Dana Cree - Best Pastry Chefs 2013

The country's best pastry chefs, including Chicago's Dana Cree

Dana Cree was a no-brainer inclusion in Tasting Table's 2013 list of the country's best and boldest pastry chefs.

After traversing pastry kitchens across the world, from Seattle and Los Angeles to Denmark and London, she has settled at Blackbird in Chicago. And we're so glad she did, as her desserts are some of the city's most striking.

Cree has a talent for weaving nostalgia into elegant, creative compositions, like the burnt-honey ice cream with sesame "Magic Shell" that accompanies a bittersweet chocolate tart with tangerine marmalade and cumin.

She's relentlessly experimental, never one to balk at a challenge. Take chestnut, a flavor Cree says she always struggled with: "Roasted chestnuts smell gorgeous, then you eat them and you're like: What? This is it?"

Cree tasked herself with making a chestnut dessert that was as appealing as the roasted nut's scent. The resulting dish, inspired by a classic Mont Blanc, is a riot of textures and techniques: vanilla-chestnut confiture; a rustic cake of roasted chestnut flour, wine and olive oil; whipped cream; and roasted-chestnut ice cream. It's served with a sip of chestnut hot chocolate, flavored with roasted chestnut shells and meat.

You can make Cree's hot chocolate at home (see the recipe), but we strongly recommend a trip to Blackbird for dessert, too.