk Bar Exam list!

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To me, the most exotic part of this cake was the passion fruit curd. Which was easier to say than make, primarily due to the passion fruit purée. So the search for passion fruit purée turned into a field trip to Harlem where I finally found it at the third Latin grocery store. Passion fruit purée (or technically pulp) success! If you can find it at a grocery store, stock up because purchasing it on Amazon can get pre-tty pricey.

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I've gotten so used to making these Momofuku Milk Bar cakes so I don't find the assembly as daunting as I used to. But it still helps to be organized and do as much prep ahead of time as possible. Pretty much everything besides the coffee frosting can be made the day before. Here's a more step-by-step breakdown of the whole process:

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The final product is quite a show piece! Truly something to make for a birthday or because it's the Monday after Thanksgiving and you need a little Cyber Monday oomph. The flavor combination seems bizarre at first, even I was apprehensive. But I dare you to try this cake out and not like it. I found that it was even better a couple days afterwards, when all the components of the cake really get to meld together into one delicious treat!

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chocolate chip layer cake makes 1 (6-inch) layer cake; 5 to 6 inches tall; serves 6 to 8

  • 1 recipe Chocolate Chip Cake
  • ⅓ cup (60g) passion fruit puree
  • 1 recipe Passion Fruit Curd
  • ½ recipe Chocolate Crumb
  • 1 recipe Coffee Frosting
  • ¼ cup (40g) mini chocolate chips

special equipment

(1) Put a piece of parchment or a Silpat on the counter. Invert the cake onto it and peel off the parchment or Silpat from the bottom of the cake. Use the cake ring to stamp out 2 circles from the cake. These are your top 2 cake layers. The remaining cake “scrap” will come together to make the bottom layer of the cake. - layer 1, the bottom - (2) Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of a sheet pan lined with clean parchment or a Silpat. Use 1 strip of acetate to line the inside of the cake ring. (3) Put the cake scraps inside the ring and use the back of your hand to temp the scraps together into a flat even layer. (4) Dunk a pastry brush in the passion fruit puree and give the layer of cake a good, healthy bath of half of the puree. (5) Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the passion fruit curd in an even layer over the cake. (6) Sprinkle half of the chocolate crumbs evenly over the passion fruit curd. Use the back of your hand to anchor them in place. (7) Use the back of a spoon to spread one-third of the coffee frosting as evenly as possible over the chocolate crumbs. - layer 2, the middle - (8) With your index finger, gently tuck the second strip of acetate between the cake ring and the top ¼ inch of the first strip of acetate, so that you have a clear ring of acetate 5 to 6 inches tall—high enough to support the height of the finished cake. Set a cake round on top of the frosting, and repeat the process for layer 1 (if 1 of your 2 cake rounds is jankier than the other, use it here in the middle and save the prettier one for the top). - layer 3, the top - (9) Nestle the remaining cake round into the frosting. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining frosting. Give it volume and swirls, or do as we do and opt for a perfectly flat top. Garnish the frosting with the mini chocolate chips. (10) Transfer the sheet pan to the freeze and freeze for a minimum of 12 hours to set the cake and filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. (11) At least 3 hours before you are ready to serve the cake, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer and, using your fingers and thumbs, pop the cake out of the cake ring. Gently peel off the acetate, and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand. Let it defrost in the fridge for a minimum of 3 hours (wrapped well in plastic, it can be refrigerated for up to 5 days). (12) Slice the cake into wedges and serve. .

Chocolate Chip Cake makes 1 quarter sheet pan cake

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick, 115g) butter, at room temperature
  • 1¼ cups (250g) granulated sugar
  • ¼ cup (60g) light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3 eggs
  • ½ cup (110g) buttermilk
  • ½ cup (75g) grapeseed oil
  • 1 tablespoon (12g) vanilla extract
  • 1½ cups (185g) cake flour
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) kosher salt
  • Pam or other nonstick cooking spray (optional)
  • ¾ cup (150g) mini chocolate chips 

