Post by Alison Hein.
Every autumn, I scour the streets of New York, searching for a cart rigged with an open fire, with the deep, earthy aroma of roasting chestnuts wafting toward me. Finding one, I pay, and receive a tiny brown paper bag stuffed with six steamy caramel-colored nuts. First the peeling, then the payoff – that very first bite of warm, buttery chestnut, sweetened by the chill in the November air.
It recently dawned on me that I don’t need to limit myself to this once-a-year cold weather ritual. Chestnuts have been popular in parts of Europe for centuries. In Italy, you can enjoy chestnut pasta, polenta and gnocchi, or even luscious chestnut fritters, served hot with ricotta cheese.
Chestnut flour (or nut meal) is becoming easier to find on U.S. grocery shelves, and provides a wonderful gluten-free option for those with wheat allergies. Pre-roasted nuts in jars are also useful in cooking, as is chestnut puree. If you cannot find these products locally, look online. U.S. growers are also on the rise and many sell their chestnut products direct to consumers.
These pancakes resonate with authentic, roasty chestnut flavor, and are sweetened with a thin, simple syrup made with honey and chopped, roasted chestnuts. Chestnut meal has a different consistency from wheat flour, so use a gentle hand until you become accustomed to the grainier texture.
No need to wait for fall for a sweet, earthy, chestnutty breakfast in bed.
1 cup chestnut flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup milk
1 egg, separated
½ teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons butter, melted and slightly cooled
¼ cup sour cream
Additional butter for cooking
Combine chestnut flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl. In separate bowl, stir together milk, egg yolk and vanilla. Pour melted butter into liquid mixture and stir well. Using a wooden spoon or hand mixer, gradually add liquid mixture to dry ingredients until batter is smooth. Stir in sour cream. Beat egg white until stiff peaks form. Gently fold into batter.
Place pan or griddle on burner over medium to medium low heat. Melt a small amount of butter in the pan for the first pancake. Ladle batter by ¼ cupfuls into pan and cook until small bubbles appear throughout pancakes. Flip once with spatula and continue cooking until rich brown, one to two minutes, adding more butter and adjusting heat as necessary. Keep warm while making the remainder of pancakes. Serve hot with real maple syrup or sweet chestnut sauce.
Makes 8 to 9 4-inch diameter pancakes.
Sweet Chestnut Sauce
½ cup honey
1 cup water
1 teaspoon vanilla
⅓ cup finely chopped roasted chestnuts (fresh or jarred)
Pour honey, water and vanilla and chopped chestnuts into a small heavy saucepan. Mix well. Place over medium-high to high heat and bring to a boil, stirring frequently. Reduce heat, and simmer for 8 to 10 minutes until sauce is slightly thickened, but still on the thin side. Set aside and allow to cool.
Makes about 1 cup of syrup.