This weekend we took a stroll along the Seine en famille. It was still pretty chilly but we needed a walk, some quality time together and a wee dose of Paris. One of the typical scenes in this cold weather is the sellers of roasted chestnuts by the side of the road and at the exits of some popular metro stations.
As the glacial wind threatens to whisk any colour out of your cheeks, the welcoming aromas of roasted chestnuts waft around the metro stairs as you surface to street level. My girls were just so excited. “Mummy, pleeeease can we have a poke of roasted chestnuts? You’re such an angel, the best Mum in the world…“
Yeh, right. At 5 euros a poke they needed to enjoy them Am I getting cynical or what? In any case, it’s true that there’s no other creamy, rich taste than roasted chesnuts. Full of flavour, they’re ideal for adding to the traditional poultry stuffings we have in the UK and US.
In France it’s not used as a stuffing as such but either served roasted with vegetables or as a purée alongside poultry. It’s funny: we live in Le Pecq, outside Paris, where Alexandre Dumas (Three Musketeers fame) built his extravagant Château de Monte Cristo. His other passion – or Violon d’Ingres - was cooking and opulent entertaining. In the Château’s museum we see examples from his “Grande Dictionnaire de Cuisine” which mentions puréed chestnuts served with pork sausages. We often forget, though, that chestnuts are just as good in desserts for that something un peu différent.
I enjoyed reading BraveTart’s latest blog entry (loved it: Mont blog!) on the Mont Blanc pastry. With such a magnificent pâtisserie based on a mountain of chestnut threads, it’s surprising that the chestnut isn’t yet that popular as a dessert in the US, yet.
Here in France, we’re lucky that the chestnut comes in different forms for baking. Clément Faugier from the Ardèche makes a wicked candied chestnut (marron glacé) and vanilla spread. Typically, we use it for dolloping on fromage blanc to give it a sticky-toffee-creamy-nutty flavour, which is so handy when we don’t often have time to even THINK of making dessert, especially when hungry children are concerned… and it’s a healthy sweet, full of calcium.
I often throw a 100g tin when making a typical 500ml batch of ice-cream (see p.125 of book for recipe). I’m an ice-cream lover: not just because it’s often handy to have a quick gourmet dessert when needed, but it also uses up many egg yolks. That way I’m a happy bunny with plenty of whites stocked up for making macarons.
Who could resist a melting scoop of chestnut ice-cream on warm crêpes or pancakes? We certainly have plenty of excuses to make them following US pancake week and in anticipation of next week’s Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday. Who doesn’t like a good pancake now and again? Here we serve Crêpes. In Scotland we also have Scotch Pancakes. As my husband is from Corsica, where chestnut flour is one of the basic elements in baking, I love using some chestnut flour we brought back from his mountain village last summer.
Corsican chestnut flour is pretty strong and so a little goes a long way. As chestnuts are already quite powdery in nature, the flour is uniquely intense. Typically we use it to make a rustic Corsican Chestnut Cake (my mother-in-law serves it at breakfast but being Scottish I do prefer this at goûter time with a pot of tea. Well, nobody’s perfect :-)) I do, however, love adding a little chestnut flour to Scotch Pancakes for a New Alliance. Here’s my recipe for Scottish-Corsican Chestnut Pancakes.
You can just whip them up in next to no time and serve warm with plenty of honey (Scottish Heather Honey or Corsican honey, so no favouritism!) Or try drizzled with warmed Whisky marmalade: chestnut and bitter orange go so well together. I’m not going to influence you but the Corsicans also have a wonderful Chestnut liqueur, so I love to add a tablespoon to pancakes, muffins, brownies, cannelés, macarons, or just in a glass on its own… Oh and there’s the Corsican beer, Pietra: it’s brewed with chestnuts and has a unique smoky taste.
How could I finish off without even talking about a macaron or two? As you can understand, I’m not allowed to share my macaron recipes with you, as the rights belong to Waverley Books. C’est normal. You’ll just have to buy the book! But I can leave you with a few photos now and again… Here are some Chestnut macarons. They are delicious plain (using the Chestnut paste from the Ardèche and I managed to find a chestnut aroma, too) but adding a few candied orange bits in the filling can also add that extra je ne sais quoi…
Before you go, I’m thrilled to say that Manuela from Manu’s Menu has honoured Le Blog with an award. Gosh, there are times when it feels you’re posting out to a vast empty void so this Lovely Blog Award makes it feel like I’m doing something ok. Grazie Mille, Manu! Thanks also for helping me out with the image (she’s not just clever in the kitchen but a whizz on the internet, too.) Check out her step-by-step mouthwatering recipes on her blog and you’ll become master in the art of Italian cooking, prestissimo!
Update (January 2012): Recipe now posted for Sweet Chestnut Ice Cream