(1) Heat the oven to 350°F. (2) Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, add the eggs, and mix on medium-high again for 2 to 3 minutes. Scrape down the sides of the bowl once more. (3) On low speed, stream in the buttermilk, oil, and vanilla. Increase the mixer speed to medium-high and paddle for 4 to 6 minutes, until the mixture is practically white, twice the size of your original fluffy butter-and-sugar mixture, and completely homogenous. Don’t rush the process. You’re basically forcing too much liquid into an already fatty mixture that doesn’t want to make room for the liquid. Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides of the bowl. (4) On very low speed, add the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix for 45 to 60 seconds, just until your batter comes together and any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. Scrape down the sides of the bowl. If you see any lumps of cake flour in there while you’re scraping, mix for another 45 seconds. (5) Pam-spray a quarter sheet pan and line it with parchment, or just line the pan with a Silpat. Using a spatula, spread the cake batter in an even layer in the pan. Give the bottom of your sheet pan a tamp on the counter tip to even out the layer. Sprinkles the chocolate chips evenly over the cake batter. (6) Bake the cake for 30 to 35 minutes. The cake will rise and puff, doubling in size, but will remain slightly buttery and dense. At 30 minutes, gently poke the edges of the cake with your finger: the cake should bounce back slightly and the center should no longer be jiggly. Leave the cake in the oven for an extra 3 to 5 minutes if it doesn’t pass these tests. (7) Take the cake out of the oven and cool on a wire rack or, in a pinch, in the fridge or freezer (don’t worry, it’s not cheating). The cooled cake can be stored in the fridge, wrapped in plastic wrap, for up to 5 days.  

Passion Fruit Curd makes about 360g (1½ cups)

  • ½ cup (100g) passion fruit puree
  • ⅓ cup (65g) sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 gelatin sheet [used ½ teaspoon powdered gelatin]
  • 12 tablespoons (1½ sticks, 170g) butter, very cold
  • ½ teaspoon (2g) kosher salt

(1) Put the passion fruit puree and sugar in a blender and blend until the sugar granules have dissolved. Add the eggs and blend on low until you have a bright-orange-yellow mixture. Transfer the contents of the blender to a medium pot or saucepan. Clean the blender canister. (2) Bloom the gelatin. (3) Heat the passion fruit mixture over low heat, whisking regularly. As it heats up, it will begin to thicken; keep a close eye on it. Once it boils, remove it from the stove and transfer it to the blender. Add the bloomed gelatin, butter, and salt and blend until the mixture is thick, shiny, and super-smooth. (4) Transfer the mixture to a heatproof container, and put in the fridge until the curd has cooled completely, at least 30 minutes. The curd can be refrigerated for up to 1 week; do not freeze.  

Chocolate Crumb makes about 350g (2½ cups)

  • ⅔ cup (105g) flour
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) cornstarch
  • ½ cup (100g) sugar
  • ⅔ cup (65g) cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona
  • 6 tablespoons (85g) butter, melted 

(1) Heat the oven to 300°F. (2) Combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle on low speed until mixed. (3) Add the butter and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters. (4) Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should still be slightly moist to the touch at that point; they will dry and harden as they cool. (5) Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or eating. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.  

Coffee Frosting makes about 200g (1 cup)

  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick, 115g) butter, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup (40g) confectioners’ sugar
  • ¼ cup (55g) milk
  • ¾ teaspoon (1.5g) instant coffee powder
  • ¼ teaspoon (1g) kosher salt

(1) Combine the butter and confectioners’ sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy and pale yellow. (2) Meanwhile, make a quick coffee milk: whisk together the milk, instant coffee, and salt in a small bowl. (3) Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. On low speed, gradually stream in the coffee milk. You are essentially forcing liquid into fat, so be patient. The butter mixture will clump up and separate upon contact with the coffee milk. Do not stream more coffee milk into the butter mixture until the previous addition is fully incorporated; keep the mixer on and remain patient. The result will be a wildly fluffy coffee frosting, pale brown and super-shiny. Use immediately.

momofuku milk bar exam no. 15 {candy bar pie}

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In the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook, Christina Tosi describes this pie as being "a little bit of a bitch to make." So of course, I had to try it!

And I have to say, she was not lying. This is certainly the most difficult recipe I've made from this cookbook, if not ever. There are a lot of moving parts and everything has to be well orchestrated before you begin. So please please please read the directions carefully and then reread them. Picture them in your mind. Carve them into your soul. Because trust me, this pie may be a bit of a bitch to make but it is so unbelievably worth it.

