So we’re into 2017, but I made this bake at the tail end of 2016 for a Christmas dinner party. You see, chestnut cake is a fantastic alternative to a “death by chocolate” dessert during the festive season. I mean, after stuffing yourself with a roast bird, potatoes, stuffing, the works, how much room do you really have?
You don’t see chestnut cake anywhere, or as you might better know it as – Mont Blanc. Popular in France, this dessert is named after resembling a snow-capped mountain. If you’ve been to Paris, you very well might have heard of Angelina, a famous tea house which is known for this dessert, with its signature finish of chestnut cream puree piped into thin, vermicelli strings until it fully covers the mound of chantilly cream.
To get this string-thin vermicelli finish, I remember my dad using a syringe-like device where the end looked like a showerhead that would push out the chestnut puree. Unfortunately, I don’t have access to such contraptions. And I also learned the hard way that the chestnut puree must be smooth as possible if you want to even attempt piping it! Needless to say, I didn’t end up with that signature vermicelli-finish. Maybe next time.
If you can’t find chestnut puree, you can make your own if you can get your hands on whole chestnuts – a little ambitious, especially if using fresh chestnuts I might say, but not impossible.
Part 1: Sponge
This can be made up to two days in advance, wrapped in clingfilm and stored in the fridge until assembly.
1 egg yolk
120 g sugar
140g AP flour
10g melted butter, cooled.
½ cap Vanilla flavouring
- Set oven at 175⁰C/325⁰F
- Grease a 9” tin, then lightly coat with flour. Shake any excess out.
- In a large mixing bowl, beat the eggs, egg yolk and sugar with a hand mixer until the mixture doubles in volume, and forms a thick mixture. The more air that is beat into the eggs will help make the sponge rise.
- Slowly fold the flour into the egg mixture until just incorporated. Careful of over mixing here as it could deflate the eggs.
- Take the melted butter and slowly pour it in, while folding, add half a cap of vanilla flavouring and keep folding until incorporated in.
- Pour mixture into your greased tin and place within centre of oven to bake for 45 minutes – hour
- You may need to turn the tin 20-30 minutes in depending how even the baking is. To check if the sponge is ready, use a sharp knife, or toothpick, and stick it in the middle of the sponge. If it comes out clean it’s ready.
- Set aside and cool.
Part 2: Assembly
450g chestnut puree
maple syrup to taste
850mL fresh double cream
3 tbsp sugar
100mL boiling water
Brandy, to taste (optional)
- In a small bowl or cup, pour the boiling water over the 3 tbps of sugar, mix until dissolved and set aside to cool. If desired (and it should always be the case!) add a capful of brandy before use. You can always make this ahead of time, or put it in the fridge to chill faster.
- Cut off the topping from sponge cake (as thin as you can!) horizontally, slice the sponge into 3 even layers. I find it helps if you start slowly cutting into the side, making your way around before cutting into the middle.
- In a medium bowl, combine the chestnut puree with maple syrup until smooth. Taste as you go, some people like it sweeter than others. If you are keeping some to decorate the cake, separate this now and set aside.
- In a large bowl and with an electric hand mixer, whip fresh cream on high until semi-stiff peaks form. Set aside 3-4 spatula-full scoops of whipped cream to the side, this will be used to coat and finish the cake.
- Take two spatula-full scoops of whipped cream and mix into the chestnut puree until 75% combined. Add in two capfuls of Brandy (if using) and mix in the remaining whipped cream until smooth.
- Take the bottom layer of the sponge, and using a brush, carefully dab the sponge to lightly moisten the surface with the sugar syrup mixture from earlier.
- Cover the bottom layer with the chestnut cream mixture – about 2cm – using a palette knife to help ensure you have an even surface.
- Repeat steps 6 and 7 until you have your last layer of sponge cake on top.
- Taking the (plain) whipped cream from earlier, cover the top and sides of the cake until well-coated and you cannot see the top and layers.
- If you’re building a dome of chestnut puree vermicelli, this is when you’d do it. Or forgo tradition and spread it evenly on the top until it just about reaches the sides and using a round tip, pipe a border to hide the “seams”.
- I’ve also added a chocolate collar to the sides, optional of course but an easy way to cover up the sides. Simply melt 150g of dark chocolate and paint onto prepared strips of baking paper (these need to be slightly greater than the height of your cake). You will likely need 2-3 strips.
- Wrap the strip around the cake, ensuring it touches the cream. Press gently so that it holds. Let it cool and harden before peeling back (slowly!) 1cm from one side to reveal the chocolate. Continue joining the collar with your remaining chocolate strips and return to the fridge to cool and set completely before removing the parchment paper.