Tuesday, November 27, 2012

A Decadent Dessert for the Holidays

I have been a little lax about getting posts out but this will surely make up for it. There is a cheesecake I have been making every year since I discovered the recipe. The original recipe for Chestnut Cheesecake was found online a long time back, but it has been altered so much it is not the same recipe. Similar, perhaps, but not the same at all.  I changed things each year for the first three years.  And now, I am happy with the outcome, so I hope you will be, too.

There were a lot of items necessary to make this dessert happen. Finding chestnut products can be difficult, depending on where one lives. If you have a nice gourmet grocery anywhere nearby, you are in luck. Otherwise it is an online project to find the ingredients.

Please do not let this deter you, because while the cheesecake is not inexpensive to make, it is most wonderfully flavored, and so very seasonal.

The recipe itself, once the ingredients are assembled, is no different from most cheesecakes.  Make the crust and bake it and allow to cool.  Mix up the cheesecake batter.  Bake.  Simple.  Except for the magnificent finished product.  Nothing at all simple about it. It is simply, extravagantly, spectacular.

Chestnut Cheesecake

Chestnut Cheesecake
Makes 12 to 16 servings
1 cup whole almonds, unblanched
2 tablespoons sugar
1/8 teaspoon almond extract
2 tablespoons unsalted butter (¼ stick), room temperature

2 (8-ounce) tins sweetened chestnut paste/puree (see notes)
4 ounces chestnuts, or more, to taste, preferably vacuum-packed, whole, precooked and peeled
16 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large eggs plus 1 egg yolk

1 cup chilled whipping cream

MAKE CRUST: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Blend whole unblanched almonds, sugar, and almond extract in a food processor until almonds are coarsely chopped. Add unsalted butter and process until almonds are finely chopped. Press almond mixture firmly onto bottom and 1-inch up sides of an 8-inch diameter spring-form pan with 2½-inch sides. Bake the crust until light brown, about 12 to 15 minutes. Transfer crust in pan to a rack to cool. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees.

MAKE FILLING: If using whole water packed chestnuts, drain chestnuts thoroughly first, or use vacuum-packed chestnuts: Cut enough chestnuts into ¼ to ½-inch pieces to measure 1 cup; place these scattered over the bottom of the cooled crust and set aside. Reserve remaining chestnuts for topping. Using electric mixer, beat room temperature cream cheese, sugar and vanilla extract in a medium bowl until very smooth. Beat in eggs and yolk, one at a time. Add in the sweetened chestnut paste and mix well. Spoon cream cheese mixture over the chestnuts in the crust. Place spring-form pan on a baking sheet.

Bake cheesecake until center is just set, about 45 minutes. Cool cheesecake 30 minutes. Chill uncovered until cold, about 3 hours, then cover. (Cheesecake can be made 1 day ahead. Keep refrigerated.) 

MAKE TOPPING: Cut around sides of pan to loosen cheesecake; release pan side. Beat whipping cream in a medium bowl until firm peaks form. Spoon cream into a pastry bag fitted with medium star tip. Pipe rosettes of cream around the edge of cake. Place one reserved chestnut piece on each rosette.

NOTES:  This cheesecake may not be inexpensive, but it is so heavenly that I believe (for a special occasion) it is well worth it! 

Where to find the Sweetened Chestnut Paste? Be advised that Chestnut Puree and Chestnut Paste seem to be synonymous, and labeling from other countries does not differentiate between sweetened and unsweetened. Read labels carefully!  Often, online there are places where you can read a label.  The brand I have gotten most often is Clement Faugiere (sweetened), and I know that brand works well (17.6 ounces for around $11.50 at Amazon.com). Some people online suggested finding whole vacuum-packed chestnuts at Asian markets. Someone else said they carry them at Fairway markets.  Anyone lucky enough to have access to Williams Sonoma can usually get the vacuum jar of whole, peeled chestnuts.


My passion is to teach people how to create a harmony of flavors with their cooking, and help pass along my love and joy of food, both simple and exotic, plain or fancy. I continue my journey in ethnic and domestic cuisines, trying new things weekly. Join me at A Harmony of Flavors Website, on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. I am also on a spiritual journey and hope you will join me at my new blog, An Eagle Flies.