Monday, November 23, 2009

How to Peel and Purée Chestnuts Plus Christine's Recipe for Sugar-Free Fresh Chestnut Ice Cream with Armagnac

I eagerly await the arrival each fall at the farmers market of McIntosh Farms' Willow Creek grown chestnuts. Fresh-picked from trees just 25 miles (as the crow flies) from my kitchen, they are displayed in a line of deep cardboard boxes, the scent of roasting chestnuts wafting from the Weber kettle situated at one end, enticing customers to come take a look.

In previous years, I've snipped the ends of the nuts in an X, then roasted them in a chestnut pan. Sometimes the peeling was easy, sometimes not. The not part can be very frustrating so this year, in the interest of searching for an easier peeling process, I decided to try another method - boiling.

While this method is not nearly as romantic as chestnuts roasting on a open fire, boiling chestnuts makes them way easier to peel, in my experience. An added bonus being that the nut meat tastes sweeter.

And that sweetness fairly screams ice cream.
Certainly not the prettiest starlet in the lineup, with her rather beige coloring, nonetheless this ice cream imparts a mysteriously sweet-nutty taste and mouth feel, followed by a smokey Armagnac undertone; a perfect finish to an evening meal with friends and family on a fall-into-winter's night, and not at all a bad idea to compliment the end of a Thanksgiving dinner, if you'll excuse my pumpkin pie blasphemy.
The combination of chestnuts and Armagnac came to me as I was musing about how to prepare the purée for ice cream. Adding water or just cream seemed too blah.

Well, chestnuts remind me of the south-west of France and the south-west of France reminds me of Armagnac. So there you have it. Divine provenance.

Instructions for Peeling and Puréeing Chestnuts
I began with 13-ounces by weight of fresh chestnuts.
To prepare the chestnuts for peeling, snip an X into the flat base of each nut and put them into a saucepan. Fill with water to cover by one to two inches.
Bring to a boil and continuing boiling for 3 to 4 minutes. Turn off the heat, leaving the chestnuts in the hot water.
I used surgical gloves (available at Costco) for the next step.
Retrieving a nut from the saucepan with a pair of tongs, and using a sharp knife, peel the shells and skin from each chestnut, dropping the naked nut into a bowl. Repeat until all the chestnuts are peeled. If peeling becomes difficult, reheat the water briefly to warm up the skins and continue peeling.
When you are finished, you should have about 2 cups of peeled chestnuts.

Now comes the fun part:
Place the chestnuts in a food processor and pulse a few times to break up the nuts.
While continuing to pulse, add 3 tablespoons heavy cream and 2-3 tablespoons Armagnac through the feed tube puréeing until finely ground. The puree will be moist and hold together when pinched between your fingers. It should not be wet or gooey.
Yields about 2 and 1/2 cups of purée.
Use 1 and 1/2 cups for the ice cream and put the rest into a lidded glass jar and refrigerate until inspiration strikes you.
If it strikes me, I'll let you know.
I'm already thinking about stuffing dates.
And I like Simona's suggestion to make a wheatless pie crust.
All in good time, Grasshopper.

Sugar-Free Chestnut Ice Cream with Armagnac
Christine's original recipe
1 and 1/2 cups chestnut purée
6 medium egg yolks (4 if large)
8 packets Splenda, divided (see Cook's Notes)

