cThe chestnuts are here: dark, plump and shiny—and flat on one side from where they snuggled together in their spiky green trunks. Sweet chestnuts grew in the woods near my childhood home. I would stash them away in my duffel pocket on my way home from school. We roasted them over a fire, and one of them cracked now and then like a whip, and let out a drizzle of nut splinters.
Better, I think, is to roast them in the oven. A deep cross on their rounded side will prevent them from exploding and exposing their body to heat. This is how I cook them to eat as is, and not worry about removing the brown skin. It is a bit of a chore, however, if you intend to puree it or use it in a pudding. I always turn to ready-made purees and vacuum-packed whole nuts. They can be folded into a Christmas nut loaf, or tossed with the aromatics of a roast bird in a pot or in the filling of a tart or chocolate cake.
Chestnut puree might not be much to look at, but serve with enough icing sugar, meringue, and melted chocolate and you’ll have one of the world’s classic marriages. It saves a lot of work for the chef. Every year I wait for a new season of Maroon Glassies, with its messy textures, frosting frosting, and origami-style gold wrappers. I hope to have some in my store.
Chestnut leaves are long, thin, with edges like sawtooth, and are often used to wrap goat cheese. You bake one whole, in its sheets, then unwrap it and watch the molten cheese come out. You will need crispy toast on the side or slices of russet apple, toasted nuts and a bunch of bitter leaves.
Red leaves, warm cheese and chestnuts
Look for young cheese wrapped in fig leaves for this purpose if you can. Or use kitchen foil to wrap the cheese instead. Serves 4
chestnut 200 gr
Goat cheese 4, each weighing about 80 grams
treviso, radicchio, and other red chicory 100 grams in total
pear 200 gr
beetroot 1, small and raw
Red wine vinegar 2 tbsp
garlic 1 small clove
olive oil 3 tbsp
Dijon mustard 1 tsp
Cut a cross on each chestnut, then place them in a single layer in a roasting pan. Bake for 25 minutes at 180°C / gas mark 4, until the exposed walnuts are pale golden, then remove from the oven, cover with a cloth and leave for 15 minutes. Remove the nuts from their shells—I’m not too fussy about removing the brown skin—and crumble or chop into small pieces.
If your cheeses come with a fig leaf, all to good. If not, place the cheese on a piece of foil, wrap it loosely and press the edges together. Bake (they can share the chestnuts in the oven) for 15 minutes, until the cheese starts to ooze.
Make the sauce: Peel the garlic and crush it into a paste with a pinch of salt. Put the paste in a small bowl, pour in the vinegar, and set aside for 10 minutes. Add the mustard to the vinegar, then whisk the olive oil with a fork.
Wash the leaves and chop them into large pieces. Cut the pears into 4 or 6 pieces, depending on size – chop and discard the core. Peel the beetroot and cut it into slices. Stir the peeled pears, beets, and chestnuts into the sauce and simmer until the cheeses are ready.
Place the salad leaves on a serving dish, add the pears; Put the sauce on the leaves. Put melted cheese on top.
Chocolate chestnut cake
Serve in thin slices, with a spoonful of Chantilly cream on the side. Serves 8
butter 250 gr
caster sugar 225g
Self-raising flour 225g
Baking powder 1 tsp
cocoa powder 30 grams
milk 4 tbsp
Hot espresso 4 tbsp
dark chocolate 250 gr
butter 100 gr
Chestnut puree 400 gr
caster sugar 2 tbsp
Cooked chestnuts 100 gr
icing sugar 1 tbsp
You will need a square 20cm baking tin lined with baking paper and a 20cm loaf tin for the cake.
Set the oven to 170C / gas mark 3. Cut the butter into cubes, put them in the bowl of a food mixer and add the caster sugar. Beat until soft and creamy. Break the eggs into a bowl, add the milk and whisk a little. Sift flour with baking powder and cocoa powder. Add the eggs to the butter and sugar. If it starts to curdle, add a tablespoon of flour. Mix flour, cocoa, then coffee. Stop the machine once everything has been combined.
Transfer the mixture to a square cake tin, smooth the surface slightly, and bake for 35 minutes, until risen and set. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.
Make the filling: Break the chocolate into small pieces, place in a heatproof bowl, and place over a saucepan of simmering water. Leave the chocolate to melt without stirring. When it’s completely melted, chop the butter into small pieces and add it to the chocolate, stirring occasionally, until it melts. Combine the chestnut purée with the sugar and beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Stir the puree with the melted chocolate.
Drape the rectangular loaf pan with the cling film, pushing it into the corner and leaving some edges overhanging. Cut a slice of cake the length and width of the cake tin. Cut it into 3 horizontal slices, to give 3 thin slices. Place one in the base of the tin. Add a third of the chocolate-chestnut mixture, spoon flat and place the second piece of cake on top and press firmly. Now add the second third of the chocolate mixture, the remaining part of the cake, and then the last slice of cake.
Fold the foil over the can and place it in the refrigerator for two hours. Place the remaining third of the mixture in a bowl over the hot water. (Although off the heat, the mixture will cool, but don’t set too hard.)
Turn the pan upside down and remove the cake. Spread the top with the chocolate reserved mixture, then garnish with the cooked chestnuts and sprinkle with icing sugar.
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