Tart 1 of 2: Chestnut Savoriness

October 25, 2007 at 12:14 pm 19 comments

Chestnuts 

There seems to be plenty of nostalgia to go around on this blog as of late.  Well, prepare yourselves for yet another tale of my younger days. A few weeks back, I noticed the appearance of chestnuts for sale at the Headhouse Market.  I hadn’t thought about chestnuts in ages, and the sight of them (and the sticker shock that followed shortly thereafter) reminded me of the many chestnut trees that surround my family’s farmhouse and dairy barn. 

Chestnut tree surrounded by fallen nuts   Chestnut in its spiney outer shell

My paternal grandfather had a thing for nuts of all kinds.  Besides planting the chestnut trees that still stand today, he imparted his interest in gathering nuts to his grandkids by taking us on walks through the surrounding woods to look for hazelnuts, black walnuts and any other variety of native nuts we could get our hands on.  Too bad peanuts don’t grow in Pennsylvania because he took great delight in walking around with his pockets full of peanuts still in their shells, handing a few to me each time he stopped in at the barn, and we’d shell them and toss them back into our mouths, leaving a trail of empty shells behind us.  While I do generally detest all nuts in baked goods, I still enjoy eating most right out of their shells. 

chestnuts in tart tin

To get back to chestnuts in particular, I would run around in the fall, carefully picking them out of their prickly protection, and use my teeth to tear into their soft shells.  Once I got them started with my teeth, I’d peel out the meat inside and blissfully savor its buttery sweet flavor.  This do-it-yourself approach to cracking open chestnuts has probably contributed to the poor health of my molars now, but I wasn’t thinking about that at the time.  Eventually as I got older, my dad let me use his pocket knife instead.  I mimicked my grandfather by walking around with pocketfuls of chestnuts during the months of October and November. 

Cutting out dough around tin Dough placed in tin

Knowing chestnuts were for sale at Headhouse and that there’s a chance some of you could even forage for them in areas around your homes, I thought I’d gather a big bag of them at my family farm to bring back to Philly to use in some recipes in case any of you were wondering what the heck to do with chestnuts.  First off, I think I will always prefer them raw – if you haven’t tasted one, you’re missing out on a real treat.  They have a soft texture that lends an almost buttery background to the mild sweetness in the foreground.  They really don’t taste much like any other nut that I know.

Peeling chestnuts by cutting in half

My family never cooked with chestnuts though.  While living in Europe for several months, I got a chance to try a couple cooked versions of chestnuts, my favorite being the simple treat of blackened chestnuts bought from street vendors in London parks.  I also remember having them in a tart, so I went in search of a chestnut tart recipe for today’s post.  Fittingly, I found what I was looking for on a London-based website, Merchant Gourmet.  The recipe did pose a problem though…it needed to be converted to American measurements, a skill I’m still refining.  I figured I’d take a shot at it anyway. 

Tarts with chopped chestnuts and pastry leaf cutouts

The end result was good, but I don’t think I converted the sugar amount properly.  The tart wasn’t nearly as sweet as I was anticipating.  I increased the sugar a bit in the recipe below, but am wondering if this tart isn’t meant to be all that sweet, even though the ingredients would lead one to believe it is.  With a dollop of slightly sweet [real] whipped cream, it’s really quite a pleasant contrast of sweet and savory.  The flavor also goes nicely with the sweeter fruit tart I’ll be posting next (Tart 2 of 2).  As Thanksgiving menu planning begins in earnest, an assortment of these chestnut and the forthcoming fruit tarts would make a unique and eloquent spread for dessert.  It’s also a great way to justify the purchase of some darn cute tart tins, should you need an excuse.  Such was the case in my experience at least after a lengthy visit to the local kitchenware store. 

Maple Syrup Pouring filling over tarts

CHESTNUT MAPLE TART
Adapted from Merchant Gourmet

1 c. of chestnuts (still in shells)
2 T. maple syrup
1 T. heavy cream
1/3 c. packed brown sugar
1 egg, beaten
3 T. butter
1/8 t. freshly ground nutmeg
8 oz. pie dough*
2 three-inch removable bottom tart tins
whipped cream for serving

*I used Deb at Smitten Kitchen’s pie dough recipe this time around.  I might return to my own recipe next time as this wasn’t as flakey as my standby, but it was easier to work with.  Visit her lovely blog for details on how to make it.  When you have the dough together, divide it in two parts – one to use for this recipe and one freeze for another time.  You could also use the store-bought pre-rolled variety if you’re short on time.

Roll out pie dough on a floured surface.  Place a three-inch tart tin upside down on the dough.  Using a sharp knife, cut around the tin, leaving an extra 1/2 inch of dough. Cut out a second circle of dough. Spray both tart tins with non-stick spray and line them with the dough, pressing it into the fluted edges of the tin.  Trim off excess dough.  Chill tins in refrigerator while you prepare the chesnuts.

Shell the chestnuts by cutting them in half with a sharp knife and then use your fingers to peel away the shell enough to extract the nut’s meat inside.  This process will take a few minutes to complete for all the chestnuts.  Roughly chop the shelled chestnuts and set aside. 

Preheat the oven to 400 F and place the chilled tart tins on a baking tray.  Lightly prick the dough and then cover tins loosely with foil.  Bake at 400 F for 10 minutes and then lower heat to 350 F.  Remove foil and continue to bake for another 5 minutes.

Fill each tart with half the chopped chestnuts.  Beat the remaining ingredients together and pour over chestnuts, stopping just below the rim of the tart.  Do not overfill as the filling does puff up in the oven.

Place filled tarts on a foil lined baking sheet (to protect against overflow) and bake for 25-30 minutes until filling is set up and pastry golden brown.  Serve warm or cold with a dollop of whipped cream.

