Sunday, January 20, 2013

Chocolate Chestnut Dessert

It’s Inauguration Weekend, not just for the President of the United States but also for smaller elected offices dotted across our country.  For example, this is the weekend that new officers are “installed” at our local volunteer fire and ambulance company. 

Whatever you are celebrating this month, here is a simple and sophisticated dessert that takes little time and less effort.  Indulgent on winter nights but not too sweet.  The mousse-like pudding gets its structure from mashed chestnuts rather than eggs.  Combined with chocolate and vanilla, this dessert can be chilled in one large serving bowl or scooped into individual parfait glasses and refrigerated until serving.   Add a dollop of freshly whipped cream or enjoy them plain with some chocolate curls shaved onto the tops. 

Chestnuts are native to the Americas though it is the French who savor the fruit in many desserts and alongside roasts.  Here, the chestnut tree was primarily prized for its wood. 

Thanksgiving chestnut dressing recipes using the fruit (or nut) have been making a strong comeback in recent years as cooks explore new and old ingredients.  The chestnut has a slightly grainy texture that is easy to mash up and mix with other ingredients, both sweet and savory.  Chopped, it compliments the aforementioned dressing and roasted Brussels sprouts, updated green bean casserole and other green vegetables. 

Chestnut trees along the eastern United States all but died out in the early 1900s due to blight.  The American Chestnut Foundation has reintroduced them over the past thirty years using a hybrid of the American and Asian species.  Most supermarkets now carry chestnut puree or, in my case, cooked and peeled chestnuts.  They are most often the sweet chestnut, imported from Europe or Asia.  Do not substitute water chestnuts for chestnuts.  They are not the same thing. 

Chestnut Chocolate Dessert
Serves 2, recipe can be tripled

12 chestnuts, cooked and peeled
¼ cup each water and sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla
     -or ¾ cup chestnut puree
4 squares dark chocolate (1/2 bar)
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
¼ cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon rum

  1. Place the chestnuts in a small saucepan with the sugar and water over medium heat.  Swirl the mixture as the sugar melts.  Remove from heat and add vanilla.  Let cool 10 minutes then puree.  Scoop puree into a medium bowl and set aside.  
  2. Melt chocolate with butter in a small glass bowl on low in the microwave, using thirty-second increments, stirring between blasts.  Remove chocolate mixture when there is still a little solid left and allow mixture to finish melting in warmed vessel.  
  3. Meanwhile, whip cream with rum.   
  4. Using a rubber spatula, stir chocolate into chestnut puree.  Next fold in whipped cream.  
  5. Divide mixture among glasses or a single serving bowl, cover and refrigerate at least one hour, until firm.  Serve with more whipped cream, chocolate curls or a little powdered sugar. 
Those who have tasted Mont Blanc, the mountainous trompe l’oeil dessert made from vanilla-scented chestnut puree and whipped cream will recognize this inspiration for this light chocolate creation.