ong before people were pairing juice with food, beer with cupcakes (there’s a bar in New York City that serves both, seriously), and even wine and cheese, there was milk and cookies. As a kid, you instinctually knew the two went together. But now it’s time to learn the science behind why you crave a glass of milk when you eat something sweet.
For one thing, milk helps blunt sweetness by coating your tongue, so it acts almost like a palate cleanser that clears the way for another bite of that chewy snickerdoodle or coconut macaroon. Plus, recent research suggeststhat the fat in milk may be the sixth basic taste, called “oleogustus,” and that it can enhance the appeal of desserts by adding to their overall sensory profile. And because flavor is made up of both taste and aroma, dunking your cookies in milk can improve the flavor by helping the fresh-baked scent reach your nasal passages more quickly. This is especially true if the milk is warm, as wet, hot aromas travel faster.
But cookies aren’t milk’s only soul mate. Case in point: Pastry chef Elisabeth Pruitt and her husband, master baker Chad Robertson, offer more than a dozen kinds of cookies at their acclaimed Tartine Bakery in San Francisco. But they actually think that peanut butter and jelly is the ideal treat for pairing with milk. In fact, they love the combo so much, they created their own house-made bread and sweet jelly for this recipe, specifically to be enjoyed with a frosty glass of milk. Here, let them tell you about it:
There are other tried-and-true combos, of course. Milk complements the cocoa and cream cheese in these brownies, for instance, and is a natural fit with anything bittersweet, like chocolate truffles, cocoa soufflés, or chocolate and walnut fudge. But you can also come up with your own spin on the perfect sweet something to serve with milk. To help get your creative juices flowing (and your taste buds watering), consider Chef Watson your own celebrity chef.
A “cognitive cooking” technology developed by IBM, Chef Watson uses flavor algorithms to come up with totally unique combos based on the 9,000-plus recipes in the Bon Appétit database. Think of it like being a contestant on a cooking show, but instead of getting a totally random basket of mystery groceries (elk meat and potato chips, anyone?), Watson suggests only those foods that go together, so the end result is unexpected but also well balanced. All you have to do is enter the ingredients you want to cook with; the kind of dish, meal, or course you want to make; and what style you’re going for.
Say vanilla is one of your favorite flavors, you have a pint of fresh raspberries that you’d like to use up, and you offered to bring dessert–and a carton of milk–to a friend’s get-together. You just enter “vanilla” and “raspberries” and up to two other ingredients, or you can let Chef Watson suggest them for you. Then choose a dish, like “pudding,” or just a course (“dessert”) and a style (think “party,” “winter,” or even “yard to table”), and you’ll get a list of ideas that you may have never thought of even after a couple of glasses of wine. For example, Watson might suggest marrying vanilla and raspberries with cocoa powder, pine nuts, and turmeric to make a baked-plum dessert. You can follow his directions exactly or just use them as guidelines and go off in your own direction, subbing in a different kind of stone fruit or poaching the plums instead.
Other milk-friendly foods to challenge Watson with include cinnamon, berries, mocha, pecans, and apples. You can even enter ingredients that traditionally show up in savory dishes, like corn. As long as you choose “dessert” as the course, you’ll get suggestions for sweet treats, such as shortcakes, crostata, and donuts. Or try typing in “breakfast” and you’ll get suggestions for a corn-and-blueberry compote to spoon over your pancakes and a fruit salad with dried cranberries, Granny Smith apples, and (you guessed it) corn to serve alongside your French toast. Working with Watson is like being in a brilliant brainstorming session—inspirational, exciting, and totally scalable (i.e., you can take his ideas all the way or just incorporate one aspect, such as a new ingredient or technique).
Want to explore the world of pairings even more? There you’ll find ingredients and instructions for other creamy, crunchy, and chocolaty treats—all of which taste great with milk, of course.