Illustration for article titled A systematic quest to build the most Instagrammable drink on the planet
Photo: Marnie Shure
FeaturesFeaturesStories from The Takeout about food, drink, and how we live.

As you might have noticed from reading The Takeout for the past few weeks, everyone’s all about sexy, flashy unicorn food right now. And make no mistake, they have been for a while. (Remember freakshakes?) The primary difference is that rather than see these items on Instagram and run off to buy them at an overpriced doughnuttery, the move these days is to combat stay-at-home boredom by crafting them in our own kitchens and taking plenty of pictures of our handiwork. Take it from someone who spent several minutes selecting the right glassware for her peanut butter foam last week: it passes the time.

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An even better diversion is to root out some sort of competitive element here. I might be able to see @sweetportfolio’s peanut butter milk and raise it some butterscotch cookie crumble, but can I go so far as to create my own photogenic frothy drink from scratch, using only the confectionery wiles of my own mind? Can I, a humble observer of internet phenomena, set off to make… the newest viral sensation?

I decided to go about this systematically. After all, that’s what real social media influencers do. They apply known formulas for success, such as capturing epic cheese-pull shots and sprinkling emoji into their captions for optimum follower engagement. What else could I learn from them and apply to my fluffy milk? Here is what extensive research unearthed:

Tiny = Cute, and Cute = Best

Small things are more endearing than large things. It’s because they’re the baby versions of things. So if photographs of my fluffy milk are to be enjoyed, I must convey that the milk is somehow small. Mini milk. Even the name sounds diminutive. It’s perfect.

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Sprinkles are key

This may dovetail with the previous finding, because sprinkles are the smallest edible unit in the known universe and they come in all the colors of the rainbow. They’re also entirely purposeless, which embodies the spirit of this undertaking pretty well.

Inclusion of candy bits inspires nostalgia

For maximum whimsy, deploy M&M’s or Reese’s Pieces or other tiny, sprinkle-esque sweets to evoke memories from childhood, the last time in one’s life that eating something this excessive was reasonably in the cards.

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In all things, be extra

Never stop with one over-the-top element when you can have several. Freakshakes have entire donuts hugging their straws, remember. There’s no way to overdo this.

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With these key factors in mind, I struck out to create whatever kind of whimsy-milk the contents of my home would allow. Rummaging through a bag of miscellaneous gifts in the hall closet that I always have on hand in case of forgotten birthday emergencies, I found a chocolate brownie mug cake mix, a perennial crowd-pleaser that hadn’t yet found a recipient this year. In the kitchen, I had heavy whipping cream left over from the peanut butter milk experiment, which I whisked with some of the mug cake mix to create a choco-whip topper. The remainder of the mug cake mix was microwaved per the packet instructions in a ramekin that’s exactly the same diameter as the mouth of a mason jar.

Milk + ice + mug cake + chocolate fluff + Jelly Belly Unicorn Mix jelly beans + a panicked last-minute addition of a crunchy peanut butter collar resulted in, well, something. Half edible, half photogenic.

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Attempt #1
Attempt #1
Photo: Marnie Shure

It was fine, but again, the milk-to-everything-else ratio was too high, even with tons of ice crowding the jar. Maybe it would’ve been better if the mug cake and fluff were placed into a shallow bowl of milk, like a confectionery consomme. But then it wouldn’t be a drink so much as a wet dessert.

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This fluffy drink nailed tenets 3 and 4 (candy and extra-ness), but didn’t fully embrace 1 or 2. I had to go tinier, and I had to go sprinkle-ier. Sparkle jelly beans are fine adornments, but they’re just not tiny enough to be as cute as sprinkles. Back to the drawing board.

I entered round two with the tiniest glass imaginable: a shot glass. This way, the amount of milk is guaranteed to be more sensible and proportional to the sugary treats on top of it.

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I was out of mug cake, having used the last tablespoon of powder in the chocolate fluff whip. But I happened to have some homemade chocolate cookies in the freezer, which provided a sturdy and aesthetically pleasing barrier between the milk and the foam. The decision to pipe out the whipped fluff rather than plop it on with a spoon allowed for greater control and optimum adorableness. A milk cupcake! My fluffy milk was growing stronger with each excessive architectural decision.

A friend had sent a birthday gift of sprinkles from a specialty sprinkle shop, and I couldn’t imagine a more worthy application than Instagram milk. Onto the fluff they went. Since I lacked the mug cake element in the second go-round, I had to find another way to evoke a birthday cake flavor to complement the birthday sprinkles. Then I recalled that the kind folks at Hershey had sent a bounty of Birthday Cake Kit Kats and one last package was still hanging around my candy drawer. (My candy drawer is so full that I have to open and close it very slowly so as not to buckle the spindly legs of the sideboard.) I gimme’d a break, sliced it into squares, and used glops of the remaining fluff to adhere them to the glass.

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I had, at last, applied every tenet to my fluffy milk for maximum Instagrammability.

Look closely and you’ll see that there is indeed some milk in there.
Look closely and you’ll see that there is indeed some milk in there.
Photo: Marnie Shure
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I had fulfilled the objective. I had made the fluffy milk. I had made it tiny, added sprinkles, adhered candy bits, and put in entirely too much effort. It was done. It was now time to reap the rewards of having created the most Instagram-worthy dessert imaginable. I posted the photo and awaited my accolades. I stepped into my new life, my new identity as A Person Who Has Made A Cute Fluffy Milk, with confidence and gusto.

I waited for the satisfaction and the pride to catch up to my accomplishment. And I waited, and waited some more.

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The photo has 45 likes so far, but ultimately, my mini milk has not set the world ablaze with its infectious preciousness. Instead, it is I who have been infected with a needling, persistent thought: I could do better. The photo didn’t have the right light, for one thing. The Birthday Cake Kit Kats were so much cuter and brighter in person than in the picture. And scale! What good is a tiny shot glass full of milk if you provide no sense of just how tiny it is by placing a photogenic plant or cat beside it? Everyone seems pretty into pancake cereal and cookie cereal right now. Is there a way to fluffy-milkify that? What’s left in my pantry? Should I upgrade my sprinkles? Should I wait until the dead of night when it’s easier to control the lighting concept? How can I go smaller, sprinklier, more candy-coated, more more?

Trying to out-cute the internet is a dangerous game. You’ll just end up trying to out-cute yourself, leaving spilled milk and cookie crumbs in your wake.

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Marnie Shure is editor in chief of The Takeout.

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