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If this pie was a story, it'd be an epic saga so before I go any further you should go grab a drink and perhaps even a snack... Ok, ready? Alright well, I suppose as Julie Andrews would say, let's start from the very beginning. In this case, the beginning is a chocolate crust. Did you know that not all cocoa powders are created equal? In general, cocoa powders fall under two categories: Dutch-process cocoa powder, a much darker powder which has undergone an acid-neutralization process and natural cocoa powder, in which the cacao beans are simply roasted and pulverized. Alright, I'm just spouting whatever David Lebovitz says here. Read more about it from him, it's actually really helpful!

Most brands sold in American grocery stores (Hershey's, Nestlé) are natural cocoa powder, which is what I grew up on and still use for a majority of my recipes. But for my birthday, my friend Laura got me a small cannister of the Dutch-process stuff and holy cow! what a difference it makes.

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The Dutch-process cocoa powder gives you that really deep chocolate-y taste and almost black color (like an Oreo crust) but honestly you can use the natural kind if you're in a pinch. I "unknowingly" used natural cocoa powder to make this banana cream pie a while back and it still turned out delicious (and by "unknowingly" I mean "I-knew-the-recipe-recommended-Valrhona-cocoa-but-I'm-in-my-midtwenties-and-poor"). Who knew cocoa powder could be so amazingly complex.

The next layer in this crazy pie is the 'salty caramel'. I am completely, wholly pro-salted caramel. But I found the instructions in this recipe to be very vague. Most of the caramels I've made in the past ask for you to cook a sugar syrup to a very specific temperature but this one simply tells you to "cook and stir, cook and stir, until the caramel is a deep, dark amber, 3 to 5 minutes." Deep, dark amber... Tosiiiii, what does that mean??

So I paused the button on the salty caramel and decided to make something that looked a little simpler, the peanut brittle.

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This recipe, however, also asks you to make a caramel by cooking sugar to a deep, dark amber. A bit frazzled, I forged ahead and cooked the sugar to what I assumed is a deep, dark amber color. After it cooled, I was quite happy with the results.

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It looks deep and dark and ambery, right? I snapped a piece off the brittle to try it for myself and nope, burnt. Deep, dark burnt. Totally, completely burnt burnt burnt. It was beyond disgusting.

But I'm no brittle quitter. So take two of my deep, dark amber battle. The second time I was very cautious and heated the sugar at a slightly lower heat so that I could control it more. I'm still not sure what deep,dark amber is supposed to look like but this was the result of my successful, non-burnt tasting peanut brittle.

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Ahhhh, much better. And the good thing is that once you master the brittle, the caramel is much easier to make. This is just another lesson about the benefits of sampling your recipe as you go.

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Once I got through the deep, dark amber hurdle, I got to what had been scaring me the most about this recipe-- the nougat. Unlike the caramel and brittle, however, this DOES include specific temperatures for the sugar syrups which I find very helpful. That doesn't mean it's easy though (I'm really convincing you to make this recipe, aren't I?). To be honest, as long as you put your multi-tasking hat on you can do it. I believe in you. You can nougat.

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Up until this point, if you've gotten through the gauntlet of candy bar pie without burning yourself with hot sugar, consider it a victory! Because after the nougat, this pie is a breeze to put together. No really, just drizzle and brush on the chocolate glaze and slap on some pretzels-- easy! Cutting into this pie is a whole other story but who cares. You've looked at nougat in the eye and lived to tell the tale. Just bask in the ooey, gooey glory of your candy bar pie and enjoy!

