Chestnuts are naturally mealy, so they're a great candidate for a spread-type-of-thing. Recipes for chestnut jam abound; but they usually call for one part sugar to one part chestnut meats, a ratio I find rather sickly. Instead, I warmed puréed chestnuts with cocoa and sugar, tweaking proportions until it tasted just right: rich, nutty, chocolately, and certainly not too sweet. It went down a treat at the after school munchies, and powered a good long session in the garden – including naked trampolining at 14°C, I might add – before nightfall.*
As I used the medium disc of the food mill, the paste is slightly textured; if you want a perfectly smooth paste, use the finest disc of the food mill and perhaps drizzle in a little unflavoured vegetable oil until it looks glossy.
Chocolate Chestnut Spread
- 300g fresh chestnuts in their shells, to make about 200g chestnut meats
First, prepare the chestnuts. Hold a chestnut flat side down on a sturdy chopping board. Place the tip of a sharp knife at the top of the nut, and lever it downwards so that the nut is bisected from top to bottom, but the knife does not cut through the shell on the flat side. (This is far more straightforward than it sounds.) Place the chestnut into a bowl. When all the chestnuts have been treated thus, place the bowl of chestnuts into the freezer for ten minutes.
Bring a pot of water to the boil. When the ten minutes is up, remove the chestnuts from the freezer and slide them into the rapidly boiling water. Boil for eight minutes. Turn the heat down as low as possible.
Remove several chestnuts from the barely simmering water with a slotted spoon, and quickly pop each nut half out of its shell and skin (or peel it). Continue until you have liberated all the nuts. Work fast, because as the nut cools the skin reattaches itself very firmly.
If one or two chestnuts will not easily relinquish their skin, just slice it off rather than send yourself batty trying to peel it. Now the chestnuts are ready, and here you can pause for a day or two to suck your scalded fingers and recover, or, bless your soul, continue.
Place the cocoa, sugar, vanilla and salt into a saucepan. Slowly add ¾ cup hot water, stirring, to make a paste. Now push the chestnuts through the medium disc of a food mill directly into the pan. (If you don't have a food mill, purée them in a food processor or beat the crap out of them with a potato masher and scrape into the saucepan.)
Turn the heat on low, and, using a wooden spoon, beat the chestnuts into the cocoa paste. Cook over low heat for ten minutes, stirring constantly, until all is amalgamated and the cocoa smells cooked. You may need to add a little more hot water.
Scrape the paste into a 310g jam jar, using a small spatula to ease it in and to press out any air bubbles. There will be enough left in the saucepan for a couple of tester slices of bread.
As it does not contain as much sugar as a normal jam, eat quickly, and store it in the fridge.
*Don't panic. The trampolinist has a good decade to go before she hits puberty, and is too short to be seen over the fence.
(Local: chestnuts. Not local but fair trade: cocoa, vanilla. Other: sugar, salt.)