Chicago pastry chef serves up sweet treats

March 26, 2010 8:33:38 PM PDT
The C-House in the Affinia Hotel is known for its generous use of seafood on the menu. But make sure you save room for dessert, because one of the city's rising stars has created a number of sweet options that will satisfy just about any palate.

At first, you see some tiny, sauteed sweet potatoes, followed by cajeta - a goat's milk caramel. Then, two dense, sweet potato donuts, followed by crushed pecans and sweet cream ice cream. Is it Southern? Perhaps Latin? Toni Roberts draws inspiration from various cultures, as well as the seasons, managing one of the most ambitious dessert menus in town, at the C-House Restaurant, inside the Affinia Hotel downtown.

"I try and stay really seasonal. I also go for a lot of comfort food and keeping with the seasons," said Roberts.

At just 25, Roberts cooks with confidence. Her frozen coconut cream pie is draped with sauteed mango and pineapple, which is echoed by ice cream versions of both fruits, accented by some candied coconut for good measure.

Her menu is broken into four sections: the first, a series of composed, plated desserts, like the donuts and the pie. Then a couple of artisan hot chocolates, like bittersweet peppermint or banana-hazelnut milk chocolate. Next, seasonal ice creams and sorbets served in trios. This time of year, her sorbet selection includes tart meyer lemon, tropical pineapple-mango and vivid, tangerine-like satsuma. The final section is called the Candy Bar. An assortment of two dollar splurges, including chocolates, confections and cookies.

"I wanted to keep a little something for everybody. If you just want a little bite off after dinner, you have the little tray of some chocolates or just a cookie or two with your coffee," Roberts said.

Best advice: choose a tasting, ranging from five, nine or 12 samples on a platter. Highlights from the chocolate section include banana butterscotch, peanut malt bark and peaches and cream, while confections such as toasted marshmallows or pistachio brittle tempt with their opposing textures. From the "cookies & such" department: mini vanilla bean cupcakes and molasses fudge sandwiches - both vying for your attention as much as the salted fudge brownies. Roberts says it's the perfect way to satisfy just about any sweet desire at the end of a meal.

"So people that really love desserts, they can pile their table with everything. So they have little bites of chocolate, they have a big giant donut dessert; they can have a hot chocolate with dinner," said Roberts.

There is also a small selection of artisan cheeses on the dessert menu ranging from three to seven different varieties.

166 E. Superior St.