Monday, December 10, 2012



There is probably a smell of roasted chestnuts and other good comfortable things all the time, 
for we are telling Winter Stories – Ghost Stories, or more shame for us – round the Christmas fire; and we have never stirred, except to draw a little nearer to it. 
Charles Dickens 

Hanukkah has come upon us in a rush, almost unexpectedly. Surrounded by the remains of our renovations, pampering a sick dog, befuddled and amazed by the busy-bee energy of our normally slow-as-molasses son, time has slipped by at an almost unreal pace and we are astonished when we realize that it has only been a month since our move. Four, maybe five short weeks. It feels like we have been here forever emptying cartons, stepping over heaps of tools, tripping over coils of wire, making so many trips to the dump it has my head in a spin! And now Hanukkah has arrived and I am just not ready.
Son and I go hunting for Hanukkah gifts as the afternoon light wanes, just before rushing home to light the first candle. Late, as usual. We join the jungle of bodies, the swell of humanity clutching bags and boxes, children crying, parents hustling youngsters in and out of shops trying to retain some semblance of dignity and holiday cheer. Son hurries me, skirting the gawkers, reminding me of what we are there for and urging me onward only wanting to be home. But I am caught up in the festive air of the city, bedazzled by the neons, the garlands, the flurry of Santa hats bobbing up and down the streets. The brisk chill invigorates and the Hanukkah spirit is upon me and all I want to do is drift, weightless, carried along on the sights and sounds and smells of Christmas.

I’m just a little sentimental this time of year as the skies deepen to a dull slate gray, misty and mysterious. We venture out at night, brilliant bulbs in green, red, blue and white piercing the blackness, flickering, floating, fairy lights leading us towards the center of town. Noise and laughter rise and swirl around us like snow as we are swept along in the bustling crowd, pushed and pulled in between the brightly lit wooden stalls of the Christmas market. The smells of popcorn and churros mingle with the heady, spicy scent of mulled wine, the salty, smoky fragrance of sausages coming from the booth hawking some far-off regional delicacies, making us yearn to approach, lulled like fairytale children, spellbound, being pulled towards a candy-covered fantasy of sweets and the warmth of a blazing hearth. Images of my mom far away, thoughts of my brother rush in to fill up the spaces in my head between plans for our own festivities and the jollity and mirth, the lightness and wellbeing now mingled with emptiness, tainted by sadness. My son tugs on my sleeve, gives me a gentle nudge in the back and I turn my attention to the stands of books and the bins of dvds.

The holidays back home, the holidays of my childhood, weren’t swathed in snow or faded into a misty Winter Wonderland; no children bundled up in thick, puffs of coat, stuffing hands into mittens, tucking ever-dancing feet into boots, tugging knitted bonnets on heads. Bright bulbs flashed against crystal clear skies, luminaries flickered up and down neighborhood streets against a backdrop of deep, lush green grass. Mornings were indeed punctuated by entertaining stalagmites sprouting up from neighbors’ garden sprinklers; Santas galore were perched upon rooftops dressed in flowered cotton shirts, shorts and flip flops, ready for the balmy Florida season. By afternoon, the morning’s jackets were peeled off and we were down to warm weather outfits as we piled into the station wagon to go Hanukkah shopping with mom. We had the only house on the block, in the neighborhood, bare of decorations, the only wreathless front door. No strings of lights hung from the eaves, no garlands graced the front window. My parents were discreet, practical and sober when it came to holidays. A lone Menorah stood in the livingroom, one gift per night, a gift we had most likely chosen ourselves, was handed to each of us before we gathered around the table for a game of dreidl, peanuts or M & M’s our tokens of choice. And we were happy that way, happy being together, laughing, singing, playing with our toys. For eight nights, brightened by the candles’ flames.

Chestnuts are delicacies for princes and a lusty and masculine food for rusticks, 
and able to make women well-complexioned.
John Evelyn, 1620 – 1706 

No chestnuts found their way into our kitchen, nor graced our holiday table. Foreign, they were, to us Floridians who spent the winter eating citrus morning, noon and night. Pies in pumpkin, apple and cherry were reserved for Thanksgiving as was bird and sticky sweet marshmallow sweet potato casserole. A plate of latkes was our Hanukkah treat along with a tiny bag of Hanukkah gelt, thick chocolate coins wrapped in glittering, shiny gold foil, counted out, made to last eight days. These simple traditions have found their way into my own home as we, husband, two sons and I, gather round the old family Menorah, the same from my childhood, lighting the candles for eight nights, exchanging gifts and enjoying our time together.

