I'm going to work backwards here, because the end result of our dinner party celebrating our time at Mimi Thorisson's Manger workshop was this:
After our guests dined on a meal of oysters two ways, french onion soup, and duck breast with a cognac pan sauce, they turned to each other and began to converse, satisfied and very happy. To step back after feeding loved ones and see them this content is the most rewarding cooking experience possible. And the last bite of evening? This:
A chocolate chestnut cake which we made at the workshop, but didn't really have a recipe for.
The lovely Shannon, a friend we made at workshop, had sent a detailed and annotated list of each recipe we had made shortly after our return. Here's Shannon. If she ever runs for president, you'll want to vote for her.
I referred to her email but the recipe was vague:
- chocolate cake: 100 g salted butter (melted), 200 g chocolate (preferably Lindt 70% dark), 500 g chestnut cream (did we use the vanilla one? yes - https://www.amazon.com/Clement-Faugier-Gourmet-Chestnut-Vanilla/dp/B002OGWYHK), 3 eggs, mix all together and bake at 180 C for 25 min, 22cm/8.5 inch round cake pan
Worried, I shot off an email to Barbara, an expat American artist living in The Netherlands whom we met at the workshop. Here's Barbara:
A quick side story about Barbara. In Bordeaux, we had been dismissed one night after eating the meal we had prepared with copious amounts of wine and perhaps a finger or three of cognac, with the order to return with cars to Mimi's home at 1 Rue de Loudenne at promptly 9 a.m. to drive to a chicken farm about 45 min away. Being the normally reliable person I am, I offered to pick Barbara up in the morning since she had not rented a car. Sydney and I returned to the chateau we were staying, drank another glass of wine, and turned in. The next morning, I opened my eyes to an alarm that read 9:30 a.m. and a relaxed Sydney, awake, but in repose. I bolted up, "It's after NINE!" "I know," said Sydney, a huge smile on her face.
Feeling supremely guilty, we clamored into our clothes, and a few minutes later heard loud footfalls on the floor below. Mimi's husband, Oddur, bellowed, "ERIN! SYDNEY!" We clamored downstairs to find Barbara tucked into the backseat of Oddur's Range Rover, as he explained that he had found her walking on the side of the road. Dripping with shame, I opened the door and began to apologize profusely. Barbara smiled and said with true absolution, "But, my dear, you are en vacance." I was already enamored of her, but now it was true love.
So back to the cake. I emailed Barbara, but full of pre-party nervous energy decided to dive in using Shannon's instructions. I melted the butter and chocolate and buttered my cake pans.
Soon Sydney popped over with her kids, and I let off an apparently amusing barrage of questions and proclamations: "Four ingredients doesn't seem like enough. No flour? It doesn't say to melt the chocolate but I did. And melted butter? I buttered the pan..."
"I would just soften the butter," Sydney said. "Too late," I said miserably. From Sydney I got the raised eyebrow that says, "Just bake the cake, man."
Tangent: Once I was tasked with feeding Sydney's sourdough starter when she was out of town. I went over to find it on the counter with a canister of all-purpose flour next to it. No instructions as to how much it weighed, or how much to add. I, too, have a starter which I diligently remove 200 g of starter from, then measure with a scale 100 g of bread flour, microwave filtered water so it becomes tepid, measure out 100 g of that and then add them to my starter. I went home from Sydney's without feeding hers. When she returned, she said she just scoops some old starter out and then adds water from the tap and a few scoops of AP flour until "it's gloopy." So that tells you a lot about how we cook.
Back to the cake. Again. So, Sydney tells me just just mix everything together. And I do. And it was DELICIOUS.
Barbara's email came through later that day and it was more or less the same as my method, except she separated the eggs and then beat the whites and folded them in at the end. I don't think that is necessary if you like a dense, fudgy cake, which I do. And she lined her pan, which I highly recommend as I had to scrape bits off the bottom of my pan and shove them underneath the cake. So, without further adieu or tangent:
Chocolate Chestnut Cake (serves 12, time: 45 min)
100 g of melted butter
200 g of melted Lindt 70% chocolate
1 can (500 g) of Clement Faugier Vanilla Chestnut Puree (find here on Amazon)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter a pan, and powder the sides with cocoa powder. Line the bottom of the pan with parchment paper.
Melt the butter and chocolate in the microwave, separately. Mix together on medium speed and then add the can of chestnut puree. Mix well on medium. Add eggs one at a time, mixing in.
Pour the batter into the pan and bake 30 minutes. Test the center of cake for doneness with a toothpick and add a few more minutes if it comes out very wet.
Cool and serve with an unsweetened cream and a dollop of chestnut puree.
1 pint of heavy cream
1 cup of fresh ricotta (make it yourself or buy it from an Italian grocer, the fresher the better)
Whip the heavy cream for just a few minutes. You want it loose and not yet in peaks. Fold in the ricotta on low, just until incorporated. This can be done ahead of time and refrigerated.