I met Dana Cree this past autumn when I moderated a Taste Talks panel on one of my favorite topics, ice cream. Dana is one of Chicago’s most celebrated and beloved pastry chefs and is responsible for the sweets at both Blackbird and Avec, two of Chicago’s most celebrated and beloved restaurants. She has twice been nominated for a James Beard award for her work at Blackbird. Dana really loves making (and eating) ice cream. She’s been selling small batches of her carefully produced pints at Chicago’s Publican Quality Meats, where each one warmly introduces itself with a “Hello my name is…” tag. Someday she’ll undoubtedly have her own ice cream shop (I can’t wait!), but for now we hoard pints. Her ice cream landed her on that panel with me where I learned that Dana is funny (she talked about poop!), smart (further evidence available on her beautiful blog) and generous (here she is!).
There is one recipe that Dana is most famous for. It is these little peanut butter confections that have, up until now, shared a name with a certain commercially produced cookie. You know the one, its name rhymes with Mutter Putter. They have followed her across the country and become cult favorites everywhere she works. They’re currently on the menu at Avec, and they are spectacular. All of the sweet/salty pleasure you crave, crammed into a 1-inch by 1-inch square. Sometimes, they even get chopped up and folded into a pint of her vanilla bean ice cream. And now, thanks to the funny, smart and generous Dana Cree, they are yours to make at home.
But first! Back to that trademark protected name. Dana wants our help renaming these beauties. She plans on continuing to include them in her repertoire, and fold them into ice cream and she wants to have her own unique name for them (and avoid a cease and desist order). What should they be called?! How do we capture their magnificence in words? Let’s brainstorm in the comments below. Help us, Lottie + Doofers, you’re our only hope.
But second! Dana answered some pressing questions:
LOTTIE + DOOF FOOD QUIZ with Dana Cree:
Sweet or salty?
Chocolate or vanilla?
Hot (spicy) or mild?
What won’t you eat?
cardamom, tripe, eyeballs, brains
Most memorable meal?
- Seared Foie Gras, Mango, saba
- Gravlax cured salmon, potato puree, apple
- Ravioli aperto, egg yolk, ricotta
- Herb crusted lamb, whipped potatoes
- Warm chocolate tart, vanilla sauce
I was in culinary school and it was the first transcendental food experience for me, in a minimalist Northern Italian-inspired restaurant in Seattle that is now shut. I immediately set to the task of getting myself a job there. It took several tries but I worked there for 3 years and it defined the path I set on for cooking after that.
Favorite object in your kitchen?
Our strange fuzzy little mascot “coconut”.
What are you scared of in the kitchen?
Falling down the stairs.
Where would you like to travel to for the food?
If you were a fruit or vegetable, what would you be?
What are some of your favorite places to eat sweets in Chicago?
What’s the story with this recipe?
I worked at a restaurant called Veil in Seattle, and the inspiration for the nutter butter was a feuilletine crumble with peanut butter and cocoa nibs, that sat under a peanut butter ice cream. When I was at Poppy and we started preparing a dessert Thali, a round tray that included a plated dessert, an ice cream coupe, and 4 little duets of sweet bites. I needed to come up with little confections and bites that were unique, and I re-appropriated the peanut butter crumble and altered it so I could press it into the base of a sheet pan, then I covered it with a white chocolate caramel, cut it in squares, and the rest is history! Since then I have introduced them to the menu at Avec, and we chop them up and add them to vanilla ice cream for our Nutterbutter ice cream in pints at PQM.
Notes about this recipe: Perhaps no recipe has ever has a better ratio of work expended/deliciousness gained. This is a pretty simple recipe, though it may look scary at first. It uses a couple of pastry chef ingredients, feuilletine and cocoa butter, that will require seeking out. Feuilletine is something that more people should know about, it is versatile and delicious and a secret pastry chef weapon. You can find them both here. There is one spot where I had a tiny amount of trouble with the recipe. See the very subtle variations in color in the caramel glaze in the above photo? It should be more uniform in color. My glaze separated a tiny, tiny, bit in the batch of these I made to photograph (of course!). This can happen if there isn’t enough liquid in the glaze (probably a result of too much evaporation when you scald the cream). If, when you are whisking the caramel and white chocolate together it doesn’t seem like they are fully combining, try adding a teaspoon of hot water and it should do the trick. But also know, that this small imperfection did not effect the flavor at all. Just, you know, heads up.
Seriously, these are one of the best things you will ever make.
The Peanut Butter Confections Formerly Known as Nutter Butters by Dana Cree
- 450g peanut butter (preferred: Skippy, creamy)
- 150g milk chocolate
- 65g cocoa butter
- 100g cocoa nibs
- 300g feuilletine
- 5g kosher salt
1. Spray a very flat quarter sheet pan with pan spray and line with parchment. Set aside.
2. Place peanut butter, milk chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa nibs, and salt in a large metal bowl. Place over a double boiler to melt, stirring occasionally.
3. When completely fluid, add the feuilletine and fold to completely incorporate.
4. Transfer to the lined sheetpan, and spread the mixture evenly into the pan. Using the offset spatula, lightly massage the mixture until the feuilletine is flat and the fluid chocolate and peanut butter is visible on the top.
5. Chill until completely firm and prepare the topping.
- 100g sugar
- 150g cream
- 1/2 vanilla bean
- 2.5g kosher salt
- 300g white chocolate
- 40g butter
1. Scald cream with vanilla bean and set aside, keeping warm. Measure the white chocolate and salt into a bowl and set a strainer over the top. Set aside.
2. Caramelize the sugar until smoking and producing a froth on the top. It will look as if you are burning the sugar, and you are. this is necessary to bring any real caramel flavor through the white chocolate. Don’t be afraid, it will be delicious.
3. Remove the burnt caramel from the heat, and add the butter. Allow the butter to melt, and sizzle on the top of the caramel before stirring in, allowing the butter solids to brown. Once the butter has started to brown, stir the butter into the caramel, and add the warm vanilla cream, stirring until completely incorporated.
4. Strain the caramel directly over the white chocolate, and stir to incorporate.
5. Immediately spread the caramel over the nutter butter base and spread until even.
6. Chill overnight.
7. Cut into 1 inch squares for service.
They can be served cold from the fridge, which I kind of like best. Or at room temperature.
This, obviously, makes a quarter sheet pan of amazingness, which when cut into 1-inch squares is a LOT of squares—117 to be exact. Good news: they keep really well in the fridge. At least for a week, maybe two, maybe longer. Also, they can be chopped up and folded into some vanilla ice cream. Also, they will help you make friends, so share them. Throw a party, they are reason to celebrate.
BUT WHAT SHOULD THEY BE CALLED??????????