Chestnut Cakes and Walnut Bakes

There’s nothing quite like those crisp mornings when the air is fresh, kissing you sharply on your inhale, crunch underfoot, breath suspended in exhale, everything golden and bathed in Summer’s last caress. Autumn, don’t tell the others, but you’re my favourite.

On a second hunt for chanterelles, we found ourselves short on luck and walked back with empty baskets, kicking up the leaves with slightly heavy hearts. We needn’t have been disillusioned for long, for on the last furlong of the path to home, generous quantities of chestnuts lay on the ground winking out at us from their prickly armour.

I promised our little gang a chestnut cake with the bounty collected; a cake I’d enjoyed long ago on a rainy Autumn night, tucked up in a delightful cosy nook of London’s Honey & Co. I had been having a particularly challenging week during my BA and a thoughtful friend took me out for a slice of chestnut whiskey cake bedecked with salted caramel sauce. Even just the though of it brings me great comfort.

Armed with just sticks and courage we hoped the finger pricks from prising them out of their casings would be worth it.

The foraged chestnuts turned out to be glorious, their flavour was deep, mellow and sweet, and although it’s much easier to simply buy a pre roasted, pre peeled, pre foraged pack from the supermarket, our efforts were wondrously repaid with the delectable sensation of finding ones own food.

Another nut to go a hunting for this Autumn is the not-actually-native, but sometimes-found-feral walnut. I’ve seen a small number of walnut trees about and my partner’s parents have one in their garden; they swear it’s impossible to get their hands on any before the squirrels. Well this year, I swooped in early after stumbling across a carpet of them on a ramble out. Filling my pockets up with nuts that were still green, mean and bitter, they were to mature up on the windowsill away from the prying claws of Mr. Squirrel. There they lay for a good few days and I’d practically forgotten their existence, apart from an occasional pang of guilt that they hadn’t been used. When one morning, we needed an offering to return a neighbourly kindness and we had very little in the house that would suffice. Time for the walnuts to step up.

A very simple biscuit I like to make for a post dinner treat is amaretti. They are those little almond biscuits you’re given at the end of an Italian meal, wrapped so sweetly in their waxy coloured papers that turn into tiny fire lanterns to burn up into the night. I don’t know if I can re-create the mythical wrappers but I sure can serve up my own twist on the biscuity treat inside.

Chestnut Whiskey Cake with Salted Caramel Sauce

Ingredients

  • 250 g chestnuts (peeled)
  • 200 ml milk
  • 4 Eggs, separated
  • 100 ml whisky
  • 125 g caster sugar
  • 50 g almonds

For the Sauce

  • 125 g sugar
  • 1 tbsp honey
  • 30ml water
  • 50 g cream
  • A sprinkle of salt. I prefer to use sea salt flakes here for the texture.

Method

Preheat oven to 180ºC, and grease and line a round cake tin.

Carve a cross in each of the chestnuts, right to the edges, this will help open them up to peel after roasting. Roast in the oven for 15-20 minutes., or until they have opened up.

Place in a heatproof bowl and cover with a tea towel until cool, this will help steam the skins off. Alternatively you could hunt down peeled chestnuts in any good supermarket to skip these step.

Peel off the shell and skins and place in a sauce pan with the milk. Heat gently for 20 minutes until the chestnuts are soft. Allow to cool. Blitz with a hand blender. Separate the eggs. Add the yolks one at a time to the chestnut mixture and fold in. Then fold in the ground almonds. Add the whiskey. Alternatively brandy, rum, or whatever your preference would work wonderfully. I like a lightly smoked whiskey in this recipe.

Whisk the sugar and egg whites until soft peaks form a silk meringue. Add a spoonful of the egg white mixture to the chestnuts to loosen. Gently fold in the rest until combined, try your best not to knock too much of the air out.

Pour into the tin and smooth the top. Bake in the oven for 15 minutes, turn it and bake for a further 10, this will ensure an even bake.

Salted Caramel Sauce

You can happily make this in advance or whilst your cake is baking.

Put the sugar in a saucepan, it’s helpful to place it in the center in a little mound. Make sure there’s no rogue crystals on the sides. Gently pour the water in, running it down the sides to make sure all sugar is in the center. Add the Honey. Heat until soft rolling stage. Fight all instincts to stir. Leave it! Step away. I find caramel doesn’t like to be scrutinised too much, let it do its thing. If you MUST tamper with it, then a little shake of the pan is all I condone. The caramel should start going a deep amber, golden colour. The temperature to aim for is 176ºC. Once reached, take it off the heat. Let it cool down a bit and gently heat the cream. Then add the cream slowly to avoid curdling. Sprinkle in your sea salt flakes.

Serve with the warm cake and a generous dollop of creme fraiche or sour cream.

Walnut Ameretti

Ingredients

  • 4 large eggs
  • 350 g caster sugar
  • 350 g ground walnuts
  • 30 ml of ameretti (alternatively brandy, whiskey or rum would be delicious too)

Method

Preheat the oven to 170ºC, and grease and line two baking trays. Crack open all those lovely nuts and whizz up to a flour in a blender.

Whisk the egg whites and sugar until soft peaks form. Fold in the walnuts and liquor to make a smooth paste.

Roll into small balls, or use a piping bag to make small walnut sized dollops. They will spread slightly when cooking so allow at least 2cm between each biscuit. Top with a little walnut piece if you have any left over and bake in the oven for 10-15 minutes, or until slightly golden. Allow to cook and dust a little icing sugar over the top.

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