No, no special holidays meals for Hanukkah, yet this time of year I love to bake and cook with those special seasonal ingredients that, for me, are forever linked to a joyous, sprightly winter: pumpkins and apples, oranges and chestnuts. And when I can add chocolate to the mix, well, don’t I just do it. After my recent escapade into decadence the result of which, a Chocolate Chestnut Fondant, was received with merriment, gobbled down by one and all, I decided to try yet another chocolate chestnut delicacy with the rest of the can of Crème de Marrons. This Chocolate Chestnut Cloud Cake gets its airiness from thick, creamy meringue which is folded ever so gently into chocolate and butter, flavored by chestnut cream and a festive splash of Cointreau, my tipple of choice this season. I first baked one single fluted cake and then repeated the recipe baking individual portions, mini Bundts and tiny cakes. And the holidays call for something more, a bit special, so each cake was drizzled with Chocolate Orange Ganache.

These wonderfully festive treats are perfect for December’s Monthly Mingle, created by my Zesty Sister and fellow Plate to Page instructor Meeta. This month’s host, my talented friend Simone of Junglefrog Cooking, asked us to bake Christmas Cakes and that is just what this Chocolate Chestnut Cloud Cake is!

CHOCOLATE CHESTNUT CLOUD CAKE with Chocolate Orange Ganache
Adapted from Crème de Marrons les 30 recettes culte by Sandra Mahut

5.3 oz (150 g) dark chocolate 70% cacao, broken into pieces
9 Tbs (135 g) unsalted butter
3 rounded/heaping Tbs (150 g) chestnut cream (crème de marrons Clément Faugier)
3 Tbs (30 g) flour
3 Tbs (20 g) unsweetened cocoa powder
5 large eggs, separated
½ cup (100 g) granulated sugar
1 Tbs Cointreau, optional

Orange Chocolate Ganache (this recipe can easily be halved):
3.5 oz (100 g) Lindt Excellence Orange Intense or equivalent orange-scented dark chocolate
½ cup (125 ml) heavy cream

Or confectioner’s/powdered sugar and unsweetened cocoa powder for dusting

Preheat the oven to 325-335°F (170°C). Butter and flour either a medium-sized Bundt or fluted tube pan or about 18 – 20 individual cupcake or mini-Bundt molds.

Place the butter and the broken chocolate into a medium-sized Pyrex or heatproof bowl. Melt gently either in a bain-marie, over a pot of gently simmering water or in the microwave; barely 1 minute on high heat in the microwave should melt the butter completely and more than partially, but not completely, melt the chocolate. Remove from the heat/microwave and stir or whisk until the chocolate is completely melted and the mixture well blended and smooth. Add the 3 heaping tablespoons of chestnut cream/crème de marrons and whisk to blend.

Measure the flour and the cocoa powder together into a small bowl and then sift the two onto the chocolate/butter/chestnut mixture. Whisk to blend until smooth. Whisk in the Cointreau, if using.

Separate the eggs, placing the 5 clean whites into a large, very clean bowl ideal for whipping meringue – I prefer plastic. If you like, add a drop of lemon juice and a few grains of salt to help stabilize the whites. Using an electric mixer, beat the whites for 30 seconds on low speed then increase speed to high; beat for about 2 minutes until the whites are no longer foamy, are white and opaque and soft peaks hold. Begin gradually beating in the sugar, about a teaspoon at a time while continuing to beat on high speed. This should take another couple of minutes. Continue to beat until all of the sugar is incorporated and the meringue is very thick. The entire process should take about 5 minutes.

Beat the egg yolks into the meringue one at a time, beating on medium or high speed, beating in each yolk just to combine.

Using a spatula, fold the yolky meringue into the chocolate batter, adding and folding in a quarter of the meringue at a time. Do not overmix.

Spoon into the molds and bake for not more than 30 minutes (if making one large cake, this could bake up to double the time depending on the pan and the oven). When done, the top should be set, dull (no longer shiny) and lightly crispy. The cake should spring back when gently pressed and a tester inserted in the cake should come out clean.

Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pan until completely cool before gently loosening and turning out.

Prepare the ganache while waiting for the cakes to cool by chopping the chocolate and placing in a heatproof bowl. Bring the cream just to the boil and pour over the chopped chocolate. Stir until the chocolate is completely melted and the ganache well blended, smooth and creamy. Leave to thicken at room temperature, stirring occasionally, until drizzling consistency. If you like, allow to get very thick and then thin with a bit of Cointreau. Spoon onto individual cakes or slices as serving. Top with sugar pearls or other festive sugar decorations.


thelittleloaf said...

This sounds (and looks) absolutely wonderful. My dad is completely obsessed with chestnuts and always starts asking me to make desserts with them in at this time of year. I've already got a chestnut meringue planned but now this is going on the list too!

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

A beautiful post. Happy Hanukkah, Jamie!

Those cakes look divine and ever so fluffy. Wonderful!



Marcellina said...

What a beautiful picture you paint! Happy Hanukkah!

Navin Menon said...

This looks very delicious

Alexandra said...

