chestnut cream: how to roast, peel & puree chestnuts
Oh chestnuts, those little… er… chestnuts.
I kept stumbling across street vendors selling bags of brown delicious smelling goodness but never really thought to try my own hand at them – partly because I didn’t have a lovely little fire pit containing smoulderingly hot coals and partly because… oh here goes…
(pause for effect)
I’d never tried eating a chestnut before.
I mean, sure, I’d had the dried and reconstituted chestnuts. You know, the type you find in bundles of glutinous rice or eight treasure duck or all ground up and turned into a sweet delicious gelatinous paste and served fried up at yum cha on a plate of otherwise savoury items, leading to a very confused set of tastebuds (“Oh this is nice!” they think, until, suddenly “why is there chilli sauce on my dessert?! Aurgh!”)
And then, last month, Koji and I hit up the now newly departed Becasse for our anniversary, where they served a “Mont Blanc” for the first dessert of the degustation.
I put “Mont Blanc” in inverted commas because this was no ordinary cream and chestnut puree mont blanc. (Not that I’d ever tried a normal mont blanc before as any patisserie that sells it usually also sells opera gateaux and when faced with the choice between a mountain and a concerto, I always chose the latter).
It had still bitey stewed apples and raisins. A lick of torched meringue. A sprinkling of puffed buckwheat (I think) and a cloud of lighter than air, nutty as anything chestnut puree-custard-mousse-something-delicious-and-likely-French on top.
I fell in love at first bite.
And so it was that I bought my very first raw chestnuts.
And (again) so it was that I realised that I hadn’t the slightest idea as to what to do with them.
Luckily for me, the internet, Larousse Gastronomique and my dear family friend John Poh were at hand to help a sister out and with their combined knowledge (and my utter inability to follow instructions and just go with one method) I mish-mashed them all together and ended up with some beautifully peeled chestnuts that came out whole, and without my fingernails suffering too badly (or at all).
The trick? A three step boil-roast-steam process that guarantees successful shell and fuzz removal.
(It’s also easier than it sounds).
I later used my freshly peeled chestnuts to form a sweet chestnut puree and then a chestnut cream that adorned my birthday dacquois. You may notice that only 400g of the chestnut puree is used in the cream (despite the recipe making a hefty kilogram or so of it). I blame its edibility. By that, I’m mainly referring to how easily I can eat it. On crackers. Or off a spoon. Or off my finger.
Good luck and happy peeling!
- a sharp small knife (serrated edged or a paring knife are good)
- hot water
- an oven
- a tea towel
- a large towel
- a big bowl
- 600g chestnuts (unshelled weight)
- 600ml milk
- 400g sugar
- 1 vanilla bean
- 400g sweet chestnut puree
- 400g cream
- Cut a cross in the chestnut shell. Do this carefully. I cut on the rounded side because it was easier to lie the flat side down on the table. Some instructions tell you to cut the flat side, but I found it too tricky and didn’t get a much varied result from it.
- Pre-heat your oven to 200C and place a roasting dish or oven tray inside.
- Pop the chestnuts into a saucepan of water and bring it up to the boil. Once it is boiling, start your timer for 2 minutes. At the end of that time, drain the water off the chestnuts and tip the still steaming chestnuts onto the hot oven tray in the oven.
- Leave the chestnuts in the oven for 7 minutes. By this time ,the skin will have started to peel back from the kernel.
- While the nuts are roasting, prepare a large bowl by wrapping it in a large towel. Put a tea towel inside the bowl.
- Toss the nuts inside the tea towel in the bowl and wrap the whole lot up with the big towel. This will keep the nuts warm as you peel them.
- Pull one nut out at a time from under the towels and pull the shell and fluffy inner skin away from the kernel. Keep going until you’re all done.
- Shell the chestnuts using the above method (or whichever method you prefer).
- Chop the chestnuts roughly then place in a saucepan with the milk, sugar and vanilla. Bring it to a simmer so that all the sugar dissolves and continue to heat for about 20 minutes so that the chestnuts have a chance to absorb some of the milk.
- Remove the vanilla bean. Pour the remaining ingredients into a blender (be careful! It will be hot!) then blend until it forms a thick liquid.
- Return the liquid back to the saucepan and heat, stirring continuously until it thickens and forms a bubbling paste. Let the chestnut puree cool before using it.
- Whip the cream until it just starts to thicken.2. Add the sweet chestnut puree and continue to whip until it forms firm peaks.