May 5, 2012

Momofuku Milk Bar Crack Pie... for High-Altitude!


This is not the prettiest pie, nope. But I promise that what it lacks in prettiness, it far makes up for in taste. Why? This is Momofuku Milk Bar's oh-so-famous (even trademarked!) Crack Pie.

"What is crack pie?", I hear you wondering. My dear reader, you are not alone! Many of my friends had no idea what I was talking about when I told them my big plans of baking a Crack Pie during my first day of funemployment. One friend even misread "Crack Pie" as "crack pipe"! 

Truth be told, it's hard to explain what Crack Pie is. The best way I can describe it is this: it consists of a crunchy, buttery oatmeal cookie crust filled with a gooey, custardy, salty and sweet caramelized brown sugar center. 

Christina Tosi, head pastry chef of Momofuku Milk Bar, describes crack pie as a modern take on chess pie. According to Tosi, "chess pie is the pie the old gals of yesteryear made when there was nothing to really make pie out of. When nothing was in season, the pantry void of all jars and cans from the harvest season before."

Indeed, I think several readers will cringe when they take a look at the ingredients list for the recipe -- it's basically got nothing but sugar and heavy cream. I will warn you that it's a little intense -- even with my giant sweet tooth, I could only handle a tiny sliver at a time. But it's got a unique flavor -- a saltiness embedded amongst the sweetness (from one of its signature ingredients, corn powder) -- that gets addicting fast. After all, it's called CRACK Pie for a reason, and it will set you back $44 for a pie from the official Milk Bar store in New York City

Adapting this for high-altitude was also a bit tricky. I figured that it wouldn't be too difficult since the pie basically has no leaveners and therefore had a low risk of overflowing, but it took forever to set. I'm pretty sure it was still undercooked when I pulled it out the oven -- the texture was runny and liquidy, as opposed to the firm custard it was supposed to be. Luckily the recipe has quantities for 2 pies, so I was able to fix the second pie's texture by adjusting the baking rack and increasing the oven temperature and bake times.

Without further ado, here is the recipe for Momofuku Milk Bar's signature Crack Pie... adapted for high-altitude:

Momofuku Milk Bar's Recipe for Crack Pie
(Adapted for a high-altitude environment of approximately 5,000ft)
(makes 2x 10-inch pies; each serves 8 to 10)


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For the Oat Cookie Pie Crust

Ingredients
(makes about 1 quarter sheet pan)
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1/3 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 3 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 1 egg yolk, at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats (available at Whole Foods)
  • 1/8 teaspoon baking powder
  • a pinch of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Assembly
  1. Heat the oven to 350 (F).

  2. Combine the butter and sugars in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and cream together on medium-high for 2 to 3 minutes, until fluffy and pale yellow in color. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula. On low speed, add the egg yolk and increase the speed to medium-high and beat for 1 to 2 minutes, until the sugar granules fully dissolve and the mixture is a pale white.

  3. On low speed, add the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Mix for a minute, until your dough comes together and any remnants of dry ingredients have been incorporated. The dough will be a slightly fluffy, fatty mixture in comparison to your average cookie dough. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

  4. Pam-spray a quarter sheet pan and line with parchment, or just line the pan with a Silpat. Plop the cookie dough in the center of the pan and, with a spatula, spread it out until it is a 1/4 inch thick. The dough won't end up covering the entire pan; this is OK.

  5. Bake for 15 minutes, or until it resembles an oatmeal cookie -- caramelized on top and puffed slightly but set firmly. Cool completely before using. Wrapped well in plastic, the oat cookie will keep fresh in the fridge for up to 1 week.
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For the Crack Pie Filling

Ingredients
(makes enough for 2 10-inch crack pies)
  • 1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/4 cup milk powder (available at regular, non-fancy supermarkets like Safeway and King Soopers)
  • 1/4 cup corn powder (I bought some freeze-dried corn from Savory Spice Shop in Denver and ground it up in a food processor; you can also get it online here)
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, melted
  • 3/4 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 8 egg yolks, at room temperature

Assembly
  1. Combine the sugar, brown sugar, milk powder, corn powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand electric mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until evenly blended.

  2. Add the melted butter and paddle for 2 to 3 minutes until all the dry ingredients are moist.

  3. Add the heavy cream and vanilla and continue mixing on low for 2 to 3 minutes until any white streaks from the cream have completely disappeared into the mixture. Scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula.

  4. Add the egg yolks, paddling them into the mixture just to combine; be careful not to aerate the mixture, but be certain the misture is glossy and homogenous. Mix on low speed until it is.

  5. Use the filling right away, or store it in an airtight container in the fridge for up to 1 week.
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For the Crack Pie Assembly

Ingredients
(for 2 10-inch crack pies)
  • 1 recipe quantity Oak Cookie Pie Crust (see above)
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar, tightly packed
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 stick unsalted butter, melted
  • 1 recipe quantity Crack Pie Filling (see above)

Assembly
  1. Position a rack in your oven to the lower-third position (for sea-level, place rack in the center of the oven) and preheat the oven to 365 (F) (for sea-level, preheat the oven to 350 (F)).

  2. Put the oat cookie, brown sugar, and salt in a food processor and pulse it on and off until the cookie is broken down into a wet sand. (If you don't have a food processor, you can fake it till you make it and crumble the oat cookie diligently with your hands.)

  3. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl, add the butter, and knead the butter and ground cookie mixture until moist enough to form into a ball. If it is not moist enough to do so, melt an additional 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter and knead it in.

  4. Divide the oat crust evenly between 2 (10-inch) pie tins. Using your fingers and the palms of your hands, press the oat cookie crust firmly into each pie tin, making sure the bottom and sides of the tin are evenly covered. Use the pie sheets immediately, or wrap well in plastic and store at room temperature for up to 5 days or in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

  5. Put both pie shells on a sheet pan. Divide the crack pie filling evenly between the crusts; the filling should fill them three-quarters of the way full. Bake for 20 minutes (for sea-level, bake for 15 minutes) only. The pies should be golden brown on top but will still be very jiggly.

  6. Open the oven door and reduce the oven temperature to 350 (F) (for sea-level, reduce to 325 (F)). Depending on your oven, it may take 5 minutes or longer for the oven to cool to the new temperature. Keep the pies in the oven during this process. When the oven reaches 350 (F) (or 325 (F)), close the door and bake the pies for 5 minutes longer. The pies should still be jiggly in the bull's-eye center but not around the outer edges. If the filling is too jiggly, leave the pies in the oven for an additional 5 minutes or so.

  7. Gently take the pies out of the oven and transfer to a cooling rack to cool to room temperature. Then freeze your pies for at least 3 hours, or overnight, to condense the filling for a dense final product -- freezing is the signature technique and results in a perfectly executed crack pie.

  8. If not serving the pies right away, wrap well in plastic wrap. In the fridge, they will keep fresh for 5 days; in the freezerm they will keep for 1 month. Transfer the pies from the freezer to the fridge to defrost for a minimum of 1 hour before consuming.

  9. Serve crack pies cold with a dusting of confectioner's sugar.
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