How to Make Silky Chestnut Cream
Perfect for piping on to a traditional Mont Blanc dessert.
“Chestnuts roasting on an open fire” is a lyric we love to belt out when the holidays swing around. But it refers to an experience we’ve probably never had. Chestnuts are more popular in Europe and Asia, often roasted for a festive, cold-weather street food.
“Chestnuts always remind me of when I worked in London. I’d be milling through Camden Market, where there’s a drum with charcoal and they’re roasting chestnuts,” says John Kraus, pastry chef and owner of Patisserie 46 in Minneapolis. “That’s kind of like the holiday special.”
But Nat King Cole wasn’t entirely wrong when he sang “The Christmas Song'” in 1946. Before then, chestnut trees blanketed Eastern forests, and because the nuts began to fall in November, they became synonymous with Christmas time in the U.S. In the early 20th century, however, a chestnut blight spread across North America, wiping out four billion chestnut trees.
These days, you can still get your hands on chestnuts, but they’re likely to be imported or grown on small farms in the U.S.—and with that, comes a steep price. But one way you can extend the life of those chestnuts—and feel merry the European way—is by making crème de marrons, or chestnut cream.
The French pantry staple is made from pureed chestnuts and candied syrup, combining the earthy flavor of roasted nuts with notes of toffee. In France, you can buy the brown paste in a tube and spread it on just about anything—a more sophisticated version of Nutella.
Kraus, who specializes in French pastry, uses chestnut cream in a number of applications. “You can make a chestnut mousse, which would be delightful on a pie, or with bourbon-soaked lady fingers,” Kraus says. “And you’ve got yourself a Michelin-star dessert.” But the cream is also great on its own, smeared on toast or added to yogurt.
Making chestnut cream from scratch is at least a 10-day process, though it requires just a little bit of work each day. “It all starts from roasted and candied chestnuts,” Kraus says.
When picking out your chestnuts, you want to make sure that they’re healthy. “When you gently touch the chestnut, you want it to feel like what’s underneath the shell is nice and full,” Kraus explains. “So it doesn’t give. You want to avoid a nut that’s kind of dry and retracted.”
To take the chestnuts out of their shell, make a cross-cut at the very tip of the shell and then boil or roast. From there, the shell should peel off from the nut on its own. The next step is to candy the nut, which requires varying degrees of syrup each day.
To make the syrup solution, combine sugar and water. “Slowly increase what’s called the brix, which are the solids of the sugar solution, and bring that to a boil. Drop in the nuts and slowly let the sugar penetrate the nut,” Kraus says.
You’ll know when the nuts are candied when the insides appear to hold the liquid and the outsides turn translucent. Once that process is done, you’ll turn the nuts into a paste by blending in a blender or robot coupe. Simply add to a can or a jar, and enjoy your chestnut cream for weeks on end.
If you’re looking to get fancy, you can use the chestnut cream to create a Mont Blanc, a little snow-laced mountain of a dessert consisting of meringue, chantilly, and chestnut cream. For this recipe, Kraus combines his candied chestnut cream with an unsweetened chestnut puree, as well as bourbon, vanilla bean, and butter.
“When I have something like that—because whipped cream can sometimes feel a little fatty—I like to add something slightly acidic,” Kraus explains. “What we do is a combination of blueberries and blackcurrants, so that they kind of cut through the fat of the whipped cream. And then you’ve got this really beautiful blend of acidity with the depth of the chestnut.”
So whether you’d like to transport yourself back to a bygone America, or travel to a marché de Noël in Eastern France, turn to the chestnut this holiday season. “They’ve already fallen, so right now is the time to do it,” Kraus says.
Mont Blanc Recipe
- 100 grams egg whites
- 100 grams sugar
- 100 grams powdered sugar
- pinch of salt
1. Warm oven to 200°F.
2. Whip the egg whites with a whisk and half the sugar. Once the whites are frothy, add the remaining sugar and whip until the consistency of shaving cream.
3. Gently fold the sifted powdered sugar into the egg whites. Careful not to lose volume.
4. Pipe in a six-inch ring.
5. Place in the oven for a minimum of three hours. Allow to cool and prepare the chestnut cream.
- 200 grams unsweetened chestnut puree (available online)
- 100 grams chestnut cream (Mashed candied chestnuts or available prepared online)
- 50 grams soft butter
- 50 grams Kentucky bourbon (optional)
- 1 Madagascar Bourbon vanilla bean
Combine everything in a blender or robot coupe until completely smooth.
Chantilly Cream (Whipped Cream)
- 500 grams heavy whipping cream
- 50 grams powdered sugar
- ½ vanilla bean
1. Whip cream at low speed in a stand mixer with a whisk attachment until stiff.
2. Place one disk of meringue and cover generously with whipped cream. Top with a second disc of meringue. Cover nicely the top of the meringue with the whipped cream again (I like to make a small mound).
3. With a very small piping tip, or if you are lucky enough to have a vermicelli tip (a piping tip with many small holes), make back and forth lines of the chestnut cream over the top, or nice spirals (envision a mound of pasta). Once completely covered, sprinkle with powdered sugar and reserve in the cooler until ready to eat!