Jan Norris: Food and Florida

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Ask Jan: Roasting, Seasoning Chestnuts

January 5th, 2009 · 1 Comment

Mark S. in St. Louis, Mo. asks:

Jan, I have been “roasting” chestnuts every since they came into season here in St. Louis. I have the chestnut knife, I buy as fresh as I can get chestnuts and I bake them in the oven. My quandary is this: Besides scoring them with the knife (I do an “x” cut) and placing them in the oven (I have tried other ways to roast them and found the oven method best) can you think of any simple way to season them up?

Jan answers:

Wish I had a fireplace here (useful as wheels on a fish) just so I could roast chestnuts and cook popcorn over the flames. It sounds so romantic.

So OK, you use the oven. Said to be the best method anyway — just remember to stir them once during cooking. This helps to pull the nutmeat evenly away from its shell and prevents charring on one side.

On to seasoning: Purists dip them in a little dish of salt, if anything. I’d use a sprinkle of sea salt, but would gild this lily by sprinkling them with olive oil before roasting (I prefer Grecian olive oil for oven work), and then sprinkling with some sea salt once peeled.

For a sweet treat instead, peel them, and while warm, drizzle (lightly – don’t drench) with pure maple syrup, Tupelo honey, or a mix of brown sugar and a bit of butter.

Buche de Noel/ photo from Betty Crocker

Buche de Noel/ photo from Betty Crocker

A chestnut puree, made with sugar, is used in the traditional Christmas “log” cake — Buche de Noel. This chocolate cake, made in jellyroll style, is rolled up after being spread with a chestnut puree, frosted with dark chocolate and then scored with fork tines to make it look like a real log. To complete it, cooks make little meringue mushrooms to set atop it, sometimes adding a piped holly leaf and berries. It’s a true labor of love and creativity — and serious tradition. You can get a version made with a non-traditional coffee buttercream filling at RecipeGoldmine.com – a great site for a number of recipes.

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