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Pastry Chef Dana Cree's Ice Creams Are Getting Their Own Cookbook

By Janet Rausa Fuller | November 11, 2015 6:15am

Pasty chef Dana Cree is writing a cookbook based on the popular ice creams she made for Publican Quality Meats. [Dana Cree]

WEST LOOP — Being a pastry chef is "the only thing I've ever done. I don't really know how to do anything else," Dana Cree said in a radio interview this summer.

Well, that's not entirely true. Cree, the former pastry chef of Blackbird and Avec, knows how to write well, and she does it often — a biweekly column for Lucky Peach magazine, a monthly column for Chefs Feed, a blog called The Pastry Department.

And anyone who'd ever picked up a pint of Cree's "Hello My Name Is" ice cream from the freezer case at sister restaurant Publican Quality Meats knows she's adept in this particular category of sweets.

Now the Pilsen resident gets to combine the two in her first cookbook, "Hello My Name Is Ice Cream," to be published in spring 2017. She describes it as a "field guide to ice cream," a happy medium between dumbed-down ice cream cookbooks pushing a brand and intimidating science textbook-style ones.

Sweetening the deal: Her friend, artist and colleague Anna Posey (she was the Publican pastry chef) will illustrate it.

"It's like my dream job, and I know she's been dying to do this book for a long time," said Posey, who is planning a West Loop restaurant with her chef husband David Posey, another Blackbird alum. "She has so much knowledge about how she wants to share this book."

After working 12-hour restaurant days, Cree, 36, said writing now feels "like a vacation." The book jells with her new job as culinary director at 1871 Dairy, for which she's developing a line of ice cream and other milk-based products — and her longtime goal of opening a scoop shop.

"Anybody who knows me knows my endgame is an ice cream shop," said Cree. "Written into my contract [with 1871] is the ability to produce my own line of ice cream."

1871 Dairy, started by Wheaton resident Travis Pyykkonen, is building a processing facility on Racine Avenue in the West Loop that will bring its organic, unhomogenized milk from grass-fed Wisconsin herds to a wider Chicago audience. (1871's milk is used by a handful of restaurants around town and is for sale at Publican Quality, Local Foods, Harvestime Foods, Plum Market and Green City Market.)

The micro dairy, which will include a retail store, is slated for a spring completion, Cree said.

Her shop, for which she would like to manufacture her own ice cream base as opposed to buying a pre-made one as most shops do, is much further down the road.

Cree sees distinct differences between what she's making for 1871 and the ice cream she became known for at Blackbird and continues to build on as she writes her cookbook and plots her future business.

The 1871 ice cream is "dairy forward" to showcase the pure, grass-grazed flavors of the milk, while hers is "playful, quirky and a little out there," replete with crackly chunks, caramel ribbons and such.

"I love add-ins. I want it to be a whole dessert in a scoop," she said.

Pastry Chef Dana Cree's cookbook will take readers into the process of making ice cream as she did it at Blackbird. [Dana Cree]

For Cree, a Seattle native who has worked at Noma, Alinea and Spago, ice cream appeals to both the nostalgic kid and the curious cook within her.

"Pastry chefs in restaurants, we're jacks of all trades but masters of none. We rarely get the opportunity to specialize in one thing," she said. "But if you ask every pastry chef out there, they have a pet — one area where they really geek out, and for me, it's ice cream."

Her flavors that caught a following at Publican Quality included Gooey Butter Cake, Cheesecake Neapolitan and Nutter Butter. She made them in small batches, eight or nine pints at a time, and hand-labeled them with those colorful "Hello My Name Is" stickers.

She also kept a blog called The Pastry Department. It was a sort of virtual tour behind the scenes at Blackbird and a resource for other pastry chefs.

"Mostly we just wanted people to see what we were doing," said Cree, who maintains the blog with other chefs contributing.

Cree has done this sort of writing, peeling back the curtain on chef life, for years going back to 2005 when she was working at the acclaimed Fat Duck in England.

Blogging was foreign to her then. She didn't realize that what she wrote on her blog, Phat Duck, could be read by anyone — that is, until The Guardian newspaper asked to publish some of her posts after the restaurant topped the list of the world's 50 best restaurants.

"When I walked into work, [her boss, the chef Heston Blumenthal] was like, 'I read your diary,'" she said.

Her cookbook won't hold back on trade secrets. It'll be split into three sections, the first covering the science behind ice cream and the others devoted to recipes for single-flavored ice cream, frozen yogurt and sherbet as well as scoop shop-style flavors with all the add-ins.

The book will merge Posey's drawings with photographs because photos alone of ice cream are "kind of boring," Cree said. "It all looks the same color. And since she's a pastry chef, she just has this keen ability to translate the emotion of desserts into her painting."

It'll get technical — why her recipes call for glucose and not just plain sugar, for example — but not too much, Cree said. She promises "blank-slate" recipes "so you basically have a canvas for inventing your own flavor."

"If there's one thing I want to shy away from, it's taking ice cream from being a simple pleasure. I don't want to take it out of the realm of home cooking," she said.

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