Friday, 24 December 2010

Chestnut truffles (Τρούφες με κάστανα)

It's still chestnut season in Crete. Hania boasts one of the largest chestnut plantations in Greece, in the area of Elos (one of the Nine Villages of Inachorion), so we have a plentiful supply of locally produced chestnuts. Roasted chestnuts, also sold as a street food, are a Greek favorite in the winter. More recently, they have also been used more creatively, ranging from being stewed in a red spicy sauce, to being turned into sweets.

elos valley hania chania chestnut tree elos hania chania
Chestnut trees in Elos valley - the bright green trees are the chestnut, while the silver green ones are olive.
roasted chestnuts roasted chestnuts
To roast chestnuts, slit their shell to stop them from exploding in the oven while they are cooking.

Cretan cuisine does not use chestnuts in a wide range of ways. Apart from roasted chestnuts as an evening snack, we rarely eat them in any other way in our house. I was recently given a very simple but rather exquisite recipe that turned chestnuts into chocolate truffles that had a superior taste to any chocolate truffles I've had before. My good friend, Yianis Apostolakis, the clever creative Cretan chef at MAICh, presented this dessert to the students at the institute. Yiannis' recipes are all based on natural locally available food, with an emphasis on Cretan products and simple techniques. These truffles will surprise even the expert chef with their simplicity and refined taste.

You need:
500g chestnuts
2 tablespoons of thick orange marmalade, meaning not very runny, not too many liquids - Yiannis makes his own (he gave me a jar full) using 1 glass of orange juice, I glass of sugar and all the peel from the oranges used to make the juice, boiled down to a very thick marmalade
200g of 70% chocolate, preferably dark
a tablespoon of olive oil (Yiannis insists that butter can replaced by olive oil in ALL recipes
a pinch of sea salt

chestnut truffles orange marmalade

Make a slit in each chestnut and boil* the chestnuts in a large pot of boiling water for a few minutes. Then drain them and when they are cool enough to handle, remove their outer shells. Then drop them back in the pot and boil again until they are soft. Drain them again, and when they have cooled down, mash them to fine grounds in a food processor (I use a multi-mouli; in any case, they should be soft and moist enough to mash with a fork or even your fingers). Add the marmalade and mix well. Shape the mixture into little balls the size of a small chestnut and place in the fridge on a plate to firm up.

chestnut truffles chestnut truffles

Melt the chocolate in a double boiler and add the oil and salt. Chocolate needs to be tempered, something which I admit I don't have enough patience for, but you need to make sure that the chocolate will set after you dip these chestnuts balls into it. Use a spoon and fork to dip them into the chocolate. Place each finished truffle on a piece of foil for the chocolate to dry**. As soon as they are dry enough to pick up (preferably with a spoon and fork, to avoid leaving fingerprints on the chocolate), place each truffle into a small paper case. Place them in the fridge and let the chocolate set till hard.

chestnut truffles

Serve these truffles with a cup of strong coffee. These truffles can also be made with a mixture of ground chestnuts and walnuts.

Chestnuts are often associated with Christmas, so this makes a very seasonal dessert. And with that, I wish you all:


See you all in the new year safe and sound!

* They can be roasted if you prefer; boiling them makes them softer and less dry, which is helpful when shaping the truffles.
** I made the mistake of drying them on a plate - don't you do that though; stick to the foil!

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