(serves 2)

Chestnut Maple Tarts

Entry filed under: Recipes, Sweet Treats. Tags: .

Consuming the Details Tart 2 of 2: Snappy Fruit

19 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Ro  |  October 25, 2007 at 12:59 pm

    The Chestnuts look wonderful and I remember picking these as a kid maybe 40 or so years ago, but Chestnut Trees no longer grow in this area and now I’m wondering where I could buy some?

    Reply
  • 2. Jennie  |  October 25, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Where are you located, Ro? If you’re in the US, you can use http://www.localharvest.org to search for nearby farms that might have a chestnut tree you don’t know about. 🙂 Otherwise, try looking online for packaged ones you can order. It’s not the same as buying local, which I highly advocate, but if you loved chestnuts as much as I did as a kid, making an exception ot the “buy local” rule might not be so bad just this once. 🙂

    Reply
  • 3. Ro  |  October 26, 2007 at 6:39 am

    I always buy local when possible, but have never seen chestnuts for sale at any of the farms in this area, nor have I seen a chestnut tree in the last 40 years. I believe the Chestnut trees died of a disease somewhat like that of the Elm trees. I live in Massachusetts.

    Reply
  • 4. Jennie  |  October 26, 2007 at 6:46 am

    Huh, that’s so sad that all the chestnut trees are gone in your area, Ro. I guess ordering online would be your only option then. I hope you can find some, if only for nostalgia’s sake. 🙂

    Reply
  • 5. Ro  |  October 26, 2007 at 7:51 am

    Jennie, went to the Local harvest website but no one sells the kind of chestnuts we’re talking about. Most think we’re talking about Italian Chestnuts, which must be roasted or cooked before eating. I did find a link to a company that actually sells Chestnut trees! That might be the only way anyone here in MA is going to taste them!
    BTW: love your recipes for Pumpkin Pops and Apple Dumplings; great stuff! Thanks so much.

    Reply
  • 6. Jennie  |  October 26, 2007 at 7:56 am

    Ro – How big is your yard? I think you should corner the chestnut market now by planting a tree. 🙂

    So glad you like the pumpkin and apple recipes too. Stop by any time to comment, and if I can find some way to get you some chestnuts, I’ll be sure to let you know. 🙂

    Reply
  • 7. taylor  |  October 26, 2007 at 10:05 am

    Tell your granddad he can eek out a few peanuts in PA, although it’s not the most ideal climate – need 5 month of warm weather. It’s a most fascinating crop. The flowers bend down to the ground, push into the soil, and the ovary develops into a fruit underground!

    Reply
  • 8. Jennie  |  October 26, 2007 at 10:39 am

    Really??? That’s how peanuts grow?? I always just thought they were an unusual “root” crop. But it’s the flowers instead? Huh! I love learning this kind of stuff!

    Reply
  • 9. marimann  |  October 26, 2007 at 11:06 am

    Ooooo, this post reminds me of Paris and how I’m still kicking myself that I didn’t buy roasted chestnuts from a street vendor. Dang, guess I’ll have to go back to Paris🙂 Anyhow, the recipe looks lovely and do you think this would work with any other type nut?

    Reply
  • 10. Jennie  |  October 26, 2007 at 11:17 am

    Marimann – Yes, I think a trip back to Paris for roasted chestnuts is definitely in order! 🙂 I bet walnuts or pecans would also work well in this recipe. If you try, let me know if it works and what you used.

    Reply
  • 11. marimann  |  October 26, 2007 at 11:57 am

    I will~ and I let you know when I get back from Paris- *sigh*

    Reply
  • 12. Jessica  |  October 26, 2007 at 3:31 pm

    I ate some of the best chestnuts, roasted right on the street in Portugal last week. They were yummy!

    Reply
  • 13. Jennie  |  October 26, 2007 at 7:32 pm

    Jessica – I’m so jealous! Portugal is my next country to visit. Now that I know they have roasted chestnuts, I’m going to have to get there as fast as I can! 🙂

    Reply
  • 14. anna  |  October 27, 2007 at 7:48 am

    i can’t wait to try this! we usually have chestnuts at our grocery store but i’m not sure they are out yet. infoplease.com has a great conversion calculator. your photo makes me want grab a fork!

    Reply
  • 15. Jennie  |  October 27, 2007 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks for the conversion calculator and for the nice compliments, Anna! I hope you get some chestnuts soon! 🙂

    Reply
  • 16. Andy  |  October 28, 2007 at 2:36 pm

    Wow the tart looks amazing! We have a neighbor that has a chestnut tree and those little buggers are always falling in my garden. I guess I thought they were kind of a pain but now maybe I will make love not war with the chestnuts.

    Reply
  • 17. Jennie  |  October 28, 2007 at 6:29 pm

    How funny, Andy! Yes, please give them a try. Make sure they look like the ones in my picture though as there are a few varieties that are less appealing. I would love to hear if you have them and turn your chestnut frown upside down. 🙂

    Reply
  • 18. Don’t Mind Me « Straight from the Farm  |  November 12, 2007 at 9:28 am

    […] work:  savory buttery crispy pockets of chestnuts, leeks and cheese.   Considering how long my chestnuts had been sitting around, I was a little worried they might have gotten to dry and hard to be […]

    Reply
  • 19. Friday Fun ‘n Flashbacks « Straight from the Farm  |  January 4, 2008 at 2:46 pm

    […] This is me, all of four years old (and with quite the penchant for belly shirts it would seem), making my first pie crust.  Okay, maybe I didn’t achieve pie perfection on this first attempt, but gosh darn’it, that was the best I could do with a rolling pin half the size of me!!  For a good tart recipe from the archives, click here. […]

    Reply

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