What beautiful memories and what a delicious cake. said...

Beautiful post, and beautiful cakes! These look just divine. Even the name sounds delicious!

Rambling Tart said...

I've been following your insanely busy life the last few months and it never entered my head that you might be preparing for holidays in the midst of it. Ayiyi! So glad you were able to make time for festivities and family time and deliciousness. :-) Happy Hannukah! :-)

Carolyn Jung said...

What a treat these are! And they are the perfect size -- you don't have to share. LOL

Mairi @ Toast said...

Such a treat! These look absolutely delectable. And Happy Hanukkah! I am now off to find something to satisfy my chocolate craving.....sadly it won't be one of these little cakes!

Lisa said...

I love your perfect imagery of Hanukkah growing up, albeit in warm weather! I'm not sure I could ever get used to that - although the way the ozone layer is deteriorating, NY may soon be tropical lol That said, this cake is just beautiful and I adore chocolate and chestnut together. Your decadent goodies bring me to my knees! xo

Not Quite Nigella said...

I've never been lucky enough to see a Hanukkah celebration up close but I feel like I have gotten a glimpse into it now Jamie! Beautiful cakes-they look light as a feather :D

Chef and Steward said...

Jamie, that photo you have on top is nothing short of sinful! Just plain, decanent evil. Divine!

Chef and Steward said...

Jamie, that photo you have on top is nothing short of sinful. Lust plain, decadent evil. Divine!

Moving really changes everything and messes up your timing... and we will be moving soon ourselves. Happy you got to do it before the holidays as we are right in the middle of it.

Chef and Steward said...

Jamie, that photo you have on top is nothing short of sinful. Lust plain, decadent evil. Divine!

Moving really changes everything and messes up your timing... and we will be moving soon ourselves. Happy you got to do it before the holidays as we are right in the middle of it.

Cake Duchess said...

Tell me warm holidays. Last night the a/c was cranking as we decorated our tree;) It's something I've gotten use to. I'd really like one day to show the kids a white Christmas. These little cakes are tempting and so pretty. Perfect for the Monthly Mingle theme:)

Nutsaboutfood said...

Chestnuts everywhere! I just skipped over from another blog with a chestnut recipe. I cannot resist the chestnut/chocolate combination and also just posted a chocolate and marrons glacés holiday dessert. Who cares if they are all over, I never get tired of them.

Maureen | Orgasmic Chef said...

Jamie, this is a lovely holiday post. I don't think I could resist any dessert with cloud in the name.

Happy Hanukkah

Junglefrog said...

I remember seeing this beauty on facebook first I think and was already thinking it looks amazing and now seeing it up close and personal I am even more impressed. I do have some chestnut leftover so might even attempt it too! Thanks for submitting to the Monthly Mingle too Jamie!

Sarah said...

Happy Hanukah Jamie! Lovely images of your Florida childhood. We used to visit often in December when we lived in New York, perhaps I passed your house and never knew it. You should open a patisserie!

Barbara said...

Chanukkah sameach, Jamie! You are such a wonderful storyteller and for dessert you regale us with another sumptuous recipe - thank you so much!

Nina said...

Sounds excellent....what a beautiful cake:). I loved your pictures...also loved the cute little fork in the pic, its beautiful:)

tasteofbeirut said...

Happy Hanukkah Jamie, to you and your lovely family. This cake is just perfect for the occasion and I am still itching to make more sweet things with the chestnuts this year, that one is calling me!

Sarah, Maison Cupcake said...

I think I'll always associate you with chestnuts Jamie since I learned about chestnut flour through you and you gave me that tin of chestnut puree once. Love these beautiful little cakes!

Lora said...

Another chocolate chestnut gem. Happy Hannukah Jamie to you and your family.

Jill @ MadAboutMacarons said...

Love your chocolate chestnut treats and this cloud is definitely what dreams are made of, Jamie - especially with a dash of Cointreau! Like you, I didn't realise just how important chestnuts are around here. They're wonderful. Have a relaxing, wonderful Hanukkah.

Meeta K. Wolff said...

Happy Hanukkah my sweet sister! And you tempt me with another chocolate treat that I cannot resist.

A great emotional and vivid post Jamie.

Lorraine Joy Alegria-Vizcarra said...

The cake look so moist.

lisa is cooking said...

I thought I was feeling rushed and out of time. With your move, this season must feel like whirlwind to you. These special, little cakes look fantastic. The chestnut cream and chocolate ganache sound delightful.

Dewi said...

Such a delicious temptation you are offering me here :).

Ivy said...

Happy Hanukkah Jamie. These chestnut clouds look delicious!

Terra said...

The name alone has my attention, like a little piece of heaven right? Your cake looks gorgeous, and super moist! Beautiful, Hugs, Terra

Ritz ☁ said...

This looks amazing!


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...