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Monte Bianco Meringue with Chestnut Purée and Whipped Cream
This chestnut-stuffed meringue dish is shaped and named after Mont Blanc. Similar to pavlova, this light and airy dessert is topped with whipped cream. Recipe courtesy of Quattro restaurant in Miami.
For the chestnut purée:
- 1 Pound chestnuts, cooked and peeled
- 2 Cups milk
- 1/3 Cup sugar
- 2 Teaspoons dark rum
For the baked meringue:
- 4 large egg whites
- ½ Cup granulated sugar
- ¾ Cup confectioners sugar, sifted
For the whipped cream:
- 32 Ounces heavy cream
- ½ Cup sugar
- 1 Teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Calories Per Serving574
Folate equivalent (total)33µg8%
/>My Little French Kitchen />A whirlwind tour of classic French cooking />Simple recipes for comforting classics />Desserts that will delight any sweet tooth
With only three main ingredients &ndash meringue, whipped cream and sweetened chestnut cream &ndash there&rsquos really not much to this dessert. And if you&rsquore short of time, you could even get away with buying the ingredients ready-made and just assembling them before serving. Traditionally the chestnut cream should be thick enough to be piped, but I like mine a little runnier, so that I can pour it over the meringues and cream to make them look like mini mountains &ndash hence the name Mont Blanc.
Let's Make Something Awesome
M y Uncle Hall is a great baker and pastry chef. He makes a living doing it and everything. But before he switched careers and started prostituting his skills to the masses, our family had him and the fruits of his labor all to ourselves. As a child, one of my favorites appeared every year late in the fall, or early in the winter. Chestnut Meringue.
IT TASTES MORE SPECTACULAR THAN IT LOOKS
He had a big chestnut tree in his yard, and all my siblings and cousins would comb the ground under the tree gathering chestnuts, and trying to avoid being pricked by their spikey seed pods. “Pricked” is sort of a gentle way of describing it, “impaled” might be more accurate.
His tree was some sort of asian chestnut tree. The story of American Chestnuts, Castanea dentata, almost makes me want to weep. In the early 1900s, more than 3 billion Chestnut trees, more than 25% of the great hardwood forests of the east, were Chestnut, reaching 150′ tall and 10′ in diameter. They were a wonderful source of food, but were also grand timber trees with absolutely gorgeous wood. They all died of an asian fungal blight, Cryphonectria parasitica, . Bye bye.
Anyway, enough of the sob story. So what is Marrons aux Mont Blanc? It is a sweet chestnut paste, or purée, sitting on a hard meringue, topped with crème Chantilly (aka whipped cream), with a little grated dark chocolate on top. The nutty, dense, creamy chestnut purée sits below light, airy whipped cream, and above shattery-crips yet super delicate and ephemeral meringues. This dessert is about contrasts. The flavor of a chestnut is indescribable if you haven’t had one, but it is a nutty, sweet, complex flavor.
Meringues are always controversial. Some people think they taste like sweet styrofoam. In other words they have no flavor of their own. One way to temper this criticism to to bake the meringues a little longer than usual so the sugars caramelize a bit. Your meringues won’t be snow white, but they will have much more flavor complexity.
LOOKS LIKE HUMMUS, TASTES NOTHING LIKE HUMMUS
Monte Bianco, also known as Mont Blanc, is an autumnal dessert typical of Northern Italy. Very likely, it originated in France, but became popular in north western Italy, too, especially in Piedmont and Lombardy.
There are different types of Monte Bianco: one – the one we are presenting here – is a creamy dessert made of chestnuts and whipped cream. The other version is a more complex preparation where a chestnut cream is paired with sponge cake, meringue and whipped cream.
The reason I chose this recipe is because it yelds a result similar to the Monte Bianco my mom used to make when I was a child: it brings back loads of memories! Needless to say, you have to love chestnuts to enjoy this dish, as it is as chestnutty as it can possibly be.
The preparation in itself is not difficult, but it can be lengthy, especially if you are using fresh chestnuts, as I will explain below. The result is well worth the work, though!
Photo courtesy of Fugzu on Flickr
Montebianco—which most English speakers know by its French name Mont-blanceven if the dish originated in Italy—is an elegant dessert often served for Christmas, but, to my mind, it is a perfect conclusion to any festive occasion in the late autumn or winter. Named after the highest peak of the Alps straddling the border between France and Italy, Montebianco is simply a mound of puréed chestnut perfumed with cocoa and other flavorings and topped with whipped cream, a veritable mountain of sweet deliciousness. And it’s rather easy to make once you’ve prepared the chestnuts, so if you buy prepared chestnuts at the supermarket, you can whip this up in no time.
