I cannot say that I’m a devoted fan of the Momofuku empire. Devoted liker, maybe, having some memorable meals at both the Noodle and Ssam Bars here in New York. I’m definitely interested in going to Momofuku Ko, and I’m intrigued by the switch to a State Bird Provisions-esque dim sum style at Ma Peche, but I rarely have a strong pull toward the peach. Perhaps it’s because I’ve always been a bit sour on David Chang’s personality. But I’ve warmed considerably since working my way through season one of “Mind of a Chef” on Netflix.
The Momofuku Milk Bar, however, has always been a place I’ve desperately wanted to be a true fangirl for, especially because of my love of soft serve ice cream. But I always end up at a point of apathy. The highs and lows I’ve experienced even out to a feeling of, “Okay, I guess I’ll try ____ because I’m right in front of the shop.”
My first taste of Milk Bar chief Christina Tosi’s soft serve was when there was only one shop in the East Village. I fell hard for the horchata in 2009. That was back in the good old days when it was just the one shop and everything was made on site. The cookies you saw on display, greasing up the parchment under them, were the cookies you could actually buy. Now, with multiple shops across the city and in Toronto, everything is made in a central commissary and then delivered. Feel free to call me a snob, but I’m not so down with buying treats that have travelled. It’s irrational, I know, but it reminds me too much of Starbucks pastries. But I understand the logistics and economics behind it. And if it means more people get to have Milk Bar treats, that’s not a bad thing… yadda yadda yadda.
Also feel free to call me crazy, but there’s something unique about the texture of the soft serve. It’s kind of gluey? Sticky? It has a different mouth feel, moves differently on a utensil, and melts differently than most other soft serves I’ve had. I would not be offended if I’m the only one to feel this way. But it’s there for me, and it prevents my soft-serve-loving heart from ever declaring Milk Bar the best in my books. Same goes with the taste. No matter which flavour I try, they all have the same aftertaste. I’m 68% confident that in a blind tasting, I could identify Milk Bar soft serve based on aftertaste alone. I think it’s the large amounts of sugar or sweetener. Despite Tosi’s great insistence on the importance of salt in sweet treats (hooray!), she still can easily tip the balance to too sweet too often (or always). But I think that’s her thing, given how childhood nostalgia plays a role in her baking. Maybe all the sugar is the culprit in the texture issue, too?
But there is no question about my admiration and respect for Tosi. I’ve had great success at home with the corn cookies and the crack pie. And I still keep watch with every menu change, as at the very least, I enjoy seeing what creative new flavours she comes up with, even if I know I will never try them.
The most recent menu change, or more specifically, the November specials, beckoned to me. Because they’re allllll about Thanksgiving’s best dishes: Turkey and pumpkin pie.
Cake is not something I’m very fond of, so I’ve never actually tried the Milk Bar’s little cake truffles before this. If they are all as good as the pumpkin pie ones, I will now be keeping as close of a watch on the truffle flavours as I do with the soft serve. Of the three specials I tried, these were far and away my favourite. Not as good as pumpkin pie, obviously, but the next best thing. Dare I say, even better than good pumpkin/pie ice cream.
I thought they would be drier, and more cake-like inside, but I actually found them to be a bit more creamy, like real pumpkin pie or pumpkin cheesecake. I suspect this is from the condensed milk. The outer coating is a mix of graham crumbs, crushed pepitas, and a good hit of salt. It’s a substantial coating, so biting through gives you a sense of pie filling plus crust. While I’m not one to eat pumpkin pie without whipped cream, I have no complaints about what amounts to portable pie. When I bought the pack of three ($4.35), I immediately ate one and then wrapped the remaining two for later that evening and the next day. The pumpkin euphoria that lingered after finishing the first one meant instead that I saved number two and number three for precisely 61 and 62 minutes later.
As a lover of cold desserts, I was happy to read that the truffles are to be refrigerated. Cold pumpkin pie forever. The Milk Bar website tells me that they freeze very well. Currently, there are now
9 5 balls in my freezer, removing any need to visit a Milk Bar suspiciously often. You can buy three packs for the reduced price of $12. I’m sure I’ll see that charge again on my credit card before December 1 rolls around.
Score! The Milk Bar location with the pumpkin pie flavour is my local! And score again with the pumpkin pie flavour game being really strong with the spices. Texture and aftertaste aside, I really enjoyed this soft serve. I find that many pumpkin ice creams, most specifically of the hard type, need a heavier hand with the spices. I mean, that’s what pumpkin pie is all about. Pumpkin on its own doesn’t have much flavour, but it lends itself well to creamy or custardy things combined with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, etcetera. A good pumpkin pie/treat/ice cream should be aggressive with them, just like a good gingerbread. This wins on that front.
The loser? The Thanksgiving croissant. Again, I might be alone in my feelings, but this was extremely disappointing. Especially given the crazy fanfare this annual special has received. Not cronut-level crazy, but it has always seemed a big deal in New York foodie (a horrible, yet apt, word) culture when November rolls around and this sucker is on offer. I was looking forward to finally getting around to trying it. Usually, I’m not very enticed by the savoury options at Milk Bar because it seems like it would just be more enjoyable to go to the Ssam or Noodle Bar.
All I can say is, greasy, understuffed, and underseasoned. First off, it’s not a croissant when it’s made with yeasted dough. The stuffing bread didn’t taste much like stuffing. Celery salt is not the only flavour in stuffing. How about sage? There wasn’t enough turkey or gravy, and the globs of cranberry sauce were too large for the uneven distribution of meat. But… like a croissant, it was laden with butter. As the croissant is served warm, your fingers are soon slippery with fat. In a bad way.
A big, bready fail.
A cronut has yet to cross my lips, but I’m not immune to hype. I won’t say “lesson learned” and stop reading about the next thing that the food industry puts out there to create frenzy. I’ll curse the money lost on this, but I’ll remind myself that part of why I love living in this city is that I have access to such things. In honour of the holiday, thank you, New York. You’re a peach!