If you haven’t heard of Christina Tosi, odds are you’ve tasted some of her signature creations — or at least heard of her uber-successful Milk Bar chain. From birthday cake truffles to cereal milk soft serve and “milkquakes” to her tried-and-true crack pie, Tosi created a baking empire that embraces flavors both loved and unique to create desserts that go beyond the traditional supermarket birthday cakes of our childhoods. But besides continuing to push Milk Bar to the height of success, Tosi is also here to help everyone fall in love with baking, even if they are terrified to open the oven and stir cake batter themselves. That’s where her new cookbook, “All About Cake”, comes in.
“I really wanted to write a book on cake that empowered the people that thought they would never be great bakers or never be great at baking cake, to demystify the technique, and really give an acceptability to a baked good that we carry with us through life,” Tosi explained.
All about cake
Released in October of 2018, Tosi’s “All About Cake” has recipes for all different types of cake, from a simpler, mint chocolate chip molten microwave mug cake to a more complicated, and equally delicious, pretzel layered cake (plus a whole section dedicated vegan cakes for all to enjoy). As she reveals at the beginning of her book, she didn’t love cake growing up in the same way she loved ooey-gooey cookies and dense brownies because cake to her was boring. However, she set out to change that during her career. She wanted to figure out how to fall in love with cake and how to make cake a delight, rather than just another baked good we’ve come to expect on the dessert table.
“I think cake is such an emotional part of a celebration that we all carry with us through life,” Tosi said. “When you’re celebrating something, there is always some form of cake — but I also think that cake could, can, and should have more personality and more personalization and customization beyond what you write on the cake.”
Having started writing her cookbook over two years ago, her mission for this cookbook stayed consistent until publication: She wanted to tell “the story of cake through my memories, through my voice, through my personality, and what I think cake should be and can be.”
Tosi’s personal favorite from the book?
“I am like deep into microwave cupcakes because I’ve been traveling a lot promoting the book. It is just like my favorite late-night snack,” Tosi revealed. “I’ve been doing a pretzel version of it. Inevitably the chocolate or the peppermint one you can pour other fun things in it, so I’ll stir in extra things I might have laying around, like peanut butter chips, white chocolate chips, or butterscotch chips.”
And for Tosi, her life has always involved creatively baking in one way or another, plus a family who instilled in her the foundation to take her baking to a whole new level.
Badass baking (and life) lessons
Born in Ohio and growing up in the suburbs of Virginia, Tosi’s love of baking started from an early age, with her first memories of baking including her grandma’s kitchen and oatmeal cookies.
“I would push a stool up to the countertop ledge and I remember always trying to sneak in an extra bite of cookie dough when she wasn’t looking,” Tosi laughed. “We would take her oatmeal cookies and roll them in sugar before we baked them so they would sort of cackle and break in a really beautiful, visual way.”
While she learned how to bake early on, she was also taught important life lessons on how to be successful, find what you love, and how to express yourself — especially from the incredibly strong women in her life.
“I was raised by two grandmas that were pushy in all the right ways. They were jacks of all trades, they got it all done, they were very well-read and very smart, and to be clear, neither one of them had college educations. They were very self-empowered women,” Tosi revealed. And this self-empowerment was a defining characteristic of her family and how she was raised.
She shared that all the women in her family were expected to do great things not because they were women, but because they were people who were “going to crush life” and were “expected to have a voice, you are expected to be pushy, you are expected to rule the room, you’re expected to be a leader, and you’re expected to be well-spoken.”
Finding her passion
Before Christina Tosi knew that baking was her destined career, she decided to go to school for engineering. She soon realized that engineering and college itself was not for her, so she graduated in three years and decided to figure out what she loved to do — a lesson her parents taught her throughout her life.
“My whole family was raised to work really hard, educate yourself, push, push, push, to find the thing you’re passionate about and make a living out of it,” Tosi said.
We all know what happened next. For Tosi, it became a no brainer that baking and being in the kitchen was something she would never tire of, even if it wasn’t something her parents were thinking initially.
“I think it was a little bit of a shock for them that my answer was baking, they were hoping my answer would be like ‘be a doctor, cure cancer,’” Tosi explained. “But I think that was the strongest identity and the strongest foundation that they could’ve given me because it led me to where I am today.”
Creating Her Baking Process
Tosi is known for her quirky baking style and ability to mix-and-match flavors that any normal person wouldn’t dare try to do. For her, it all starts with gathering inspiration from ingredients, the season, and surprisingly (or unsurprisingly), the supermarket.
“The grocery store remains one of the most powerful, inspiring places in the world and it’s because mass market is where most people have their first flavor memories,” Tosi explained, adding that her dream for her Milk Bar chain “is to build it so that it could inspire like when I was 10-years-old or 12-years-old walking down the aisles of the grocery store.”
When it comes to creating a new product, Tosi thinks of everything. From the ingredients, to the form, to whether or not you can just whip it all together in a bow or if you need some more intricate tools to help bring the creation to life. From her pistachio bundt cake to a cinnamon dulche de leche layer cake with pumpkin ganache, Tosi tries “to to evoke memories of a specific season or holiday. Then, I’ll kind of do free association to figure out what are all the things that I love that I’m craving hard and then I’ll kinda start to pick and piece together to layer up into a cake or mix into a cookie or otherwise.”
With many years and accomplishments under her belt, Tosi knows a thing or two about what it means to be successful in the food industry.
“It’s important to make sure that you’re going into this food industry because feeding people and making people delicious things is what brings you joy. Deep down, that’s where the passion has to lay,” Tosi shared. “If you don’t have that very specific passion, it’s a very difficult industry. It’s gritty, it’s very late nights, it’s very long hours, it’s basically working when everyone else has the day off.”
Instead, finding what you love and what you’re passionate about is more important than success.
“You can’t plan on being successful at what you’re passionate about. You have to choose your passions because it is what is deep in your belly, in your gut,” Tosi explained. “If you can determine what that is, identify it and then chase it down, it will always lead to success. But you can’t let the visibility of what success looks like overcome or override, that voice that is deep down.”
For Christina Tosi, that means creating food that everyone can enjoy and teaching them how to do it themselves. It’s not the fame or the money, but the look of delight that a person gets from taking a bite of a really decadent piece of cake or oozing, chocolate chip cookie. It’s the spirit of baking that keeps Tosi going, and by association, what makes “All About Cake” anything but an ordinary cookbook. She said it herself:
“The thing that I believe in most is the power of what baking can do by spreading joy and empowering anyone and everyone to spread joy. I think the world needs more of that; we need more lightness, but we need it from real humans who have worked for it, and I hope that comes through in everything that we do.”
Who else wants to get in the kitchen now?
Not sure what to get your baker friend, or the friend who is terrified of the kitchen but wants to try anyways, for the holidays? Christina Tosi’s “All About Cake” is available now for purchase. Get your hands dirty with some flour, sugar, and the spirit of baking!
*photos provided by Christina Tosi and her team.