Makes enough for one large Montebianco or six individual servings
For the chestnut and chocolate ‘mountain’:
- 2 large jars of pre-cooked and peeled chestnuts, about 800g/28 oz (see Notes)
- 75g (2-1/2 oz) granulated sugar, or more or less to taste
- Milk, enough to cover the chestnuts
- 3-4 Tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
- A few drops of vanilla extract
- A splash to two or rum (or the liqueur of your choice)
Place the chestnuts and sugar in a saucepan and add enough milk to cover. Simmer until the chestnuts are quite tender and the milk fully absorbed by the chestnuts. Purée the chestnuts in a food processor or pass them through a food mill. Transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add the cocoa, vanilla and rum to the chestnut purée. Mix everything well with spatula until perfectly smooth and homogeneous, with a texture and feel akin to bread dough. (If you find it is a little too stiff, you can add a bit more rum to loosen it up.) Let this mixture rest in the fridge for at least an hour, as long as overnight.
Now it’s time to make your ‘mountain’: Get a food mill or potato ricer, add the chestnut mixture (or as much as it will hold in one go) and turn or squeeze the handle until the mixture comes out the other end in strands. Let the stands fall onto a serving plate or, if making individual servings, the dessert bowl. As you proceed, the stands will pile up and form a mound resembling a mountain. Let that sit while you proceed to the next step. (You can also make the dish this far several hours ahead of time.)
Now make your ‘snow’ by whipping the cream with the confectioner’s sugar until it forms soft peaks. Don’t let the cream get too stiff.
Finally, finish off your dish by pouring the whipped cream over the chestnut and chocolate mountain. The cream should trickle down the sides, making an effect that looks like a snow-topped mountain. Serve immediately, or when you’re ready to eat.
The amount of sugar given here is just a suggestion you may like your desserts more or less sweet. And some people (including Lidia Bastianich) forego the cocoa, to better appreciate the pure chestnut flavor. Speaking of which, for whatever reason, although Italian recipes invariably call for unsweetened cocoa powder, I’ve noticed that most English-language recipes call for melted bittersweet chocolate. Not sure why that is, but feel free to substitute if you like, although the cocoa just seems a lot easier. As for the rum, you can omit it if you abstain from alcohol—or opt for another liqueur if you prefer.
One thing you must never omit is the whipped cream besides the aesthetics that are so essential to the dish, you need the cream—and lots of it— to add some lightness to the dish, without which it would be just a bit too ponderous. Ditto for passing the purée through a food mill or potato ricer it’s an essential step to lighten the purée. (And if you don’t own either, you really should!)
If using fresh chestnuts in their shells, up the amount to 1.2 kilo (2 lbs 7 oz) and follow the instructions on How to Roast Chestnuts . While the chestnuts are still hot, remove their shells and the thin inner skin that clings to the chestnut meat. Don’t worry to much about keeping the chestnuts intact, as they will be puréed anyway later.
But even if purists may scoff, I heartily recommend using store-bought peeled and cooked chestnuts for this dish. It makes the job so much easier. Here in the US, they are usually imported from France and sold in glass jars as marrons entiers.
And if you really want to make life easy on yourself, you can also buy chestnut purée for your Mont-blanc, to which you need only add the cocoa and rum, but that just seems to me like cheating.
Montebianco Dessert: a Quick Unconventional Recipe
The original version of Montebianco, that literally means White Mountain, and you can easily understand why, has just two main ingredients: chestnut puree and whipped cream. Sugary, delicious and easy to make.
This cake is a delicious tradition in many northern Italian kitchens, and it probably originated in France where is called Montblanc.
Growing up, I always had Montebianco at special family dinners or during the holidays, and you could find it in some restaurants. Today, however, it’s quite rare to find it in anywhere but the home, likely because it’s so sweet and also because the process of cleaning and cooking the chestnuts is a bit arduous and boring.
The Montebianco Original Recipe
The original Montebianco was made with boiled chestnuts, peeled and finely chopped. You can 500 g fresh chestnuts (400 g dry chestnuts) for potatoes, and boil chestnuts in milk with 100 g of sugar until soft.
I developed this recipe due to a lucky coincidence. We were looking for a quick recipe for Montebianco when we thought Why can’t we use sweet potatoes so similar in taste to chestnuts? This is not only a very quick recipe, but it’s less sweet than the actual Montebianco recipe.
My version is inspired by the original, but with a couple of twists: overall, it’s nowhere near as sweet! I switch out the chestnuts with a sweet potato puree (ready in the oven in just 30 minutes).
The outcome is a delicious dessert, with no added sugar and, once the sweet potatoes have cooled down, ready in about an hour.
Happy Festive Cuisine, Monica
Traditional decoration of Montebianco are beautiful, little and sweet candied violets.
If you’re making homemade whipped cream, put your whisks in the freezer for about 5 minutes and the cream in the refrigerator.
