Tuesday, December 7, 2010

roasted chestnut cookies

chestnut polvorones

As if I needed any further evidence that I was meant to live in Paris, it is my firm belief (though based only in fantasy) that at any time of the year over there, I will have unfettered access to things made with chestnuts, one of my favorite foods that only get a lukewarm reception in this country. Sure, we roast them on “open fires” in December (in our smoking jackets, of course, while our dog brings us the evening paper) but the rest of the year, they’re relegated to nostalgia. Even in New York City, I rarely see such delights as chestnut paste, which I attempted to smuggle back into the country after our last trip, not realizing that airport security would consider it a liquid and force me to throw it away (I still get a little weepy when I remember this). And don’t even get me started on our woeful absence of marrons glace, or candied chestnuts. Okay, fine, get me started.


In short, they are an obsession. I think they’re one of the most delicious things on earth and thus, it would be only logical that I would make them and share with you how you could do so at home. Except, I’ll never make them because they’re exceedingly fragile and time-consuming to make and were you to try, you’d quickly realize why it is de riguer to cough up five dollars for a single one at a candy shop. “Come on, Deb” I hear you saying, “That’s rather defeatist of you!” but here, let me tell you what the very first step is in candying chestnuts: roast the chestnuts and peel them in one piece. And now let me show you what happened the last time I tried to:

i am very bad at this

And so, with only minimal regret, I’ve lowered the bar a bit and attempted to make a chestnut cookie for people with limited free time and, perhaps, imperfect chestnut peeling skills. They’re almost as luxurious. I took one of my favorite cookies — a buttery, nutty, delicate puff called, depending on who you are speaking to, Mexican Wedding Cakes, Russian Tea Cakes, Polvorones or OMG I Love These Cookies And Never Know What They Are Called!. You’ll have to forgive me because I only realized after the fact that I’ve already made a classic version of these on the site but that was, like, four years ago, which is more than a liftetime (if you’re the be-hatted Jacob Henry) and countless hours of lost sleep ago (if you’re his mama) and I cannot be expected to be clear on such ancient details.

fp-ed the dough
ready to bake

Nevertheless, these are better. “They taste exactly like roasted chestnuts!” my husband proclaimed, or phew, as that’s mostly what they’re made of. And of course, butter, no insignicant amount. Then flour and only a very small amount of sugar, so much so that if you’re a dough nibbler (and how can you not be?) you’ll probably worry because the cookies themselves are barely sweet. However, it’s their roll in the powdered sugar snow as they cool that makes it all work out. Your first impression is melting sugar and the second is an oomph of winter warmth, just in time for this windy, frosty week.

taking a sugary tumble
roasted chestnut cookies

One year ago: Balsamic Braised Brussels with Pancetta and Cream Biscuits
Two years ago: Cauliflower Gratin
Three years ago: Curried Lentils and Sweet Potatoes, Rugelach Pinwheels and Fennel Ice Cream (which is astoundingly delicious, even if you believe yourself to be fennel averse)
Four years ago: Sundried Tomato Stuffed Mushrooms, Jacked-Up Banana Bread, Orangettes and Honey-Hoisin Pork Riblets

Roasted Chestnut Cookies
Adapted generously from Epicurious

My main changes to the classic formula, aside from the chestnuts, were to add some spice, salt, give instruction to make a smoother, easy-peasy dough in the food processor and to warn about the baking time. These cookies can go from “holy buttery chestnuts!” into the dry territory with just a little overbaking. Better to err on the side of caution.

I also encourage you to start with a whole pound of chestnuts, although you’ll only need about 2/3 of them, because chestnuts are notorious for surprising you, once roasted, with rotten centers. If you’ve got a winning batch (as I did), you get a little to snack on and everyone wins.

Makes about 4 dozen 1-inch cookies

1 pound chestnuts
1 cup (2 sticks or 8 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 cups powdered sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon + additional for coating
A few gratings of fresh nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 cups all purpose flour

Preheat oven to 450°F. Cut a small X on the top of each chestnut with a very sharp knife. Don’t be afraid to cut into the “meat” of the chestnut a little; I found that the the ones that were the most easy to peel start with a deep enough cut that the skin peels back while roasting. Roast chestnuts on a baking sheet for about 20 to 30 minutes, until a darker shade of brown and the X peels back to reveal the inner nut.

Cool on tray and then peel. Don’t worry if they break up as you do so if you have to dig them out in pieces, you won’t need whole ones for this.

Once the peeled chestnuts are fully cool, chop them coarsely on a cutting board. Measure 1 cup of chopped chestnuts, and dump them in the bowl of a food processor. Grind them until they are very well chopped, then add the softened butter, and pulse again until combined. Add 1/2 cup of your powdered sugar, vanilla extract, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, salt and flour and pulse until an even dough is formed.

[No food processor? Chop-chop-chop those chestnuts as fine as you can, then use an electric mixer to whip the butter and 1/2 cup powdered sugar. Add the vanilla, 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon, nutmeg, salt, flour and chestnuts and beat until well blended.]

Divide dough and wrap each half in plastic, chilling for one hour or until firm. Once chilled, preheat the oven to 350°F. Whisk remaining 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar and a few pinches of cinnamon in a small bowl. Set aside. Working with one half of the chilled dough at at time, roll it into 2 teaspoon-sized balls (I use my 1 tablespoon measure, but didn’t fill it) in the palm of your hand. Arrange on parchment-lined baking sheet but no need to leave more than 1/2 inch between the cookies; they won’t spread.

Bake cookies until golden brown on bottom and just pale golden on top, about 14 to 17 minutes. (See Note up top about baking times.) Cool cookies 5 minutes on baking sheet. Gently toss warm cookies in cinnamon sugar to coat completely. Transfer coated cookies to rack and cool completely. Repeat procedure with remaining half of dough. To touch them up before serving, you can sift some of the leftover cinnamon-sugar mixture over them.

Do ahead: Dough can be chilled in the fridge for a day or two, longer in the freezer. Chestnuts can be roasted in advance, kept at room temperature for a day or so. Cookies will keep in an airtight container at room temperature for a week.


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