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December 01, 2007
I've got a special place in my heart for chestnuts.Â I associate them with my mother, who'd roast them late at night; I think about them when I think of Paris - hot chestnuts wrapped in newspaper and bought from a street vendor are ace handwarmers when you're browsing the outdoor flea markets in winter; and I have chestnuts to thank for my friendship with Pierre Herme, the famous Paris pastry chef.
I can't remember what year it was (1991, maybe? ), but, although I
was in Paris for vacation, it was impossible then not to do a little
research for a chestnut story I was doing for The New York Times.
Chestnuts were everywhere! It wasn't just the carts on the street
corner or the iconic trees in all the squares, there were nuts
decorating store windows, turning up on menus and just beginning to be
seen in their most elegant and expensive incarnation: marrons glaces,
or candied chestnuts.
Marrons glaces are chestnuts that have been serially cooked and
soaked in a sugar/glucose syrup until the nut is thoroughly candied and
has a thin, crackly, crystaline coating. Traditionally wrapped in gold
foil so that they look like the jewels that they are, they are a
treasured holiday luxury.
Because I was curious about how marrons glaces were made, I telephoned Fauchon
for information and was told that I'd have to talk to the pastry chef,
M. Herme. And so I did. I called and Pierre invited me to come to his
"lab" (that's what French pastry kitchens are called) the following
day. I showed up with my husband, Michael, in tow because I thought
I'd just be meeting with the chef for about the amount of time it would
take for Michael to have a cup of coffee. Wrong.
First of all, Pierre, being gracious Pierre, welcomed both of us and
wouldn't hear of Michael taking off. And then he took us around the
kitchen and we talked and talked and talked and tasted and tasted and
two hours - count'em - later I discovered that Fauchon did not make
their marrons glaces in house (so I never got to see the process) and
that I was in love. Actually, I fell in love 1 hour and 55 minutes
before the chestnut discovery: I was smitten within minutes of meeting
Pierre Herme and all these years - and two books together - later, I'm
But back to the chestnuts. When Pierre and I were working on our first book, Desserts by Pierre Herme,
we were told that Americans are not as wild about chestnuts as the
French or, for that matter, the Italians, and that we should make sure
that if we included a chestnut recipe it could win converts. Well, we
included two and they're both winners. One is the Christmas Log, a
ladyfinger cake rolled around a chestnut, rum and cassis filling and
finished with a chestnut buttercream; and the other is the tart, which
is filled with a chestnut-Scotch clafoutis (a corss between custard and
flan) studded with pears and chestnuts and topped with a phyllo crown
that is gorgeous, fun to make and a neat little trick to have in your
repertoire to dress up other tarts or even cakes.
CHESTNUT AND PEAR TART
Adapted from Desserts by Pierre Herme
Makes 8 to 10 servings
One unbaked 10-inch tart shell (make it from a sweet tart dough)
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the tart on a lined baking sheet. Line the crust with foil or
parchment, fill with beans or rice and bake it for just 15 minutes.
Transfer the pan to a rack and allow the crust to cool to room
2 to 3 very ripe medium pears (Comice or Bartlett pears are good here)
Juice of 1/2 lemon
3 tablespoons chestnut puree (stir before measuring)
2/3 cup whole milk
1/3 cup creme fraiche
1 1/2 teaspoons Scotch whisky
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs
2/3 cup dry bottled chestnuts
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Core and cut the unpeeled pears into small (about 1/3 inch) cubes;
you should have about 2 1/2 cups of fruit. Toss the pears in a bowl
with the lemon juice to keep them from darkening and set aside.
(Pierre likes the extra flavor and texture he gets by keeping the skin
on the pears. If the skin on your pears is thick, or if keeping the
skin on doesn't appeal to you, by all means, peel the pears.)
Scrape the chestnut puree into a medium bowl and, using a whisk,
stir the puree to loosen it, then blend in the milk and creme fraiche.
One by one, add the whisky, sugar and eggs, stirring until the mixture
is smooth. There's no reason to be overzealous - you're aiming to make
sure the filling is smooth, not airy. With your fingers, break the
chestnuts into small pieces and scatter them over the bottom of the
crust. Turn the pears into the crust, spreading them evenly over the
chestnuts, and then pour in the filling (you might find this easier to
do if you put the baking sheet with the tart shell into the oven before
you pour in the filling); depending on how much or how little your
crust shrank during baking, you may have some filling leftover.
Bake the tart for 35 to 40 minutes, or until a slender knife
inserted into the custard comes out clean. Remove the tart from the
oven and, keeping it in the pan on the baking sheet, set it on a rack
to cool. (You can make the phyllo topping while the tart cools or do
it later, at your convenience.)
3 sheets phyllo
Center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.
Place the outer circle of a 10-inch tart pan on a baking sheet.
Working with 1 piece of phyllo at a time, and keeping the other pieces
under a damp cloth, scrunch the phyllo to fit it inside the tart ring.
Neatness doesn't count here, so just get the phyllo, with all its hills
and valleys, into the ring and then pat it down lightly. Repeat with
the 2 remaining sheets, piling the sheets one on top of another. Dust
the top of the phyllo crown evenly but not too heavily with
confectioner's sugar and slide the baking sheet into the oven.
Bake the phyllo for 5 to 7 minutes, or just until the top sheet is
shiny and caramelized. Remove the baking sheet from the oven and let
the crown cool to room temperature.
To serve, remove the tart from its pan, transfer it to a serving platter and top with the pyllo.
Keeping: The tart should be served at room temperature - it's
really best kept out of the refrigerator - and eaten the day it is made.