Flavor whipping cream with vanilla extract
requires: piping bag, sifter, and serving plate
sweet potatoes with white flesh, about 500g
unsweetened cocoa powder, 30g
panna liquida (cream), circa 300g
½ tsp natural vanilla extract
confectioners sugar, 100g
dark chocolate chips to garnish
Bake potatoes with their skin in preheated oven (180C degrees for about 25-30 minutes).
To cool down, remove the skins and pass them through a ricer to puree.
Place the sweet potatoes in the center of a large dish in the form of a tall crown.
Using a small colander, cover the crown with a thin layer of unsweetened cocoa powder. Put the whipped cream in a pastry bag and cover the crown, starting from the base. Garnish with small chips of dark chocolate or with sugar decorations such as violette di zucchero.
- 2 pounds fresh chestnuts in shells
- 1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
- 3 1/2 cups milk
- 1 cup confectioners' sugar
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 vanilla bean, scraped
- 3 tablespoons light rum
- 1 quart heavy cream
- 1/4 cup cocoa powder, for dusting
Using a small paring knife, cut an X into one side of each chestnut. Fill a saucepan with water add chestnuts and salt bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium cook until tender, about 20 minutes. Remove 2 or 3 at a time from water remove the outer shells. Peel and scrape off inner skins.
Combine nuts, milk, 3/4 cup sugar, butter, and vanilla bean and scrapings in a saucepan bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cook until tender and falling apart, 30 to 35 minutes. Drain, reserving milk. Remove vanilla bean set nuts aside to cool.
Pass chestnuts through a food mill into a bowl. Stir in rum and 5 to 6 tablespoons of the reserved milk until well combined. Place 1/3 cup of chestnut mixture in a potato ricer fitted with large hole blade. Press and squeeze strands of the mixture into bowls. It should look like a small mound of spaghetti. Repeat with remaining mixture.
Whip cream with remaining 1/4 cup sugar. Fill a pastry bag fitted with a large star tip. Pipe out cream covering the exposed surface. Dust with cocoa, and serve.
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This airy, snowcapped mountain of chestnuts and chocolate is a fitting end to Christmas dinner.
What to buy: Traditionally, you’d peel the chestnuts yourself, but why should you when there are very good (and very labor-free) jarred roasted chestnuts to be had? The author uses Minerva brand, which worked the best for us too.
Special equipment: Get a potato ricer to make this dish properly. It’s a relatively inexpensive and very useful piece of kitchen equipment to have anyway.
Game plan: You can easily make this a day or two ahead, but save the final ricing until just before you serve.
This recipe was featured as part of our 2006 Neo-Classic Holiday Dinner menu.
- 1 Combine chestnuts, milk, sugar, fennel seeds, and a pinch of salt in a medium saucepan and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Reduce heat to medium low and simmer, stirring often and breaking up the chestnuts as you stir, until milk has been absorbed, about 10 to 13 minutes. Meanwhile, melt chocolate in a heatproof bowl placed over a pot of simmering water set aside.
- 2 When chestnuts are cooked, rice them (or put them through a food mill fitted with the medium disk) into a large mixing bowl. Add Cognac and melted chocolate and fold together until smooth, with no pockets of unmixed chestnuts (it will resemble cookie dough). Pack it into a smaller bowl, cover with plastic, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.
- 3 At serving time, whip cream with powdered sugar and vanilla until soft peaks form. Rice chestnut dough onto a large platter, keeping the ricer centered on the platter and lifting the ricer higher each time you fill it so that the threads of chestnut fall lightly into a mountain. (You can use the food mill for this, but it’s not as easy as with a ricer.) Drop about 1/2 of the whipped cream by big spoonfuls onto the mountain.
- 4 Serve at table, and pass the rest of the whipped cream.
Variations: You could make individual mountains, on dessert plates, ricing the chestnuts over a scoop of vanilla or chocolate ice cream. This is called gilding the lily. And if you really want to gild, you could make shatteringly crisp meringue circles as a base for individual mountains, with or without ice cream.
Beverage pairing: Graham’s 10 Years Old Tawny Port, Portugal. A rich dessert, both nutty and chocolaty, must be matched with a wine that can stand up to it on all counts. Tawny port will have nutty characteristics, overtones of dried fruit, toffee, and chocolate, and plenty of intensity. Graham’s is one of the lusher, richer tawnies out there.
The Sweet Gesture of Gesztenyepüré: Hungarian Chestnut Puree
Politeness at the dinner table is a desirable characteristic, but can also bring unintended consequences. Imagine you are visiting a new partner’s parents for the first time. They live on a farm in the countryside. You don’t yet have any Hungarian skills and they have none in English. After an awkward dinner filled with hand gestures and appreciative nods, your partner’s mother suddenly thrills to the idea of offering you an authentic Hungarian dessert. You are already stuffed, but want to participate in the enthusiasm, and nod in agreement.
