For as few holiday traditions we keep in my family, the ones we do hold close are absolutely unshakable. If, for example, we didn’t throw at least a few fresh chestnuts on the still smoldering embers of our single yearly conflagration in the fireplace, I don’t know if the entire winter season would truly count. Simply sliced to allow the inner nutmeat to cook, wrapped up in foil like a hastily assembled present, it takes no more than five minutes to prepare and perhaps 20 to cook. Emerging lightly charred and smoking hot, we sit around chatting as a family, cracking the chestnuts out of their shells and popping the rich, creamy centers in our mouths. The odd nut that won’t crack or turns out dry doesn’t dampen our spirits; back into the fire the rotten few go, along with the spent shells, coaxing the hungry flame to return. The nutty smell of the fire permeates the whole house, and eventually, when it’s time to turn in for bed, I have chestnut-flavored dreams.
Such inspiration is hard to resist, come morning. Although chestnuts aren’t commonly thought of as dessert ingredients in the US, it’s a real shame, since the mildly sweet flavor and richness makes it a perfect match with sugar, and of course all sorts of other sweet ingredients, such as chocolate. Mont blanc is a traditional chestnut sweet, often prepared with a base of crunchy meringue and topped with a mountain of chestnut creme. Taking this basic concept but dressing it up a bit further, I could hardly resist switching out the meringue for a dense, intense chocolate cake, and hiding a luxuriously creamy chocolate truffle within the chestnut peak.
It may have been created with the holidays in mind, but while chestnuts are still in season, it’s still perfectly reasonable to whip up this decadent treat just to celebrate the nut itself.
Chocolate Mont Blanc
Chocolate Fudge Cakes:
1 Cups All Purpose Flour
1/2 Cup Dutch-Processed Cocoa Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Baking Powder
1/2 Teaspoon Salt
2/3 Cup Granulated Sugar
1/4 Cup Canola Oil
3/4 Cup Water
1 Teaspoon Apple Cider Vinegar
1 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract
12 Ounces Semi-Sweet Chocolate
1/2 Cup Vanilla Soy or Coconut Creamer
1 Tablespoon Light Agave Nectar
2 Tablespoons Olive Oil
1/3 Cup Chopped, Toasted Walnuts
1/2 Teaspoon Almond Extract
1 12-Ounce Package Extra-Firm Silken Tofu
1 15-Ounce Can Unsweetened Chestnut Puree, or Homemade Chestnut Puree*
1 Cup Granulated Sugar
2 Teaspoons Vanilla Extract
1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1/4 Teaspoon Salt
Confectioner’s Sugar for Serving, Optional
*To make your own chestnut puree, start with about twice as many chestnuts in the shell as you think you’ll need. Score the tops each in an “x” pattern, and wrap them all up in a packet of foil. Toss them on the embers of a recently extinguished fire, and let cook for 15 – 30 minutes, depending on how hot the cooking surface is. Once they crack themselves open and are lightly charred on the outside, they should be about done. Let cool, and remove the shells. Weigh out the required amount for the recipe, and thoroughly puree while still warm, until completely smooth. If you’re without a fireplace, you can also roast them in the oven.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and set out 8 – 9 mini tart or crumb cake paper molds on a baking sheet. Alternately, lightly grease and 8-inch square baking pan and plan to cut out individual cake shapes once baked.
In a large bowl, sift together the flour, cocoa, baking powder, and salt. Whisk lightly to combine.
Separately, mix together the sugar, oil, water, vinegar, and vanilla before pouring them all into the bowl of dry goods. Stir just enough to bring the batter together, being careful not to over-work it. Distribute the batter evenly between your paper molds, or pour it all into the baking dish if using. Bake for 10 – 15 minutes for the individual cakes, 15 – 20 for the single 8-inch cake, until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Let cool, and cut into 8 – 9 pieces if applicable.
For the truffle centers, simply melt the chocolate together with the “creamer,” agave, and oil, stirring until completely smooth. Fold in the nuts and almond extract, and transfer into a baking dish or metal bowl. Let cool, and then place in the fridge for at least 3 hours to set. Scoop out balls of about 2 – 3 teaspoons each, and roll them into even rounds between the palms of your hands. Place one truffle on top of each cooled cake.
Finally, to prepare the chestnut mousse, place all of your ingredients in your food processor or blender, and puree until smooth, pausing to scrape down the sides of the work bowl as needed. Transfer the mousse to a piping bag fitted with a multi-opening piping tip, and pipe the creme on top of the cake in a spiral pattern, completely covering the truffle. Lightly dust with confectioner’s sugar just before serving for a “snowy mountain” look, if desired.
Serves 8 – 9