Seasonal fruit fillings for a Berry Crunch Cake
A lot of cooks leaf through cookbooks as though they were travel guides depicting places to be fantasized about but never visited. Their initial desire to explore fades in the face of perceived obstacles, such as the inconvenience of having to find ingredients or equipment; the insecurity of unfamiliar techniques; the unwillingness to find the time.
I’m as prone as anyone else to sticking with what I know. I admired the artful pictures in “Under Pressure” (2008), Thomas Keller’s tome about sous-vide cookery, and “Alinea” (2008), Grant Achatz’s exploration of molecular gastronomy, but I wasn’t willing to suspend my disbelief enough to run out and buy meat glue or a nitrogen tank.
Tosi’s cookbook,“Momofuku Milk Bar” (2011), however, got me into the kitchen. I had seen and sampled her work in New York and realized that she had a fresh approach to baking that was whimsical yet sophisticated. Her trademark is to turn familiar American foods, especially those evoking childhood memories, into adult desserts. Cereal milk becomes ice cream and crunches made from cornflakes; Ritz crackers or pretzels wind up in cookies, pies and cakes.
And, oh, those cakes. Chocolate chip cake layered with passion fruit curd, chocolate crunchies and coffee frosting; a signature birthday cake riddled with rainbow sprinkles; chocolate cake soaked with Ovaltine and filled with malted fudge sauce and malt crumb, then topped with charred marshmallows.
I resolved to make one.
Tosi’s cakes are triple-layered. She bakes the batter in a quarter-sheet pan, uses a six-inch metal cake ring to cut out rounds that will become cake layers, then lines the ring with a thin, clear acetate collar. She builds the cake with multiple, alternating components. To set it, the cake gets frozen; for serving, it’s defrosted in the refrigerator and removed from its cake ring and acetate collar.
Tosi, a Springfield native, explained via a phone interview that her childhood memories play a role in how she came to put cakes together the way she does.
“Remember Fudgy the Whale from Carvel? With that layer of fudge sauce and chocolate crumbs? I always loved that differentiation of textures when I was a kid,” she said. “I layer with a lot of different things and tie in all the flavors. The colors and textures give cakes a visual pop. Why cover all that up with a crumb coat?”
Plus, she adds without shame, she was never very good at frosting cakes, anyway.