In an Era of Doughnut Walls, Christina Tosi Shares Why There’s Always Room for Cake
The sweetest way to celebrate a new beginning.
Published Oct 14, 2019 8:12 PM
This may come as no surprise, but I think about cake a lot. And not just because I founded Milk Bar, a quirky American-style bakery that makes hundreds of layer cakes a week, but because cake is pretty ubiquitous when it comes to celebrations—and I take celebrating seriously. I don’t care how traditional or progressive a household you have, we all mark special occasions with cake. The simple dessert has a magical way of bringing people together.
When I was growing up, I seriously undervalued cake. I thought it was kind of boring and one-note (dare I admit, I saw cake as a vehicle for frosting). I felt like it had so much more potential, that there could be endless possibilities to tell stories in flavors and textures. That’s what drove me to put layer cakes on the Milk Bar menu, in all their beauty and unfrosted boldness. We’ve since led the march on rule-breaking baking, pushing the envelope of what cake can be, but always keeping the fun and enjoyment of sharing it with loved ones.
Today I see a wonderful number of couples picking a cake—or cookies or truffles or pie—because it has meaning for them; great food holds space in their lives. They don’t just go to any old wedding cake designer they have no connection to or choose a cake because it has the most beautiful gum paste flowers. The cake is no longer there just as a centerpiece or photo op; it’s more about celebrating life through delicious dessert.
When people order our cakes for their wedding, often it’s because part of their story has been at Milk Bar. A first date, a surprise on their birthday, a favorite stop home after a long day—we get to be a part of their lives in all of these different ways beyond one important event. The no-occasion occasion is just as good a reason to celebrate on the regular! And when the big day arrives, I love how a wedding cake says something about each couple and their relationship. Some people have their guests’ tastes at top of mind, alternating tier flavors to offer a little something for everyone. Other wedding cakes, like my girl Karlie Kloss’s, end up being all about them (in the best way possible). When Karlie and her husband got married, Milk Bar Birthday Cake was something that was a part of their story—it’s their flavor. They sneak into Milk Bar on dates, and she pops into our kitchen to steal any last cake scraps or batter. So personal, so cute.
The flavor decision for my own wedding cake was my husband’s one groomzilla moment. He asked me to bake the tallest Milk Bar wedding cake ever—seven tiers—in mint cookies and cream (a onetime seasonal special at Milk Bar that he fell so in love with that I would come home and find him in the fridge taking a fork to a whole cake). He told me, “We must have this flavor as our wedding cake, and you can’t make it for anyone else ever.” At first, my reaction was, “Okay, buddy, simmer down!” But his vision was the makings of a special new tradition for us.
The mint cookies and cream flavor fit in perfectly with the summer camp vibe of our wedding, but everyone was too busy dancing the night away to remember to eat it. We ended up serving it for breakfast the next day, and we wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Now I bake a six-inch version every year for our anniversary. It’s our cake, from that day forward. And he still eats it straight out of the fridge with a fork. After all, every cake is as unique as the couple who chooses it.