What is it about the Christmas holidays that spells DRAMA? Recently, I’ve been savouring a few posts on Italian dramatic events of the season – a Sicilian Christmas nativity play/street theatre complete with belly dancers or living crèches (cribs) in Garfagnana, Tuscany.
At home, however, it might simply be the affects of the glittering stage setting. There are evergreen wreaths on the doors and tempting mistletoe hanging in hall. Shiny baubles hang on the Chirstmas tree that sparkles with little lights. The bright red poinsettia sits on the hearth and the Victorian street-scene Advent calendar on the mantel (not to mention the snow globe collection). The Irish linen is freshly ironed for the table, and the spice candles scent the air with cinnamon and vanilla.
Then, there is the dramatic music playing in the background:
- Handel’s Messiah (often performed at Christmas, in spite of it being an Easter oratorio),
- Orff’s Carmina Burana (a family tradition),
- Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker, and
- King’s College Choir’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols
The stage is set, waiting for the actors to perform the theatre of Christmas Day. This is when the stage props come into their own as the actors rip open presents, roast chestnuts in the fire, and pop Christmas crackers to reveal paper crowns – special costumes – donned by the actors. Then the final act is Christmas dinner – raising the crystal stemware brimming with bubbly to toast the cook (obligatory!), carving the turkey, loading up the plates, and (of course) eating.
The concluding scene of this act is the highlight of the performance. No stodgy puddings are allowed at our holiday table, just a little something sweet to conclude the meal. With my recent supply of homemade sweet chestnut purée, and my experimentation with my ice cream machine, I had the glimmer of how to cast this role.
So…lights! action! for the dress rehearsal. Eagerly waiting in the wings is the understudy – a similar concoction of poached quince and cinnamon. But, more on that later in the New Year when it will star in its own performance.
Chestnut Gelato with Chocolate Sauce
Chestnut and chocolate go so well together. This is a luscious, decadent dessert that could very well replace the traditional plum pudding as a Christmas dinner finale.
According to the blog, The Ice Cream Nation, the use of a starch (such as corn flour as is used here, or potato flour, arrowroot, instant tapioca, etc) as a stabiliser rather than egg yolks is a characteristic of Sicilian gelato. I also used homemade chestnut purée, but tins of sweet chestnut purée are available in most supermarkets.
- 300ml double (heavy) cream
- 200ml milk
- 100g caster sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 Tablespoons corn flour (corn starch)
- 250g sweet chestnut purée
- 60ml honey
- 60ml Armagnac, Cognac or brandy (or even rum)
In a small bowl, measure out the corn starch. Using some of the milk, make a thin paste with the corn starch. Set this aside while you warm up the cream, the rest of the milk, the vanilla extract and the sugar in a heavy bottom pot. Heat the cream, stirring to dissolve the sugar, until it is just below boiling point.
Add the corn starch paste to the pot and whisk until the mixture thickens slightly. Thickening should happen very quickly. Cool slightly.
In another bowl add the brandy and honey to the chestnut purée, stirring until smooth. Fold the cooled thickened cream/milk into the chestnut mixture. Cover and refrigerate until cold.
Put the cold chestnut mixture into your ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
Put in a container in the freezer for at least a few hours to firm. Before serving, take out of the freezer to allow it to come to a perfect scooping temperature. Serve drizzled with warm chocolate sauce.
The Chocolate Sauce
An easy chocolate sauce, scaled down and amended from a recipe by David Lebovitz.
- 120ml water
- 60 g sugar
- 60ml (1/4 cup) honey, golden syrup, corn syrup or similar
- 75g (approximately 2-1/2 oz.) good quality dark chocolate
- 40g (1-1/2 oz.) good quality unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 Tablespoon Armagnac or brandy
Chop or break the chocolate into pieces and set aside. Combine the water, sugar, honey/syrup and cocoa in a heavy bottom pot and bring to a point just before it boils. Turn off the heat and add the chocolate pieces, whisking until they melt and the sauce is smooth. Stir in the Armagnac or brandy. It will thicken slightly as it cools. Store in the refrigerator, but bring to room temperature to use.
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Alternative Suggestions (more chocolate pairings):
1. Make meringue nests as a base for the scoop of ice cream topped with chocolate sauce – a variation on the famous French Mount Blanc dessert.
2. For a less fancy dessert, make chocolate chip chestnut gelato by adding crushed chocolate curls to the machine in the last 5 minutes of churning.
3. Serve a scoop with a gooey chocolate brownie.