Happy Turkey Day (sans turkey)
Last year my parents happened to be visiting us in Zürich from New York during Thanksgiving. “How perfect,” we all said. We would recreate the holiday meal chez nous and uphold our family traditions – play the same music we play every year while we cook (Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue, and very loud), decorate the table together, put my mother in charge of her famous noodle pudding, and bake a turkey with all the trimmings. Not taking any risks, my mom packed her suitcase in New York with Pennsylvania Dutch extra wide egg noodles (the only ones she has ever used in her highly-prized recipe), Thanksgiving themed napkins and table decorations, real American brown sugar, even her favorite canned pineapple to assure authenticity. Sounds like the plans were laid to go on without a hitch…
Zoom in on the half empty bag of egg noodles, that a certain someone’s French husband happened to have for lunch the day before Thanksgiving. His defense – “I made myself lunch, and decided to have pasta.” Can’t argue with that. Next challenge – actually finding a turkey! After visiting all of my favorite butchers in town to no avail, we ended up at Jelmoli’s fancy shmancy food hall downstairs. They were luckily importing turkeys from France, parfait. We’ll take one, the biggest you’ve got. Back at my apartment for a real European moment – the thing wouldn’t fit in the oven.
Fast forward to full bellies, smiles all around, and even leftovers the next day- key to a traditional Thanksgiving, of course. It was a very memorable holiday, and it turned out to be rather delicious, if a bit more creative than anticipated. This year, I decided to approach Thanksgiving with a less ambitiously authentic attitude, especially for dessert (surprise surprise). Dinner would be classic and simple, most importantly with a much smaller bird. I decided on quail, stuffed with chestnuts and prunes, a dish my French mother-in-law serves around Christmas time. I just went to the market and bought my weight in Brussels Sprouts, colorful baby organic potatoes, enormous sweet onions, apples, pears and chestnuts. The trimmings are somewhere in there. For the sweet finale, I’ve been racking my brain for the perfect recipe that would simply scream Thanksgiving. Do I take the pumpkin route, even though my family was never really one for pumpkin pie? I thought about pumpkin cookie sandwiches, pumpkin chocolate chip cake, pumpkin ice cream, even a pumpkin Tarte Tatin. Then I decided to create a Swiss Thanksgiving dessert, using an ingredient that is even more omnipresent here than pumpkin, totally representative of the season too. Chestnuts. They were already making an appearance on the menu, why not give them double time?
This sweet brainstorming session ended with an irresistible molten chestnut cake – a perfect Thanksgiving dessert for me the American… using French crème de marrons for my husband the Français… to serve at our home in Switzerland. Doesn’t get more authentic than that. Happy Thanksgiving to all!
Molten Chestnut Cake
makes 4 individual cakes
1/2 cup (150 grams) crème de marrons vanillé (vanilla flavored chestnut cream)
scant 1/2 cup (100 grams) butter, very soft
3 egg yolks
1/8 cup (30 grams) sugar
1/4 cup (30 grams) flour, sifted
scant teaspoon (4 grams) baking powder
Slightly warm the chestnut cream. Blend with the butter in a large bowl. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Then add the egg yolks and the sugar. Beat for 10 full minutes. The mixture will become very light and have the texture of a silky mousse. Sprinkle the baking powder and sifted flour over the batter, delicately incorporating both with the use of a large spatula.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (180 degrees Celsius). Butter and flour 4 ramekins or other individual baking dishes. Use your finger to leave a clean rim at the top (see photo above). Fill 3/4 up to the top with chestnut cream batter and put in refrigerator for 10-15 minutes.
Depending on your oven, and how “molten” you want the cakes to be, bake for 13-16 minutes. Serve immediately. You can either leave them in the ramekins, sprinkled with powdered sugar on top, or plate them alongside a scoop of vanilla ice cream.