See, whenever I step foot in a grocery store or a gourmet food shop, I cannot leave without buying some obscure ingredient that I think I may need for a recipe I saw once…somewhere.
And now all of the sweetened chestnut purees, semolina flours, dried figs and sliced, blanched and/or shelled nuts are taking over my kitchen. It’s getting ugly, folks.
So this weekend, I decided it was time to find that recipe I saw once…somewhere…and get on with it.
A jar of sweetened chestnut puree had been hibernating in my cupboard for a long time. Let’s put it this way: a friend has conceived and given birth since I bought this thing. I have also moved apartments. Like I said, long time.
I leafed through my bloated cookbook collection and finally found the recipe I must have had in mind when I decided this was an item I could not live without: a sweet chestnut torte from Alice Medrich’s “Chocolate and the Art of Low-Fat Desserts.” She says it’s for anyone who, like her, loves chestnut puree and relishes the idea of eating it straight from the jar with a spoon. Now, I’m not one to pooh-pooh eating out of the jar (oh, my poor little peanut butter jar, how I have wronged thee…), but I’ve never plowed into a jar of sweetened chestnut puree with wild abandon. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever tried sweetened chestnut puree – which is probably why I bought the jar in the first place.
The chestnut “cream” I bought is simple: just chestnuts, sugar, pectin and vanilla, all blended together into a slightly gummy cream with flecks of chestnut throughout. Chestnuts have a mellow, mild flavor and are less oily and more starchy than traditional nuts. (In fact, during the Middle Ages, communities in southern Europe who didn’t have easy access to wheat flour used chestnuts as their primary source of carbohydrates. Who knew?)
Alice combines this mellow, sweet cream with brandy, eggs yolks, flour and a little more vanilla, folds in sweetened egg whites and bakes this soufflé-like torte until it’s puffed and golden. When you take the torte out of the oven, it will look big and puffy, and you will be excited. And then fear will enter your heart as you watch it sink…sink…sink. But then, you will remember a fallen soufflé cake you made once and how wonderful that was, and all will be well.
The final torte is light, moist and delicious. The chestnut flavor is subtle – you almost can’t place it, but then…there it is, mellow, sweet and delicious.The next jar I buy (and there will be a next) just might fall victim to my wily spoon – and I’d be surprised if it lasts a month in my pantry.
Sweet Chestnut Torte
Adapted from this book
1 cup sweetened chestnut puree
2 egg yolks
1 tablespoon brandy
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 cup flour
4 egg whites
1/8 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/4 cup sugar
Preheat the oven to 350º F. Line the bottom of an 8-inch springform pan with parchment paper and spray the whole pan with non-stick cooking spray.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the chestnut puree, egg yolks, brandy and vanilla. Whisk in the flour until combined.
In a clean medium bowl, beat the egg whites with the cream of tartar until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the sugar until the whites are glossy and stiff, but not dry.
Fold a quarter of the egg whites into the chestnut mixture to lighten it. Gently fold in the remainder of the whites. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes, until the top is golden (if you insert a toothpick in the center, there may still be a few moist crumbs).
Cool completely on a rack. Remove the sides and dig in!
Yield: ~8 servings