She brings out a marrow-colored slab topped with whipped cream. Your partner mistranslates the dish, gesztenyepüré—chestnut puree—as ‘acorn mash.’ You taste it. It’s pungent, the consistency of cookie dough. Smile your approval, glad it’s such a small portion. Mistaking this for more enthusiasm, she takes the plate, and returns from the kitchen with a portion of gesztenyepüré the size of a small brick. Honored-guest-size. Though it’s the last thing you want, you just keep smiling, and thus ensuring this is what you will be fed for the rest of the visit.
Gesztenyepüré is a beloved Hungarian dessert. While you can get it year round, chestnuts are seasonal, so its flavors resonate most in autumn. There is something of a nostalgic feel to the dessert, at once adult and childlike, playful, and classic. If Hungarians ran ocean liners, I imagine there would be gesztenyepüré on the menu every night. Speaking of gesztenyepüré, famed restaurateur George Lang was quoted in Politico.com as saying: “vanilla-and-rum flavored chestnut puree hiding under a mountain of whipped cream, the kind of food that to this day I call normal.” It’s an important word choice, you either consider gesztenyepüré normal or you don’t.
As with most dishes, homemade is the best. Pre-made gesztenyepüré, however, can be bought in most supermarkets in Hungary. Packaged in cardboard, it need only be sliced like cheese and topped with whip cream to be ready to eat. Many prefer running the puree through a potato ricer, which turns it into thick spaghetti or wormlike strands, making it look something like a child’s creation when left alone with some clay and a can of whip cream. It’s true that some foods taste better when reshaped, and such is the case with gesztenyepüré, which benefits from being deprived of its density.
And while gesztenyepüré feels particularly Hungarian, it is also enjoyed around the region. In Austria it is Kastanienreis, or “chestnut rice,” and in France, Mont Blanc or Monte Bianco. For a time in the last century, it seemed as though New Yorkers might take to gesztenyepüré like they took to paprikash. But according to the same Politico article, it was not to be, as the gesztenyepüré-loving Hungarian enclave in Manhattan disappeared due to high rents and gentrification.
Depending on your perspective, a long weekend of being plied with gesztenyepüré could be torture or it could be heaven. In the end, politeness may not prevail in getting a point across, but in a place where hospitality is freely given, and food is a social tool, it can also very sweet indeed.
About the author
Lester Kramer is an author, a writing instructor, a longtime Budapest resident, and a dedicated chronicler of the Budapest culinary scene. . More about Lester Kramer
Mont blanc chestnut cakes (petits gâteaux mont blanc)
French chef, Gabriel Gaté introduces the Alpine food of the Savoy region, and talented French pâtissier, Pierrick Boyer, prepares some luscious little cakes garnished with chestnut cream which are named after the Mont Blanc Pic. Sommelier, Christian Maier, matches the dessert with a sauternes sweet wine.
- 250 g sweet pastry
- 50 g almond meal
- 50 g icing sugar, plus extra for dusting
- 50 g plain flour, sifted
- 50 g softened butter
- 1 egg
- 6 tsp orange marmalade
- 6 small meringues, the size of a ball of cotton wool
- 100 g sweet chestnut cream (crème de marrons)
- 100 g chestnut purée (purée de marrons)
- 100 ml whipped cream (approximately)
Oven temperatures are for conventional if using fan-forced (convection), reduce the temperature by 20˚C. | We use Australian tablespoons and cups: 1 teaspoon equals 5 ml 1 tablespoon equals 20 ml 1 cup equals 250 ml. | All herbs are fresh (unless specified) and cups are lightly packed. | All vegetables are medium size and peeled, unless specified. | All eggs are 55-60 g, unless specified.
Chilling time: 10 minutes
This dessert requires special pastry equipment, in particular a piping bag fitted with a Mont Blanc nozzle.
Roll the sweet pastry out to a thickness of 3 mm. Cut six 10 cm discs of pastry and line 6 tartlet rings (of 6 cm diameter), placed on a flat oven tray with the pastry discs, trimming the edges neatly.
In a bowl combine the almond meal with the icing sugar, plain flour and softened butter. Add the egg and mix well. Transfer this almond cream to a piping bag and pipe it onto the pastry bases, filling them three-quarters of the way up to the top.
Bake for about 15 minutes or until the pastry is cooked and golden brown. Allow to cool before turning the tartlets out.
Spread 1 tsp orange marmalade over each tartlet base, then place a small meringue on top.
In a bowl combine the sweet chestnut cream with the sweet chestnut purée. Transfer this chestnut cream to a piping bag fitted with a special Mont Blanc nozzle and pipe it on top of the meringues to cover them well.
Dust the Mont Blanc gâteau with icing sugar.
Spoon the whipped cream into a piping bag fitted with a star nozzle and pipe a cream rosette on each gâteau. Refrigerate until 10 minutes before serving. Bon appétit!