Chestnut Diva

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.

Christmas_creche_globe_feature

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.

Decorating_tree_globe

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

Angel_globe

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

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.

The Gelato
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.

chestnut_icecream_prep2

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.

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18 comments

  1. You are so clever to have made a gelato that is so very appropriate for Christmas. Sounds like the perfect dessert for the occasion. I also like your choice of music!

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    • The gelato is very good – of course, we had to sample it! The music is wonderful, plus we also listen to an interpretation of the 11th to 13th century Carmina Burana songs – either after or before Orff’s. We also watch the DVD of Richard Thompson’s 1000 Years of Popular Music that goes from the 11th century English “Sumer is Icumen In” right up to Brittany Spears. The benefits of having a husband whose hobby/obsession is music! If you like my list, you’ll like these others as well. Merry Christmas!

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    • I, too, was pleased to find eggless gelatos. It makes it so much easier to make, plus no leftover egg whites (there is only so much meringue one can make!), and I think it may be less calories. Though, the cream cancels the latter out! Merry Christmas!

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  2. I’m afraid my churn has been idle this month. I was full of good intentions but…..Yesterday I spied marron glace in a specialty food shop at a very special price, I looked at them thinking of your Mont Blanc. All this chestnut cooking will keep until the seasons change however, I love the sound of the ingredients in this gelato. I’m sure the chestnuts would help the thickening process enormously

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    • Oh, I love maron glace! Lucky you to find some at a good price. I’m happy with my sweet chestnut puree, however. And, I think my churn might be retired for a while after Christmas – to wait for warmer weather – but it had a good inning and I’ve enjoyed experimenting. Things are picking up pace in the kitchen as the time for Christmas fast approaches and I am glad that I have this gelato stashed away in the freezer and have a good supply of chocolate sauce ready. I’m not as organised as you, but not too stressed, either. Hope you are holding up with packing up your beach house in addition to everything else.

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    • I think that every family develops there own traditions – we certainly did. If I sat back and analysed it, I would have to say that the customs we follow are a mesh from my US upbringing and my husband’s British one (or more specifically Scottish) plus new ones that crept in as the family grew. The snow globes are something I have been fascinated with since childhood. They certainly entertain the little ones who come to visit. And many of them have wind-up music boxes, too!

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  3. Trying to catch up with things here, your beautiful posts included. This gelato looks sensational and so seasonal, even if cold. I adore the snow domes and the setting, the music and the family traditions. Some of the traditions are the same- the donning of aper crowns after popping the crackers, some very different given that the day is invariably hot.

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    • I love snow globes and have a small collection of them – mostly Christmasy ones, but I’ve noticed that many touristy places sell kitsch ones like the leaning tower of Pisa or stonehenge (both of which I have!). I noticed that many Australian blogs are featuring gelato or fresh fruit types of sweets for Christmas. So much better than stodgy Christmas pudding. We usually ditch the paper hats half way through the meal as they are always too large and tend to slip and get in the way. But, we still pop those crackers and put the silly things on. Merry Christmas!

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      • And then there is the reading of the really bad jokes. And harassing those at the table who haven’t donned their paper hats. Yes, the hats don’t last long here either. We still have the stodgy pudding, made the old way and hung in a cloth for months. My mother has a collection of old silver coins so these are inserted after the pudding show, the brandy lighting, is over The coins are graded in importance- and then traded in, back to Mum,s special purse, for a box of chocolates. The children always want pudding, and we tease them and say- if you don’t eat all your serve of the pudding, then no coins! Now, as the children grow, they just want the pudding- smothered in brandy sauce. Even if the day is over 40 degrees!! My sister in law then just drinks the brandy cream, and things begin to turn silly.
        We also have a pavlova smothered in berries.
        Merry Christmas Debi- hope the day is full of joy, music and good food.

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  4. I’ve a friend that collects snow globes and I’m sending him this link. I’m sure he’ll love to see those you’ve shared. I, on the other hand, save ice cream and gleato recipes. To be sure, this one will be saved and prepared. It sounds too good to pass up, Thanks for giving us a glimpse into Christmas at your home and, of course, for sharing your gelato recipe.

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    • I love snow globes – particularly the Christmas-Winter scenes. They come out of their boxes once a year as part of the holiday decorations. Gelato in the cold season is a bit naff, but this one went down well after the Christmas dinner – just a small scoop and a dollop of that luscious chocolate sauce. I’m planning meringue filled sweetened chestnut purée with more of that chocolate sauce for the New Year celebrations – similar to (but probably more rustic!) the famous confection from Maison Angelina in Paris.

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