The 1st December, the air is chill now at night and the menu cries out for the aroma of roasted chestnuts…
By day though, the air is warm, the weather still dry enough to lift the lid of the BBQ and put it to use for winter fare. The chestnuts spat and singed, browned and went brittle with the heat from the cast-iron wok. I could have left them at that – ready to put in a paper cone and munch straight from the fire as instant food, creating the wintry atmos you get on most continental city streets this time of year with the chestnut hawkers’ braziers. But, I wondered, what else can I do with chestnuts?
My sweet tooth got the better of me and I devised a chestnut and chocolate tartelette recipe as one of two nut-inspired desserts in the past week. I named the duo of desserts ‘Nutcracker Sweets’ to give them an early festive season ring. The second instalment is next weekend. These tartelettes are best served warm with some cream or chocolate sauce; next week’s nut dessert is more a dinner party dolce and served chilled. If you baulk at the idea of making your own chestnut flour, simply use ground almonds or hazelnuts instead. You could always just munch the chestnuts accompanied by some mulled wine of course to usher in the Christmas month in the right spirit! Delicious December gets off to a good start…New Year’s resolutions will put paid to the sweet tooth!
All images © Liz Ayling 2012
Chestnut & Chocolate Tartelettes (makes 6-8)
100g chestnut flour
(I used whole chestnuts, roasted, shelled and ground finely in the food processor. But shelled hazelnuts and almonds are quicker to prepare).
100g semolina or polenta (or plain flour for a lighter topping)
100g butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
80g caster sugar
Thick, good-quality chocolate spread or sauce (or homemade chocolate crema pasticcera (click link for crema recipe in Pine Nut Cake))
Block of ready-made shortcrust pastry. Or, make up 200g of plain flour with 100g butter, a beaten egg, 2 tbsp water and a tsp of lemon juice. Add a heaped teaspoon of sieved cocoa powder to the flour. Wrap and chill pastry for half an hour before rolling out.
If using whole chestnuts in their shells, first roast them. You need to cut a cross in the flat side of the chestnut with a paring knife and then roast the nuts on a large baking tray for around 40 minutes in a preheated oven (210°C) tossing them over at intervals; or, like me, roast them in a heavy-based (cast iron) wok or pan on the BBQ. When the chestnuts are tinged at the edges and the shells brittle, leave until just cool enough to handle then shell. Place in a food processor, pulse them and then grind finely. Sieve if necessary to remove any larger pieces. If using shelled hazelnuts or almonds, just blitz up in the processor till a fine grain. Retain a few whole nuts to chop and serve on the tarts.
In a small saucepan, melt the butter. Meanwhile, mix the eggs and sugar and beat in the nut flour and the semolina (or polenta/plain four, if using), and finally the melted butter. Set aside while you roll out the pastry to around 3mm. Cut out 6 to 8 small tartelettes using a saucer as a template. Line small, loose-base mini tins. Cover the tart bases with a good layer of thick chocolate spread or confectioner’s custard and then spoon over the nut filling, spreading gently to the edges.
Bake tartelettes for around 30 minutes at 180°C or until risen slightly and lightly browned. Cool a little before turning out. They are best served warm with thick cream and a few chopped roast nuts on top. Extra chocolate sauce warmed and poured over is really delicious!
This Red Bistro recipe appeared in E&D magazine, Times of Malta, 30 November 2012.