Chestnuts are much loved in the western part of Romania, where large chestnut groves used to give people not only a very nutritional fruit, but also durable timber for their furniture. Sweet chestnut trees thrived in groves around ancient monasteries and in private orchards, much to the delight of children playing conkers and trying not to get caught.
Today, there are less and less of these wonderful trees, but the fruits are still present in our cuisine, from the much loved street food roasted chestnuts to chestnut fools and puddings.
My mum was from the western part of the country, so we do have some western blood in our veins, but despite this we didn’t really fall in love with chestnuts. In the south, in Bucharest, they were a thing of The North.
Moving to the UK, I noticed how much people loved chestnuts around Christmas time, not only roasted in the oven, but also as a side dish to the main meal. Then I had a Mont Blanc dessert which completely changed my opinion about chestnuts…or better put, it was a revelation!
So here I was, trying to make an easier version of the famous Mont Blanc using a Romanian recipe for chestnut pudding. I was planning to put a layer of whipped cream on top after the pudding was baked in bain-marie. But half way through, I realised that I wanted to put some chopped roasted chestnuts in the mix, for more texture and flavour. Then I thought about eating it with a dollop of cherry jam on top – which brought me a step closer to a version of the Queen of Puddings.
By this time, the pudding was already baking slowly in the oven. So I whisked 2 egg whites, and when the pudding was ready, I spread Morello cherry jam on top of the pudding and then the meringue mix on top of the jam. Then back in the oven for 20 minutes and it was ready to eat.
From the bottom to the top: expect wobbly softness and delicate flavours with pulpy pieces of chestnuts, then a sweet-sour thrill from the cherry jam that wakes you up from the soft reverie, and right there at the end, a crunchy-gooey whiteness that melts in the mouth almost instantly.
Obviously, you realise that you didn’t quite expect all this, so you go in for another spoonful.
For the chestnut pudding
200g pre-cooked chestnuts, pureed
100g pre-cooked chestnuts, chopped
200g castor sugar
For the meringue
2 egg whites
110 caster sugar
1 jar of cherry jam
1 piece of dark chocolate for shavings
Preheat the oven to 160C. Grease a ceramic tray of 20-23 cm long that can fit into a larger metallic deep roasting tray.
Make the pudding:
Beat the egg yolks with sugar until light and fluffy. Add the chestnut puree and the diced chestnuts. Whisk the egg white and gently incorporate into the mix, trying to keep as much air in as possible.
Pour the mixture in the ceramic tray, put the tray in the larger roasting tray and fill the roasting tray with water. Place carefully in the oven and bake for 1 hour.
Make the meringue: beat the 2 egg withes until forming soft peaks. Add the sugar and whisk on maximum speed until stiff.
Assemble the pudding: after 1 hour, take the pudding out of the oven and remove it from the roasting tray (not from the ceramic tray). Leave to cool for 20 minutes. Gently spread the jam on top, then the meringue. You can pipe the meringue if you’d like.
Place back in the oven, this time on its own, not in the roasting tin. Lower the temperature to 150C and bake for 20 minutes or until the meringue is a pale golden colour.
Serve warm but not straight out of the oven. Shave some chocolate on top.