Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Chestnut experiments

As part of my attempt to cook more seasonal produce I bought a big bag of the last chestnuts as I’d never used them before. I used to have a great dislike of these nuts, on cold winter days it was great standing around the roasting stalls for the warmth but the nuts were wasted on me. I think they were just too bitter for me at the time…but I decided to give them a second chance. I didn’t want to make the traditional British chestnut stuffing but instead chose two recipes, one Japanese and one French.

The first one proved fairly easy, as it didn’t matter if the chestnuts stayed intact or not (in my case not!). I boiled the nuts, peeled and mashed them roughly before putting this through a sieve to make the puree very smooth. After this, the puree went back into the pan with a few tablespoons of sugar and thinned it out with water. I didn’t want to use milk or cream as I think the nuts are quite creamy anyway. Using a bit of clingfilm I twisted the paste back into a nut. The sweets looked great and tasted even better, they were quite subtle in taste and not too sweet but had a lovely creamy texture.

We also tried them with persimmon cakes, which I made from the persimmon cookbook using the recipe for Marguerite Hager's Persimmon Pudding. This was a nice cake but I was a bit disappointed, as the cakes didn’t really taste of persimmon, however the fresh jam I made after it from this recipe tasted very good with it. To flavour the jam I used a cinnamon, pink peppercorns and kardemom.

The second recipe, French this time, was for Marron Glace but this turned into a bit of an epic. After checking out various recipes I settled on this one, which seemed fairly straightforward but lengthy. However it dragged out considerably, first of all, peeling the nuts was quite a task, trying to keep them intact as the thin membrane is wedged into many cracks, then the cooking was easy enough as was the re-boiling but instead of the nuts absorbing all the liquid it just turned into a solid block of sugar! So in the end, I dissolved this in water and preserved them this way for future use.

Kuri kinton (makes 12)
150g chestnuts boiled and peeled
3 tbsp demerara sugar
Boil the nuts for 30-45 min and peel. Break up and then press through the sieve to make a fine puree. In the pan melt the sugar with a bit of water, add in the chestnut puree and cook on a low heat till it makes a thick glossy paste. Put a spoonful on a piece of clingfilm and twist to form a chestnut shape

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