So. I did a thing. Yep, it was impulsive and completely not me. I mean, I’ve taken online courses in the past, so I wasn’t foreign to the concept of virtual learning, but this was totally different. I decided to take an online baking class. Go ahead, I’ll wait. My mother laughed too. Done yet? Pee yourself? K –- so here’s what happened…
I was scrolling on social media, seeking inspiration, because to be completely transparent, I have had writer’s block(head) for quite some time now, and what swiped by my wandering eye was truly heavenly. Milk Bar’s own Christina Tosi in collaboration with Monthly.com, created a 30-day baking course. Ohh…I like to bake…I like to eat cake…click, add to cart, sold and scheduled. DONE and DONE!
As I tried to casually work this into conversation with my mother (she caught me, “Wait, you did WHAT?”), I started to realize that perhaps, well…maybe I was a wee bit impulsive. Of course, I justified myself. “I will blog about it. It will be awesome! I will bake and bake and bake, and then write and write and write!” And bake I did.
Let me back this thing up and ‘splain some more. The Milk Bar is a well-known New York sweet shop in the East Village. Christina is an established pastry chef who has been featured on Netflix’s docuseries, Chef’s Table, and she creates wacky yet tasty works of dolce love out of ingredients (many of which you would not consider) you have in your pantry.
Now back to my mom. “What in the world were you thinking? <insert cackling here> Are you really going to bake for 30 days?” Hmmph. So now it has become a challenge, and I do not intend to lose. “Yes, dammit, I am going to bake for 30 days –- no matter what it takes!” Let me just come right out and say, it takes A LOT!
This is not your average Home Economics cooking course. Ms. Tosi is bubbly, passionate, and well-versed in the kitchen Baking Badass.
For the thirty days, I studied the daily videos, which guided as we weaved stories, nostalgia, memories, and dreams into a sweet desirable treat. The lessons were divided into three sections: cookies, pies, and cakes. Each section started with a demonstration (by Christina) of building the Milk Bar version of a dish. The second step walked students through replicating the dish at home. Note: The Baking Badass is very attached to the kitchen scale and swears by its accuracy. I thought I could outsmart the professor and tried to go without it for the first lesson. Amazon delivered my scale by day 3. Lesson learned.
Once the pastry pupils produce a carbon copy of the divine Milk Bar recipe, they then craft their own creative recipe, from scratch. Using a prototype method, Christina asks students to think of a place, a time, a memory that can be recalled through food. Students pull together flavors from their pantry, local grocery aisles, and in some cases, door-to-door cookie sales (don’t judge –- I now rock the mint cookie…no you can’t have the recipe ?). Once the pasty roadmap is drafted, the prototyping begins.
Using small batch methods, eager bakers pull together two or three different base doughs (or crusts) and pair them with creative mixes and fillings to find the right combination for the final product. Now, what I learned (at the ripe age of 52) is that there is a plethora of flours (who knew?) that can be used to alter the flavor. I’ve found that I’m partial to oat flour and found that mixing it with ground flaxseed creates a kickass pie.
What I’ve come to understand is that baking is part science and a great deal of imaginative creativity. If you screw it up, so what, just start again.
After prototyping, students write out their recipes and then upload their documented genius and photos of their final section assignments. What did I do? Well, proudly, I can say that I created quite the delectable spread of sugary blissery. (Yes, that’s a word, just made it up. I’m sure I’ll see it on a T-shirt. You’re welcome.)
Back to the baked goods.
Blueberry chocolate granola breakfast cookie -– that’s a mouthful, yes, but definitely oh-so-yummy too! Great warm or cold, served with milk or coffee, these sweet cakes had a touch of almond oil, marshmallows, and oat flour to give them that nutty fullness, which coupled nicely with the (fresh and whole) blueberries.
Boston’s Not-a-Cake Cheesecake Pie: ginger snap cookie crust filled with cream cheese, buttermilk, and peanut butter, topped with a heavy cream whip flavored with melted chocolate goodness.
Last but not least, the Cinnamon Roll Butter Cream Layer Cake: Cinnamon spice cake with chocolate chips, almond butter, and candy pearls, covered with butter cream frosting and ginger snap crumbles (ginger snaps big win at my house!).
My taste tester (who is not a sweets-eating guy) loved each of my creations. Now, to be fair, the first batch of cookies tasted far better than they looked, so I was grateful that he was willing to close his eyes to eat them! He even suggested that the cinnamon cake would make a great holiday addition and would be great warmed up. Good suggestion indeed.
While I must admit, I spent more time and money at the grocery store than I had intended, the course was worth every penny and every minute. It was calming. It was stressless. It was creativity in motion, and mostly, it was just plain enjoyable.
Cooking with Christina Tosi was inspirational and educational. My classmates were motivated, helpful, and collaborative. Everyone was so fun.
In addition to being a Baking Badass, Christina, and her Milk Bar team are well versed in charity and contribute to a number of charitable organizations and outreach programs. How sweet is that? She certainly gave me something: a new sense of creative energy and renewed desire to write, write, write.
Learn more about Milk Bar, its history, generous nature, and products you can order from your couch at the website: www.milkbarstore.com and while you’re there, sign up for the Monthly.com course wait list…you won’t regret it. I’ll be waiting with a fork in one hand and a glass of milk in the other.