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candy bar pie
from Momofuku Milk Bar
makes 1 (10-inch) pie; serves 8

  • 1 recipe Salty Caramel, melted
  • 1 recipe Chocolate Crust, refrigerated
  • 8 mini pretzels
  • 1 recipe Peanut Butter Nougat
  • 1½ ounces (45g) 55% chocolate
  • 1½ ounces (45g) white chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons (20g) grapeseed oil

(1) Pour the salty caramel into the crust. Return it to the fridge to set for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
(2) Heat the oven to 300°F.
(3) Spread the pretzels out on a sheet pan and toast for 20 minutes, or until they have slightly darkened in color and the kitchen smells pretzely. Set aside to cool.
(4) Fetch the pie from the fridge and cover the face of the hardened caramel with the nougat. Use the palms of your hands to press down and smooth the nougat into an even layer. Return the pie to the fridge and let the nougat firm up for 1 hour.
(5) Make a chocolate glaze by combining the chocolates and the oil in a microwave-safe bowl and gently melting them on medium in 30-second increments, stirring between blasts. Once the chocolate is melted, whisk the mixture until smooth and shiny. Use the glaze the same day, or store in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 3 weeks.
(6) Finish that pie: Remove it from the refrigerator and, using a pastry brush, paint a thin layer of the chocolate glaze over the nougat, covering it completely. (If the glaze has firmed up, gently warm it so it is easy to paint on the pie.) Arrange the pretzels evenly around the edges of the pie. Use the pastry brush to paint the remaining chocolate glaze in a thin layer over the pretzels, sealing their freshness and flavor.
(7) Put the pie in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to set the chocolate. Wrapped in plastic, the pie will keep fresh in the fridge for 3 weeks or in the freezer for up to 2 months; defrost before serving.
(8) Cut the pie into 8 slices, using the pretzels as your guide: each slice should have a whole pretzel on it.

Salty Caramel
makes about 320g (1½ cups)

  • ½ cup (105g) heavy cream
  • 2 tablespoons (25g) butter
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) kosher salt
  • ⅔ cup (130g) sugar
  • ¼ cup (100g) glucose
  • 1 gelatin sheet [used ½ teaspoon powdered gelatin]
  • ½ cup (105g) heavy cream

(1) Put 105g (½ cup) heavy cream, butter, vanilla, and salt in a medium bowl and set aside.
(2) Make a caramel: Heat the sugar and glucose in a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, use a heatproof spatula to move it constantly around the pan—you want it all to melt and caramelize evenly. Cook and stir, cook and stir, until the caramel is a deep, dark amber, 3 to 5 minutes.
(3) Meanwhile, bloom the gelatin.
(4) Once the caramel has reached the target color, remove the saucepan from the heat. Very slowly and very carefully pour the remaining 105g (½ cup) heavy cream into the caramel. The caramel will bubble up and steam; stand away until the steam dissipates. Whisk the mixture together. If it is all lumpy, or there are any clumps of hardened caramel floating around the cream, put the saucepan back over medium heat and heat the mixture, whisking constantly, until all of the caramel has dissolved and the mixture is smooth; remove the pan from the heat.
(5) Whisk the bloomed gelatin into the caramel. Once all of the gelatin has dissolved, pour the caramel through a fine-mesh sieve into the bowl with the butter. Let the mixture sit, undisturbed, for 2 minutes, then begin whisking. Whisk slowly at first to prevent the hot cream from splashing up and burning you, then continue whisking until the mixture is completely homogenous.
(6) Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 3 weeks. When ready to use, simply melt it in the microwave in 30-second increments, stirring between blasts until it is completely liquid.

Chocolate Crust
makes 1 (10-inch) pie crust

  • ¾ recipe (260g, 1¾ cups) Chocolate Crumb
  • 2 teaspoons (8g) sugar
  • ⅛ teaspoon (0.5g) kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon (14g) butter, melted, or as needed

(1) Pulse the chocolate crumbs in a food processor until they are sandy and no sizeable clusters remain.
(2) Transfer the sand to a bowl and, with your hands, toss with the sugar and salt. Add the melted butter and knead it into the sand until it is moist enough to knead into a ball. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 14g (1 tablespoon) butter and knead it in.
(3) Transfer the mixture to a 10-inch pie tin. With your fingers and the palms of your hands, press the chocolate crust firmly into the tin, making sure the bottom and sides of the pie tin are evenly covered. Wrapped in plastic wrap, the crust can be stored at room temp for up to 5 days or in the fridge for 2 weeks.

