This time of year, seasonal desserts are pretty limited. But not every pastry chef curls up and falls back on chocolate. You can still get creative and, as we discovered, there are plenty of delicious flavors beckoning even after the first frost.
Most pastry chefs get their inspiration in the spring and summer, as local fruit rears its head. But Sarah Kosikowski actually prefers this time of year. As the pastry chef overseeing the entire Trump International Hotel and Tower in River North, including their restaurant, Sixteen, she takes a romantic view of the cold.
"I love the snow, I think it's inspiration. I think the city is at its most beautiful when it's snowing. The river... just when it's all iced over, I think it's much more beautiful than summer," said Kosikowski.
So for every chocolate dish she offers - like the house favorite made with gianduja, a hazelnut-flavored chocolate, plus nutella powder, peanut butter crunch and cocoa nib ice cream - she'll also offer something more typical of the season. In this case, she'll peel her late autumn apples, such as Honeycrisp and Ida Red, then place the cut slices into a dark caramel, covering them, and then slow-roasting them into a tatin. To plate, she begins by piping apple butter into the well of a white chocolate mousse made with birch tree syrup. Those soft, sweet tatin apples are then placed around the mousse; some streusel made from sorghum and muscovado sugar adds crunch, while a white cinnamon ice cream gives it some creaminess and keeps it seasonal.
"We're getting apples, pears. cider...we try to get as much as possible from the farmers," she said.
Thinly-sliced pears are placed into a riesling and white wine verjus - an acidic, sour liquid made from unripe fruit - kind of mimics a vinegar or lemon juice and heightens flavor. Kosikowski stacks them onto an almond pound cake, then echoes that verjus with tiny dots made from white grapes and pears, plus a riesling gelee, or gelatin. Textural elements include vanilla streusal, honey granules, pear "paper" and a smooth, creamy toasted almond milk ice cream.
Petit fours - or tiny treats - are another way for Kosikowski to get into the spirit of the season.. an assortment is always offered, free of charge, to guests at Sixteen. The week we were there, they offered cashew brittle, ginger caramels, passionfruit and apricot fruit jellies and pistachio-cranberry nougat.
"Everyone loves the petit fours. They change up nightly, just depends kind of what's in season, what we feel like doing," said Kosikowski.
Sarah's desserts are available at both lunch and dinner. Reservations are recommended.
Sixteen at Trump International Hotel & Tower
401 N. Wabash Ave.