Dana Cree has given the globe's pastry lovers chase; she has zigzagged between Seattle, London, Chicago, Los Angeles and Denmark, taking turns studying under the world's greatest talents and heading up her own head-spinning pastry programs.
Last year, she took over the dessert menu at Chicago's Blackbird and, she assures us, she's there for the long haul. "To prove to myself that I wasn't going anywhere, I bought my first piece of furniture in years." Good news for Chicago: Cree's singular style, a beautiful amalgam of modernist disciplines and respect for classic techniques, has led to some of the country's best desserts.
This recipe, which is an adaptation of a dish on Blackbird's menu, came out of a self-imposed challenge. "I have never liked chestnuts," she told us. After multiple tries at treating the chestnuts, Cree realized that half of the nut's appeal was its intoxicating aroma when roasted. To give this hot chocolate maximum flavor, she infuses the milk with the shell and the meat of roasted chestnuts.
Roasted Chestnut Hot Chocolate with Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallows
Recipe adapted from Dana Cree, Blackbird, Chicago
Yield: 8 servings, plus extra marshmallows
Cook Time: 1 hour 10 minutes (plus 6 hours rest time for the marshmallows)
Toasted Vanilla Bean Marshmallows
2 vanilla beans
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 cup cornstarch
1 cup water, divided
3 tablespoons powdered gelatin
1½ cups granulated sugar
½ cup honey
¾ cup light corn syrup
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Roasted Chestnut Hot Chocolate
1 pound shell-on fresh chestnuts
1 vanilla bean
4 cups whole milk
2 cups heavy cream
¼ cup chestnut paste
½ cup finely chopped milk chocolate (about 4 ounces)
1. Make the marshmallows: Preheat the oven to 300°. Use a sharp knife to split both of the vanilla beans in half lengthwise, then slice each half lengthwise again to make 8 long strips. Place the strips on a baking sheet and place in the oven. Bake until the vanilla beans are crisp and dry, 20 to 30 minutes. Remove the vanilla beans from the oven and set aside to cool completely. Once the beans are cooled, place them in a spice grinder or food processor and grind until a fine powder forms. Sift the mixture through a fine-mesh strainer, discarding any large bits.
2. Place a fine-mesh strainer over a medium bowl and sift the confectioners' sugar and the cornstarch together. Spray the bottom and sides of a 9-by-13-inch glass baking dish with nonstick spray. Sift 2 tablespoons of the sugar-cornstarch mixture evenly over the dish and reserve the extra sugar-cornstarch mixture in an airtight container.
3. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, place ½ cup of the water and sprinkle the powdered gelatin over the top in an even layer. Set the gelatin aside to bloom. In a small saucepan, add the reserved vanilla powder and the granulated sugar and stir to combine. Add the honey, corn syrup, salt and the remaining ½ cup of water to the saucepan and stir to combine. Place the saucepan over medium heat and bring to a boil. Once the mixture is boiling, stir once with a rubber spatula, then continue to cook without stirring, until the mixture reaches 240° on a candy thermometer, 10 to 12 minutes. Carefully remove the pan from the heat and turn on the stand mixer. With the mixer whisking on low speed, slowly pour in the hot sugar syrup, mixing on low until the gelatin dissolves. Turn the mixer to high and whisk until the mixture is light, fluffy and tripled in size, about 10 minutes. Spray a spatula with nonstick spray and use the spatula to transfer the marshmallow mixture to the prepared pan. Spread the marshmallows in an even layer and cover the pan with plastic wrap. Set aside at room temperature for at least 6 hours or preferably overnight.
4. Once the marshmallows have set, dust a cutting board evenly with some of the reserved sugar-cornstarch mixture and flip the pan of marshmallows over onto the dusted board. Remove the marshmallows from the pan and dust the top of the marshmallows evenly with some of the sugar-cornstarch mixture. Spray a knife or pizza cutter with nonstick spray and cut the marshmallows into 1-inch squares. Toss the cut marshmallows in the sugar-cornstarch mixture and shake off any excess coating. Transfer the marshmallows to an airtight container and store for up to 5 days.
5. Make the hot chocolate: Preheat the oven to 350°F. Add the chestnuts to the bowl of a food processor and pulse until the chestnuts are broken up into small pieces the size of chickpeas. (If you don't have a food processor, this can be done by carefully chopping the chestnuts with a heavy knife.) Transfer the broken chestnuts in a single layer onto a baking sheet.
6. Use a paring knife to split the vanilla bean in half lengthwise, then cut each half again lengthwise to make 4 long strips. Add the vanilla strips to the chestnuts and place in the oven. Roast for 15 minutes, until the chestnuts are fragrant.
7. While the chestnuts are roasting, in a large saucepan set over medium-high heat, add the milk and the cream and bring the liquid to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm. Once the chestnuts and vanilla have finished roasting, immediately transfer them to the milk mixture. Stir to combine, then cover the pot with a lid and set aside to infuse for 2 hours.
8. After 2 hours, return the saucepan to medium heat and bring to a boil. Place a strainer over a large bowl and strain the mixture through, discarding the chestnuts. Return the chestnut-infused milk to the saucepan. Add the chestnut paste and use a whisk or an immersion blender to fully incorporate the paste. Add the chocolate and blend or whisk until the chocolate is melted and completely incorporated. The roasted chestnut hot chocolate can be made and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 4 days.
9. To serve, rewarm the chestnut hot chocolate over medium-low heat and divide among 8 mugs. Top the hot chocolate with the marshmallows and serve.