Nature has a way of protecting her fruit from marauders. Chestnuts are no exception to this. Try breaking into a chestnut without strong soled shoes and a pair of gloves and you’ll more than meet your match.
If you’re into foraging, chestnuts are a joy. Not only can you spot them a mile away because they collect in their gatherings at the base of chestnut trees. There is also no picking your way through branches and bending under things, they just fall when they’re ready. As long as you are armed with your trusty shoes and gloves, they’re a doddle.
Chestnuts are not to be confused with horse chestnut (aesculus hippocastanum) which is used traditionally for strengthening leg veins and is also very bitter. Chestnuts have a mild, sweet flavour and crumble easily, this is where we get chestnut flour from. They have a high fibre and low calorie content so a good food to keep you satiated for longer. They are high in vitamin C, potassium, copper, magnesium and antioxidants.
We tend to see chestnuts make their appearance at Christmas time with the roast and sprinkled in among the Brussels sprouts, their sweetness counteracting the bitterness of the sprouts. But there is so much more to them than that. If you have an abundance of chestnuts, mash them down to a purée. There’s a recipe for that in one of the links below. Use chestnut purée to fill a roulade as an alternative to butter cream or as a filling for cake.
Since time immemorial, I’ve been using Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s recipe for a flourless chocolate cake. Chestnuts make a great substitute for flour in chocolate recipes because they add their own sweetness, and you get that gooey, sticky, soft, chocolatey texture inside.
Hugh’s recipe is one of those in this link. It uses only 6 ingredients, except I use only 5 because I buy the ready-made chestnut purée and therefore don’t need the milk. This is foolproof, you can’t go wrong!
Here is a site dedicated to chestnut recipes:
Another gorgeous gooey chocolate and chestnut version, this time from Nigella:
If you can get hold of chestnut flour, here is a recipe which uses it:
Another gluten free cake and you don’t need chestnut flour for this:
(image from Eugenie's Kitchen).
Because chestnut trees are grown around the world, there are some lovely regional recipes. Here is one from Turkey:
At the beginning you are instructed to make a chestnut purée or spread. As I’ve burnt my fingers too many times trying to peel hot chestnuts, I buy the ready-made shop purée.
I love watching people cook, so here is a video on how to make Japanese chestnut cake.
If you just want to eat chestnuts simply on their own, I don’t know about roasting them on an open fire, I usually boil or oven bake them. Not as romantic. Put them in boiling water for 20 minutes, oven 200C/400F for about 20 minutes. Cutting a cross in the base allows them to cook faster and the steam to escape while cooking. Peel off the shells while hot and mind your fingers!