Christina Tosi is my baking hero. She’s like the benevolent mad scientist of the baking world, concocting all sorts of out-of-this-world recipes. More often than not, they involve nefarious, multi-step processes. My first attempt to make anything Momofuku was a funfetti birthday cake for Jason’s birthday – except, because I’m crazy, I built it twice as tall.
I received the Momofuku Milk Bar cookbook for Christmas this year, so it’s only logical that I would take on another recipe, this time for my birthday. My choice? The carrot cake, of course!
This cake is perfect; I love complex desserts and view it as a fun challenge. That being said, while it has a lot of steps, it’s surprisingly easy to assemble once all is said and done. Here’s what goes into it:
- First, you make milk crumbs, a mixture of milk powder, corn starch, sugar, butter, and salt that gets baked, then enrobed in white chocolate. The end result is a crunchy, slightly salty, and very milky crumb that tastes like, well, milk – but better. It’s highly addictive and undeniably delicious.
- Then you make liquid cheesecake, which is essentially an underbaked, spreadable/pipeable cheesecake.
- Then, of course, there’s the totally addictive graham crust – in addition to your usual melted butter and graham cracker, it gets some milk powder (you can probably tell by now that Tosi likes her milk powder, and I agree. It’s like crack for bakers. I put it in everything now, including my morning smoothies. It makes practically everything better.)
- This, in turn, gets turned into graham cracker frosting (you liquify the graham crust you made in the blender with milk and salt, then incorporate it into a fluffy, smooth buttercream.) The remaining crust got eaten for
dinnerdessert, because that’s how I roll.
- The last step of the prep process is actually making the carrot cake. It’s a pretty typical carrot cake, except it goes through an emulsifying process with grapeseed oil and lots of paddling with the electric mixer.
Once you’ve got all your components prepared (which I did over the course of two nights), it all gets assembled inside a metal cake ring into which you tuck a couple strips of clear acetate (plastic film). The plastic lets you build the cake up beyond the original height of the cake ring, to be about 6-8″ tall.
First comes the cake. Then it gets a healthy bath of milk. Then half of the liquid cheesecake. Press some of those milk crumbs in there. Next, graham frosting. Tuck in another couple strips of acetate to give yourself a slightly taller mold. Then, another layer of cake. Repeat with the milk, cheesecake, crumbs, and frosting. One last layer of cake, then you top it with more graham frosting and milk crumbs.
The result, once the cake is frozen and then released from the ring and the acetate, is a beautiful, perfect cylinder with exposed layers. It’s like art, but edible. And, oh boy, will it be delicious. I’m saving it for tomorrow when I get together with friends, but I’ve tasted all the components, from the graham crust to the liquid cheesecake. This cake is totally bonkers, and I love it.
If you’re planning on taking on the Momofuku Milk Bar Carrot Cake, I have a couple tips for you:
- Double the frosting recipe: The cake recipe calls for half of the graham crust, but I ended up using most of it and doubling the frosting recipe. I read elsewhere that folks who made this cake barely had enough frosting for all three layers. Even with the doubled recipe, I only had a little frosting left. I would recommend doubling it just to be on the safe side; you’re already making frosting, and it’s better to have too much than to have to make two batches, which is a real drag.
- Use the full milk crumb recipe: The cake recipe calls for half of the milk crumbs. Again, I ended up using all of them, because I wanted each layer – but especially the top – to have plenty of crumbs.
- Cut the acetate into smaller strips: The recipe tells you that you need a couple strips of acetate that are 20″ long. These are hard to find. Instead, I buy 8.5″ x 11″ sheets of acetate from Amazon. I cut each sheet in half lengthwise, creating four strips that are each about 4.25″ wide by 11″ long. Two strips get tucked into the bottom of the cake ring before you start, and then two more strips get tucked into the cake ring after the first layer of cake/cheesecake/frosting is built up. This has worked perfectly for me now with both the birthday cake and the carrot cake, so don’t fret if you can’t find acetate in the dimensions she describes.
- Pipe the frosting: Lastly, she instructs you to spread the graham frosting over the milk crumbs with a spatula or spoon. Uh… good luck, but it’s really hard to spread frosting over something dry. It tries to tear the crumbs up from the layer of liquid cheesecake, even if you pressed them in there pretty good.
Instead, I used a large round frosting tip (Wilton 1A or 2A) and piped each layer of graham frosting in a swirl, starting in the center and moving outward. This was easier not only from a spreadability perspective, but things can get a little cramped when you’re trying to basically reach down into tall, narrow plastic tube and spread frosting on your cake. The piping bag extends your reach by quite a bit and will make you less crazy. Don’t have frosting tips? Don’t worry – you can also use a piping bag without a tip, or a plastic bag with a hole cut in it.
Once you’ve piped your frosting into every nook and cranny, you can smooth it with a spatula (if you’re really fastidious). Or, you can just leave it as a swirl. No one will be able to tell when you smoosh that next layer of cake down in there.
It may look and sound like a lot of work, but it’s really not that bad. Depending on your level of experience, cake decorating can be pretty intimidating. The great thing about this cake is that it has a beautiful, perfect result with minimal cake decoration skills necessary. The cake ring and the sheets of acetate basically do the work for you, creating a uniform-looking result that takes a lot less time to build up than it takes to decorate a full cake with frosting. Pop that baby in the freezer, unmold it the next day, and bam! Amazing cake.
As long as you’re game to either spend a little time a few evenings in a row (or a few hours on a weekend) throwing together all the respective parts, you’ll be golden. Lastly, here are some resources I found helpful:
- Hummingbird High has the best step-by-step instructions I’ve found for building up the cake. There aren’t photos of the process in the Milk Bar cookbook, so this is really helpful. Note, however, that she puts two large sheets of acetate in at once and then has to reach down a really long plastic tube to assemble. I have had better luck with cutting the sheets in half and working with a smaller tube to start (it’ll only stick out over the top of the cake ring by about an inch or so), then tucking some more half-strips of acetate in after the first layer of cake is in there.
- It can be hard to find some of the ingredients in stores, plus I’m lazy and like to have things get delivered to my house. I got my cake ring, white chocolate, full fat milk powder (this stuff is delicious by the way, holy crap), grapeseed oil, and acetate all on Amazon.
P.S. Want the recipe? I didn’t feel like reproducing it here (it’s a lot of steps!), but others have gone to the trouble if you’re curious.