Chestnuts roasting on an open fire...
It's actually something you can do... and we did. My folks just gifted James and me with a brand new chiminea and I couldn't think of any better way to christen it than with roasting chestnuts.
I'll share with you the cheat way to roast chestnuts, just because I know it's more convenient and some of you will opt for that... but for those of you willing to brave the cold and get in touch with your inner Christmas caroler, get ready to sing The Christmas Song at the top of your lungs and feel 100% fulfilled. You will now KNOW the meaning and the greatness of that tune.
If you'd like, you can just roast the chestnuts, peel them open and serve them all on their own. Apparently people like to do that... however I tasted the meat of the chestnut more than once and it's not my favorite. The flavor is really beautiful and nutty but the meat itself is a little... mealy. Like a bad apple, as Kobes described it. Hence, turning them into cookies. But decide for yourself.
Step 1: VERY CAREFULLY, with a sharp knife, cut an "x" into the flat surface side of the chestnuts. Some of them may not have very flat backs, so just choose a side and be cautious. The cut does not have to be deep, but don't just scrape the surface either.
Step 2: Place the marked chestnuts into a ball of foil and place them into your flaming fire, shaking them around every few minutes. Sadly, we got freezing outside so they only managed to stay in the chiminea about 8 minutes. But then we threw them into the indoor fireplace for another 10. So let them roast, shaking them every 3 minutes, for a total of about 15 minutes. *cheat method: place the marked chestnuts on a baking sheet and roast them in a 450 degree oven for 15-20 minutes or until the skin starts to split open.*
Step 3: Place each chestnut into a dish towel and press down firmly to help loosen the skin. Then peel away! You want to be able to peel off the light pink skin underneath the firm skin as well... if that's too hard to peel away, they probably need another 5 minutes of roasting. Warning: the peeling of these babies is not exactly easy. So make some fun of it, turn it into a 15 minute project over a glass of wine with a friend and don't get frustrated. Also beware of slicing underneath your fingernails. I'm still recovering. Preheat your oven 350 degrees. (ha! just re-read this paragraph.. i'm making it sound awful but actually it's really fun and not daunting at all... just want you to feel prepared!)
Step 4: Finely chop your chestnuts and toss with brown sugar, lots of cinnamon and a sprinkle of sea salt. For measurements sake, I roasted 15 chestnuts and used roughly 2 heaping dessert spoons of brown sugar.
Step 5: Heat a little salted butter in a skillet or pan and on a medium-low heat, pan toss those chestnuts until they're nicely coated in a sugary pool of goodness. Let them simmer for about 10, 15 minutes. Remove them to cool onto parchment paper.
Step 6: In a food processor or Vitamix, combine 1 cup whole wheat flour, 6 Tablespoons salted butter, the candied chestnuts, 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg & 1 teaspoon vanilla extract. Pulse until a fine crumbly mixture forms.
Step 7: Squeeze that crumbly mixture into balls and place on an ungreased baking sheet. You should have somewhere between 15 and 18 cookies.
Step 8: Bake for 15-18 minutes. Get out a bowl and fill it with enough powdered sugar to play with.
Step 9: Remove cookies from the oven, let cool for about 3 minutes, then dump and roll each one into the powdered sugar until well coated. You're done!
Serve these babies stacked pretty on a plate along side some fresh chestnuts... just for looks. I enjoyed at least 4 of these with a hot cup of coffee... then I had 2 more an hour later with a glass of red wine. Both beverages were perfectly appropriate for these delightful treats. (my consumption of 6 of them within the evening, however, was not appropriate)
Serve these treats at your next holiday party and prepare to have the compliments of creativity and flavor brilliance coming your way!
LOTS OF HOLIDAY CHEER to you and yours as we step into DECEMBER! Enjoy! :)