Despite containing only five ingredients, a good mont blanc has fantastic depth of flavour and is one of my favourite winter desserts. Named for the famous mountain, which straddles the border between Italy and France, the dessert is also claimed by both countries. Its earliest origins certainly point more to Italy.
But history and geography aside, this is more a combination of ingredients than it is a recipe. And more of a celebration of chestnuts at their peak. Anyone who has peeled chestnuts will attest that it is easier to celebrate them when they are out of their shell, but with a few tricks the process can actually be quite fulfilling. The best way to start is by sourcing fresh chestnuts that haven’t been stored and become pulpy.
The key to peeling chestnuts is to do it while they are still warm, because when the skin cools it shrinks back onto the nut. My world also changed when my chef friend Victor Liong told me to deep-fry them briefly – this creates a steam and oil coating to make the job almost enjoyable.
Just remember to score them first because they tend to explode if the skin isn’t broken.
– 800g whole chestnuts (400g total peeled weight)
– 1 litre water
– 180g sugar
– ¼ tsp vanilla bean paste
– 50g egg whites
– 50g castor sugar
– 50g icing sugar
– crumble biscuit base (sweet pastry or roasted chopped chestnuts as gluten-free base alternatives)
– 4 marron glacé
– 200ml thick cream
– 30g sugar
– icing sugar to finish
Score an “x” in the flat side of each chestnut using the tip of a small knife, then roast in the oven for 20 minutes at 180ºC. Remove the chestnuts and wrap in a clean towel to keep them warm. Peel the chestnuts, again using a small knife (see tips at left). Once the chestnuts are peeled, weigh 400 grams of total cleaned product and chop them roughly.
Give the chopped nuts a little smash with the flat side of a knife, then place them into a narrow pot with the water and cook until all of the water has been absorbed/evaporated. Towards the end of the cooking process, add the sugar, then in the last five minutes or so, add the vanilla (this will ensure the nuts stay a little fluffy and don’t become too pasty and stale in flavour). Purée in a food processor and adjust the consistency with more warm water until it resembles thick custard. Let cool in a covered bowl.
Place the egg whites into a mixer bowl with a whisk attachment and whisk gently for two minutes before increasing the speed until they turn frosty white. Reduce the speed of the whisk, then slowly incorporate the castor sugar and then the icing sugar. Finish on a higher speed until the egg whites form a stiff peak. Transfer this mixture into a piping bag with a small-to-medium nozzle.
Place four biscuit bases or pastry discs on a baking tray lined with greaseproof paper, then top each one with a marron glacé in the centre. Pipe the meringue mix around the marron to form a dome, then bake at 140ºC for 10 minutes. Remove the meringues from the oven and let them cool to room temperature.
While waiting for the meringue to cool, whip the cream and remaining sugar to the same consistency as the meringue, but ensure it isn’t taken too far or the fats will split. When the meringue is cool, pipe the cream around the biscuit, following the same lines as the meringue, until it is covered to a peak at the top.
Check the consistency of the chestnut puree and adjust with some cream if necessary. This paste tends to harden once cool so it is likely to need some adjustment to bring it to a pleasing consistency. Place the paste into a piping bag with a slightly smaller piping nozzle than the cream/meringue nozzle and pipe this mix over the top of the cream, following the same lines from the bottom to the top. Keep in mind that this is made to resemble the rocky face of a mountain and ledges.
Transfer each unit to a plate, then finish with a generous dusting of icing sugar and serve with more cream on the side if required.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 13, 2019 as "That old chestnut delight". Subscribe here.