This holiday season, satisfy your sweet tooth with internationally inspired delights at Chicago’s top restaurants.
Three different flavors of Bûche de Noël will be available all December long at Beacon Tavern. The festive yule logs will be available in crowd-pleasing chocolate ganache, fruity cherry coconut, and Mont Blanc, another traditional French dessert flavored with chestnuts. “The chocolate cake will have many different variations of chocolate, from creams to cakes, crunches and ganache,” Chef Kevin McCormick explains. End your meal with a slice or call three days ahead to order a whole cake to go for $48, which feeds eight to 10 people. 405 N. Wabash Ave., Chicago, 312-955-4226
Pastry Chef Becca Zuckerman first had kanafeh visiting Israel on a Birthright trip. The celebratory Middle Eastern dessert inspires her orange blossom cheesecake for the holidays. “I wanted to do an approachable version of that dessert that was recognizable to our customer,” she says. Traditionally, kanafeh is served with warm cheese and honey sandwiched between shredded phyllo, but Zuckerman creates a more composed version. She artfully surrounds cream cheese mascarpone cheesecake with a nest of shredded phyllo, candied Sicilian pistachios, and apricot jam. 1604 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 312-929-4945
Makowiec — Polish poppy-seed rolls — are a holiday favorite at Delightful Pastries, and a nostalgic reminder of Owner Dobra Bielinski‘s childhood. “I remember eating my grandmother’s makowiec as a little girl,” she says. “The house would smell beautiful once the poppy seeds were cooked, and she would drain and grind them. Then she would add raisins, walnuts, almonds, honey, candied orange peel, almond oil, sugar, and crushed cookies.” After rolling out the yeast dough, the poppy-seed filling is placed on top, then rolled together and pinched at the seams. “Me and my mom follow the same traditions as my grandmother, but we will add candied orange peel to the icing on top to make it extra fancy.” 5927 W. Lawrence Ave., Chicago, 773-545-7215 and 131 N. Clinton St., Chicago, 312-234-9644
Pastry Chef/Partner Jennifer Jones Enyart drew inspiration from both Mexico and Australia for her peppermint Pavlova. The light meringue is filled with Mexican chocolate mousse, chocolate chunks, and candy cane shards, then finished with chocolate sauce. “I love peppermint with Mexican chocolate because, while dark chocolate with peppermint is a very traditional pairing, using Mexican chocolate is an unexpected twist on the combination,” she says. “The texture and hint of cinnamon lend interest and depth to the flavor combination.” The Pavlova was invented by a pastry chef in Australia in honor of visiting ballerina Anna Pavlova as a light dessert combining crispy meringue, whipped cream, and fruit. Enyart’s version uses coarse, granular Ibarra Mexican chocolate. 2829 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago, 773-661-6452
Chef Guy Meikle fondly remembers keeping a stash of homemade pastries at home to feed any visitors, family, and friends as a kid. He recalls baking tons of miniature kolachki during the holiday season and trading cookie tins among friends and neighbors. “These pastries bring a sense of family and nostalgia to everyone who remembers them,” he says. “The only differences are ours are oversized and stuffed with local fruit jams and fillings. We use Seedling, Klug, and Nichols fruits to make our jams. [Pastry Chef] Alan [Krueger] makes our puff pastry, so it’s a little crisper on the outer edges, but just as tender as the old-school ones.” They’ll be serving an elaborate cookie plate, which will include homemade gingerbread men, for the holidays. 2700 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 773-661-9577
Executive Pastry Chef Ashley Torto‘s favorite winter flavors inspire her seasonal gateau at Margeaux Brasserie. Brown butter cake is topped with crème fraîche mousse, candied pecans, and cranberry-marmalade-swirled ice cream. “Nothing compares to the sweet smell of candied nuts being roasted on a chilly day,” Torto says. “The tart cranberries help to cut through the creamy vanilla ice cream and are just so lovely in combination with the warm baking spices in the cake.” During the week of Christmas, a traditional chocolate French Bûche de Noël yule log cake filled with hazelnut mousse will also be available at Margeaux with mini bûchettes at street-level patisserie Petit Margeaux. 11 E. Walton St., Chicago, 312-625-1324
The Sicilian cassata cake at Nico Osteria is adapted from Sous Chef Sarah Mineo‘s family recipe. “I love using family recipes in the restaurant setting,” Pastry Chef Leigh Omilinsky explains. “The cake itself is super delicate and the filling is full of rich ricotta and cinnamon, so this year I want to play up the spice factor.” She combines cloves and anise with cinnamon for the ricotta filling, paired with tart sugar-poached cranberries and dried fruits rehydrated in rum. Another Italian spice cake, Siennese panpepato, is used to make a gelato that accompanies the slice of cassata. It’s a bold departure from the relatively simple, vibrant green glazed cassata Omilinsky served at Nico a couple Christmases ago. 1015 N. Rush St., Chicago, 312-994-7100
“Any type of fruit cake served at Christmas is a favorite of mine,” says Executive Pastry Chef Chris Teixeira. At West Town Bakery, he candies lemon and orange zest along with rum-soaked cranberries and raisins for a light and airy Italian panettone. Each ingredient is meticulously prepared and just candying citrus zest takes a few weeks. “Every day we re-calibrate the sugar syrup that the citrus is submerged in until the proper consistency is achieved,” he says. Loaves are available at both West Town bakery locations and online. P.S. Leftover panettone makes excellent French toast. 1916 W. Chicago Ave., Chicago, 773-904-1414 and 15 E. Ohio St., Chicago, 312-894-0935
More from Make It Better:
- 5 Holiday Recipes From Chicago Chefs
- 7 Best Chicago Bakeries for Delicious Holiday Desserts
- Holiday Tablescapes: 4 Table Decoration Ideas From Local Pros
Amber Gibson spends 340 nights a year in hotels searching for the latest and greatest in the travel industry. Her writing and photographs have appeared in print, online, and on the radio for outlets including Four Seasons Magazine, NPR, Saveur, Departures, Rhapsody, Hemispheres, American Way, Private Air, Wine Folly, Plate, Chicago Magazine, Tasting Table and Serious Eats. She graduated as valedictorian from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism and received a fellowship to attend the 2017 Wine Writers Symposium at Meadowood Napa Valley. Champagne, dark chocolate and gelato are her biggest weaknesses. She also admires and supports CAASE in Chicago. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Twitter.