Chocolate Crumb
makes about 350g (2½ cups)

  • ⅔ cup (105g) flour
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) cornstarch
  • ½ cup (100g) sugar
  • ⅔ cup (65g) cocoa powder, preferably Valrhona (Dutch-process)
  • 1 teaspoon (4g) kosher salt
  • 6 tablespoons (85g) butter, melted

(1) Heat the oven to 300°F.
(2) Combine the flour, cornstarch, sugar, cocoa powder, and salt n the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and paddle on low speed until mixed.
(3) Add the butter and paddle on low speed until the mixture starts to come together in small clusters.
(4) Spread the clusters on a parchment- or Silpat-lined sheet pan. Bake for 20 minutes, breaking them up occasionally. The crumbs should still be slightly moist to the touch at that point; they will dry and harden as they cool.
(5) Let the crumbs cool completely before using in a recipe or eating. Stored in an airtight container, they will keep fresh for 1 week at room temperature or 1 month in the fridge or freezer.

Peanut Butter Nougat
makes about 250g (1 cup), or enough for 1 candy bar pie or pb&j pie

  • 2 tablespoons (25g) sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons (20g) water
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 1½ tablespoons water
  • 1 egg white
  • ¼ cup (65g) Skippy peanut butter
  • ½ recipe Peanut Brittle
  • ½ teaspoon (2g) kosher salt

(1) Put the first measures of sugar and water in a tiny saucepan and gently slush the sugar around in the water until it feels like wet sand. Do the same thing with the second measure of sugar and water in another tiny saucepan.
(2) Place both saucepans on the stove and begin heating them up: turn the heat up the medium under the first sugar measurement and keep the heat low under the second measurement. Heat the first sugar up to 115°C (239°F), keeping track of the temperature with an instant-read or candy thermometer.
(3) While the sugar is heating up, put the egg white in the bowl of a stand mixer and, with the whisk attachment, begin whipping it to medium-soft peaks. If the white reaches medium-soft peaks before the first sugar hits 115°C (239°F), slow your mixer way down under the sugar and turn the speed way up on the mixer. Ideally, the white will reach medium-soft peaks at exactly the same time as the first sugar measurement hits its mark. If you can achieve this on your first try, then we have a job waiting for you in our kitchen.
(4) Once the first sugar measurement reaches 115°C (239°F), remove it from the heat and very carefully pour it into the whipping egg white, being careful to avoid the whisk: turn the mixer down to a very low speed before you do this, unless you want some interesting burn marks on your face. Once all of the sugar is successfully added to the egg white, turn the mixer speed back up and turn the heat way up under the second sugar measurement. Once this sugar reaches 120°C (248°F), remove it from the heat and pour it into the whipping egg white, taking the same precautions as with the first sugar measurement. Let the egg white whip until cool.
(5) While the white is whipping, mix the peanut butter, peanut brittle, and salt in a large bowl until well blended.
(6) Once the white has cooled to room temperature, turn the mixer off, remove this bowl, and, using a spatula, fold the white into the peanut butter mixture. Use immediately in the candy bar pie assembly. Once it cools, the nougat is only acceptable as a ridiculously delicious snack, sure to steal any peanut butter lover’s heart.

Peanut Brittle
makes about 250g (1¾ cups)

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup peanuts, skinned (blanched), unroasted and unsalted

(1) Line a quarter sheet pan with a Silpat (parchment will not work here).
(2) Make a dry caramel: Heat the sugar in a small heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat. As soon as the sugar starts to melt, use a heatproof spatula to move it constantly around the pan—you want it all to melt and caramelize evenly. Cook and stir, until the caramel is a deep, dark amber, 3 to 5 minutes.
(3) Once the caramel has reached the target color, remove the pan from the heat and, with the heatproof spatula, stir in the nuts. Make sure the nuts are coated in caramel, then dump the contents of the pan out onto the prepared sheet pan. Spread out as thin and evenly as possible. The caramel will set into a hard-to-move-around brittle mass in less than a minute, so work quickly. Let the brittle cool completely.
(4) In a zip-top bag break the brittle up into pieces as small as possible with a meat pounder or a heavy rolling pin—we grind our brittle down in the food processor to the size of short-grain rice (you don’t want anyone to chip a tooth on it!). Eat or cook with it at will. Store your brittle in an airtight container, and try to use it up within a month.