And she appreciates a good microwave mug cake

Credit: Photo by Kevin Mazur via Getty Images

You probably know Christina Tosi from Milk Bar, her bakery empire that started as a small storefront in Manhattan’s East Village and just celebrated its tenth birthday. Maybe you've seen Tosi as a judge on Masterchef Junior or slinging sprinkles in the pastry episode of Chef's Table. She also recently released a cookbook, All About Cake, so she's clearly been busy. But as a baker approaching the holiday season, she isn’t thinking about taking a break. Instead, she’s fueling up on sugar and coffee to have the energy to make dozens of cakes, both at work and home.

“I always start [my day] with a really strong cup of coffee,” Tosi told me over the phone. “I will say it takes me a few hours to eat breakfast… That smell of a fresh pot of coffee on in the morning is actually what gets me out of bed, not the promise of cake.” Of course, she says, cake is almost always what follows.

“I don’t really plan out meals because I know I’m going to be around food,” she said. “So, breakfast is usually snacking at the Milk Bar kitchen around 10:30 or 11 after I’ve had my meetings or calls.” But that doesn’t mean she’s not a breakfast person. In fact, Tosi says her weekend morning is the time she cherishes most. “On a Saturday or Sunday is where I crave my dessert or cake for breakfast, usually through a cake doughnut, or a fudgy rich pound cake that’s been glazed,” she told me. Tosi also appreciates a bundt cake in the morning, sort of an ode to the classic brunch coffee cake—but with a twist. She’s particularly fond of two such treats from All About Cake, a raspberry bundt with grapefruit glaze and a verdant pistachio bundt. “Things you can tear a piece off and dunk into a cup of coffee—that’s what my weekend dreams are made of.”

She also likes to go hands-free from time to time, and that’s where mug cakes come in. “You know, I’m big on happiness and nostalgia when I’m baking,” she said. “If I’m feeling super-cheeky I’ll make a microwave mug cake because I like the dueling coffee cups. There’s one that I just created, a pretzel mug cake, it’s salty and sweet and rich.”

For someone as busy as Tosi, however, sometimes even a mug cake is too time-consuming. Luckily, she has a backup. “For a few solid years at Milk Bar my go-to breakfast was a Compost Cookie and a cup of coffee. I was like, ‘there’s coffee in the cookie, that’s breakfast, we’re good!’”

Speaking of the Compost Cookie (which packs potato chips, pretzels, chocolate, butterscotch, graham crackers, and coffee grounds into the batter), Tosi also really encourages incorporating coffee directly into baked goods. “That’s one of my pro-tip favorite moves, whether I’m at work or baking at home. Some people think when you add coffee to baked goods it has to only be flavored with coffee, but I think of it as an ingredient,” she said. “Every time I make something with chocolate I always want to add a teaspoon or two of either ground coffee if I want the texture, or instant coffee, because it really rounds out the chocolatey notes with its power and acidity without taking over the flavor… It gives a curiosity that for me is key.”