It’s summer: we’re screaming for ice cream! This month, we asked our favorite ice cream experts to share their most-loved ice cream combos and how-to tips — see them all, then share your own on Instagram with the hashtag #icecreamsocial and tag @williamssonoma to join the fun. We’ll regram and share our favorites!
Meet Christina Tosi, the James Beard-award winning pastry chef behind Momofuku Milk Bar. She’s known for pushing the boundaries with all of her desserts (pretzel cake truffles!) so it’s no surprise that she’s crazy about creative ice cream combinations. Read on for her personal favorite, plus her obsession with cookie dough, best ice cream tips, and the one ice cream idea that just didn’t work.
Tell us about your background. Have you always loved to bake?
I was raised in a family of matriarchs that baked. We played cards and ate cookies and cakes and pies around the table after dinner. It was in the blood. I have a very sweet tooth, and I was hell bent on learning to bake myself, once my mother and grandmothers cut me off from the “clean up” role of licking the beaters and bowl after every batch of oatmeal cookies.
What led you to pursue a culinary career?
I wanted to find a job that challenged my creative mind, that kept me on my feet, bouncing around all day, that pushed me to be tough and fierce, and never gave me the opportunity to feel bored or stagnant.
I also LOVE to bake for people, to feed people. So I crossed my fingers, applied to culinary school and jumped!
How did you start Momofuku Milk Bar?
I was making desserts for the Momofuku restaurants and needed more space! A little storefront became available next to one of the restaurants and I decided I’d put a little bakery into the ground floor and a dessert production kitchen below. No one really expected it to be such a hit. We opened our doors one Saturday morning 5+ years ago and the rest is…..history!
You incorporate ingredients like cereal milk and potato chips in your creations. How did that start? Did it raise some eyebrows at first?
I’ve always baked with a waste not, want not mentality. As a kid at home, mixing up concoctions, I always used what was in the pantry, stale cereal, nearly empty bags of potato chips. They’re flavors and textures that we relate to. I really wasn’t trying to be different, just trying to be me. Most people love the salty-sweet combos and connect with the flavor that’s left in your bowl once the cereal is gone. That is the most rewarding part of the job.
What’s the wildest, most off-the-wall ingredient you’ve used? Anything you tried that really didn’t work?
BBQ ice cream. I thought it was mighty tasty. I think it was a little “ahead of it’s time”….or just not a good idea?
How has Milk Bar evolved over the years?
The original inspiration for Milk Bar remains; what it’s evolved into is a testament for all of the wonderful people I’ve been fortunate enough to call coworkers, friends and family. I think of Milk Bar as a collective of thoughts, inspirations and visions of 5 years of hard work, dedication and goofing around. We have found better, faster quicker ways to get our cookies, cakes and pies into your hearts, into your bellies, we’ve learned what you like, what you love, what you just aren’t feeling. We aren’t afraid to fail, but we really love to succeed. Evolution is my favorite part of waking up every morning. What worked for me yesterday isn’t going to work for me today.
What was your reaction to winning a James Beard Award?
It’s a pretty phenomenal feeling. Well, first you black out, you don’t realize what REALLY just happened you sort of just stand and smile and stumble over a few words. But AFTER the fact, wrapping your head around what it really takes to be nominated and then actually WIN?! It’s a very honoring place to be. It doesn’t mix the cookies any faster, but man, it makes you feel so darn energized hunched over a 140-qt mixer.
What’s your favorite thing to make at Milk Bar? To eat?
Cookie dough. When I decided I didn’t want a real, desk job, I thought I wanted to be a pastry chef. I had to real talk myself, “Christina, you don’t want a boring old desk job, but do you really want to mix cookie dough all day every day for the rest of your life?”
The answer, yes. It rings true to this very day. My favorite thing to eat from Milk Bar….the cookie dough, or a cookie fresh out of the oven. It is the truest true and never gets old.
Your love of cookie dough is well-documented. What’s your favorite?
I’m a classic gal at heart– nothing beats chocolate chip cookie dough.
Let’s talk ice cream. Did you eat it growing up? What kind?
Um. YES! I was a vanilla girl for a long time. I loved cookies and cream, cookie dough, anything with extras in it. I was never allowed to get a cone (I always dropped and dripped it) so to this day I’m a cup gal. I like my ice cream to melt slightly– probably why I love soft serve more than hard ice cream.
What’s your favorite place to get ice cream in NYC?
Oddfellows in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. There’s something for everyone, all ice cream is made from scratch, literally, and Sam Mason, the pastry chef, always has something fun and cheeky up his sleeve.
You’re hosting an ice cream social. What’s on your toppings bar?
I’d get a little wild. Plenty of salty elements– nuts, spiced nuts, pretzels, potato chips, tortilla chips, french fries if I’m really getting in there. Fresh macerated fruit, every cereal known to man, whipped sour cream, a few homemade caramel and fudge sauces — apple cider caramel, malted fudge sauce, earl grey fudge sauce (essentially I substitute the milk or cream in a recipe with another beverage: apple cider, malted chocolate milk, earl grey tea).
Any tips for making ice cream at home?
Make your ice cream base, or mixture 1-2 days beforehand. Don’t churn or freeze your ice cream until you and your friends are ready to dig in. Ice cream is always best when the base has time to “age” in your refrigerator, and is always BEST (texture, flavor, overall consistency) when it’s spun right before serving.
How do you work ice cream into other desserts?
I think about where ice cream would be best received. Ice cream isn’t always just an afterthought with dessert — I never think of it as a “requirement” for a dessert to be complete, but rather how to best create a dessert that NEEDS ice cream to be “complete.” I love using ice cream on desserts with warm elements. That hot/cold temperature differentiation is one of my favorite dessert moments when digging in. I also love to fill a crazy pie shell (pretzel pie crust) with ice cream (strawberry ice cream!) for an ice cream pie. Ice cream isn’t just for scoops and sundaes, you know…
If you weren’t baking, what would you be doing?
I always wanted to be a vet (I’m a crazy pet lover), a truck driver (I love the open road) or a math teacher!