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Getting creative with Milk Bar recipes
I loved making the Momofuku Milk Bar birthday cake and the birthday cake truffles so much, I had to try my hand at another Milk Bar recipe, but this time I decided to get a little creative. When I started playing around with this recipe, first thing I tackled was the curd, and with this curd came a valuable life lesson (because when is anything straightforward and easy in my life?).
I followed the recipe for the passion fruit curd from the Milk Bar book (available on Amazon), swapping in blackberry purée for the passion fruit. The first results were, shall we say... not so tasty.
First thing I noticed was that it was way too salty. Tosi's recipes are often salt-heavy, but usually that doesn't bother me. Here it did.
Second, it was too buttery for a curd, and the blackberry flavour was largely overpowered by this, and the salt.
But, the worst part of all: the curd had a terribly metallic aftertaste that was concerning, to say the least. Why?
Always use good quality stainless steel equipment when working with acids and fruits
I scratched my head for a long time over this because the blackberry purée I used was top quality and tasted just like it should. All my ingredients were as fresh as possible, so I was left with the only possibility: something happened when I was making the curd. In the moment, I blamed my poor blender because it was the only thing that was out-of-the-ordinary in the curd-making process. Wrong.
It wasn't until I was whisking a second batch of curd (no blender for me!)—this time, based on the lemon curd in Tosi's book—that I figured out the culprit: the whisk! For the first batch, I happened to grab one of my "dollar store" whisks without thinking (normally I use it with dry ingredients only). I ended up with an awful, inedible metallic curd. For the second batch, I used my fancy OXO whisk (available on Amazon). The curd tasted delicious, and there was no metallic aftertaste whatsoever.
Lesson learned. Always invest in and use top-quality stainless steel tools! The OXO whisk (available on Amazon) is worth every penny and more since it's actually stainless steel and not leaching metal with acidic foods. And no, OXO did not pay me for this post, nor ever supply me with a free whisk.
- stand mixer: Christina Tosi has a very specific way of mixing cake batters and they require a ton of beating. Unfortunately, this means using a hand-held electric mixer is a terrible option for this recipe (as is a wooden spoon for mixing by hand). Your best bet is to use a KitchenAid Artisan 5 quart mixer. If you don’t have one and you want to bake more, I highly recommend getting one on Amazon.
- 6-inch cake ring: I actually used the ring of a 6-inch springform pan from Amazon to build my cake, but it was not ideal because of the rim/seam on the springform which made it extra hard to unmold. Buy a cake ring from Amazon if you can.
- acetate: when I made this cake, I didn’t know where to buy acetate, so I used acetate sheets from an office supply store. No clue if it’s food grade. Don’t do that. Buy a roll of acetate from Amazon.
- mini offset spatula: I love my mini offset spatula from Ateco and I use it all the time when I am making cakes. You can buy it on Amazon! Tosi actually uses a spoon that she’s bent to assemble cakes. That’s another option if you don’t mind bending one of your spoons.
- quarter sheet pans with rims: I like these Nordic Ware quarter sheet pans on Amazon.
- good quality stainless steel whisk: I cannot stress the importance of this. Invest in good tools if you want to avoid your curd tasting like metal! I use an OXO whisk that you can buy on Amazon.
Special ingredients to make Milk Bar style layer cakes
Milk Bar style layer cakes are elaborate and involve a few specialty ingredients that professional bakers rely on:
- fruit purée: I recommend Ravifruit brand frozen purée which you can purchase on Amazon
- liquid glucose: you may find it at Bulk Barn or your local bulk ingredients store, or restaurant/baking supply stores in your area. If not, you can Wilton brand glucose from Amazon.
- gelatin sheets: I used Dr. Oetker “gold” gelatin which you can also find on Amazon
- almond paste: I like I used Lebeca brandwhich has 60% almonds and you can buy from Vanilla Food Company
- chocolate: I bake with Cacao Barry chocolate usually. For this recipe I used Cacao Barry 30% Blanc Satin Amazon
- almond oil: you could use canola or grapeseed oil, but in this almond cake, it's nice to use almond oil. If you'd like to buy almond oil, you can buy it on Amazon.
- almond flour: the almond flour adds a lot of flavour to this cake. You can buy it on Amazon.
- milk powder: Christina Tosi recommends uses powdered milk a lot. Milk powder adds the flavour of milk without adding extra liquid that can throw off your recipe. You can buy it on Amazon.
How to store this cake
Given this almond layer cake is made with fruit curd, fresh fruit purée, and almond frosting, it's best to store it in the fridge. If you've cut into the cake, just cover the cut edges with pieces of parchment to prevent them from drying out. Place the cake in the fridge until the frosting is firm and cold, then cover the whole thing with aluminum foil. You can store this cake for up to a week, or freeze slices for later.
For a detailed explanation, read about how to store cake.
If you love almond paste, this cake is for you because it's loaded with the good stuff. This recipe is based on Christina Tosi's pistachio lemon cake in her book Momofuku Milk Bar (available on Amazon). I used almond paste and almond oil instead of pistachio, and I used a combination of blackberry purée and lemon juice for the curd and cake soak. The crumbs I made as in the book.
P.S. If you love layer cakes, and you haven't bought Tosi's book yet, drop everything and go get it on Amazon. This book is a fountain of information, with insight into why Tosi has constructed her cakes and recipes the way she has. There's a method to her madness, and her book explains why.
