when I was younger, I used to enjoy coming home and attempting to persuade my dad that it really was cold enough for a real hearth fire. But more often than not, it wouldn’t be until the frost started to appear on car windscreens and the box of scarves and mittens were taken out the loft that he would finally give in. As soon as the fire was blazing hot, I’d grab my packet of white and pink marshmallows, pierce them onto long metal skewers and sit cross-legged in front of the mantelpiece, toasting the spongey sugar squares until they were oozing and charred on the outside. I’d tentatively eat the sticky exterior and hold them back over the fire to caramelise once more until I had eaten all of the marshmallow and the process would start again.
As I’ve grown up, the novelty has definitely not worn off and if I can find an excuse, I will still sit cross-legged and toast my marshmallows over the fire until they’re a melting mess of pastel coloured fluff. Yet as I’ve grown older, I’ve also wished there was a little more sophistication to the activity. As a Londoner, I regularly pass the chestnut vendors who sit on the cobbled streets of Covent Garden, roasting their nuts in giant black carbon pans, the nutty aroma a satisfying scent for the nose, however I am ashamed to say, I have never in fact tried a roast chestnut.
A friend recently told me her family would replace the traditional Christmas pudding with a chocolate chestnut cake every year and honestly, this sounded like the best idea anyone has ever had. I pretend each year to enjoy the homemade Christmas cake or sticky pudding that we’ve doused in alcohol and set alight, a dollap of brandy butter melting beside the hot soft dessert. Though really, I just want to scoff a mince pie and eat cake instead of picking off the royal icing and donating it to whoever at the table might take it.
Since it really feels as if winter is upon us, and it’s time to bring out our puffa jackets, hats and scarves, a chocolate chestnut cake sounds sufficiently satisfactory for any evening of the week. Even if a little indulgent, this recipe calls for a real wood fire but sadly no marshmallows. And for the intolerant among us, it’s entirely gluten-free.
Varberg Chocolate Chestnut Cake
5 large eggs, separated
100g unsalted butter, softened
500g unsweetened chestnut purée
100g ground hazelnuts (or walnuts)
Finely grated zest of 1 lemon
100g dark chocolate, grated, roughly chopped, or melted
1. Preheat the oven to 180C. Grease and flour a 26cm loose-bottomed cake tin. Use gluten-free flour if you want to make sure this is entirely gluten-free.
2. Whisk the egg yolks and honey in a large bowl until think and smooth, paler in colour and then add the butter, puréed chestnuts, hazelnuts (or walnuts), lemon zest and chocolate. I like to add melted chocolate but you can either grate it in or roughly chop.
3. In a separate, very clean bowl, whisk the egg whites until stiff peaks form. Carefully fold in the egg whites into the cake mixture, trying not to lose any air. Do not bang the bowl
4. Scrape the mixture into the prepared tin and bake in the oven for 50 mins to 1 hr, or a little longer if needed. You can place silver foil on top of the cake to stop it from browning too much on top.
5. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin.
6. When the cake has cooled completely, turn out and serve with a dollar of crème fraîche and a little berry compote!
Recipe from Love Bake Nourish by Amber Rose