A cookie is a cookie, right? Wrong. Christina Tosi shares her secrets and cookie theory to help you up the ante with your biscuit baking.
The founder of New York City's Momofuku Milk Bar and creator of cult baked goods such as "Crack Pie" and "Compost Cookies" is in Sydney for the Night Noodle Markets, popping up at The Singleton Whisky & Sugar Bar and serving whisky-spiked cookies.
Tosi's fondness for raw cookie dough saw her banished from the kitchen by her grandmother as a young "baker's assistant".
"I had to sort of fend for myself at the age of seven or eight and learn how to mix them and bake them all on my own. In the best survival of the fittest story possible," Tosi says.
While she's known for her signature chocolate, potato chip and pretzel-packed Compost Cookie, Tosi's favourite cookie is simply a chocolate chip cookie, straight out of the oven. "It's like a classic movie, or a classic music album or a classic outfit. For some reason, nothing ever beats that," Tosi says.
Ten tips for top-notch biscuits
Creaming together butter and sugar is the foundation of cookie-making. Momofuku Milk Bar takes this to the extreme, with its "gravity defying" 10-minute creaming process. Over to Tosi to explain:
"The cookies taste so good is because they have the perfect percentage of unsalted butter and granulated sugar and brown sugar and vanilla extract and eggs combined together.
"To get all of those ingredients to want to like each other, you have to defy gravity, you have to force those ingredients together harder and faster then you ever thought you needed to. It requires 10 minutes on high, paddling with a stand mixer.
"If you short-change that creaming process by a few minutes, your cookies will still come out pretty darn delicious, but you might have the butter bleed out of the cookie a little bit or the cookies might be misshapen."
Just beat it: No stand mixer? No worries. Tosi says the cookies will turn out perfectly fine if you use a hand-held electric beaters.
Fudgy centre secret
Tosi uses glucose to create "that perfect little bullseye centre of fudginess" in the cookie. Rather than adding sweetness, Tosi says the syrup adds texture and moisture without pushing the cookie into muffin or bread territory (more on that later).
Raise the standards
Tosi's cookies include two raising agents: baking powder and baking soda (bicarb soda). Why the double act? "The thing most people don't realise is that both baking powder and baking soda actually add flavour to the cookie, they add a depth that's almost like adding a squeeze of lemon juice over your salad, or a squeeze of lemon juice when you are making apple pie. It adds an edge to the flavour as well as affecting texture, giving it rise, and helping with crumb structure," Tosi says.
Measure to the gram
Tosi describes the Milk Bar philosophy as: "the spirit of a home cook meets a professional pastry chef". So put away the measuring cups and use the scales instead. "For a cookie to be perfect you really need those measurements [in grams]."
Tosi portions her cookie dough using a standard ice-cream scoop. "If you're going to all that trouble to gather the ingredients, and mix them and measure them, you might as well come out looking like a pro."
Chill the dough
Tosi pops the cookie dough spheres in the fridge to cool off before baking. "If you bake them right away, the butter is so warm from that 10-minute creaming process, it will melt right out. But if you let it chill, you'll give the outer edges of the cookie that moment or two to start to bake and get crispy and crackle to form that shell that makes such a delicious cookie, before the centre starts to heat up and melt down."
The test cookie
Tosi bakes one cookie sphere on its own to test and control its spread.
"If I want it to spread a little bit, I will flatten down that [dough] round with the palm of my hand ever so slightly. If they're not spreading at all I'll push it down a little bit more. If they're spreading perfectly I won't push them down one bit."
"It's like baking insurance. And then you have a cookie to eat, while all the rest of them bake."
Give them room to spread
A typical Milk Bar cookie is no more than 10 centimetres in diameter. Tosi arranges the dough balls five to eight centimetres apart. "That's enough to bake a dozen cookies in an oven on two baking trays without driving yourself crazy."
Use bread flour for strength
After forcing all that butter and sugar together in the creaming process, Tosi says the mixture requires a strong flour to "hold onto all that fat and sugar without having it melt out and flatten out".
Her only bread flour caveat: "Make sure when you're mixing in the flour that you are very careful to only mix it just as much as you need to, otherwise, you're going to start turning your cookie dough into bread dough."
Tosi's cookie-eating options
1. Warm out of the oven – her favourite.
2. Zapped in the microwave for 5-10 seconds if you need that "freshly baked cookie feeling", particularly late at night.
3. A day or two old: Tosi dunks them in her trademark Cereal Milk.
4. On day three or four: Crumble the cookies "like they're granola" and serve with an unsweetened yoghurt parfait and jam. Or crush the cookies into a milkshake.
The Singleton Whisky & Sugar Bar features at Sydney's Night Noodle Markets from October 8 to 25. Good Food Month, presented by Citi, runs October 1-31, sydney.goodfoodmonth.com