Ethical Gourmet - Food Writer at Large - Ontario Culinary Tourist
Bryan Lavery All rights reserved.
Tuesday, October 7, 2014
Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with a Chestnut Crust
Roasting chestnuts are an old Canadian pastime, but the indigenous trees that bear them were nearly wiped out. It was the American chestnut, once a common tree that grew 100 feet tall or more, with oblong, saw-toothed leaves that bore superior nuts, richer in oil than their European counterparts. This tree with its elegant grey bark was widely cultivated and covered much of the eastern half of the United States and Canada. In Quebec, the chestnut was less prevalent, but in southern Ontario it was king. Before the species was devastated by the chestnut blight, a fungal disease, it was one of the most important forest trees throughout its range. Now the chestnut is on the comeback trail.
For several decades the fresh chestnuts that come to market have been imported from Italy, France or China.
From October to December, look for fresh chestnuts that are hard, shiny, unblemished, heavy for their size and do not rattle when shaken. Discard any with mould inside. Look for chestnuts that have a rich brown outer shell; the meat inside should be a cream colour. To test for freshness, shake them - if they're getting stale, the nut inside will be hard and will rattle and the color inside will be very dark. Because they are highly perishable, refrigerate chestnuts in perforated plastic bags for up to one week. For longer storage, freeze in airtight container for up to one month
Cooking with chestnuts -
Chestnuts have to be peeled and cooked before using. They can be roasted in their shells, candied (marrons glacé), boiled, braised, puréed or ground to meal. Their sweet nutty flavour combines well with game, poultry, starchy vegetables, mushrooms, chocolate, whipped cream or vanilla. When combined with the flavourful parsnip they make an excellent soup.
Spiced Pumpkin Cheesecake with Chestnut Crust
by Bryan Lavery
1/2 cup (125 mL) melted unsalted butter
1½ cups (375 mL) finely ground gingersnap or graham cracker crumbs
2 tbsp. (25 mL) light or dark brown sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) roasted chestnuts, finely chopped
2 tbsp. (25 mL) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1½ cups (375 mL) cream cheese, at room temperature
Line sides of a 9-inch (2.5-L) spring form pan with parchment paper and then brush sides of parchment with 2 tbsp (25 mL) melted butter.
Stir together ginger snap crumbs, sugar, chestnuts, and remaining melted butter. Mix together and pat into bottom and sides of prepared pan. Chill crust in refrigerator while preparing filling.
Make sure your eggs are cold and have all the other ingredients at room temperature.
In a large bowl or a food processor, cream butter and cream cheese together. Scrape down sides, add sugar and beat until light and fluffy. Scrape sides again and beat in pumpkin.
Add eggs and egg yolks one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in sour cream, flour, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, lemon zest, and juice.
Pour filling into chilled base. Bake cake in centre of oven for 1 hour. Leave oven door ajar, turn off heat, and let cake sit in oven for an additional hour to cool. (Cooling in the oven will prevent the cake from cracking.) Let cake cool slowly and completely before unmoulding. Chill in the refrigerator for at least 6 hours, but ideally you should let a cheesecake settle for 24 hours in the pan before unmoulding.
Whip cream until soft peaks form then beat in sugar. Pipe or dollop 10 rosettes of whipped cream around the top edge of the cheesecake. Top each rosette with a candied chestnut.