Blackberry almond cake - Milk Bar style
For the blackberry curd
- 50 grams blackberry purée ¼ cup
- 30 grams fresh lemon juice 2 tbsp
- 100 grams granulated sugar ½ cup
- 4 large egg(s)
- 1 gelatin sheet
- 115 grams Stirling Creamery unsalted butter ½ cup
For the almond cake
- 190 grams almond paste
- 75 grams Wilton glucose 3 tbsp
- 6 large egg white(s)
- 280 grams icing sugar 1 ¾ cups
- 110 grams ground almonds 1 ¼ cup
- 75 grams almond oil ½ cup
- 55 grams whipping cream (35 % fat) ¼ cup
- 160 grams bleached all-purpose flour 1 heavy-handed cup
- 6 grams baking powder 1 ½ tsp
- 6 grams Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt 1 ½ tsp
For the almond frosting
For the milk crumbs
- 40 grams nonfat dry milk powder ½ cup
- 40 grams bleached all-purpose flour ¼ cup
- 12 grams cornstarch 2 tbsp
- 25 grams granulated sugar 2 tbsp
- 2 grams Diamond Crystal fine kosher salt ½ tsp
- 55 grams Stirling Creamery unsalted butter ¼ cup, melted
- 20 grams nonfat dry milk powder ¼ cup
- 90 grams Cacao Barry white chocolate
For the cake soak
- 60 grams blackberry purée a little under ⅓ cup
To make the blackberry curd
- In a medium saucepan, whisk together the purée, lemon juice, and half the sugar.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the eggs and the rest of the sugar, and then transfer to the saucepan.
- Place the gelatin sheet in a bowl of cold water to soften.
- Heat the fruit/egg mixture on medium heat with constant whisking until the curd thickens and begins to boil. Boil for 1 minute with whisking, then take it off the heat.
- Squeeze the gelatin of excess water, then whisk the softened sheet into the saucepan, followed by the butter.
- Strain the curd into a glass bowl and cover with plastic wrap clung to the surface to prevent a skin from forming. Cool in the freezer for a maximum of 30 minutes, then in the fridge for several hours.
To make the almond cake
- Heat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a rimmed quarter sheet pan by spraying it with cooking spray and then lining it with parchment.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the almond paste and glucose on medium-low for about 2 minutes until it is smooth and homogeneous, scraping down the bowl as needed.
- On low speed, beat in the egg whites, one at a time, waiting til each is incorporated before adding the next, scraping the bowl as needed. At the end you should have a fluid, uniform batter.
- Add the icing sugar and almond flour and mix the batter on low speed to combine for about 2 to 3 minutes.
- Stream the oil and cream into the mixer bowl set to low. Increase the speed to medium to ensure it is well mixed.
- Add the rest of the dry ingredients and mix them in on low speed for about 2 minutes, scraping down the bowl as needed. The batter should be smooth
- Spread the batter onto the prepared sheet pan and bake it for about 22 minutes or until the edges are golden and a cake tester comes out clean.
- Cool completely before using.
To make the milk crumbs
- Heat the oven to 250°F.
- Combine the 40 grams milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium bowl. Add the melted butter and mix with a spoon until clumps form.
- Dump the crumbs onto a parchment lined rimmed baking sheet and bake for about 20 minutes then cool them completely.
- Transfer the cold crumbs to a bowl and toss them with the remaining 20 grams milk powder, followed by the melted chocolate.
- Stir the mixture every so often to ensure all the crumbs are evenly coated. Let cool completely before using.
To make the almond frosting
- Beat together the butter and icing sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium.
- Add the almond paste and the salt and beat again starting at low, then increasing to medium-high, scraping down the bowl as needed. Use immediately.
To assemble the cake
- Cut out two 6-inch circles of cake, and two half circles.
- Fit the two half circles of cake at the bottom of the acetate-lined ring, filling any gaps with the leftover cake scraps.
- Brush the cake with half the blackberry purée (~30 grams), then smooth on half the blackberry curd and sprinkle one third of the milk crumbs over the curd. Dollop with one third of the almond frosting, then gently spread into an even layer.
- Gently fit a second strip of acetate between the first and the ring to give your mold height. Then, place the next layer of cake over the frosting, and repeat the previous step by brushing with purée, smoothing with curd, sprinkling with milk crumbs, then dolloping/smoothing with frosting.
- Place the final layer over top, pressing slightly. Spread with the final bit of frosting and the milk crumbs.
- Freeze 12 hours to set, then pop the frozen cake out of the ring, placing it on a cake stand. Pull off the strips of acetate and let the cake defrost for about 6 hours in the fridge before serving.
- For the fruit purée, I recommend Ravifruit brand frozen purée which you can purchase on Amazon
- For the gelatin sheets, I used Dr. Oetker “gold” gelatin which you can also find on Amazon
- For the almond paste, I like I used Lebeca brandwhich has 60% almonds and you can buy from Vanilla Food Company
- I like to buy Wilton glucose (available on Amazon) because it comes in small containers (this way you aren't stuck with a 5 kg tub of glucose!)
- I bake with Cacao Barry chocolate usually. For this recipe I used Cacao Barry 30% Blanc Satin Amazon