2 cups 2% milk
1 and 1/2 cups heavy cream
Heat the milk and cream in a heavy saucepan just until small bubbles form around the edge of the pan. Remove from the heat, set aside.
Beat the egg yolks with 2 packets of Splenda until the yolks are thick and pale yellow. Set aside. (I will tell you here that my eggs come from my backyard chickens and the yolks are a deep orange. They never become pale yellow no matter how long I beat them.)
Pour the milk-cream mixture into a food processor, add the chestnut purée and 4 packets Splenda and process until creamy smooth. Place all but 1 cup of the milk-chestnut mixture into a medium saucepan and set over low heat
Whisk the remaining cup of milk-chestnut purée into the eggs then pour it into the saucepan, whisking constantly.
Heat gently until the mixture coats the back of a wooden spoon. Do not allow to boil or it will curdle.
Taste and adjust for sweetness, keeping in mind that the freezing process diminishes sweet on the tongue. At this point I added 2 more packets of Splenda for a total of eight.
Remove from the heat and let cool for about 15 minutes.
Pour into a large glass measuring cup or pitcher and refrigerate for at least 12 hours.
When ready to process, gently whisk the mixture (see Cook's Notes about straining), pour into the ice cream machine and process according to the manufacturer's instructions.
May be served directly from the ice cream maker, or packed into sealed containers and frozen for several hours.

Cook's Notes:
If you don't have access to fresh chestnuts, you could use jarred whole chestnuts and proceed from there.

I no longer add any kind of sugar to my recipes, relying mostly on the natural sweetness of fresh fruits and vegetables.When I want a sweeter dessert however, I use Splenda packets because they are sweeter than the granular Splenda, the product is not bulky nor does it impart a chemical taste, and I can control the amount of sweetness. One packet contains 1/4 teaspoon of Splenda and is equal to about 2 teaspoons of sugar in sweetness. So, 8 packets of Splenda will yield about 2 teaspoons which will equal approx 16 teaspoons or 5 and 1/3 tablespoons of sugar. If you want to use sugar in this recipe instead of Splenda, take notes because I doubt I'll repeat that again.

To strain or not to strain - that is the question. I didn't strain the mixture prior to pouring it into the ice cream machine because my tongue likes playing with its food. That said, Mr CC, who liked this ice cream very much, warned me that some people would like it and others would not and that it might depend entirely on the texture. If you have eaters who like their ice cream purely creamy and devoid of interesting content with which a curious tongue can play, by all means strain the mixture just before pouring it into the machine. It will still taste good, though not as interesting - in my humble opinion.

Copyright © 2005-2009, Christine Cooks. All rights reserved


  1. Pumpkins should sit grinning on the front porch or used to chauffeur Cinderella to the ball. I like anything BUT pumpkin for Thanksgiving dessert. Bring on the Chestnut Ice Cream! It sounds wonderful!

  2. Hello Christine,

    Thanks for this useful guide to peeling, pureeing & using chestnuts!! Your ice cream looks so dlectable & delcious!

    MMMMMMMMMMMM,...all the way!!!

  3. Thanks Kevi. I got a kick out of your comment. Hooray for you for taking on the edible task of cooking your way through the chefs cookbook. Your posts are honest and refreshing.

    Thanks so much, Sophie. I'm glad you like it!

  4. I love chestnuts - I used to gather them on out bike rides.... but they are a pain to peel. Must make chesnut soup this week....

  5. I hope you'll post your chestnut soup recipe, Katie. I still have chestnuts to use up.

  6. Thanks for the peeling instruction. I usually soak them in water and then place the chestnut in the hot oven ofr 10 minutes. I will try your method soon.

  7. Hi, Thanks for sharing your chectnut ice cream! That looks yummy :)

  8. I hope it works for you, Tobias.

  9. So informative and what an ordeal~I would love to taste that ice cream.....what talent you have!

  10. Hi there, this looks like a really good way to make chestnut puree :D do you think that it would be fine without the rum in it, using only the heavy cream? Not for icecream, but I'm going to try to make a mont blanc :DD

  11. Hi Curiosity,
    I do not think one needs to add any alcohol to the chestnuts for them to taste good. I like to play with the flavor pairings of different alcohols and food - it's just one of my quirks. A chestnut Mont Blanc sounds very intriguing.


Thank you for stopping by! I will do my best to respond to your comments and questions so feel free to write to me here. Sorry for the comment moderation but it helps to keep the spammers at bay.