In elementary school, I went through a phase when anyone who met me knew I liked pie. Even though I’m not quite as overt about my obsession these days, I don’t think I’ve ever come out of it. With buttery, flaky crusts and sweet fillings — either fruity or custardy — how could you not like pie? I don’t discriminate in my love; I’ll take Boston cream and strawberry rhubarb and everything in between. Needless to say, the heightened status of pie is one of the many reasons why Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. There’s a lot to consider regarding the ethics of the celebration, but the essence of it, for me, is enjoying good food with good company. What food could be better than pie? (I will only accept counter-arguments for mashed potatoes and stuffing.)
During pre-pandemic times, my extended family went all out on pies. We always had pumpkin, apple, and pecan, as well as random extra varieties. Some were from this mesmerizing NYT Cooking collection; others from various cookbooks and websites. Last year, I brought a pie that — I think — has risen to the top of my list. When I first learned about it, it was called “Crack Pie” because it was thought to be as addictive as cocaine. The name has since been changed to “Milk Bar Pie” to be more sensitive to those living with addiction, but the sentiment of “Crack Pie” holds. Milk Bar Pie is the best there is.
It was created by baker-extraordinaire Christina Tosi, who at the time was working as the pastry chef at David Chang’s Momofuku. She was pulling together a dessert for the staff’s ‘family meal’ but there weren’t many ingredients available, so she threw together an oat cookie-based crust with a buttery, sugary filling. Fully expecting it to not turn out well, she served it to her colleagues who responded with high praise. One of the coworkers compared it to crack, bestowing the pie’s first name. (I first heard this story on Tosi’s episode of Chef’s Table, which is nothing less than a delight to watch.)
Since then, Tosi created her own Momofuku Milk Bar dessert shop, of which Milk Bar Pie is a staple. When I visited New York City last fall, I bought a slice and it was every bit as good as I had hoped: gooey, sweet, salty, perfect. I went home with the conviction to make the pie for Thanksgiving, and that’s what I did. Baking the pie is a wonderful experience on its own, if you count eating bits of the batter and cookie crust as part of the baking process. The pie was a hit with my family, and I’ll be making it for Thanksgiving again this year. I’m sure the new tradition will carry on far beyond pandemic times.
With butter, sugar, eggs, and oats as star ingredients, the Milk Bar Pie is as humble as it is heavenly. It’s a worthy addition to any Thanksgiving table — and if Thanksgiving’s not your thing, feel free to eat this right out of the pan. You’ll want to.
The recipe for Milk Bar Pie can be found at: https://milkbarstore.com/blogs/recipes/milk-bar-pie