Tags: Pierre Herme
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| December 2, 2007 3:37 PM
OMG, that tart looks fantastic and I'm sure the taste matches the dramatic appearance.
| December 3, 2007 12:50 AM
Totally fabulous timing! I'm menu-planning for Christmas dinner already and I was thinking today, actually, about making a very special dessert for my family's and this will fit the bill perfectly!
I absolutely love the idea for the phyllo crown - so impressive yet really easy.
Thanks for sharing Dorie! I love your story on how you met Pierre. I have a pastry chef friend who I fell in love with within minutes of meeting him as well. He turned out to be my pastry chef instructor and we've been best friends ever since. It must be the sugar and butter!
| December 3, 2007 2:38 AM
God, I adore chestnuts and I have never had my fill in one sitting, ever! They are such a winter comfort flavor. Thank you for this recipe. It has somehow inspired me to do a chestnut version of a pecan pie, but more tart-like. I wonder why I've never thought of that before? And I wonder if it will be too heavy. Hmm, well, off to play with it!
| December 3, 2007 9:48 AM
That is one of the loveliest desserts I've ever seen. Pear and Chestnut? Oh my. I too associate chestnuts with my mom, who loved them roasted or in desserts, but particularly the gold-wrapped marrons glaces.
That beautiful phyllo topping surrounding the perfect pear slice makes me think of Christmas wrappings -- like the crumpled tissue paper inside a special package. Now I just have to figure out which holiday party is splendid enough to warrant this lovely tart.
| December 3, 2007 11:04 AM
I adore chestnuts, especially this time of year. The tart looks marvelous! I will have to try it for one of my holiday events. Thanks Dorie!
| December 4, 2007 10:46 AM
Oh -- and I wanted to tell you that I used the sweet tart pastry, the one that's posted on Serious Eats, and it is a complete triumph. It is my go-to tart pastry from now on.
I originally made it in order to make the Sour-Cream Pumpkin Tart for Thanksgiving, but then scaled back because we weren't going to have as many people. So the tart pastry, in its nice fluted tin, was sitting in my freezer for about 10 days. Then I needed a quick dessert to bring to a party, so I made a spur-of-the moment Clementine Tart with a whipped mascarpone filling. The pastry baked up a dream, no puffing or shrinking, and was buttery-tender, sweet and delicious. Also, with a quick brush of apricot jam to seal the inside before laying down the filling, it stayed crisp for DAYS, never going soggy.
Sorry for hi-jacking your comments section, but this pastry is a marvel! Thanks again, Dorie, for another remarkable recipe.
Lori in PA
| December 4, 2007 1:14 PM
Dorie, I made my variation of your posted variation of the Swedish Visiting Cake w/ Apples, which means I used the cookbook recipe and made changes according to my memory of what you posted here. :-) Anyway, yum! The whole family, including The Husband whose thumbprints photo I published on eGullet's "Baking w/ Dorie" thread -- much to his chagrin, loved it and asked for more. Next up -- Swedish Visiting Cake w/ Roasted Pears, just because I have some leftover ones languishing in the fridge. That cake is just so simple to stir up -- I'm thinking Swedish Visiting Cake with Plums, w/ Peaches, w/ Nectarines, w/ Apricots...
| December 5, 2007 10:15 PM
I am assuming that the chesnut puree used in this recipe is purchased; is that correct? Can you tell me if it is sweetened or unsweetened and if there are particular brands that you use that are available in the US?
| December 6, 2007 8:16 AM
Casey - I'm always happy to find you here -- thanks for the visit.
Terri - Of course, you're right: it's the butter and sugar that makes pastry chefs so lovable. I mean, who among us can resist the combination? I think you'll like the tart, but whether or not you make it, I think the phyllo crown is something worth keeping handy in your bag of tricks.
Elarael - what a *fabulous* idea: chestnut pie done like a pecan pie. I certainly had never heard of it, but the instant I read your comment I thought it sounded terrific. Please, let us know if you make it and what it's like. (I think I might try a version, too.)
Julie- what a perfect analogy - the phyllo crown really does look like the crumbled tissue paper in a special package.
Maria - let me know if you make the tart and how your family likes it.
Julie (encore - and no, you're not hi-jacking the comments) - it makes me so happy to hear that you're enjoying making and serving my tart dough. I've got a special fondness for it too. Brushing the inside of the tart with a little jam is a great way to make a "waterproof" shield between the crust and the filling. If you're pre-baking or fully baking a crust before filling it and you don't want to use jam, you can use egg white. Just lightly beat a white and brush it over the bottom of the crust as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Kelly - about chestnut puree: unsweetened is best, but it can be very hard to find. I think the brand I use (I don't have any in the pantry now, so I can't check) is Clement or Faugeres (are they same? I can't remember). If you can't find it, you could probably use chestnut cream (which is sweetened and not really the same texture, but ...) and decrease the recipe's sugar a bit.
| December 6, 2007 5:31 PM
I love chestnuts. I make a chestnut-pear stuffing every year for thanksgiving--it's the one dish I must have even if all the others change. My mom roasted chestnuts in the oven when I was a kid. When I tried doing it in my own apartment for the first time a few years ago, I forgot to score the nuts and they blew up in my face when I took the pan out of the oven. I was horrified and afraid I had been blinded by chestnuts (of course I was fine). My now husband was there and still thinks it's one of the most hilarious things ever. Thank you so much for posting this! I don't have your first book with M. Herme, but I plan to get a hold of it one of these days. I will absolutely try out the recipe this holiday season.
| December 10, 2007 9:32 PM
I never tire of your stories! Last month I was looking everywhere for unsweetened chestnut puree to use in a butternut squash soup, I ended up making my own. Now that I'm back in the city I could probably find it somewhere here.
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