This week, Gilt Taste is pleased as cranberry punch to be hanging out with Christina Tosi and the Momofuku Milk Bar team. Each day, Christina or one of her pastry sous chefs will share some of their dearest family cookie recipes. Have fun sugar-buzzing through the holidays!- Ed.
My first restaurant job in New York made for my first holiday season away from home in Virginia. I was knee deep in the kitchen trenches and there was no way I was going home for Thanksgiving, let alone Christmas. My mom was crushed, but when you work in a restaurant there’s no time for holiday spirit. At least, that’s what I thought.
I had been working at Bouley for six months when my mother snuck up to New York, through the back door and into the kitchen. She took photos of the chef, the sous chef, the line cooks and introduced herself to everyone as my mom. By the time she got to me in the pastry kitchen, the whole crew was on the ground laughing, pointing and shaking their heads.
A box arrived at work two days later, full of obnoxiously decorative cheer, a fake tree and enough stockings, Starbucks gift cards and candy canes for every single person she had met. My mom wasn’t going to let my moving away get in the way of celebrating the holidays. I proudly strung up tinsel around the kitchen, handed out gifts, and sang Christmas carols to the prep cooks.
Since then, I’ve followed my mom’s lead. I refuse to let a holiday go by uncelebrated in the kitchen. I’ve organized Easter Egg hunts and watched grown men dive under tables and chairs in competition, made leprechaun footprints and demanded everyone dress in green or be punished with pinches. I’ve thrown severely obnoxious homemade birthday celebrations for every single person I’ve worked with because that’s what you do. Or rather, that’s what we do. My mom and I.
Though December is the busiest time of the year at Milk Bar, we’re a family. We may not have time to go on vacation or to go Christmas shopping, but I insist that we bake our favorite family cookies for each other and share (so we can put together elaborate cookie tins and offer homemade gifts). This week, we’re sharing six favorites that came from our grandmothers, mothers, friends and teachers. Bake them all! And double the recipes if you like—you can never have too much Christmas spirit.
Cinnamon-Sugar Cookie Squares
Makes approx 150 bite-size cookies
This recipe came from Grandma Rosemary, to Greta Tosi-Miller, to Christina Tosi. With a golden, buttery crust and incredibly tender center, it’s a simple cookie that reminds us of being kids. Dusting it with cinnamon sugar on top makes it magic, but the cookie tastes spectacular plain too, or decorated with colored sugar. At Milk Bar, it’s affectionately called “The Greta” and used as a mix-in to make killer ice cream (we can attest that the scraps are ridiculously good when crumbled on a scoop of vanilla).
½ cup butter, room temperature
2 cups granulated sugar
½ cup canola oil
½ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3 cups flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
Cinnamon sugar, to garnish*
- Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease an 11-by-15-inch pan.
- Mix all the ingredients together with an electric mixer, beginning with the butter, sugar, oil, eggs, milk and finally the dry ingredients.
- Pour into the pan and spread evenly with a metal spatula or knife. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar all over and bake for 20 minutes or until the edges are light brown.
- Allow to rest for 10 minutes, then invert onto a cutting board and cut into bite-size squares.
*To make cinnamon sugar, mix ½ tablespoon of cinnamon for every ¼ cup of sugar.
Gooey Butter Cake Squares
Makes 64 1-inch cookies
This recipe was passed down from Grandma Rosemary, to Greta Tosi-Miller, to Christina Tosi. It’s insanely sweet and tender—an intense two-biter— with a nostalgic perfume and a sticky topping that reminds us quite happily of Tosi’s famous Crack Pie. Greta, she with the unstoppable Christmas spirit, still ships it to Christina during the holidays, slightly under-baked the way her daughter likes it, so that it slides across the baking pan into one gorgeous, vanilla-scented lump by the time it arrives.
For the base
1 pound yellow cake mix (usually one box)
4 ounces butter, melted
For the gooey butter topping
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 pound powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Make the base by mixing together the dry cake mix, butter and 1 egg. Pat it into a parchment-lined 8-by-8-inch pan.
- Make the gooey butter topping by creaming together the cream cheese, remaining 2 eggs, sugar and vanilla. Pour it over the base cake mixture, spreading all the way to the edges. Bake for 30 minutes, or until the edges are a light golden brown, and the center still tender, but cooked.
- Allow to cool completely in pan. Turn out onto a cutting board and cut into 1-inch-squares. If it’s important to you that it’s cut nice and evenly, just pop in the freezer until firm, cut while cold, and transfer to mini-muffin papers.