In Hungarian they’re called gesztenye (GES-ten-yeh), in Russian Kashtan, and in Flemish they similarly say kastanje (kas-TAN-yeh) for the delicacy we know as chestnuts. If you walk down a Manhattan street on a cold winter’s day, and get a whiff of freshly roasting chestnuts emanating from the corner street cart, you will be immediately warmed by at least 10 degrees. Although we refer to them as nuts, the meat inside a chestnut is soft and starchy, more akin to grains than crunchy-like traditional nuts. It is the only nut primarily treated as a vegetable due to its starch content. The chestnut’s flavor is an acquired taste, and not everyone appreciates their taste. Growing up, my mother served boiled chestnuts on winter Friday nights. It wasn’t until I was a little older that I started to like them, and now continue the tradition in my home. The versatile chestnut, cannot be eaten raw. The skins need to be sliced before baking or can be cooked in water without slitting. Cooked chestnuts are used in savory soups and stuffings, as well as in sweet desserts.
Harvested from October through March, December is the prime month for fresh chestnuts. Choose fresh nuts that are smooth and glossy, free of blemishes. They should feel heavy for their size. Avoid any that are shriveled, cracked, or rattle in their shell. I usually squeeze the nut between my fingers and if the shell doesn’t indent, I know they’re fresh. Today, kosher chestnuts are sold cooked and peeled in a foil bag, making it easy to use in recipes and even just to snack on.
This delectable cake is a Hungarian specialty. If you know where to find kosher chestnut puree, you can use it for the filling, and please be so kind as to let me know where I can get it.
Chocolate Jelly Roll Cake:
- 6 eggs, separated
- pinch of salt
- 6 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
- 3 Tbsp. cocoa
- 1/4 tsp. baking powder
- 3 1/2 Tbsp. flour
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a clean, dry bowl, beat the egg whites till they begin to foam. Add a pinch of salt. When the whites start to fluff into a snow, add the sugar. Beat until stiff but not dry. (Stop the mixer as soon as it is stiff. Do not continue to beat.)
2. In a separate bowl, combine egg yolks, cocoa and baking powder.
3. Fold 1/3 of the whites into the yolk mixture. Sprinkle with all the flour. Fold in the the rest of the whites in 2 additions.
4. Pour into parchment lined 10×15-inch cookie sheet. Bake for 15 minutes or until cake bounces back when gently pressed with a finger.
5. Remove cake from oven and invert onto a clean towel. Gently peel back the parchment paper, using a knife to separate the cake from the paper, if necessary. Cover and cool cake.
My Grandmother’s Chocolate Cream:
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup confectionery sugar
- 1 Tbsp. cocoa
- 3 oz. good quality chocolate
- 1/3 lb shortening
- dash of whiskey (optional)
1. In a small pot over a medium flame, cook the eggs and sugar, mixing the whole time, until smooth. Add the cocoa and chocolate, mix until melted and smooth.
2. Remove from flame. Add the Shortening, mix until melted. Add the whiskey if desired. Cool.
- 1 lb. cooked and peeled chestnuts
- 1 stick margarine, room temp.
- 3-4 cups confectionery sugar
- 2 Tbsp. vanilla sugar
- 3 Tbsp. chocolate cream
1. Process chestnuts in the food processor with the S blade until smooth. Add the margarine, 3 cups of confectionery sugar, vanilla sugar, and chocolate cream. Taste to see if it needs more sugar. Add accordingly.
1 whip topping (8-10 oz.)
1/4 cup confectionery sugar
1 Tbsp. vanilla sugar
Whip all ingredients together until stiff.
To Assemble Cake:
Smear the chocolate cream on the jelly roll cake. Top with most or all of the chestnut cream. Cut the cake into 3 strips lengthwise. Put one strip on top of the other until all the layers are stacked into one cake. Cover with whip topping and decorate any way you like.