The renow ned chef a nd the prolific d r um mer/foodie get creative wh ile wh ipping up a popcor n ca ke
most adored drummer walks into Milk Bar’s N.Y.C. test kitchen and admits he’s a little miffed. The previous night, on a rare break from his gig asthe Tonight Showbandleader, he deejayed for six hours at a Michael Jackson–themed party in Brooklyn and got through only 209 songs. “I had planned on 274,” says Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.
Everybody knows Questlove is obsessed with music, but his other passions run just as deep. He’s a foodie who occasionally hosts salon-style dinners, an author focused on the art of creativity ( he’s written two books on the subject), and a popcorn fanatic ( be on the lookout for a line of seasonings he’s launching this fall with Williams Sonoma).
So when Christina Tosi, Milk Bar founder, Masterchef judge, and ingenious baker, invited Questlove to a popcorn cake–layering lesson plucked from her upcoming cookbook, All About Cake, the musician couldn’t contain his excitement. “That is right up my alley,” he said.
In the kitchentosi bounces back and forth in her signature red Converse sneakers while explaining how the inspiration for this cake is her regular movie-theatersnack order: “Popcorn with an insane amount of butter, a tall Coke, gummy bears, Junior Mints, and sometimesreese’s Pieces.”
For this recipe, though, she pares down her mix of candies to focus on the main ingredient. She grinds store-bought popcorn and adds it to the flour for the batter (see recipe, right). After the sheet cakes are prepped, it’s assembly time. Tosi first shows Questlove how to use a cake ring to create the circular layers and fill in any gaps by pressing in excess cake bits. Then she concocts three layers of cake featuring popcorn-steeped milk, popcorn pudding, salted caramel, popcorn crumbs, caramel corn, and a thick, silky substance she calls “corn fudge.”
How does the creator of the Compost Cookie, Crack Pie, and Cereal Milk come up with this stuff? “My creative mind is my favorite place to escape to,” Tosi says. “It’s where I get to ask, ‘ Why not?’ ” She’s not in pursuit of perfection, she says, but rather somethingmore human: treats that are salty, sweet, smooth, and surprising all at once. Her creative process is not dissimilar to the way Questlove constructs a song, whether he’s playing with his band, the Roots, or producing an album for singers like Andra Day or Solange. “You canmake themost of mistakes or imperfection,” he says, holding a forkful of cake. “Sometimes when I’m drumming, I’ll go ahead of or behind the beat and play sloppily on purpose. When you know the rules, you can break the rules.” And it’s almost always delicious.
You can make the most of mistakes or imperfection.” —QUESTLOVE