Late last year a friend of mine gave me a small can of sweetened chestnut spread, after they'd been travelling in France. I had little idea what to do with it, but I had a hunch that Ottolenghi would have a suitable recipe or two. Sure enough, chestnut spread turns up in the index of Sweet as an ingredient in two desserts.
The Mont Blanc tart is reinterpretation of an Italian dessert where chestnuts are sweetened and whipped into cream. Goh and Ottolenghi's version starts with a sweet shortcrust; it's lined with a thin layer of dark chocolate and then filled with the chestnut spread. The name then comes in with a tower of whipped cream, which is sprinkled with candied pecans.
The presentation of my version didn't fulfill that vision, though it was pretty enough. Instead of baking individual tart shells I formed a single large pie. The double cream I bought became thicker and denser with whipping, lacking the airy texture needed to form a white mountain.
On its own, the chestnut spread had the nuttiness and velvety texture of hummus, though it was a lot sweeter. In the dessert, it acted as an unassuming caramel filling - the cream was richer, the chocolate had more depth, the pecans were sweeter. Together they formed a fancy and tasty dessert, even if the chestnut centre was overshadowed. For me it was a successful one-off project that I was proud to share around Ottolenghi club - I don't foresee any more little cans of chestnut spread coming my way, and this project hasn't inspired me to order them online.
Mont Blanc tart
(slightly adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi & Helen Goh's Sweet)
200g plain flour
120g cold butter
30g caster sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon white wine vinegar
3 tablespoons ice water
1 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon glucose syrup
1 tablespoon caster sugar
120g pecan halves
pinch of salt
60g dark chocolate
250g can sweetened chestnut spread
300mL double cream
1 tablespoon icing sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla rum
Start with the pastry. Drop the flour into a large food processor, dice the butter and drop it in after the flour. Add the sugar and salt. Pulse the ingredient together until they resemble coarse breadcrumbs. Add the vinegar and water, and pulse further until the dough just starts coming together. Turn the dough onto plastic wrap, forming it into a ball the then flattening it into a disc. Refrigerate the dough for at least 1 hour.
This is plenty of time to candy the pecans. Preheat an oven to 190°C. Line a large baking tray with paper. Place the maple syrup, glucose and sugar in a small saucepan and set it over low heat. Stir them together until they're combined and smooth, then add the pecans and salt. Turn off the heat and stir the pecans until they're evenly coated in the syrup, then turn them into the baking tray, spacing them out so that they're minimally touching. Bake the nuts for 8 minutes, until the syrup is bubbling and they smell toasty. Allow the nuts to cool to room temperature, then roughly chop them.
When the dough is ready, roll it out between two sheets of plastic wrap and fit it into a greased pie dish. The dough will contract when baked, so leave plenty of extra pastry on the edges. Refrigerate the pastry shell for 30 minutes. Preheat an oven to 180°C. Retrieve the pastry shell, prick its base with a fork, line it with paper, and pour in some pie weights (I have some old dried chickpeas for this job). Bake the pastry shell for 18 minutes, until it is golden brown around the edges. Remove the paper and pie weights, then bake for another 8 minutes, until the pastry is cooked through. Allow the base to cool.
Gently melt the chocolate using your preferred method, then pour it into the base of the pastry shell, spreading it evenly with the back of a spoon. Refrigerate the pastry to set the chocolate. When the chocolate is set, spoon in the chestnut spread and spread it out evenly. Return the tart to the fridge.
When you're almost ready to serve the dessert, place the three cream ingredients in a small bowl and whip them with an electric beater until medium-soft peaks form. Serve slices of the tart topped with white mountains of cream and sprinkle the candies pecans on top.